Friday, December 09, 2011

The Nunc Dimittis as an acceptance of death

Years ago I set Simeon's song to music for SATB with S solo.  No one has ever performed the piece and I'm not sure it's going to get performed.  The Poulenc meets Part harmonic approach wouldn't go over well with volunteer church choirs and it might not be interesting enough or worthy enough to get much attention from better choral groups.  But it did strike me that Simeon's song was a song about accepting death as a death one can enter into in peace.  This does not mean death is anything other than death but that Simeon realized he could die in peace having seen the Salvation Yahweh had prepared not only for Israel, but for the nations.

It also happens that a few years ago I read an old copy of Helmet Thielecke's The Silence of God, though I don't have much to blog about that book or the topics therein at the moment.

There will always be preachers who transform the life and teaching of Christ into "your best life now" rather than discuss Simeon's song about how one's being a servant of God allows one to die in peace. there are some preachers who transform the good news of Jesus into a legacy to be championed by great and real men who share in that great and real legacy even though Paul wrote that the recipients of the great legacy which is Christ were nobodies of no account whom God providentially used to demonstrate that He was using that which was nothing to show up as nothing the "something" that was.  We know about Simeon because of this song and the evangelist's mention of him, and from this we know that Simeon accepted death. Life in Christ is accepting that we will die, that Christ has shared in death with us, and that sharing in Christ's death we will also share His life. 

It's Advent, so naturally that's all stuff to consider.  Don't go looking for your best life now, remember that you'll die but you can also be thankful within this realization. 

HT Mockingbird: For Creative People Cheating Comes Easier

"It's all about telling stories," Ariely explains, "so creative people are likely to be able to tell themselves better stories, which would allow them to cheat more on the one hand, but not feel worse about it on the other."

In all five of Gino and Ariely's experiments, creativity was clearly correlated with increased dishonesty. And though they are not yet fully able to demonstrate it, both Gino and Ariely feel like creativity increased dishonesty precisely because it allowed people to genuinely see credible rationalizations where others could not.

"If you are a creative person, all of a sudden you can go through the same amount of evidence and find many more links to justify the position that you want to have to start with."
But psychologist David Dunning of Cornell cautions this study might overemphasize the role of creativity in dishonesty. He points out that psychology has struggled for years to determine whether honesty is a function of a person's character or a function of the situations that people find themselves in.

And while he says that both are important, we often underestimate how much a situation influences what we do.

Stuff like this can make me want to be as uncreative as possible.  Could this impulse to create a story to tell yourself to let you cheat on the one hand but not feel bad about it on the other explain how some Christians insist that oral sex is actually the point of Song of Songs 2:3? The Song of Songs has many hapax legomena (unusual, rare word forms) and so a creative mind can exploit the obscurity and difficulty of the Hebrew, particularly in a pulpit setting, to spin out whatever ideas he or she wants to get in Song of Songs knowing that virtually no one is likely to dig up commentaries or consider whether alternate readings of Hebrew phrases might be relevant, let alone whether or not alternate approaches to interpreting the text as a whole might be undertaken. 

Thus a preacher could potentially make up a whole series of topical sermons all while claiming "I just preach what's in the Bible".  Thanks to the esoteric nature of the Hebrew poetics in Song of Songs, the majority of folks sitting in the seats at that church will just assume that pastor must be right, or not wrong enough to worry about it. But when OT scholars note that the Song of Songs, in its delicate celebration of eros and sexual pleasure, never manages to ever clearly indicate that the young lovers are formally wed maybe a preacher, when faced with either bluntly saying Song of Songs doesn't clearly indicate these loverbirds are married everywhere in the text where they're getting it on in bucolic locations, will feel that contriving to say that the lovers are married is the wiser move.  After all, if you try to go Old Testament and find out the Old Testament doesn't address fornication then it might seem wise and pragmatic to insist that in Song of Songs the young lovers are MARRIED, MARRIED, MARRIED.  And all of a sudden the pious bias that kicked in to make Song of Songs allegorical and have the breasts refer to Moses and Aaron paradoxically shows up to make sure Solomon and Abishag are married already.  As the above article notes, there are psychologists who point out creativity that leads to fabrication can be an indication of a dishonesty that springs from a character flaw but there are also fabrications that derive from a situation. 

Of course a single study does not prove an axiom, and in the social sciences it can't even establish a law (as though there are scientific laws in the social sciences but I trust you get the idea).  We should keep in mind that a single great big lie is one thing but that in situations like Enron it may be thousands of little, self-serving lies from thousands of people that cumulative lead to an Enron-like situation coming about.  I have been persuaded that if one is capable of self-deception then deceiving others becomes a matter of course.  I'm also reviewing the Clayface episodes in Batman: the animated series so I admit that there's a reason i've been mulling over this kind of stuff lately.

Publisher's Weekly on Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage, and a phrase to be considered

Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together
High-profile pastor Driscoll and his wife, Grace, have not only pulled back the curtain on the condition of marriage but have opened wide the door to their own home, taking readers into arguments, dating life, mistakes, and healing in their own marriage. While written from a theological point of view, they also did their homework in a wide range of therapeutic marriage books and have done thousands of hours of counseling and teaching marriage seminars along with their regular teaching in their Seattle church, Mars Hill. This is a book about married friendship, sexuality, healing broken marriages, and “reverse engineering” a marriage that will last—beginning with a vision of the end result and working back toward that. It includes no-holds-barred chapters on sex—how Mark held sex as “god” and Grace as “gross” and how they together discovered sex as a “gift” from God.  [emphasis added] The Driscolls’ Neo-Reformed views come shining through, with much emphasis on sin’s role in wrecking marriages today and Christ’s role in redeeming them. Taken to heart and put into practice, this boldly refreshing approach can change couples across America by letting God do the changing. (Jan.)

xkcd 988, the scroll-over is genius

An "American tradition" is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice.
Unalloyed genius.

