Tag Archives: Ministry

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

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#196: A Church and State Playground

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #196, on the subject of A Church and State Playground.

Back in the winter we noted, in web log post #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, that the United States Supreme Court was going to decide a case concerning whether a church-affiliated school could be denied participation in a public welfare program simply because it was sponsored by a religious institution.  That decision has been reached, in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Carol S. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and the majority opinion is very like what we previously suggested, but there are three concurring opinions that quibble on the details and one dissent that is scathing, fairly well reasoned, and as long as the other four opinions combined.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, joined in full by Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan; Justices Thomas and Gorsuch also joined the opinion, with the exclusion of “footnote 3”, and each of them filed a concurring opinion, and joined in supporting each other’s concurring opinion.  Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgement.  It is Justice Sotamayer who wrote the lengthy dissent, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.

To recount briefly, Missouri runs a program which provides funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires.  There is a tax on new tire purchases which funds the collection and recycling of discarded tires, converting these into a “pour-in-place” durable soft surface which reduces injuries on playgrounds.  The application process for determining eligibility to receive such a “grant” examines many factors including the economic circumstances of the area, the public use of the playground, and more.  On a list of forty-four applicants, the school ranked fifth, but did not receive one of the fourteen grants because it was affiliated with a religious institution, and the department had a policy of refusing to provide money to any religiously-affiliated institution, consistent with the Missouri State Constitution Article I, Section 7, which we quoted in the previous article.  This led to a court battle over whether the State, by refusing to permit a religiously-affiliated school from participating in a program that provided aid for non-religious programs, had violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, by making eligibility for a public assistance program dependent on renouncing a religious belief or association.

All five opinions discuss the balance between the Free Exercise Clause, that the government cannot interfere with someone’s beliefs, and the Establishment Clause, that the government cannot support one set of beliefs over another.  Neither clause is exactly absolute.  For example, it is agreed that the Establishment Clause does not mean that the publicly-funded fire department can’t put out a burning church or synagogue, or that the police won’t investigate a theft of church property.  The Free Exercise Clause has also been tested, and laws have been overturned which prevented ordained ministers from serving in elected public office, on the grounds that such laws forced a person to choose between his religious beliefs expressed in his vocation and his right as a citizen to run for office.

A lot of the discussion on both sides concerned the previous case Locke v. Davey, 540 U. S. 712 (2004).  In Locke, the State of Washington ran a post-secondary education scholarship program based on outstanding scholastic achievement, but with a specific clause stating that the scholarship money could not be used for ministerial training.  The student claimed that the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, but the Court held that under the Establishent Clause the State could refuse to fund ministerial training, particularly given that the program did not exclude schools which offered such courses or the courses themselves, only a degree program of that nature.  They have always maintained that there was some space between the two clauses, in which States were not compelled by either to act in a particular way; the question was whether in this case the state was forced to act one way or the other, or was free to act as it chose.

The majority felt that this case was more like McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U. S. 618 (1978), in which ordained ministers were barred from seeking election to public office, and the Court held that this amounted to denying a citizen a fundamental right available to all citizens (running for public office) based solely on religious belief.  The playground was not part of a religious training program, but a part of ordinary educational aid made available broadly to the community, and the church had been excluded from the program solely because it was a church, having a religious purpose in its existence.  The denial of the right to participate in the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, because it required the church to choose between abandoning its religious faith and participating in a common government welfare program designed for the protection of children.  A significant part of the decision can summarized in the Court’s words

…denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest “of the highest order.”

Under such “strict scrutiny” the policy failed.

To some degree, the concurring opinions have to do with footnote 3, which reads

This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.  We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.

Justice Thomas expressed the view that Locke failed to apply strict scrutiny to the facts in that case, and ought to be overturned–but that that was not a question before the court at this time.  However, he thought footnote 3 too limiting, and deferred to Justice Gorsuch’ concurring opinion for that.

Justice Gorsuch says that the Court makes an indefensible distinction between religious status and religious use, and so distinguishes Locke from the present case.  He makes the point thus, comparing the two cases:

Is it a religious group that built the playground?  Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?….was it a student who wanted a vocational degree in religion?  or was it a religious student who wanted the necessary education for his chosen vocation?

The only justification for the decision in Locke, in Gorsuch’ view, is the “long tradition against the use of public funds for training of the clergy”.  As to footnote 3, he feared it would be misconstrued as saying that the principles on which this decision was based do not apply outside very narrow fact sets, which he thought was incorrect.

Justice Breyer put the emphasis on the fact that the program involved was intended “to secure or to improve the health and safety of children” and was in that sense not different from other public welfare programs such as police and fire protection.  He did not want to extend the decision too far, but thought in this case it was a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause, and that for programs akin to this the fact that the applicant was a religious school should not exclude it.

Interestingly, none of these opinions declared that the Missouri Constitution’s Article I section 7 was unconstitutional; the majority opinion merely stated that as interpreted by the Missouri Supreme Court it ran afoul of the Free Exercise Clause, and so would have to be understood differently in the future.

Justice Sotamayer’s dissent is long, involved, and pointed.

Her most cogent point is that the church identifies the school as part of its ministry, intended to build the foundations of Christian faith in its students, whether children of church members or others from the community.  We have established that States can refuse to pay scholarships for ministerial training.  It is reasonable to conclude that the State can refuse to pay for Bibles, Korans, Torahs, as well as vestments, chalices, sacramental elements.  Arguably the doors, windows, roofs, and walls of church buildings are part of the ministry.  We would not use government money to pay for such acoutrements, because they are in a sense part of the ministry.

Yet it is clear that this is not so.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it was established the Federal Flood Insurance and Disaster Relief could be used to rebuild damaged churches, as long as it was distributed even-handedly–that is, not favoring any particular religion.  So government money can be used for repairing physical plant of religious buildings.

Further, the National School Lunch Act provides discounted and free lunches to students in private and parochial schools without regard for the religious nature of the school, because lunch is neutral and it would be discriminatory against the religious choices of these families to exclude them from an otherwise neutral benefit because they are attending a religious private school.

So on the one hand we ask ourselves whether the playground is part of the ministry of the church, and in a sense it is, but in the same sense that the lunchroom is part of the ministry of the church.  Indeed, from the perspective of the Christian faith, every congregant is an extension of the ministry of the church, and yet we know that people cannot be excluded from government assistance programs simply because they are members of a faith which regards all of its members as ministers.  The government cannot avoid giving money to church ministries, as the church understands them, because whenever money is given to people who belong to the church, it is aiding the ministry of the church.

