Our house was on the last street of an Air Force Family Housing Area in the middle of Tokyo, Japan. It was the early 1970’s and the city was growing up around our little patch of America. A large field surrounded our end of the base and beyond that lay Japanese neighborhoods thick with the smell of diesel fuel and sweet grilling meats. In a ditch that separated the two worlds, someone decided to dump their massive load of old potatoes.
My brothers and I often played in that field throwing balls, flying kites and just running and running in its expanse. One day we came near the edge of it and potatoes rained down on us. I was about six years old and a group of mean older Japanese school boys, their bikes scattered about, had made the potato heap their ammo dump and headquarters. I yelled at them in Japanese to stop but they just laughed so I told them I was going to get my friend, a much older boy, and they’d be sorry. Their response was to throw more potatoes.
There really was an older boy.
I ran across the field breathlessly thinking of how sorry these “bakatares” would be when my friend strolled across the grassy frontier and taught them a lesson. I came up to his door and knocked, and knocked, and knocked. The house was dark in the late afternoon gloom and I soon realized, no one was home...what to do?
I went home, put on a beret and then pulled up the top so that it peaked up an extra few inches. I slipped into a navy overcoat and headed out the door. I strutted slowly and purposefully across the field standing as high on my toes as I could manage. About halfway across several dirty faces topped with schoolboy crew-cuts peered above the edge of the ditch a hundred yards away. Eighty yards, sixty yards, fifty yards. As I got to within forty or so yards of the potato heap I could see the other side of the ditch beyond. A half dozen boys on bicycles were riding off quickly casting back furtive looks.
Not long ago, I watched one of my first episodes of "19 Kids and Counting" and I have to say, I'm not a fan. The Duggars have a lot of good things going on in their lives that I support. I think Christians should be encouraged to marry young. I think Christian couples should have a mess of kids (as many as they can afford and disciple). And I think Americans, in general, should be creative and frugal. What I don't dig is home-churching. Churches often need to start in homes (we did) but the particular type of home-churching that is basically your family and maybe a few others is actually very destructive to the church and to Christians because:
I understand part of all this is practical; the Duggars are celebrities and need privacy. But when you live near a major city and can't and won't fellowship with other Christians - all those messy, sinful people IN the church, what are you saying about grace?
We're deep into year seven at Christ Church, the church we helped plant in 2006. We are particularized, which in Presbytery-speak means we are viable. The church is financially stable, has a full slate of church officers, and is continually growing. I could lay down some pious thoughts on church-planting but here are some brass tacks that some might find helpful:
There was a plan
Long before the church was ever launched there was a plan, a literal business plan. I know that probably rubs some people the wrong way but a business plan forces onto paper a dose of reality. Why does this community need a church like ours? What will the church look like? How much financial resources does the project need and how do we expect to obtain it? These are just some of the questions a business plan forces one to ask and execute.
There was a motivated core group
We started the church with 22 people including kids but this group was committed to hospitality and the vision of the church-plant project laid out in the business plan. We knew exactly what we were trying to do though we didn't know exactly how or when it would all come together. You can't plant a successful church without genuinely joyful and giving people who are committed to inviting people into their church, and their lives.
There was crazy faith
We had five families and $10,000 in the bank when we started. It was very tight but I was committed to serving full-time as church-planting pastor. Time is the number one factor (apart God's graciousness, of course) in starting a church. We were all convinced we were in the right place at the right time so we took a calculated risk. The extra funds needed came in, often right on time and in the exact amount needed. It was thrilling to see God answering our prayers in such a personal way.
There was discipline
We are a liturgical church so we did things in a very precise manner. We learned how to sing hymns in parts which required hiring a singing coach and it took months to get good at it. We practiced our liturgy. We prayed, we made meals and invited visitors over, we feasted and worshipped with joy. We always acted like a church that was much bigger and older than we were and then we were. The Christian life should take dedication and hard work...it's our way of life after all!