Yes, I know, this is a week of diverging into many shallow, goofy links.  But seeing as I had my second major eye surgery in my life barely two weeks ago and I'm not even forty yet I feel I have some room to spend a week linking to the Oatmeal's Bobcats, Trogdor, and xkcd for a slight change.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Stuff Christian Culture Likes--Calling Anger Bitterness

Oh, I've never ever seen or heard this happen. ;-)

ah ... community. :)

The Oatmeal ... on "the howler monkey"

Someone has sat through stupid, time-wasting meetings.  Someone has also sat through stupid, time-wasting meetings in which things get discussed that have no purpose other than to satisfy people who show up at meetings.

Language alert, by the way, and in case you hadn't noticed it, the Bobcats display a cruel sense of humor.  But it's nothing you haven't read in the book of Judges, so be cool, eh? 

Oh, and just because it has repeat value ...

First there was Trogdor, and now Bobcats.  I can't be posting "serious" stuff all the time, now can I?

Mike Cosper's defense of celebrity pastors traffics a teensy bit in false dichotomies and double standards

Let me start off by saying that this is bound to come across as a snarky and satirical response, which it kind of is.  With a title like, "Celebrities, Heroes, and Slanderous Jealousy" Cosper's basically asking for at least one response with a little snark. I start with snark, yes, but I will end with a question, and in light of the way new Calvinists love to blog, you'll understand if I happen to end with a rhetorical question worthy of such blogging. 

But first, in the inviolate protocols of theo-blogging among Calvinists, let me start off with a strategic quote with which I will then interact.  There are rules for these kinds of things, and you just. can't. break. them.

... That said, I would like to pose a different question: Is it ever appropriate for a Christian leader to pursue a larger platform or broader audience? Is it possible for someone to be motivated to pursue this goal with humility and conviction, believing that God has gifted him with skills, experience, and insights that can be a blessing to the broader church?

If this pursuit is successful, it will almost inevitably lead to celebrity status. Merriam-Webster defines a celebrity as a "famous or celebrated person." Excellent work in any field will lead to celebration, both of the work and also the person. The shape of that response is (to some degree) out of the celebrity's control. Not even retreating to a hermit's life can prevent it altogether. Some celebration could be described as showing proper honor for preachers and teachers of the word (1 Tim. 5:17), and some could be called hero worship. The latter is a misplaced longing that marks the worst examples we see. But the former refers to influential leaders who have shaped much of the history of the church and continue to shape the life of the church in our day. ...

This is a classic Chrisian blog post trope.  Ask an essentially rhetorical question on something that could be a point for controversy.  Follow up this question with a dictionary citation, preferably Merriam-Webster because Christians in America are supposed to do that.  Then proceed to a closing argument which includes a prooftext verse backing up a conclusion you've arrived at in a way that would never require the proof text if you were up front about the actual nature of your argument.

Cosper's dealing with some false dichotomies that need to be highlighted.  For instance, as celebrities go there's no reason to work with such simplistic categories as "top of the heap" or "overexposed".  A person may genuinely be at the top of some heap but become overexposed by attempting to reach out to a broader audience.  By this I don't mean some case of reaching out to a broader audience before one is ready, but that the very nature of seeking a broader audience leads that celebrity to be overexposed.  The whole polarity of heap-topping and overexposure is a rote dichotomy used by neo-Calvinist bloggers that ends up being a self-justifying enterprise.  The dichotomy lets you put yourself on the right side of the dichotomy (and your friends and associates) while picking convenient celebrities to put on the other side. 

In Cosper's case he can cite Josh Dallas (whoever that is) as a celebrity who's earned top-of-the-heap status (I actually saw Thor and I can't say I recognized Josh Dallas in the film, knew who the actor was, or remembered what role Dallas played) and can cite Kim Kardashian as overexposed.  Yet as celebrity goes, even someone who is famous merely for being famous is more famous than the man Cosper invites us to consider top of the heap.  When I think top of the heap in the realm of film acting I think of Cate Blanchett a whole lot faster than I think of Josh Dallas (and Dallas, for all I know, probably does, too).  In fact a lot of people will think of B-movie actor Bruce Campbell before they'll think of Josh Dallas.  Does this make Bruce Campbell a celebrity?  Of course it does, and yet Campbell has a niche celebrity. 

That there are levels of public recognition was established by an experiment in which Joshua Bell decided to busk in a subway station to see if anyone recognized him. They didn't. Some people cited this as proof that real artistic greatness goes unappreciated in America. It was more a case of establishing that celebrity has context, in my estimation of things.   Joshua Bell is a celebrity violinist but a celebrity violinist is still going to be unknown to most people.  I would "probably" recognize Hilary Hahn if she showed up somewhere in Seattle (I have at least six of her albums, after all) but, you know what?  I might actually not recognize her in a crowd and not just because I recently had eye surgery.  I actually did not recognize that one of my favorite local classical guitarists was at the same event I was.  I was embarrassed about that.  Does this make him less a celebrity within his circle?  No, and I have four of his albums.  Actually, I think I might have ALL of his albums. :)  But odds are pretty good you've never heard of him.

The reality is that Christians who are celebritys exist in different strata of celebrity if they should attain celebrity status at all. There are realms of America, even among Christians, where you can go and nobody has even heard of John Piper. I thank God such groups of Christians exist, no, really, I do.  I agree with those who say that a Christian should not even seek celebrity status, let alone act as though their celebrity status, at whatever level, provides a basis from which to stump for what you want. 

I've had men in church settings tell me I should agree with them because of their prominent role in the church, or because I should be respectful toward them as older men (and agree that they're right).  I respect older men and I try to pay attention to them about all sorts of subjects.  I am also willing to consider that if someone has a prominent role among a social network of Christians to give that some thought.  But if someone pulls rank I'd like to know why they think that merely pulling rank proves anything.  I remember a time when a couple of people at Mars Hill told me that so-and-so was practically a pastor at the church.  To that I replied, "Well, until he becomes an actual pastor I don't have to pretend that he IS my pastor."  Celebrity doesn't have to be at a very high level for a person to try to leverage that celebrity to get things. 