And on the other hand, we ask ourselves to what degree the support of the playground is supporting the religious mission of the church.  In many states it is a requirement that schools include a physical education program, and although Trinity’s school is essentially preschool the playground may be necessary to their certification–that is, if all schools must have some kind of playground for physical activity, then the playground is clearly meeting a secular, a non-religious, requirement.  Stating that it is a part of the ministry of the church certainly calls the matter into question, but seen in perspective, the answer should be obvious, that state money given to religious institutions for secular purposes such as meals and playgrounds are not a violation of the Establishment Clause, and might well be required, as the majority observes, under the Free Exercise clause.

None of this touches the deeper problem, that the language in the Missouri State Constitution is Blaine Amendment language, which as we observed was inserted for essentially religious (anti-Catholic) purposes.  However, since no party addressed this, that issue remains for the future.

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#187: Sacrificing Sola Fide

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #187, on the subject of Sacrificing Sola Fide.

img0187Luther

My Gordon College friend Walter Bjorck has apparently been posting a series of suggestions concerning how to create a genuinely Christian genuinely non-denominational fellowship.  He has been doing this via Facebook–which I find a particularly poor medium for that kind of thing, both because it is challenging to find all the posts in the series and because it provides a rather limited opportunity to respond and discuss.  To the former, I have no easy answer for him (try a web log, or possibly start a Facebook group?), but for the latter I have removed a piece of the discussion hither.  It happens that shortly after he posted this it was his birthday, so I was alerted to visit his page and saw this, and was prompted to respond here:

6. Justification by faith. All Christians believe in justification by faith, but Protestants went a step beyond by saying justification by faith alone. Both views must be allowed, understanding that all viewpoints have usually agreed that true faith produces godly works. We should also understand that Christians have agreed that fallen human beings cannot produce good works apart from the grace of God in Christ. Christians agree that Christ alone lived a sinless life and fulfilled the mission that Adam and his descendants have failed to fulfill.

Let me mention that Walter is one of those people whose intellect impressed me.  In our collegiate days he would visit meetings of various unorthodox groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) and discuss with them how their views differed from Evangelical Christianity, and why the latter was more likely true.  That he was able to do this at all impressed me; that he did it in an open and friendly non-confrontational way which created dialogue and got people listening even more so.  So as I come to his ideas here, I think it important to express my admiration of his ideas and his efforts.

I must also mention that this is the only item on the list I found, but I found part of the list (without links) and recognize that there are some other issues on it I would find problematic and might eventually address if I manage to locate his comments on them.  Overall, I think C. S. Lewis was right when he somewhere said that what divides Christians is not that we disagree about the important things but that we disagree as to what the important things are.  I have a wonderful example of this, reported to me by Presbyterian Reverend John Highberger who said that an Episcopalian priest commented to him that Episcopalians and Presbyterians would never get together because Episcopalians go forward to receive communion and Presbyterians have it delivered to them in their pews.  It sounds silly to the Presbyterian that this would be an issue, but that specific act conveys a tremendous amount about the beliefs of the two denominations:

  • To the Episcopalian, the priest is a representative of Christ and God, and so standing as Christ gives the bread and wine to the individual individually, an act of communion between the individual worshipper and God.
  • To the Presbyterian, the minister is an officiant, a servant performing the ritual, which partly for convenience is done all at once by everyone so that everyone is involved in the service continuously (i.e., no one is sitting awaiting his turn to be involved again) and which incidentally connects the worshippers to each other as they take the bread and then the wine simultaneously, corporately as one body.

The form of the act itself expresses the theology behind it.  In this case, Episcopalians go forward because the act of going forward matters to them; Presbyterians remain in their pews because it does not matter.  I am disinclined to believe that either represents first century practice or the origin of the ritual, but on some level that’s not the point.

There is a degree then to which Sola Fide, “Faith Alone”, matters to Protestants.  Yet the deeper question is, should it?  Should we be willing in the name of Christian unity to sacrifice this doctrine, one of the defining identifiers of Protestantism, or should we maintain it?

I think there is a problem with the Reformation doctrine of faith, but I do not think it is in this aspect of Sola Fide.  For those who do not understand it, Sola Fide means that faith is the only means of obtaining grace and thus the only way to obtain salvation, and specifically justification.  Nothing else matters but that you have faith in Christ.  If you do not have faith in Christ, nothing else will ever be sufficient to earn God’s forgiveness; if you do have faith, nothing else will ever add anything to that salvation or reduce it in any way.

For those for whom Sola Fide is not a correct doctrine, there must of course be some alternate means of justification.  Two candidates are commonly mentioned.  Walter references one, good works.  The other is technically known as “means of grace”, which we will explain in a moment.

In regard to faith and works, I am going to mention Dr. J. Edwin Orr, who visited us at Gordon College and addressed us on this subject (among quite a few others).  I will be citing some of his statements on it.  The issues are, can one obtain justification by doing good works without faith, and if one has obtained justification by faith can that be improved by works?

The first question suffers from the issue of the perfect score, the 4.0 grade average, “batting a thousand”.  To be “justified”, as in the colloquial definition “just as if I’d never sinned,” you have to be perfect.  Doing good works doesn’t earn you points because that’s the default–you lose points every time you fail to do good works.  As Dr. Orr suggests, if you think that doing good works will make up for bad ones, ask your local police chief whether it would be all right for you to murder your spouse if you build a clinic first.  To earn justification by good works you would need to be perfect every minute of your entire life–including all that time before you realized that you needed to be perfect.  That not being humanly possible, you are going to need grace, and thus presumably faith, and you are now looking for justification based on works plus faith–not much different from justification based on faith plus works, addition being commutative.

So the other side of the question is if you are justified by faith, what can works add to this? Can you then be more justified?  If being justified means being treated as if one is sinlessly perfect, without flaw or blemish, what can be added to that?  Or are those justified soley by faith somehow less justified, regarded as less perfect, than those who are justified by faith plus works?

Certainly works are part of our salvation.  However, as Dr. Orr put it, we are saved by “the faith that works”, that is, faith that inspires us to act differently–and at this point maybe we should stop and identify what “faith” actually is.

One of the complications is that the New Testament has only two words for the concept we call “faith”, a noun and a verb–which would not be problem but that we recognize that there is a range of meaning in those words which we then attempt to capture by rendering the word to different English words in different contexts.  We take the one verb and make it “have faith”, or “believe”, or “trust”, or “be faithful”, all of which are valid senses of the word–but then we think that because the English words are different the meaning is different.  We do much the same with the noun.  Fundamentally the sense of the verb is to trust, and the noun then refers to that trust.  Being justified by faith means that by placing our trust in Christ we are treated as if we had never failed, never done anything wrong.

It is that aspect of complete justification that becomes the problem for any doctrine of “faith plus”.  If we say that those who add works to their faith are “more justified” than others, then we have unquestionably said that those others are “less justified”.  However, in all of Jesus’ parables about judgement, the outcome is always black and white–no one is told, I’m sorry, you can come to the party after we clean you up a bit.  Either you are completely justified and “in”, or you are not completely justified and “out”.