There was time
Church-planting takes time. Most church-plants fail before the five year mark. There were Sundays when there were only a dozen adults in the worship service. There were months when the offering plates were slim. There was a recession that was instrumental in causing almost half our congregation to move elsewhere for work. But you have to keep your eye on the buoy in the distance. You're not planting for next month or next year. You're planting a church that one day will be just a church and not a plant anymore.
You have to press through the disappointments, tears, frustrations, and hair-raising financial shortfalls. Church-planting is not for the faint-of-heart but it is one of the most thrilling and rewarding things a Christian can do and God loves to bless his people.
When I was born, 30% of all Americans attended mainline denominational churches. Today it is less than half that. The mainline denominations capitulated on orthodoxy long ago rejecting biblical innerancy, miracles, etc. and then began to concentrate on social revolution. First it was female ordination, which emptied the church of men, and then, overturning of the sexual order. So, where has this led?
The Presbyterian Church, USA has grown more liberal every year since their founding in 1983 and this produced the fruit of a decline of 50%. Look at this chart and notice that they have declined in membership every single year since their founding. Every single year! This is atrocious and testifies to earlier problems that were sown. Masculine leadership would never have allowed this sort of malfeasance in any organization. The only place where this happens is in overly-bureaucratized institutions where no one takes responsibility for anything.
So, having homosexual bishops who have divorced their same-sex "spouses" (like The Episcopal Church) or putting up a ballot at your General Assembly to affirm same-sex marriage is simply a sign of the hollowing out of Christian belief that occurred earlier. In the end, why would anyone want attend a Christian Church that is about as un-radical and culturally conformist as your local college LGBT support group or school PTA. The answer is they wouldn't.
I've been married a long time now (to the same and only wife). I've been a parent a long time now to my brood of joyful not-so-little warriors of the cross. Parenting is something that takes common sense and the ability to listen to those who came before you. We live in a day of empty theorists and inexperienced pontificators in regards to these things.
Take this column from the Huffington Post by "Dave" (the guy who identified his son as gay at age 7 in the same publication) which gushes about how his now 9 year-old son has figured out his "type." Surprise, surprise it's dark-haired teenage boys. There are some unexamined things in this post which, in a foolish generation like ours, slip on through.
First of all, from the most accurate information we can cull, gay men make up less than 2% of the population of the U.S. This is why LGBT is so useful because it is more undefined and elastic. The best data suggests it's probably more around 1.5%. Think about that for a minute. Dave's son has about a 98.5% chance of being straight (or at least not a gay male) yet it's all been figured at age 7.
Next, dad knows his 9 year-old son's type. I don't even know my 13 year-old son's type! Dave then says this: "This has nothing to do with sex. My son is gay, but he is also 9, so he is not the "lustful cockmonster" (thank you for that turn of phrase, Chris Kluwe) that so many homophobes try to paint all gay people as." What kind of dad would even think about saying something like this in regards to their 9 year-old son on a public forum?
Homosexuals love to bring out the very tired projection/supressed homosexual comeback against anyone who disagrees with them. However, in this column someone says a lot of strangely gushy things about pretty boys with dark hair...it's Dave.
TYPOLOGICAL SPOILER ALERT!
This last week I watched both "Edge of Tomorrow" (I enjoyed it) and "Oblivion." Of the latter, I found it to be rich with biblical metaphors and one of the most Christian films on the market recently. Some things to look for:
This list is partial and I think the super-sophisticated cynical critics can lump it. So, rent it. It's at Redbox now for a buck and a quarter which is some serious entertainment value.
“Turn off the tube, it rots the mind.”
This is an old saw that I think bears much truth. Anyone who has interacted with over-stimulated people, like teenagers and college students living the dorm life, knows that an over-emphasis on sensational entertainments (loud music videos, video games, and television) doesn’t lend one to a sense of subtlety. So, why does the church do exactly this with its cool screaming youth pastors, loud bands, and big screen sanctuaries?
I’ve often lamented the shallowness of modern evangelicalism and how we bleed kids when they leave home. I believe a major reason for this is that they are overwhelmed with the sensational until it underwhelms and they are left hollowed-out shells incapable of fine discernment. Young adults incapable of discerning the fine subtleties of sacraments, biblical typology, and a well-constructed and executed liturgy (things which are fire and wind for the mature).