Let's not forget that there's more danger to celebrity than just wanting the claim or praise of other people.  It's silly and irresponsible to speak as though that's the real risk of celebrity.  Celebrity is just as much a case where you can be tempted to trade on your celebrity to get status or recognition or decisions you want as it is a temptation to want to be liked; if you don't get what you want you can be tempted to trade in on your celebrity, at whatever level you have attained it, to get what you want.  This isn't something mysterious, and it isn't something that even has to indicate a high level of celebrity.  It can be at as small a level as "I'm the dad, so I get to decide this" or "I'm the parent, so you're obligated to respect me before God [though I don't have to honor or respect you for any reason]."  There are certainly cases where one has a certain rank and from that a necessity to serve others.  Parents are supposed to raise children, and leaders do have need to lead but it's dangerous to trade in on celebrity and the power that comes with it as a self-justifying move.

Cosper may hope to frame things in terms of celebrity being proof of God's blessing and favor.  If you get good at something, why, celebrity will be inevitable, won't it?  Don't all super-apostles need letters of recommendation and announcements in advance of their conferences that they are super-apostles mightily used by God?  If Cosper's reasoning is sound then shouldn't Cosper say that Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Paula White, and T. D. Jakes are, by dint of their bigger celebrity, more mightily gifted by God?  I mean, if he takes that line of reasoning at all seriously Cosper has to go there.  He won't, though, because he's blogging for the Gospel Coalition and not a website stumping for TBN, or writing for Charisma.  It should be telling about the weakness of the claim that celebrity is indicative of God's blessing and favor via gifting that a celebrity pastor in the Gospel Coalition is supposed to be subject to slanderous gossip while Joel Osteen is fair game.  Driscoll can lay into William Young over The Shack but puts the kids glove on and won't even throw punches about T. D. Jakes. 

And that gets me to what should be the most obvious flaw in Cosper's optimistic claim that God grants celebrity to people who get to the top of the heap and have the most gifts, in the annals of history the great teachings of the faith do not, as a general rule, have someone's name attached to them.  Sure, we know about the courage of Martin Luther but there's no coherent set of doctrines in Lutheranism that can't be found just about anywhere else in Protestantism if you look hard enough (Fearsome Tycoon can totally correct me on this sweeping generalization, by the way, if I turn out to be completely wrong). 

Now, sure, there's Arminianism but we all know that only got defined because Jacob Arminius made a protest against the systematics of Calvinism which, you get the idea by now.

But let's go further back and consider the flip side of celebrity.  How many heresies from the early church have some celebrity advocate?  Arius, Marcion, Montanus, Pelagius, Apollinarus, Macedonius I, Nestorius, do these names ring any bells?  Famous heresies have had celebrity advocates and there have been Christians who have become celebrities opposing them.  There are, of course, Christians who became celebrities for being despots and tyrants, too.  Celebrity is a double-edged sword, one can be widely celebrated but also widely defamed.  You can't really have one without the other, and it's a bit disingenuous to try to have the cake and eat it, too.  In terms of Christian greatness is the celebrity pastor really "more gifted" and "used by God to bless others" than the janitor who cleans up the bathrooms at a supermarket?  I don't think we can realistically say that that's the case.  

Proverbs does tell us that if there is a person who is skillful in work that person will stand before rulers and not obscure people.  That proverb is in there, but that janitor cleaning sinks and toilets won't be first in line to see the CEO or the primary teaching pastor at a megachurch no matter how wonderfully those sinks and toilets get cleaned.  If you do exceptional work you may get to serve exceptional people.  If you choose to see whomever you work for as exceptional enough to warrant exceptional work the odds "may" be better you will do exceptional work.  Of course in the end you or I may just be average and we should not feel so very ashamed if average is what we are. 

Instead of selectively defending celebrity for the people who are on our team let's forget about that.  Let's remember what Paul wrote to a church that was riven with factions and conflicts because of loyalty to celebrities:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

When we seriously make a case that celebrity is generally a sign of greater skill, blessings, and gifts from God just for our favorites and not in general don't we run a risk of saying that what Paul wrote to the celebrity-crazed Christians in Corinth shouldn't be taken to heart?

here's a link for the MacArthur Charismatic Chaos fanboys ;)

What was the big process?  Heh, in a way, nothing more complex than discovering that people he thought had to be demon-possessed were actually human, just as human as he was, and also shared beliefs in common.  But we can't have that now, can we?  ;) 

When I was a teenager I figured Presbyterians and Episcopalians were all spiritually dead legalists hung-up on meaningless rituals.  Heh, and now I'm at a Presbyterian church with some Reformed Anglican sympathies. 

You could say that somewhere along the line Trogdor burninated my preconceptions. Of course cessationists will keep drawing a single line through every heretical movement they can think of from the dawn of time along into Montanism and up to the present so that they land on Pentecostalism as a continuation.  Of course if any of these cessationist types are also dispensationalists they may want to rethink how ardently they assail their fellow Christians. ;)

80/20 in non-profit fundraising and a little local history

Interesting detail from that FY 2010 report (for those who read it) the highest annual giving per adult per campus was Lake City which was near the bottom in terms of the number of giving households per campus. It also had a small gap between the number of households at the campus and the number of attendees on any given Sunday.  The Lake City campus got shut down and most of its members and staff were moved to Shoreline and the space has since been leased to an Assemblies of God church.  Considering that per capita giving at Lake City per adult was actually the highest of any campus at Mars Hill ever the campus shutting down because there weren't enough members to keep the place afloat needs some context.  Two assertive church plant projects, for instance. 

But, at another level, the donor base there was loyal and generous and at a practical level it would have made sense to shut the campus down to lease the property to another church and move those members remaining to places where they could be useful in other contexts.  The annual report would make it seem that the Lake City campus didn't need to shut down at all in terms of per capita giving but that it made sense to shut it down if a church was asking to lease the property for use when it was losing its building. Lake City, to go by the 2010 annual report, had the cream of the donor crop (or a good chunk of it) for those of us who have ever paid attention to non-profit fundraising and development aspects at Mars Hill. I suspect most of them are in other campuses and giving generously.  Most, not all.

Someone I know gave what was for him a sizable chunk of money to keep the campus going and then the campus was shut down anyway. To my knowledge he probably hasn't given any money to Mars Hill since.  After being willing to give sacrificially to keep the campus open and running, the decision to shut the campus down was effectively nixing the value of the monetary sacrifice for this person.  This wouldn't necessarily have been the first time in the history of Mars Hill members were asked to be generous to the church to back up something that wouldn't pan out.  There's the old capital campaign from 2005, for instance, which many of my friends and family gave to back when nobody bothered to investigate thoroughly the zoning issues for the purchased property.