Arguably, in quite a few different senses some are “more saved” than others.  The penitent thief on the cross had enough time to make a confession of his own sin and his trust in Christ, and received a promise of salvation without anything else (and it is difficult to imagine that he had no ill thoughts toward those who would be watching him struggle for life and then breaking his legs so he could no longer do so).  Of some we might recognize that they went through far more trials and struggles toward a life of devotion to Christ than most of us; for others, we might recognize that they seem closer to God, more changed, more loving, than most people.  Some people clearly are able to trust God through far worse challenges than others, and so seem to have–and to need–more faith.  Grace expresses itself differently for each individual it touches.

Yet there is a sense in which that is an illusion.  If I ask whether you have faith, I must mean do you trust God completely.  That faith might be more or less tested, and all of us will fail on one point or another during life, but that trust means that we also trust He forgives our failures, and that the tests we fail were there to make us stronger.  Trusting God completely is in that sense a yes/no proposition–either you do or you don’t.  Trusting Him enough for the problems that come in life is different, but only in the sense that the problems come to teach us to trust Him completely.

What, though, of “means of grace”?  These are often called “sacraments”.  The Roman Catholic Church has at least a half dozen of these; the Baptists as a rule have none.  Lutherans have a couple, and it is more difficult to tell exactly what things are and are not sacraments in other denominations.  Baptism and that bread-and-wine ritual for which we have at least four distinct names (Mass, Eucharist, Communion, Lord’s Supper) and many times as many theologies are the two most commonly recognized.  I have never been a “means of grace” person, so I am sure to misrepresent this, but the theory seems to be that you use up the grace you were given in the past and have to replenish it, and that the performance of these rituals by authorized persons delivers more of God’s grace to you.  It is the difference between the belief that justification by faith at a specific point in your life forgives you for all the wrongs you have not yet committed and the belief that you have been forgiven for everything you have done so far but need more grace for those wrongs which you continue doing.  However, it also involves the recognition of a priesthood as a conduit of grace–you do not receive forgiveness by confessing your sins, exactly, but by being given forgiveness by God’s representative.  It again suggests that the grace of initial total justification is less than total, and needs to be supplemented if you are to have any hope of heaven.

Yet to some degree this might be less egregious than faith plus works, because it seems fundamentally to be faith plus faith.  That has not always been so, or at least, not everyone has so understood it–stories of Spanish conquerors in the New World having priests throw water at Native Americans and pronounce the ritual words so that when the Spanish armies slaughtered them they would go to heaven suggest a mechanical magical process by which the power of the ritual releases grace even on those who do not have faith, but this is still based on the theory that someone else has faith by proxy, that the faith of the one performing the ritual releases grace on the unbeliever.  So “means of grace” are fundamentally about faith, faith in God through a ritual believed to have been instituted by Him for the purpose of conferring grace on His people.  I don’t believe in the ritual delivery of grace; I do believe in grace through confession and prayer and other aspects of a personal relationship with God, though, and accept that for some people, at least, those personal aspects might include rituals which have no meaning to me.

Ultimately, then, it seems that justification must be by faith only, or it fails to be justification at all.

On the issue of the relationship between faith and works, I recommend my Parable of the Boiler, elsewhere on this site.

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#184: Remembering Adam Keller

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #184, on the subject of Remembering Adam Keller.

Some of you know who Adam Keller is (that is a link to his Facebook profile).  Indeed, some of you know him better than I, although I have known him for over a decade, having met him at Ubercon (I do not recall which number, but I’m betting on III), gamed with him online and at conventions, and exchanged visits to each other’s homes.  Still, he was much closer to my second son Kyler and our perennial houseguest John, both of whom lived in his home for a while, probably more than once.  I knew him, but never very well.  But then, I know very few people very well.

img0184Keller

However, I was notified of this, and ultimately found it on that Facebook profile (dated April 24th, 2017, posted by someone from Adam’s own personal account):

I regret to inform all of Adam’s friends and family that he passed away last night at 11:20 pm at home.

We are looking for any family members of Adam. If you are family or have contact information for family please call….

As we make arrangements for Adam I will post them here.

Thank you very much.

Digging through threads on that page I learned that he died of pneumonia.  Co-workers say he was sick and in some pain for most of a week, but refused to go to a doctor.  Some attributed this to his fear of the high co-pay on his (Lockheed) company employee health coverage policy, and so some blamed the Affordable Care Act.  That is more than I know.  I do know that many excellent company health care plans have been eviscerated to avoid the tax penalties of that law, and there are claims that it is discouraging people from obtaining needed medical care.  If that is the case here it makes the event the more tragic, but it’s also not the point.

Adam was a gamer, and an outstanding one.  He was a champion Hackmaster player (I understand he held a national title thrice) and ran the game at conventions, in some capacity on behalf of Kenzer & Company.  It was while he was running a Hackmaster game at Ubercon that he heard me running a Multiverser game at the next table for Kyler, and became interested enough to inquire about it and test play it.  He became an avid fan, player, and supporter, coming sometimes to company meetings, trying to advise us on our hopeless financial situation, and promoting the game to his gaming friends.  He was one of the best power players I ever ran, and he has left behind a couple of characters who genuinely earned their superhero status and abilities through game play, whom I will seriously consider how to use as non-player characters in the future.  I will not forget him.

Because I am the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, I am often asked whether I believe a particular departed individual is in heaven.  I try not to speculate, but I realize that it matters to people, particularly in regard to those I have at least briefly known.  The only person besides Jesus that I am completely certain will be in heaven is me, because I have that promise from God; for everyone else, there are some that it would shock me were they not there, and probably some that it would surprise me if they were, but I am not the one who makes those decisions.  Regarding Adam, I can only say that I have insufficient information.  He never talked about spiritual matters, but he was generally quiet and with me he rarely spoke about anything other than gaming.

(Just because people will ask, and some (notably Timothy and Anne Zahn) have asked, I am reasonably certain of Gary Gygax, and very sure of Dave Arneson.)

Multiverser gamer John Cross has several times said that he believes that when I created Multiverser, God revealed to me what heaven was going to be like:  that we would leap from world to world becoming involved in adventures of all kinds forever.  I deny it on every level.  God revealed nothing to me; the concept of leaping between universes was not new with us, and most of how it worked came from Ed Jones, not me; it is not the heaven which I am eagerly anticipating.  However, somehow I think if it were so, Adam would like that.

Rest in peace, friend, and whatever adventure you find beyond the grave, may God have mercy on you.

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#177: I Am Not Second

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #177, on the subject of I Am Not Second.

img0177Washing

Bill Cosby said it:

I am not the boss in my family.  I don’t know how I lost it; I don’t know if I ever had it.  But I’ve seen the boss’s job, and I don’t want it.