In the end, the entertainment driven culture of evangelicalism is endlessly sowing the seeds of its own destruction as it pumps out young adults who are unable to defend the faith with the gusto that is inculcated by a church culture that values depth and maturity.
Last week marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day and there were ceremonies to commemorate this momentous event. But lest anyone forget, there was another half of the war raging in the Pacific. A gritty unglamorous war without beautiful cities, picturesque villages, and even appreciative civilians. This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Saipan. 70,000 Marines and soldiers invaded the island on June 15, 1944 and when it was over, three weeks later, nearly 3500 Americans and 29,000 Japanese soldiers were dead. Another 22,000 civilians had committed suicide. As with most battles in the Pacific, only a handful of Japanese surrendered. It was a war of annihilation.
The battle saw peculiar events including the "million dollar wound" that sent PFC Lee Marvin home and formed the actor-to-be. It also witnessed a terrifically horrendous event, the largest banzai charge of WWII. At dawn on July 7, 1944, the last able-bodied men of the Japanese garrison (some 3000 men) formed up behind a group of 12 men carrying a gigantic red flag. Behind them came some 1500 wounded men, barely armed, some on crutches. They hurled themselves at two battalions of US troops nearly wiping them out in a furious 15 hour fight. When it was over nearly all the Japanese were dead. As a measure of the tenacity of the struggle, Captain Oba and a group of 200 Japanese continued to fight until 3 months after WWII had ended.
Let us not forget the "Old Breed."
The young man looked at the wizened, old, Presbyterian vicar with a mix of disgust and stratospheric hubris and said, "old man, what do you think about same-sex marriage?" The old parson looked at the young man with his Victorian beard and skinny jeans and replied, "It doesn't matter what I think but what God thinks and he is against it."
Sensing his trap closing in rapidly around the seasoned saint the young philosopher countered, "In a Greco-Roman world filled with pederasty and emperors who liked boys, why did Jesus say boo about it...well?"
The old pastor lowered his bifocals to look right into the young man's eyes and said, "In a Greco-Roman world filled with idol worship Jesus never said anything about that either. He also never mentioned anything about heroin use, serial murder or Lady Gaga so I suppose those things are all good with you too?"
Well, it's been a ages since I blogged so I think I'll jump back in on the subject of clergy shirts. I confess, I dislike black clergy shirts. They are too dour and restricting for my taste-buds. I also dislike seeing Protestants walking around in purple and red bishop shirts when they're local parish pastors. So, that leaves two options: white which looks like you're wearing a t-shirt from far away since the white band collar just melds into the shirt and blue shirts.
Blue shirts are my preference for several reasons: (a) They are versatile (b) They look Protestant (c) the contrast between the white collar and blue shirt looks good. So, what's available out there? Not much. Almost everyone sells ill-fitting, 2/3 polyester pieces of junk. And they're not cheap either - sometimes selling for as much as $135 for a polyester blend!
So, this brings me to a recent experiment. You can now get custom shirts made by Internet-based services that drop ship from China. I found one such company, Modern Tailor, that says they can make a custom clergy shirt. Their fabrics start at $19.95 and run up over $100 but this is also all-cotton in various ascending qualities and patterns. I ordered one and so I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.
America has a testosterone problem because, before that, the church had a testosterone problem.
I recently stumbled across this blog-post and it seemed to ring true with what I have observed regarding the pastoral ministry. In particular he writes:
2. We are mama’s boys. Apologies to the female pastors, this one’s just about the guys. I’ve read studies that higher than 80 percent of male pastors say they are much closer to their mothers than their fathers. This has a lot of implications, and it explains why we’re more likely to play an instrument than fire a gun, have coffee with a friend than watch a game, read a book than restore an old Mustang. It also means that nobody in the church gets our attention as much as the old ladies, who can make or break our day with a kind word or a disapproving scowl. When you’re dealing with your male pastor, keep in mind that he’s more likely to speak the language of nurture over discipline, collaboration over competition, forgiveness over punishment. These aren’t things he learned in seminary, these are things he learned in diapers.