A word of consideration for Mars Hill leaders, decisions like shutting down a campus with high donor loyalty "could" cause some members, even long-time members, to choose to check out of giving.  Just something to consider but no one has to take my unsolicited advice.  Talk about stewardship can't just go one way, from the top down.  I'm not going to soft-pedal this, the Lake City campus was a big reason I even stayed as long as I did because a lot of my best friends were there. 
By contrast, it would appear that about every other year (or every year?) Ballard has to get a talking to. One of the things that has consistently happened is that Ballard has the highest attendance but is generally most likely to run a significant budget deficit. In other words, donor loyalty at the churches that aren't Ballard is always fairly high, while donor loyalty at the central Ballard campus is spottier.  I don't see this as particularly surprising or ironic--the members at campus sites who have a personal connection to the campus pastor and a longer history at Mars Hill have more reason to give to the church and its mission.  The Ballard campus has historically been where people go because they're curious to hear Driscoll preach.  This has the upside of having steady attendance but the downside of being the campus that has what is considered, even within Mars Hill circles, a remarkably impersonal and inaccessible social atmosphere. 

Now the reason I mention all this is my MH member roomies brought home information this week that interested me.  When I compare the 2010 annual report to a recent document summarizing the FY2011 fiscal year the following changes appear in annual giving: 

The percentage of non-giving attenders/members has gone from 20 percent to 24 percent. 

The donors who gave between $1-$499 in a fiscal year dropped from 43 percent to 41 percent. 

The donors who gave between $500-$1,500 in the fiscal year wnet from 15 percent to 14 percent. 
(this could be accounted for, possibly, by switching to a $500-$1,4999 division)

Donors giving between $1500-$4000 (11%) stayed steady in the new $14000 to $3999 category

Donors giving above $4000 annualy went from 10% to roughly 9%

The newer figures include the following breakdown:

Annual giving range

$4000-$9999          737 people,   7 percent
$10000-$19999      185 people,   2 percent
$20000-$49999      47 people,     less than 1 percent
$50000-$99999      5 people        ditto
$100000+               3 people        I don't have to spell this one out, do I?

If we grant that the Pareto number applies in most non-profit fundraising settings it's no surprise that the upper 20th percent gives 80 percent of the giving.  They have the most invested in the church and its story, if I may be so bold as to suggest that. 

Now with the background I have had in non-profit development and fundraising reporting what this suggests is that there has been a shrinking of the major donor base relative to the overall size of the church, in terms of percentages.  This doesn't mean fewer people are giving and the FY2010 annual report didn't give a clear insight into the category breakdowns by number of members.  It did give a breakdown on highest per capita giving per campus, but this newer summary permits at least a comparison of changes in donor ranges.

The group at the bottom has shrunk.  A person who gives $1-$499 in a calendar year got smaller.  Recessions being what they are this wouldn't shock me.  In non-profit fundraising thinking you don't necessarily worry about them.  They're at the bottom tier and you don't try to goad them into giving more or "being more faithful" in a non-church non-profit setting because even though the upper 20% give the most money it's really the bottom sixty percent or so that constitutes your real donor base overall.  So I'm not surprised to hear Driscoll and others have urged the 66 percent to be more generous.  But I would say that's not necessarily what they should try to do, at least based on the fundraising research and work I did back when I, uh, had a job. 

Why?  Well, because if they're committed enough to give $400 cumulatively each fiscal year that may be all they can afford and because there's no set of rules saying there's a bare minimum giving point, is there?  This is a non-profit, not a club membership.  There's no fees or dues that can really be pried from the $1-$499 crowd.  They're giving something, and in a recession that should be enough.  If we want to use wealth engine devices to suss out what probable income must be by ZIP codes we're operating at a domain of fundraising specificity that has jumped straight into donor prospect cultivation and major gift cultivation.  That gets to the upper 20 percent.

At least in my experience in non-profit work keeping track of giving patterns by demographics and gift-range categories, the upper 20 percent sure are cool in terms of their generosity but they can also be the most high maintainence to keep as active donors; they are often more likely to make restricted donations; and they tend to cost a bit more and require more personal attention to keep them invested.  No pastors will have to wonder how it is that this sort of giving demographic inevitably and eventually gains a great deal of power in directing a church. 

The major donors are the financial big guns you want to keep happy by letting them have a part in the story of the organization.  Then there are the mid-tier type donors, basically just about anyone who can consistently give at least $150 or so a month every month for a year.  These are the people who, though they aren't the 20%, are the ones you want to keep.  Over time there's a good chance their earning potential and assets may increase as they age (or mature ;) ).  They are the ones who may become future major donors. 

But then there are the people who give consistently but give small amounts.  Depending on age demographics here it's not a slam dunk to assume these people are just penniless college students, single mom, and the like.  A decent chunk probably would be at Mars Hill but I was asked by planned giving officers to keep track of donors who gave very small amounts but gave them on a very consistent basis.  Many of the most faithful givers actually give very small amounts because that's all they can afford.  These were people planned giving officers could want to meet with for estate planning and trusts.  Just because a donor does not have much by way of liquid assets does not mean the donor has nothing to give. But I doubt Mars Hill is going to set up a planned giving department just yet.  They're too young a church movement and do churches even have planned giving departments?  At the risk of being a bit snide, hey, it's part of legacy-building right? :)

My diffidence over time was that Mars Hill seemed capable of racking up expenses faster than its members could be mobilized to give.  If Mars Hill adds a campus or two that are given free that's not quite how it works in the real world.  The buildings at that point are cheaper to give away than maintain and so gaining campuses becomes gaining liabilities unless we're talking about cases in which the building and property were owned free and clear by the donor.  It would be tough to count those kinds of gifts in monetary terms because all of that stuff would constitute in-kind gifts, I think. 

I've rambled quite a bit here about non-profit fundraising stuff and financial reports and donor demographics.  It's all stuff I'm reminiscing on back from when I had a normal day job.  My impression is that at this point what Mars Hill may want to do, since the percentage of non-givers has increased, is to find a way to get them to give.  The way non-profits work is that even though non-profits aren't officially profiting they are, in their way, making a sale.  A sale constitutes demonstrating that what the non-profit does is important enough and worthy enough to warrant financial support.  The two basic ways this can be done is to invite the would-be donor to share in the mission and to share in the story of the mission.  The first is how you mobilize the rank and file donors, the second is how you can mobilize not only the rank and file but also upgrade mid-tier donors to major donors as time and resources move along. 