I am not the boss in my house, either.  The boss tells me what I need to do and when I need to do it, and anything I think is important I do on my own time.  I’d like to tell you that I am second, but I don’t think that’s true.  I think actually the dog is second; in any case, I’m pretty sure he outranks me.  If he wants to go outside in the middle of the night, he wakes me so I can let him outside.  If somehow his whining and wheezing does not get a response from me, he wakes the boss–and the boss wakes me, and tells me to let him outside, usually with the words, “You’re not going to make me get up and take him out, are you?”  Thus it is clear that the dog outranks me and gets to decide when I am going to give up my sleep so he can go out.  This is the same dog of which I said, “I don’t want a dog,” and “you can have a dog as long as he is never my problem.”  He is also the same dog that I feed and water every day, and let out several times a day, and deal with whenever he is a problem for someone else.  So I am not second; both the boss and the dog rank above me.  There are almost certainly other people who rank above me, but I don’t really want to try to enumerate them at the moment.  It sometimes (read “often”) feels like everyone in the world outranks me; I am pretty far from second.

This tirade was inspired by what is apparently a fairly successful ministry under the name “I am second.”  I expect it’s the best Christian catchphrase since “What would Jesus do?”  I get it.  It’s saying I need to take myself out of first place and put Jesus in first place; that puts me second.  The thing is, it doesn’t, really–or it shouldn’t.  I had a bad reaction to it the first time I heard it, and my wife had the same bad reaction quite independently of me.  I am not second, and I am not supposed to be second.  Whoever might will to be first of you will be slave of all.  I am not called to be second; I am called to be last.

img0177Bracelet

The problem with the formulation “I am second” is that it might state my relationship to God correctly, but it misstates my relationship to the dog.  O.K., maybe not to the dog–but to everyone else, certainly.  The hierarchy in my life is not supposed to be Christ, me, everyone else.  It’s supposed to be Christ, everyone else, me.  I am not second; I am last.

I am sure that it is a wonderful ministry doing wonderful things, and I do not mean to denigrate it.  However, I feel that a significant point has been missed here.  Don’t put yourself second.  There are a lot of other people who should be above you in the hierarchy.  And remember, it is not a single fixed universal hierarchy.  Jesus is always first for all of us, if we have it right.  In the hierarchy that governs my life, you–all of you, each of you–outrank me; but in the hierarchy that governs your life, I, along with the rest of us, outrank you.  We were called to serve each other, to put everyone else above ourselves, to be a long distance from second place in our own lives.

Don’t put yourself second, either.

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#173: Hospitalization Benefits

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #173, on the subject of Hospitalization Benefits.

This is not about health care or health care coverage.

Some of you are aware that I was recently hospitalized twice within two weeks.  It started on a Wednesday afternoon, when someone needed a ride to a clinic and I thought while I was there I should get an opinion about a previous umbilical herniorhaphy that was not doing well.  The people at the clinic desk said they could certainly look at it, but it would almost certainly require tests which they were not equipped to perform, so I should go to the emergency room.  I did, and indeed they performed the obvious test, having me drink the contrast and wait around for it to work through my digestive tract so they could get a clear Computer (Axial) Tomography (C(A)T) image.  Hours later someone was poking at my belly, and said that this might be very serious and he did not think we should wait until morning, so despite the fact that he and I both wanted to go home and the anaesthesiologist had already done so, I was to be prepped for surgery.

Ilford Hospital chapel windows.
Ilford Hospital chapel windows.

I’m told that the condition was not as bad as feared, and the surgery went well–so well in fact that I was placed on clear liquids in time for Thursday breakfast, and on full diet by Friday morning, and was discharged after supper on Friday.  There were the usual restrictions about lifting and driving and the like, but in the main I came through well–except that my arm hurt.

The pain in the arm was apparently related to the IV site, that is, the place where they had connected the intravenous feed to give me such medications as were deemed necessary post-surgery.  I think every nurse that looked at it said it did not look good and she (or he) was going to move it when there was time, but they pushed me through so fast that it was out before anyone had the time to start one somewhere else.  Below the site (further out into the extremities) my arm was swollen and inflamed, painful to the touch and when moved in certain positions.  I was also having some difficulty breathing and a worsening cough.  Respiratory problems do not normally alarm me because I have allergy-related asthma and the list of allergies which aggravate it include just about anything that has a smell other than real food (artificial food scents can be trouble, particularly if they are linked to smoke as in incense or candles).  However, I have a history of pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which a blood clot usually from an extremity migrates to the lung and lodges there, and thus there was at least the chance that the swelling in the arm and the respiratory trouble were related.  It thus called for more tests, and again of a sort that required a visit to the emergency room.  This time the CT scan was of my lungs, and there was an ultrasound of my arm, and the major conclusions were first that the two problems were not connected, but second that there were definitely two problems that needed to be addressed.

There was no evidence of a pulmonary embolism, but there were some small clots in the veins in my arm which could be problematic and were going to require treatment.  There was also a shadow in my lung which the emergency room doctor took to be a very mild pneumonia, but of concern because it might have been contracted in the hospital, and if you get an infection in the hospital it is likely to be a serious microorganism.  My wife, the registered nurse who would rather have me home where she can tend me herself, argued that there was not much they could do in the hospital that she could not do for me at home, and this is where it gets weird.  The emergency room doctor said that the treatment for the clots was going to involve heparin injections, a drug that ought to be monitored fairly closely as it really does promote bleeding, and so I would have to be admitted for the heparin.  However, before I got the first shot of heparin or got moved out of the emergency room to an inpatient bed, the order was changed and I was put on the very expensive (mostly covered by my wife’s employee health care coverage) new drug Xarelto, which is taken P.O., that is, per orum, by mouth.  So I did not have to be in the hospital for that.  However, because the pneumonia might be some drug-resistant organism they were planning to treat it aggressively, with vancomycin and cefepime, two IV antibiotics, instead of oral antibiotics, so the reason I had to be admitted had changed.  Still, I was admitted, and I was not complaining because this time they were going to let me eat, and Elmer Hospital has mostly decent food, and I don’t have to cook it or do the dishes.

The next day the specialists appeared.  The hematologist said in essence that the Xarelto had been cleared through our prescription plan, so as far as he was concerned I could go home and take the medication there, as long as I came to see him in four to six weeks.  The pulmonologist was even more optimistic:  the lung shadow on the CT scan was identical to that in a scan from 2012, and I did not have even the slightest touch of pneumonia, the antibiotics were unnecessary, and I could go home any time.

It was still another day before that got through the red tape so that the hospitalist overseeing the whole case ordered my discharge, but in essence I was not really very sick.  I still have to get the staples from the surgery removed and see the hematologist, but the surgeon did stop by and look at the incision during my stay and said that I am permitted to drive, so I am overall on the mend.  (The staples were removed at his office today.)