I don't identify with any of this but I do believe a majority of pastors do. In David Murow's book Why Men Hate Going to Church, he posits that pastors have one of lowest testosterone levels of any occupation. This is a huge problem. If the church (a place to learn manhood) is not led by manly men, where will godly, strong, masculine men come from?
When I think about the type of guys who would have gone to church 50 years ago, I realize that nearly every one of them would have been former servicemen and most would have been WWII and Korean War veterans. They would have been manly men who would:
But it all starts back with the Apple of God's Eye, the Church. We've been asleep at the switch and it's time to wake up. I believe the church should be intentional in discouraging effeminate men from entering pastoral ministry and encouraging manly men to apply. This is a singular step that would reap huge benefits down the road.
In a recent article on the lack of good marriageable men, Kay S. Hymowitz says of the overgrown teenagers that pass for men today:
Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man.
So, what happens in a scenario where a child is raised by a single mother? Let's look at how this works out:
So, rather than stepping off into a brave new world, we ought to be humble enough to listen to the wisdom of the generations that came before us. The optimal and time-tested model for bringing children into the world is an environment that has both a mother and father in a stable relationship. This has major implications for other untested models for parental formation that are currently being pushed forward.
We need to fix men before we try something else. This "fix" is another story for another day.
In September 1989, my wife and I tied the knot. She was 21 and already employed as a court reporter and I was 23 and still trying to find myself. I had been in the service (USMC) by this point but still hadn't finished my undergrad degree and was experimenting with different careers (artist, importing/exporting, professional lecturer) which my wife graciously tolerated. But we were married and something about that dynamic is very good for men.
Recently there have been a spate of articles and books on how people aren't getting married young anymore (the average is 30 now) or not getting married at all. In addition, dudes are losing the skills necessary to get a wife and don't want to expend the effort at all with this Wall Street Journal article as an example.
Being married matures you by giving you no outs. To begin with, I want to say that although I was very poorly mentored, I believed in a Christian view of marriage that emphasizes commitment over feelings. After a few years of trying to launch my own business, I began to feel like a real schlub. My wife was out there working full-time and I was working part-time. It made me feel pretty un-manly. My wife and I discussed this and decided I needed to go back to school, finish my degree and get a career. At 26 I finished up and went into the field of education.
Within a few years I was moving up the ladder as an administrator and had enough of a career to support my wife and our soon-to come daughter. Before my oldest daughter arrived on the scene my wife was able to quit her job (a very lucrative and skilled one) and become a homemaker and I then spent a couple of years juggling our finances as we went from being DINKs (double income no kids) to being Ozzie and Harriet. And this is where I, as a man, thrived but we had to make many sacrifices. No nice new cars every few years. No eating out most of the week. No nice vacations. But we were a man and woman in full.
So, why are men acting like overgrown adolescents and not getting married? Because no one expects them to. And that includes young women. If young ladies keep going on "dates" with these overgrown apes that consist of a text-messaged invite and end with having sex with the dolt, you get the cultural effect you deserve. And if men tolerate these man-children by not calling them out, or letting them stay in their basements instead of saying, "son, time for you to go out and make your own way in the world" then we get the cultural effect we deserve. Being married and taking it seriously makes men do things they don't want to do but grows them in ways they never dreamed possible.
So the point is being married is hard. Being married costs. But being married is what is best for most men and women and society. It grows you up because you have to and it makes you take good, bold, though calculated risks because marriage itself is risky. So step up to the plate boys and be a man!
One of the publications I subscribe to is Inc. Magazine. It often has interesting articles packed in a tight format. I like that. But it seems like all anyone does for "business" anymore is try to invent some ap based on an ap and then try to obtain VC funding for the idea so you can sell it off as quickly as possible. In addition, the advertisements tell you a lot about where we're at. Take the example posted here. You'd get the impression that all small businesses do in America is make lattes, bake scones, or grow and make organic salads.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are building things in small shops and preparing to seize our trade networks.