I hear there was a documentary film on the history of Mars Hill over the last fifteen years.  This is a shrewd way for a church, or any organization. to create a story with which a member/donor can identify.  It doesn't necessarily mean something skeezy or gimmicky, it's part of how everyone appeals to a donor or a client in for-profit or non-profit.  That's why a tagline like "God's work, our witness" becomes an important tagline.  The first phrase declares that the story is about God's work overall, but the sales pitch becomes "our witness".  That's the part where we play our role (or don't) in the witness to God's work.  I don't know if this will inspire the 24% who don't give jack to give jack but the move makes sense, from a fundraising standpoint.  As I have written a few times on this blog, my worry often was that Mars Hill was acquiring property and liabilities faster than it could cultivate it's donor base. 

To the extent that there's so often 1 of 4 members who give nothing I wonder if the fundraising analystis at Mars Hill may want to consider some possibilities here.

First of all, in any non-profit with a significant donor base there will often be a group of lapsed donors.  These are the people you want to keep, if possible.  Anyone who gives ANYTHING on a monthly basis, no matter how small, is not a donor you have to sweat about. 

Secondly, it may not be a bad idea consider if there any patterns in that 24 percent.  I don't mean some stock pattern that is assumed, like these are the "consumers" or these are the "bad stewards" or "financially irresponsible".  Driscoll, it seems, has recently said that there's no real danger of the Mars Hill denomination going under financially.  He wants people to not give with some goal to get something out of things for themselves, but also not to give out of some sense of guilt.  But here's the thing, Jesus said "Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be."  He said to not lay up treasures here on earth where the moth eats away and rust destroys, but to lay up treasures in Heaven.  In other words, even Jesus made a sales pitch based on things that a person can gain or benefit from by investing in the life and teaching of Jesus.

A professor I used to know said that one of the weird pious biases among some Christians is to say that we should not be thankful to God for His gifts or what He does but just for Himself.  He then pointed out, does this make any sense in light of any of the Psalms?  The Psalmists were thanking God for concrete things, gifts, and actions all the time!  If we're only supposed to worship God because He's so awesome, despite whether or not we get anything out of it, have we paid attention to any biblical texts?

By extension, if there is a mentality about church membership which states that one should not join a church and become a member because there's something in it for the member, but because it's good to obey Jesus, what kind of stupid sales pitch is that?  Now I'm not sayig it's exactly dumb to follow Jesus (though the Cross is foolishness to the Greeks, after all, so in all sorts of ways it really is stupid).  What I'm getting at is that if you want people to sign on as members and give "God's money" to you the sales pitch for them doing this wouldn't be well-served by just saying, "IF you really love Jesus you'll do this."  I worked at the Salvation Army at one point and had to prove to auditors and accountants that money was responsibly directed and spent (I actually loved that part about my job).  I was glad to be able to demonstrate that the money went where the donors asked us to put the money. 

All of this is why I found it sad that Driscoll claimed that in 2008 1,000 members left because of doctrine.  That's not why all those people left, after all.  It was for any number of reasons, one of which was a disappointed realization that the leaders we trusted to investigate all the legal and financial issues of investing in property for church expansion did not do as good or responsible a job as we assumed they would. Now for folks still in the denomination the reply will be, "Oh, things have changed a lot in the last few years. The leaders have matured a lot and grown a lot."  Sure, but that's what we all told ourselves when we gave to the capital campaign, too.  Now, obviously, I've made it clear throughout this blog I've landed at a Presbyterian church.  I'd like to be in a position to give and haven't been.  Being unemployed for a bit more than two years can put you in a spot like that! 

Well, anyway, this has been my rumination on non-profit fundraising and some Mars Hill annual reports.  It looks like there's no worries about overall giving but there's that 66 percent of people who don't give more than $500 cumulatively this or last fiscal year.  I don't think that's the main concern in the end.  In a recession with the possibility of more economic downturns be thankful that people are even in the cumulative range of $1-$499.  Back in my Salvation Army days we sent receipts and thank-yous to even those people rather than asking them to give more all the time.  I would even code donors to not get any mail when they let me know they were going to give anyway.  That was "good stewardship".  When you know certain people will give what they can you don't get after them to give more. 

Naw, it's the people who give zip that would be a concern and if possible the concern should be not merely to suggest they please God by being obedient to Jesus and giving.  It might involve asking why they haven't given and not working on the assumption that the reason must reflect badly on them.  If a person is at the church but has lost all his/her friends, hasn't made new ones, and doesn't find any real community in community groups but shows up and attends then to suggest to this person they are a consumer won't win them over.  A basic reason this tactic may backfire could be summed up by its opposite, an idea my pastor shared in a sermon a few years ago, the measure of a real shepherd is his disposition toward the sheep he can't get anything out of.  If the only sheep you pay attention to are the ones that will be useful to you then you have the heart of the hired hand and not a shepherd as the biblical authors describe the true Shepherd.

Which is to say that it's necessary to remember that there's always more to a "consumer" mentality in churches in America than than just attenders. There are people who don't give because, maybe, they should be at some other church but haven't figured that out yet.  Driscoll was happy to say 1,000 members left over doctrine years ago, would he be happy to say that 2,400 members left because they realized that Mars Hill wasn't really the place they wanted to give their money to because they didn't feel a sense of family or fellowship there, or because they realized that secondary issues like complementarianism might not be something they could get behind? 

In any event, it's those non-donor members (not even the non-giving attenders) that are the mystery demographic.  You don't need to worry about people already giving.  Donor loyalty and donor retention aren't things to worry about for anyone who gives a steady amount over two or three years unless you end up doing something that might cause them to lose faith in your handling of money.

One thing I can be certain won't motivate them to give--if you want them to give, don't treat them like they're people with outstanding debts because they don't love Jesus enough and you're the collections agency.