And at the risk of stealing a line from Arlo Guthrie, that isn’t what I came to talk about today.

In the wake of these hospitalizations, many people, some of them readers, some connections through social media, some “real world” connections, have mentioned that they were, have been, are, or would be praying for me.  They fall into three categories, that I’ve noticed.

First, there are people who mentioned that they are always praying for me.  Prior to this I could not have named more than one person (my wife) whom I could say I knew was praying for me regularly or consistently.  I’m sure my grandmother was, years ago.  This aspect of having someone praying for you, when you are in ministry (as I am–Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild and Christian teaching music ministry), is very important.  Pastor Ern Baxter once told of how his grandmother always prayed for him and he never really gave it much thought, as he had been seminary trained in how to preach and had the necessary skills–until the day his grandmother died and he went to preach a sermon and found nothing.  He told his congregation, right then, that he had never appreciated his grandmother’s prayers until that moment, and now she was gone.  Someone in the congregation rose and said, “Pastor, I’ll be your grandmother.”  She prayed for him, and he said thereafter he kept an army of praying grandmothers to support his ministry.  So to discover that there are people I did not know were praying for me is an encouragement.

Second, there are those whom I know pray and who probably are not usually praying for me, who having heard of my hospitalization turned some of their prayerful attention my direction.  Some of these people I have not met outside the Internet, or only met once or twice.  Many of them have ministries of their own.  That they have raised prayers on my behalf tells me that they care, that I matter to them at least enough that they noticed my condition and put some prayer into it.  It means there are people out there who will support me, at least with prayers, when it is needed.  That, too, is an encouragement.

Third, there were some people praying for me through these events whom I would not have guessed were praying people.  Some are people who do not express much of a belief in God in our interactions.  Some are people with whom I have only recently reconnected after decades who have seemingly found faith in the interim.  This, too, is an encouragement, as it tells me that these people are not lost, that they are praying, connecting with God, and while I am always hesitant to say that I know any individual is saved, it is good evidence that they might well be.  After all,

he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him,

in part because who would pray who did not believe at least that much?

So I thank you all for your prayers and encouragement, and now I return to that long “not what I wanted to say” part at the beginning.  One of the lessons I learned many years ago came from II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

That is, the reason God wants us to agree in prayer, and is more likely to answer prayers when many agree, appears to be that way when the prayers are answered all those people who asked will all say thank you.

Thus your prayers on my behalf have obligated me to let you know that God has been healing me, I am improving rapidly, and there is cause to give thanks.

Thank you.

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#168: Praying for You

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #168, on the subject of Praying for You.

A number of years ago I was playing quite a few venues and interacting with quite a few other Christan musicians, and something began to bother me.  At first it was that we needed to support and encourage each other, and I took steps to do this, connecting venues with artists as I was able.  However, I realized that no one had ever mentioned praying for me, and I had not mentioned praying for anyone else in music ministry, and that this was something I should remedy.  I sent notes to–well, quite a few people whom I knew were involved in music ministry, and offered to pray for them on condition that they keep me informed of their situation (that’s going to be explained).  A very few accepted my offer; one offered to reciprocate.  Then over the next year or so they all dropped off the radar, as it were, no longer answering my inquiries about their situation, and today I again have no Christian musicians on my prayer list.

And that just is not right, so this is an attempt to fix that.

img0168Hands

On the other hand, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m being exclusive.  I have quite a few Christian ministers on my “friends” list who are not musicians, or not primarily musicians, and quite a few who are not involved in ministry but would want my prayers (and some of you are indeed already getting them, whether you want them or not).  So I am putting this forward as a sort of “open offer”, that anyone who wants me to pray for him (or her or them) should contact me, and I will put you on my prayer list.

However, I have a few conditions.

The one idea that is not a condition is that you pray for me.  I would not feel at all right saying that I will pray for you if you will pray for me–it’s too mercenary, I suppose.  I certainly do not object to you praying for me, and if you wish for me to meet conditions similar to those I am about to state here, I will certainly endeavor to comply.  Nor is it a condition that you support my Patreon or PalPal.me campaigns–a lot of people who need prayer don’t have money, although I’m sure that people who have a lot of money still need prayer (not something I really know from personal experience).  I am certainly grateful to those of you who do support my efforts in any way at all, but I need to assure those who cannot do so or cannot justify doing so that they will not be treated the worse for that.

My conditions are based on II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

What I derive from that is the point that God wants us to agree in prayer, and answers prayers when more of us are agreeing, because that way when He answers there are more of us saying thank You to Him for the answer.  That, though, means that if I am going to pray for you, I also have to know how God is answering those prayers.  So this is how it works.

  1. You must connect with me through Facebook.  If we are not already “Friends” send a “Friend Request”, and I’ll approve it and ask how we’re connected.  Just tell me that you read this post and wanted me to pray for you, along with some idea of who you are (for example, pastor, Christian musician, Christian gamer, reader of my other materials).  I am betting that I will already have some notion of who most people who want my prayers are, but I don’t always connect names to people quickly, so at least jog my memory.  I do not really do e-mail–every few months I download a few hundred letters, throw most of them away, and see if there’s anything important in what remains.  Facebook is the way I communicate.
  2. Tell me enough about your situation that I can pray intelligently.  This is not Romper Room (and I pray for Sally, and Jeff, and Mary, and Mark….).  If I’m to know how God answers these prayers, I have to be praying for something particular enough that you can tell me about the answer.  I have a theological objection to those “unspoken” requests which I should probably discuss somewhere sometime, but as Paul says about people who pray in tongues in public meetings, if I don’t know what is being prayed, how can I say “amen”?
  3. Which of course brings up the final condition.  Probably about once a month I’m going to get a reminder to drop you a note to ask what is happening.  That’s so you can tell me what good things God has done and I can give thanks for them, and so you can update me regarding what I ought to be praying.  If I miss a month, don’t worry–I’m still praying.  If you miss a month, don’t worry, I’ll keep praying for a few months without hearing anything.  However, after a few months I’ll decide that you’re not answering and I’ll drop you from the list.  I can’t very well give thanks to God for answers to prayers on your behalf if you don’t tell me what God has done on your behalf.  You are, of course, welcome to drop me notes between my reminders, either to let me know about God’s answers or to redirect my prayers.  I do not want your impersonal newsletter; I want to interact with you directly, to hear from you what God is doing.  If it’s not worth a few minutes to do that, you don’t really want my prayers.

So that’s the offer.  I should caveat that the only people for whom I pray every day are my wife and myself (she because she deserves it, I because I need it); how often I pray for you will depend on a lot of factors including how many people ask for prayer, how serious I perceive your need, and the limits of the program that manages the prayer list.  Obviously I am offering to pray for individuals, but the offer also extends to individuals who want me to pray for a ministry they represent, such as their band, who thus are promising to keep me informed regarding the band.  I also don’t promise that I won’t give you advice if I think you’re asking for prayer about something with which I can help; it’s free advice, and you can decide whether it’s worth as much as you paid for it without offending me.  You can also ask me to stop praying for you (which I assume you would do if my monthly queries are irksome) and I’ll take you off the list.

I think that covers it.  Any questions?

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#166: A Ghetto of Our Own

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #166, on the subject of A Ghetto of Our Own.

This is not about Christian music.  It is about race and discrimination and prejudice and segregation.  It only happens to start with Christian music.  That doesn’t mean that what it says about Christian music is not true or valuable; it only means that it’s not the point here, and if you’re not interested in the Christian music field you should read that part anyway, because it’s the example.

When I started in Contemporary Christian Music, there was no airplay for it.  The Christian radio stations in the northern parts of the United States considered The Bill Gaither Trio daring and progressive; those in the south played The Speers and Doug Oldman and other artists who were called “Southern Gospel” which meant country that sang about Jesus and avoided any of those modern rock-‘n’-roll tropes–The Imperials went too far, and particularly when they incorporated black singer Sherman Andrus in a “white” gospel band.  “Black Gospel” was also out there somewhere, but mostly in paid programming on Sunday mornings broadcast live from a local “black” church.  The dream of Christian “rock” fans was to have “our music”, Larry Norman, Love Song, Andre Crouch (although some would have niched him as “Contemporary Gospel” rather than “Contemporary Christian” or “Christian Rock”–already the fans were fragmenting) played on major secular radio stations–which in New York generally meant AM Top 40 like WABC or FM Rock like WNEW.

Denzel Washington, two-time Academy Award winner nominated again in 2017
Denzel Washington, two-time Academy Award winner nominated again in 2017

There were a lot of reasons why that wasn’t going to happen, and there is solid evidence that radio station programmers were resistant to including any songs that mentioned God or Jesus in a positive context–but then, there were other reasons as well.  I have the greatest of respect for the artists of those early years, and believe that their abilities were second to none.  However, that was an era in which successful artists in the secular field were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a record, and those amounts were not available in the Christian market.  Besides, the segregation of Christian music was already established–you never heard Southern Gospel on Country radio stations save perhaps on Sunday mornings, and stations that played Tony Randall and Frank Sinatra did not also play similar artists singing hymns.  What we got instead, the big success, was our own radio stations–mostly small stations in the suburbs who could not compete with bigger city stations in the crowded metropolitan markets looking for a niche that would create an audience and sell advertising time.  With the rise of the Jesus Movement, this was at least potentially promising, and such stations could also sell airtime to preachers in quarter-hour blocks to help cover the bills.  They began appearing in the early mid seventies.

It wasn’t only in radio that Christian artists felt excluded.  In 1969 the Gospel Music Association launched the Dove Awards, in essence Grammy Awards for Christian artists who couldn’t win real Grammies because of the perceived secular bias of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, although market share undoubtedly had a big part in that.  Since some of the record labels producing Contemporary Christian artists had also been producing (and were continuing to produce) Inspirational and Southern and Black Gospel artists, the Dove Awards soon had categories for Christian Contemporary and Rock genres.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The expression Preachin’ to the choir refers to anyone delivering a message to people who already know it and agree with you.  Politicians do it all the time:  in the main, candidates for office are not trying to persuade you to their position, they are trying to convince you that they already agree with your position so you should vote for them.  However, the Christian Contemporary music of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by evangelistic music–songs whose focus was on persuading unbelievers to turn to Jesus–and the venues where you could hear these songs were all frequented almost exclusively by believers, people who had already embraced the message.  (This is less true today, but more in the first part than the second:  a substantial percentage of Christian Contemporary music is intended to deliver messages to believers, pastoral/worship and teaching music ministries, with only a small part being evangelistic.)

A guitarist/singer-songwriter named Mark Heard might have been the first to object to this situation in the music field.  In the early 1980s he said that in America we were creating a Christian ghetto, that we were isolating ourselves from the secular world with Christian radio stations, Christian bookstores, Christian decorations, Christian television, all of it sold to Christians and ignored by the world.  Heard took his music to Europe, where there were no Christian venues and the radio stations were all state-run, and focused on competing in the secular market there so that he could reach the secular audience.  Then-major Christian artists Pat Terry and (band) Daniel Amos supported this and followed suit, attempting to create work that would break the Christian mold.  However, there was very little crossover from Christian artists to the secular market, limited to people like Dan Peek whose first solo album had the boost in secular markets that he had been one of the principles in the Pop vocal band America, and his hit song All Things Are Possible was not so clearly a “Christian” song as others on the album.  The Oakridge Boys had managed to crossover from Southern Gospel to Country, but only by abandoning all music with a Christian message becoming effectively a secular band, and when it was announced that Contemporary Christian superstar Amy Grant would be making a secular album (from which she did put a single on the Top 40 charts) there was an explosion of controversy among Christians who did not want to support her in “abandoning her faith” (which she clearly never did despite her rocky marital history).

Part of their argument was certainly that Christians talking to each other do not thereby reach the world, but there was another aspect to it.  In creating our own ghetto, we compete with ourselves but inherently avoid competing with the rest of the world.  On one level the Dove Awards and Christian Charts are a wonderful way for Christians to recognize the accomplishments of each other.  On another level, it’s an admission that we are not good enough to compete in the world, to win Grammies or reach the top of the Top 40 chart–and possibly a decision that we are not going to try.  We give awards to the best Christian musicians, and in doing so say that we do not need to be as good as secular musicians.  We praise ourselves for being second-rate.

Perhaps now that I’ve put that forward, you can understand why it bothers me to see the racism expressed by programs like The American Black Film Festival Honors.  Blacks and Hispanics in the United States have created awards to honor people who perform well but not well enough to earn Oscars, Emmies, Grammies, Tonies, and other awards that are not racially limited.  Those who present the awards no doubt have the honest motivation of a belief that their people, “we”, are being snubbed by “them”, the people who nominate and choose the winners of those other awards.  However, this “ghettoization”, these awards that exclude anyone who is not one of “us”, screams that “we” are not good enough to win awards without excluding those “others”.  It’s like the women’s sports leagues–where there is at least some justification, in the fact that male upper body strength and greater average size give unfair advantages in many sports and co-ed contact sports can be at least uncomfortable.  Yet when Maggie Dubois says that she is the women’s champion fencer and The Great Leslie easily disarms her and responds that it would have been impressive if she had been the men’s champion fencer, it expresses an attitude inherent in sexually segregated sports:  women are not good enough to compete with men, and if they are ever to win they must exclude men from their competitions.  So, too, racially-segregated awards have inherent in them the expression of the attitude that members of this race are not good enough to compete with everyone else, and so must have their own recognition ceremonies for “us” that exclude “them”.