And you probably don't want to send Trogdor, the Burninator, either. :)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

from PsyBlog: the advice of a stranger---plus a little personal holiday time reflection

... in other words, when it comes to spending money on things you don't need there's something to be said for assessing the reactions of others before you drop your hard-earned cash (or maybe the not-so-hard-earned cash, too).  Even when I was gainfully employed I tended to take this approach.  Did I think I wanted a CD?  Wait for it to hit the library and then, literally, check it out.  Did I want to watch a movie?  I'd read reviews and ask friends.  If a critic ripped on Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and I knew that critic also happened to love, say, Robert Altman movies, then I knew I'd want to see the movie. If, say, Jeffrey Overstreet here in the Seattle region gave it a good review then I'd consider checking it out because (full disclosure) Jeff and I went to the same school and travelled in some overlapping social circles. 

There's not many things to buy that you need to buy so badly you don't do a bit of research on the things first.  If you could buy it now there's no reason not to wait a while and buy it later.  You might even find you didn't want it that badly.  But I've written about this before, somewhere here.  Still, it's worth repeating.  If it's not rent ... or a bill ... or a mortgage ... or something like that then there's a decent chance you don't "really" need it that bad. 

The Christmas season is upon us and there will be diatribes about "consumerism" and "materialism".  Do I want stuff for Christmas?  Oh yeah!  I'd like, um, a steady job (with medical, vision, and dental benefits if possible).  I'd like my recently operated on left eye to not need surgery ever again and to not get secondary cataracts or a retinal detachment!  I know who to consult on that one, don't worry.  What else ... I suppose toothpaste and shampoo might be cool but I'm decently stocked on that for now.

But meanwhile I have been the recipient of such kindness and generosity from family and friends that I don't really "need" much by way of conventionally conceived presents.  Time with family and friends is more precious than stuff.  I don't say that as though it were some pious claptrap or cliche!  When you've got no job, very limited money, and eyesight up until recently hobbled by a giant cataract in addition to not naturally having had good eyesight you can discover how tiny your horizons can be!  I'm grateful that due to the generosity of family and friends I have a roof over my head, that my housemates help me keep warm, that I still have food stamps so that what little money I have goes straight to rent, that my lenders have been gracious with me as I have kept them in the loop about my employment situation, that the local Lions Club stepped in and mercifully paid for a cataract removal surgery I could not possibly afford!  That my retinal specialist has been generous with his time and resources to help make sure my eyes can get checked up on despite my pathetic employment situation. 

There are so many people I can be thankful to in the midst of this very rough patch of my life that I couldn't possibly repay them literally or in my gratitude. Maybe I could write some symphony or something ... but I don't write symphonies.  There's not really a piece of music I write that could properly thank them all.  Some of them have helped me in ways where their help is anonymous so I actually CAN'T thank them in any setting but this one.  So I do, at least, want to thank them here, if by some chance they know that this is where I do a lot of my blogging. 

somewhat grueling in some ways but I've hatched a plan

A teacher of mine once gave me some advice that has summed up my approach to writing--sloppy writing is generally the result of sloppy thinking.  So if your thoughts are clear then your writing will generally get clearer.

I thought I was going to do a lot more writing than I did but what I ended up doing instead was a lot of thinking.  Thinking is the actual, important part of writing.  So I think I've worked out an approach to a new writing project that will let me approach it in a sensible way over the long haul. 

ah, the insomnia of research and writing

It's cool, except for the part where it goes into crazy hours of the night.  I've got a lot of writing I've committed to doing this month.  You probably can't imagine how much.

Well, my friend J. S. Bangs probably can! And my brother and sister can.  And David Zahl over at Mockingbird.  But there are some other friends I've been planning to write for and they are the friends for whom I have been mapping out a fairly good-sized chunk of material. 

I've made some progress but it's basically completing one third of the notes for a first draft.  This will, like anything else, take time, a lot of time.  My hope is that I can bring to it enough time, thought, and effort to also make this thing good.  That's about all to be written on these things for now.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A composer considers Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Not that I'm primed at just this moment to discuss the implications of this passage at any great length, but ask yourself what an implication of this text would inevitably be. If God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things through Christ, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of Jesus' cross, then why wouldn't this reconciliation include all musical styles? 

While this obersation won't settle all questions as to what is liturgically appropriate this does settle the question of whether or not any musical style is reconciled to God the Father in and through Christ.  There is no music that is inherently "robustly trinitarian" (i.e. post-Renaissance tonal music in the West) or inherently pagan as music goes.  There may be texts extolling pagan deities or pagan ethics or things like that but the music, as music, is still part of the "all things" that would be within the work of reconciliation accomplished by Christ. 

If this seems like an observation that is mundane or irrelevant consider this in light of the worship wars that have been brewing and will continue to brew until Jesus comes back.  If in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, and slave or free then there is no longer a high and low, an East and West, or a pop and art boundary that must inherently accrue within the fellowship of God's people.  There is no boundary between circumcised and uncircumcised any longer, for both are reconciled to God through Christ and to each other through the removal of the barrier of the Law (read Torah, read whatever boundaries you insist on keeping where ever you might want them to be).  Does this mean any and all music is a-okay in a liturgical setting? 

Well, not necessarily, but the metric does not necessarily depend on just one metric of "musical excellence" but of service to the body of Christ.  Musicians playing or singing to the lowest common denominator for certain types of music is not a matter of forsaking musical excellence as such but an act of loving service to, well, let's not sugar-coat this too much, the musically illiterate.  :)  In personal terms, just because I can play fugues on solo guitar or like to play works by Toru Takemitsu now and then doesn't mean I won't be happy to strum a series of open chords in the church orchestra if that will be more beneficial to a congregation. 

And that's about all I feel like writing about on that for the moment.

HT City of God: Andrew posts something about the Antichrist

Though, sadly, he offers no insight on when Nicolai Carpathia will appear, O’Donovan offers some otherwise helpful thoughts on the nature and function of the Antichrist. From The Desire of the Nations:

Mission is not merely an urge to expand the scope and sway of the church’s influence. It is to be at the disposal of the Holy Spirit in making Christ’s victory known. It requires, therefore, a discernment of the working of the Spirit and of the Antichrist. These two discernments must accompany each other: to trace the outline of Christ’s dawning reign on earth requires that one trace the false pretensions too. One reason that the idealist language about the Kingdom of God in the late nineteenth century failed to avoid the trap of civilisational legitimation was that it never identified the false horizon, and could grasp social evil only as a regression from civilisation into barbarism. [emphasis added here by the American Indian descended Wenatchee the Hatchet] Recognition of the Antichrist is a recurrent theme in the doctrine of the Two. Gelasius observed it in the pretensions of imperial authority; Gregory VII in the involvement of kings in episcopal appointments; Wyclif and his successors paradoxically in the structure of papal administration which Gregory’s successors created. Yet there is a single theme which connects the varied warnings of Antichrist in different ages: the convergence in one subject of claims to earthly poltiical rule and heavenly soteriological mediation. John of Patmos found it present not in the Roman empire as such but quite specifically in the imperial cult. It was therefore not inappopriate to discern Antichrist even in the papacy, while it claimed universal juridical competence over political societies and wielded it in the name of mankind’s salvation. The rejection of Antichrist is the rejection of a unified political and theological authority other than that which is vested in Christ’s own person. [emphasis added by Wenatchee the Hatchet] That is to say, it is implied in the basic structure of the Two itself. (pp. 214-215)

We are tempted to think, perhaps, that the concept of Antichrist, capable of such shifting and contrasting applications from age to age, is useless for serious theological analysis; but it is not so. There is no one Antichrist; but in any period of history Antichrist may take shape as one thing, challenging the claims of God’s Kingdom with its own. Every candidate nominated for the role of Antichrist has passed away. That does not itself invalidate any attempt to identify it; for that identification is part of an age’s secret knowledge about itself, its interpretation of its own ‘today’ from the point of view of its today. Of course, those who never want to be out of date will never interpret their today; they will wait until they can read about it in the newspapers. But those whose business lies with practical reason cannot take their place among what P. T. Forsyth called ‘bystanders of history’. When believers find themselves confronted with an order that, implicitly or explicitly, offers itself as the sufficient and necessary condition of human welfare, they will recognise the beast. When a political structure makes this claim, we call it ‘totalitarian’. (pp. 273-274)

I'd actually write something about this but I have more pressing things to do lately.  I will say, though it may be construed as purely polemical, that you need to be able to see the Antichrist impulse in yourself and your own associations before you go looking for it in everyone and everything else.  It is also important to bear in mind that the way most Christians use "Antichrist" is in a way that conflates the Antichrist with the Beast, which won't necessarily be an accurate conflation.  John's epistles indicate three kinds of antichrists: 1) those who leave the Christian faith 2) those who deny that Jesus is the Christ and 3) those that deny Jesus came in the flesh.  The Beast, however, could be construed as including all three types and the mark of the beast may be seen as the veneration required by the imperial cult for Roman citizenship and trade. 

What is interesting is how selectively American pastors and pundits have been about identifying an executive as an antichrist.  Liberals have said that George W Bush was an antichrist for claiming God backed the United States.  Conservatives have referred to the Obamanation of Desolation.  Notice what doesn't get said by either side, that the United States itself must be the Beast for such an association to even get made with any seriousness.  No, we don't want to suggest the United States itself is the Beast becasue America was founded on Christian principles, right?  Or America was founded on secularist/deistic principles promoting religious pluralism and liberty and so couldn't be something as oppressive as a Beast from Revelation, right?  Well, pretty much wrong on both counts.  Psalm 2 refers to all the nations and does not omit a few select entities that might now conveniently have certain alliances to Israel.  Not that Israel is somehow not part of "the nations" for that matter but that's another subject.

Well, okay, so I ended up writing a few things anyway.  That wasn't the plan.  But as I have often said, I ramble.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A sampling from The Oatmeal on why 3d movies must die

"It's the future of cinema"

You remember those Magic Eye books from the 1990s? The ones where you'd look at them, relax your eyes, and a 3D picture would pop out? Saying that 3D movies are the future of cinema is like saying that Magic Eye books were the future of literature.

On this point I don't disagree, not that I disagreed with the other points. :) The bit about the snorkel is funny, too.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

hoping to return to writing a bit more again

I had eye surgery a week ago and have been feeling all this last week that an incision was made in my eye to put something in there that wasn't there before!  Of course you might have caught the poem I wrote about that.  I've been wanting to get back to some writing projects not just here but elsewhere and am starting to have the eyes for it (again). If it seems like there was little abatement in my output it's because I type pretty quickly. 

But I am still (yes!) working on essays on Batman: the animated series for Mockingbird.  These have been, without any doubt, the most challenging essays in the series of series so far.  The Justice League essays could be positively simple by comparison!  And then the stuff about pop mythology vs branding the monomyth and lazy Christian "cultural engagemen" is yet another whole field of writing I want to address.  For those of you (if any!) who have wondered why I have labored at such great lengths to discuss childrens' entertainment in such a serious way it isn't "just" because I love the DC animated universe, but also because I want to demonstrate by example an alternative to how I have seen some Christians "analyze" pop culture.  Now there are some Christians I love and respect who (mostly) do a good job but I've seen and read some patently lazy stuff trotted out in the name of critically assessing this or that pop cultural or literary thing.  I've disagreed with some friends on some things and they know we're still cool even if I disagree on a few things in the trenches of actual interpretation.

But there's other writing I'm wanting to get to besides writing about cartoons.  You'll have noticed I've discussed writing chamber music here more than a few times.  I am incubating a potentially giant writing project on stuff I'm not going to discuss just now but alert readers who frequent this blog may be able to put together a lot when I say that this as yet unfinished project is still in the vision-casting or visionary state.

I am also just one prelude and fugue away from completing my cycle of 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  With help from a friend or two I hope to start filming performances of works from the cycle and maybe even dump these films on the internet somewhere. 

I'm also trying to juggle a few books I'm reading but I don't feel like writing about the books just yet.

In other news, someone sent me a copy of a new CD I hope to write about and plug after I have some more time to absorb it.  My listening projects have been a bit on the back burner in the last few weeks.