Such awards are definitively racist, that is, inclusive/exclusive based on race; they are excused because they favor “minority” races.  If there were an American White Film Festival award, there would be protests in the streets, but the fact that such programs as do exist favor blacks or Hispanics does not make them less racist.  Worse, they create that same kind of creative ghetto, where members of a minority group are satisfied with being good enough to win these awards that don’t require them to compete with everyone else.

Incidentally, of the twenty actor nominees for the 2017 Oscars (Best and Best Supporting Actor and Actress Motion Picture Academy Awards), six are black–thirty percent.  Given that the United States Census Bureau makes the black population of American less than half that–thirteen percent–that’s an excellent showing.  Blacks do not need their own ghetto awards.  It makes you look racist, and it makes you look inferior.  You are not the latter, and should not be the former.

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#163: So You Want to Be a Christian Musician

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #163, on the subject of So You Want to Be a Christian Musician.

I have been a Christian musician–performer, composer, arranger, founder and/or director of bands–for near half a century now.

It might be argued whether that alone puts me in a position to give advice on the subject.  After all, although I have recorded an album, it would be debated whether I was ever a “successful” Christian musician.  I am not in much demand on the circuit and never have been.  However, from the time I was in high school, later in college, and then during five years as first a disk jockey and ultimately program director of a major Contemporary Christian Music radio station I talked to dozens, possibly scores, of successful Christian artists, and nearly always asked them that question:  what advice do you, as a successful Christian musician, give to anyone who wants to do what you do.  I asked such people as Noel Paul Stookey, Dan Peek, Phil Keaggy, Scott Wesley Brown, Glad, Brown Bannister, Chris Christian–well, I don’t even remember everyone I asked, let alone what they all said.  However, four of them I do remember, and I will give you something of the gist of what they said for your consideration.  I will also comment on that advice, because I think it worth contemplating.  I also think, in retrospect, that it is probably good advice for anyone who knows what he wants to be or do, and particularly for those who want to pursue artistic endeavors.

Larry Norman, perhaps the original nationally known self-identified Christian rock musician
Larry Norman, perhaps the original nationally known self-identified Christian rock musician

I will mention Barry McGuire first–probably the first truly prominent secular musician to become a leading contemporary Christian artist, who had been with The New Christie Minstrels, starred in the Broadway production Hair, and soloed with the hit Eve of Destruction, but whose signature song following his salvation was Happy Road–mostly because I do not think I can articulate what he told me.  What I remember is that the concert somewhere near Boston had ended and he was out among the audience, mobbed by people, but he heard my question and focused his entire attention on addressing it, addressing me and the rest of the audience, as if the question genuinely mattered.  What he said, and perhaps what he did, caused me upon returning home to write a song entitled Mountain, Mountain, about being what God made you to be instead of trying to be something you perceive to be great.  That actually is a good starting point for this, but we will return to it.

I was one of several reporters interviewing B. J. Thomas at Creation ’83.  At that time he was probably the most successful secular artist to turn to Christian music as an entertainer, his song Home Where I Belong introducing the singer of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and I Can’t Stop This Feeling to a Christian audience, and he had a hard time in the Christian music field precisely because he was an entertainer, not a minister.  What he said, though, was don’t think you missed your break, or that you are still waiting for your break to come.  If you are diligent, many breaks will come to you, and if you are good you can make one of them work for you, and if you miss it, another will come.

Ted Sandquist was probably the original contemporary Christian worship leader, with songs like Eternally Grateful, All That I Can Do, and Lion of Judah.  I’m afraid that when I caught up with him after a concert, his answer could have been a wonderful book, delivered orally in under a minute.    He spoke about things he called scope and ministry, and to a large degree was the first person ever to get me thinking of some of the things I discussed recently in the music ministry series–along with whether your calling is to be nationally known or simply serve in a local congregation.  In short, his advice was to think in terms of ministry, whether you are called to it, and what is the nature and extent of your calling.  If you follow this web log, you have already seen the extensive materials I have written on that.

Finally, I caught up with Larry Norman after one of his concerts at Gordon College.  Larry is probably the original nationally-known Christian rock musician, best known for I Wish We’d All Been Ready, Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation, and the album title Only Visiting This Planet.  The intensity of his response was overwhelming, and the focus of it was in the question, why do you want this?

Before I address that further, I should mention two things about Larry that I learned separately from that.  One is that he was known for a gift of discernment, that he could see things about people that they often did not recognize about themselves.  It may well be that he would have given different advice to someone else, but that this was what he thought I needed to hear.  The other is that he had a very hard life as a Christian rock musician.  Often he would play a concert and after the fact be informed that “apparently the Lord did not provide” enough money to pay him.  He was then criticized for subsequently insisting on signed contracts for concerts that could be enforced against those who did not pay what they agreed, and quite specific terms concerning what his hosts would provide such as accommodations.  He rubbed shoulders with people like Paul McCartney, but he did not find the life at all glamorous or enriching.  That might have impacted his view as well.

However, I think that there is a level to that advice that we all need to hear:  Do not want that; it is not something to want.

It came to me recently, as I had again heard a story of some Christian band that had been formed to provide music for one event who then found themselves propelled to the top of the Christian music charts and sent on national and international tours.  The famous story is that of Amy Grant, who at sixteen spent a bit of money on some studio time to record a song for her mother’s birthday, and the recording was heard by Christian record producers Brown Bannister and Chris Christian, who quickly signed her to a major Christian label recording contract and propelled her to stardom–perhaps the first contemporary Christian recording artist to crossover into secular success.  God clearly sometimes chooses some people to be “successful” Christian artists who had made no effort to be that; it makes sense that He has a hand in choosing those whose success appears to be built on years of hard work.  There are equally many stories we do not hear, of people who worked hard to achieve what never came, and of people who hoped maybe that one day lightning would strike, as it were, and they would be propelled to success, to whatever level of fame is found in Dove Awards and Christian music chart-toppers.  If God wants you to be there, He will get you there; it may be that He wants you to work hard at your music and stay where you are, and it should be sufficient motivation for the work that God is pleased with it.

It is also the case that this is not something to want.  The work of a “successful” Christian musician is hard work–constant travel, brief stays in strange places, one performance after another.  I have seen how tired such people often are, but this is what they do, and they will do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.  It wreaks havoc with family life, as either you take your family with you to hotels or more commonly in a camper, or you leave them behind while you travel for weeks or sometimes months without them, sleeping in the “bus”, a modified camper shared with the rest of the band.  Those who make it work either managed to reach a high enough level of success before marriage that they were able to do very short tours and fly to most events, or have other jobs frequently as pastors such that they finish concerts Saturday night and are in church Sunday morning.  And the money is not all that good–better, perhaps, than it was for Christian artists a few decades back, but the entire music industry is changing, in a sense collapsing, so that even the major stars do not make what they once did.

Of course, it is not so much the money as the recognition, that you are on stage, people are listening to your songs on the radio and the Internet, you are traveling the world singing.  That is also called fame.  But then, fame in the entire music industry is not what it was–if you heard a list of the twenty most successful musicians in the world today, it is likely that you would not recognize several of the names simply because styles have fragmented, and no one is truly informed about rock, rap, country, Christian, and the wealth of other genres that command substantial but discrete audiences.  Take it from me.  I might not be a “successful” musician, but I am world famous–as a role playing game author and theorist, defender of hobby games, time travel theory writer, and general writer–and it has almost no cash value and very little impact on my daily life apart from that I have to do the work.  Or hear Paul Simon.  He tells a story of a night when he and Art Garfunkle were sitting in a car in a park under one of New York City’s many bridges, and a song came on the radio–their song, Sounds of Silence, which the disk jockey announced was now the number one song in the country, by Simon and Garfunkle.  At that moment, Art Garfunkle said to him, “Gee, wherever those two guys are right now, it must be a real great party.”  Being at the top of the chart doesn’t mean nothing, but it doesn’t mean much.

Of course, get enough fame, and you have to reorganize your life to insulate yourself against the crowds.  You are not going to get that kind of fame doing this, and the admiration you do get will perhaps bring a smile to your face from time to time, but it’s going to prove to be much less than you imagined.

More on point, though, and connecting what Barry McGuire said to what Larry Norman said:  this is not something you should want.  What you should want is to know God, to become what He made you to be, and to seek to do what He wants you to do in life.  If that includes being a famous or successful musician, He will bring you there; He won’t lead you where you want to go, though, only where He knows you will become the best you He made you to be.  One thing I needed to learn over the years was that had I been a successful Christian musician early in my life I never would have been any of these other things–I never would have written the role playing game or become involved with the hobby gamers whose lives I have in some small way touched, never would have undertaken to write about time travel, never would have studied law or written about politics, never would have become chaplain of an international online organization, never would have done most of the things for which I am recognized.  There was so much of who I am that I never would have discovered, that no one would have known, had God moved me in a straight line to what I always thought was the only thing I could do well–music.  He wanted me to become the teacher, the writer, the influence that I am.  I might have been a great musician, but I would never have been anything else.

Peter Hopper was the drummer in a band called Rock Garden, who played their penultimate concert at Carnegie Hall.  I never talked with him despite having a more than passing acquaintance with the band’s rhythm guitarist Dennis Mullins, but a few weeks after that concert, after they had played their farewell concert, I heard him speak about it.  It was what he had wanted all his life, and as he sat on stage playing for the crowd he looked around and said, is this really what I wanted?  Why did I want this?  He told us that God promises that if we seek Him He will give us the desires of our heart, and said that in his experience God had done that, given him what he had always wanted, so he would be able to see how empty it really was, and how the only thing worth desiring was God.

So don’t want this.  Don’t want to be a musician, or anything else for that matter.  Want to know God, and to find His path for you.  That’s the only desire in life that is guaranteed to be fulfilled and to satisfy.  It is also the only path that will bring you anywhere worth being.

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#159: To Compassion International

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #159, on the subject of To Compassion International.

Compassion International is shutting down all of its operations in India because the Indian government has been objecting to aid coming from outside India for relief efforts.  There is evidence that it is because Hindu nationalists are trying to shut down Christian ministries; India is now 15th on the Open Doors’ list of places where it is hardest to be Christian.

Someone has said that when God closes a door, He often opens a window.  I’m sure that the organization has long honed its methods, and has a clear idea of how to do what they do to make it work–but now it is not working in India, and they may have to rethink their approach there.  The words “creative financing” and “creative accounting” sometimes have an “iffy” sense to them, but I think in the present situation the organization needs to be creative in how they deliver their aid to those children.

I would like to make a suggestion that might get them thinking in a workable direction.

img0159Compassion

India certainly has a tourist industry.  We know that people travel to see the Taj Mahal and other sites within the country.  At present they are turning away aid connected to a Christian ministry–but it is doubtful whether they would ever be turning away tourist dollars.  I am thinking that if Compassion International set up facilities in India modeled on hotels or restaurants or other tourist services, then said they were part of the tourism industry but listed the rooms at exhorbitant prices, such a model might work.  Couriers could bring money into the country and “pay” the hotel, which could then use the money to “purchase” supplies at low rates from an international supplier (Compassion International).  Native workers for the organization would become employees of these facilities, and the children they wish to help could be listed in any of several ways so that they would receive the benefits–employees, dependents, stockholders, whatever method works under Indian law.

Let us suppose that we list the children as employees of the hotel.  A courier arrives, checks in as a guest and stays overnight, paying the thousands of dollars that would otherwise have been spent on child care to the hotel perhaps by electronic transfer from the organization’s account to the hotel’s account, which might be in an international bank (depending on Indian law).  The hotel then spends most of that to buy food and supplies from its suppliers, and pays the children an official wage.  The children would be required to do the work of attending school (one of the benefits currently provided by Compassion International to its children), and school attendance would include free meals for the school day, and the employee benefits package would include fully-paid medical care.  “Uniforms”, that is, free clothing, would also be provided for school and work.  Some of the older children could be given tasks related to running the operation, such as working in the kitchen or cleaning the facilities, so that there is actual labor being performed by the employees.  Sponsors who currently are seen as donating money to provide benefits for individual children would be recouched, in legal terms, as providing for the salary and benefits of individual child employees.  In the United States they would continue donating to a non-profit charitable organization; that organization in turn would be, on the books, investing capital in a for profit corporation in a foreign country that is operating at a constant loss.  In doing this, the organization manages to deliver its care, much the same care as it is currently delivering, and the Indian government cannot prevent that care from being delivered without creating a lot of laws that are going to severely negatively impact its tourism trade.

Certainly the system would incur taxes and tariffs, but how serious can we be about wanting to help these poor people if we are unwilling to deal with such government regulations and costs?  There might be official industry standards to meet, but we deal with those problems in our own country–soup kitchens and homeless shelters are required to meet commercial facilities standards in order to deliver services to the homeless, and while it is an impediment to meeting those needs it is one that we overcome regularly.

I am not on the ground in India; I don’t know how severe or complex the problems actually are.  I think, though, that we are looking at some of the poorest people in the world, and I understand it is one of Compassion International’s largest national efforts, so I am hoping that if they give it some consideration they can find a way to continue delivering aid to these starving children within the strictures being imposed by the government and whatever other opponents they face.

I pray that they will find a way.

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