"consumer Christianity" and warnings against a consumer king in Deut 17

I confess I have become skeptical about leaders talking to followers about "consumer Christianity".  It can seem as though the only variations of consumer Christianity are the kind that followers have, in the opinion of leaders.  Either a person is a "consumer" and doesn't give or the person has a consumer mentality that, paradoxically, is motivated by a desire to feel good or "not feel guilty". 

Is that really all there is to "consumer Christianity"?  What about using church funds to buy things that, strictly speaking, you don't need?  If you don't practice hospitality on a consistent basis but get entertainment gear couldn't that be consumeristic?  Couldn't it be consumeristic even if you DO practice a great deal of hospitality?  How do we know that "engaging culture" isn't essentially a form of sanctified or baptised consumerism?  Of course I'm not saying you shouldn't do it or just declaring it to be immoral.  If you help people in need, and reconcile broken relationships, and reach out to those who may be in isolation then as far as I'm concerned if you happen to have some cool entertainment gear that doesn't mean you're automatically some evil "consumer".

Is there a comparable warning to leaders not to have a consumeristic approach to the people they have charge of?  Why, yes, as a matter of fact.  I've even got verses.  There's this chapter in Deuteronomy, you probably know the one, that says the king should not amass too many wives, or amass too much gold, or amass too many horses.  Now the wives bit speaks for itself.  The thing about amassing too much gold "should" speak for itself but you know something?  The Torah doesn't define what "too much" is!  What if the leader defines "too much" as being at a much higher threshhold than the ruled?  Who is being addressed on this subject about the king not being one to amass too much gold?  Oh, yeah, that's right, the people. 

By way of digression, the priests don't even get an inheritance.  They live off of the provisions from the tithe.  Heh, now if someone wanted to be "biblical" then the priests would not be allowed to own property and would live off of the funding of the people.  Of course these days Protestants prefer not to talk about priests and in certain circles the preferred term for a pastor is not necessarily "priest" but "king" so it may be useful to simply grant how clouded terminology gets.  The priests, in any case, don't have an inheritance in the land and are supported by the people.

Which gets back to the king, now that I've taken that detour.  The king is not to amass too many horses.  What does that really mean?  Does it mean the king shouldn't have too many cars?  Maybe, but that's not particularly likely or plausible.  A better explanation stems from not going to Egypt for horses.  The idea is that Israel should not go back to Egypt in the sense of connecting itself to the slavery that entailed.  It also includes avoiding making a military alliance with them.  "Horses" can be taken as a shorthand not merely for "cars" or horses as signs of royal prestige but as a shorthand for military power. 

For those who don't have much interest in military history here is the part where I mention that there's an important distinction between a professional standing army and a civilian regional militia.  As Israeli military historians occasionally refer to biblical texts, the professional standing calvary and infantry wouldn't be the same as the regional militias.  When Deuteronomy warns against a king having "too many horses" this is less likely to refer to the ancient near-eastern equivalent of an Escalade with gold rims as it is to an M1A2. The king should not have an imperial guard that is too big or a professional standing military that is too powerful. 

The king is supposed to be literate, and literate enough to make his own copy of the "book of the law" to study.  He's to follow the statutes and by doing them prevent his heart from being lifted up above his brothers. An Israelite king is to be brought in from within Israel's ranks, not imported from some other land.  Israel was not to hire out for kings due to rumors of kingly gifts.  They were to go with the king God chose for them. Now I'd love to digress into God choosing Saul as the first king and what that may mean but I'm trying to save time and space here. The king is not to have his heart lifted up above those who serves.  Yes, I put it that way for all kinds of reasons.  The disposition of the king should not be to amass many wives as proof of virility, much gold, and that horses thing means he should not reserve for himself too much military power.   So when you read "horses" in Deuteronomy 17 keep in mind that a flatly literal reading of "horses" in warnings about what a king shouldn't do is quite possibly missing what the real warning is about. 

And, yes, of course, there's the part where Christians look at Deuteronomy 17 and talk about how Jesus is the real king that is pointed to.  Sure, sure, but let's not forget the more mundane referent here, to the actual king that Israel would one day want to appoint.  Notice that the role of the king, if you pay attention to Deuteronomy 16-18 is actually not that involved in a lot of the "rule".  The tribal chieftains and judges, in Deut 16, where do those come from?  Appointed from among the people.  What about the priests?  Levitical priesthood already accounted for.  And the king?  What's he do?  Well, we're told a few general things about what he's NOT supposed to do, and that looks curiously like a warning that the king is the one who should not have a consumeristic mentality toward his people.  The point of studying the book of the law is so that he would learn to fear the Lord and not have his heart lifted up above his brothers.  Who was in a position to stop the king from amassing too many wives, too much gold, and too many horses (for war)? 

Now if a pastor is supposed to have "kingly gifts" what do we make of the stern prohibitions against that "king" having "too many wives"?  What do we make of the "too much gold?  What constitutes "too much gold" if Benny Hinn has what he has? And how many even bother to think through what a warning against "too many horses" as a shorthand for millitary power would be?  I'll throw out a suggestion--in Israelite military organization the professional army wasn't supposed to be more powerful than the regional militias so that if at any point one of those kings was a tyrannical punk the people could depose him.  If you don't know for sure if kings were deposed in the OT I refer you to Joash and you can do some personalized study on that topic.   I don't see how anyone could credibly make a defense that pastors are "kings" in even a Deuteronomy 17 sense but if I assume for the sake of a very stupid argument that they somehow are then the textual evidence at hand says that the people, not the royal family or cabinet, get to decide how much money and power and women is too much.  Notice, too, that the kings with those kingly gifts are not self-nominated. :)

Now if we run with the assumption that Deuteronomy 17 does refer to Jesus in the end by way of typology, then His studying the book of the law so as not to have his heart lifted up above His brothers and sisters becomes food for thought.  You can mull that over if you want but I'll just end with that thought for the time being.

There are basically two ways a Christian can respond to this comic

1) we can laugh in amusement at how we and our church or spiritual association is the punchline of the joke or
2) we can very seriously attempt to explain how our church or spiritual association is the truly apostolic and real Christian form of fellowship which is thus at the start of the tree and exempted from the punchline.

Reaction #1 means you have a sense of humor
Reaction #2 means you have no sense of church history, probably don't want it, and will attempt to prove even now that it proves (if you knew it) that you're not part of the joke.