Thursday, May 29, 2014

Graduates: Tomorrow, No One Will Care

    First, I want to congratulate all of the young people who have recently graduated from high school.

    Second, as hard as it is to say, tomorrow, no one will care.

    That doesn’t mean that what you have done for the last twelve years of your life doesn’t matter, but that what you have done is just the beginning.  You have accomplished an important milestone, but it is a milestone that we all expected you to reach.  You have achieved what most people consider to be the minimum standard for education. 

    And so you ask, “What’s next?”  While your recent accomplishments are important, they are just the beginning.  We expect you to do something with them.  Up until now, what you have done has been mandated and required.  Nearly every step along the way has been mapped out.  Your education was paid for by your family, your friends and your neighbors because we believe in its importance.  We paid for the teachers, the buildings, the administration, sports, protective gear, and the buses to get you there and back.

But tomorrow is up to you.

    Tomorrow, a new chapter begins.  This fall (or sooner) many of you will start your freshman year in college or begin trade school.  Some of you will become apprentices to master trades people, some of you will begin working in a job of some sort, and a few of you may spend some time trying to “find yourself.”  All of those things are okay but be warned, you have been given great gifts, life, health, education, and many other things, but the world is watching to see what you will do with them.

    Of course, not every high school education, nor every student, is the same as every other.  Some schools provided phenomenal opportunities and others struggled to exist.  Some of you worked hard and some coasted through school.

    But tomorrow is a new day, and the question everyone is asking is, “What will you do with it?”

    Think of it this way.  Every one of you has been given a home, a building, a place to being a new life.  Granted some of you, by virtue of your parents, your school, or your own hard work, have been given more than others.  Some of you have a small apartment and others a more spacious home, but all of you have a place to start.  Today that home that you have been given is unfinished.  The drywall isn’t finished, there’s no siding on the outside and nothing has been painted.  Your new place, your life, is just a shell. 

What it will become is up to you.

    The building you have been given can become a library, museum, bank, school, hospital, factory… or a crack house.

    By your eighteenth birthday, between your parents and your community, statisticians tell us that we have invested nearly a half million dollars in your life and education. 

We have high hopes for your future.

    Two or three months from now, no one will care where you went to high school or what your grades were like.  What everyone cares about is your destination and how well you are doing.  If you start working your boss will only care about how hard you work and how well you help her to accomplish her goals.  Your past won’t matter.  If you skip class, get drunk and flunk out of college it won’t matter whether or not you were a great student in high school.  Likewise, if you work hard, at whatever you choose to do, no one will notice, or care, if you were a poor student in high school, if you had poor parents, or grew up in a town with two hundred people.

Tomorrow is entirely up to you.

    We have invested in your life because we believe in you.  We believe that you are capable of building something amazing.  We believe that you can change the world.  We believe that you can build factories, hospitals, banks or something entirely new and wonderful that none of us have ever imagined. 

   But today, none of that matters.  Our hopes for you, our investment in you, don’t matter.  All of your hard world yesterday doesn’t matter.

    From here on we can only offer encouragement and the occasional helping hand. 

Whether you build beautiful and wonderful things…

…or crack houses…

…is up to you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mixed Messages

    Have you ever received mixed messages?  In high school a friend included me during youth group but at school… not so much.  Our social groups were far too different.  Many of us have had bosses that told us how great we were only to say something completely different during our annual review in order to justify crappy raises.  Of course, politicians do this all the time.  It’s hard to know what we should do when the folks who preach about “reducing our carbon footprint” live in gigantic mansions and fly on private jets. 

Mixed messages are confusing and undermine credibility.

So why do we send mixed messages to our children about church?

    We take our children to church, we make sure they get to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, we take them to youth meetings, Christian concerts, missionary programs, to church camp in the summer.  We tell them that their decisions about church and Jesus Christ are the most important decisions that they will make in their lives.  We tell them that it is important to live our lives like Jesus.

And then we act as if none of that matters.

You don’t think so? 

    What about all the times that we complain about being overcharged and stand in line for 20 minutes to get a dollar back from customer service, but when we get undercharged we simply rejoice and go home?

    What about all the times we do questionable math or take sketchy deductions on our taxes?

Or react in anger instead of “turning the other cheek?”

Or insist that the poor are just lazy so that we don’t have a reason to help them.

    Or say that church attendance is important… unless we have a sporting event, or a cultural event, or a work conflict, or voluntary overtime, or a family event, or a thousand other things that we have shown our children are more important by our actions, if not by our words.

    We can't teach that abortion is evil and then condemn single moms who decided not to have one.

    What about the political candidates (and parties) that we support despite their obviously unbiblical positions, character, morals and actions?

    We teach our children that pornography is bad, but half of all Christian men and one in five Christian women view porn on a regular basis.  

    We proclaim that our church welcomes everyone but turn away people who don't fit in because they aren't like us.

Which is it?

We can’t teach our children one thing and do something else. 

They’re smarter than that.

    Worse, we run the risk receiving the same condemnation as the church in Laodicea to whom Jesus said, I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Are we hot?  Or are we cold? 

Pick one.

    We need to quit giving our kids mixed messages.  They hate it as much as we do and it undermines our credibility.

We need to live like we believe.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Death of Communication in the Information Age?

    Sometimes it seems that the march of progress takes us places we don’t want to go.  Earlier this year, our East Ohio Conference magazine, Joining Hands, migrated to an all-digital format and this month we learned that our district newsletter, Tuscarawas Ties, is doing the same.  Both follow a trend.  Many other publications have made this migration for a variety of reasons.  

But these two cases are different.

    I think that the transition from Tuscarawas Ties was well done but fear that the digital migration of Joining Hands will not accomplish its intended goals.

    Tuscarawas Ties has been moving in this direction for more than a year.  Although produced once each month, it had changed to a schedule of eight electronic editions and four print editions each year.  Moreover, most of its recipients are pastors and church staff who are comfortable with computers and email.

    Joining Hands’ transition was more abrupt.  They transitioned from printing once every three months, to not printing at all.  In December’s concluding edition, our Conference Director of Communications, Rick Wolcott, said that we would instead publish “stories online as they happen” in order to “increase their impact.”  The target audience of Joining Hands was broader and directed toward the church at large and the mailing list included retirees, laity, pastors and local churches that ordered multiple copies to display or pass along to key volunteers.

    If your target audience is composed of those who prefer your product in an all-digital format, then such a migration makes sense.  Tuscarawas Ties is mailed to pastors and staff that use computers every day and the news contained in it is often reprinted in local church newsletters and bulletins.  For that reason, an electronic edition is both needed and valued. 

But I don’t think that the same holds true for Joining Hands. 

    Joining Hands brought us news from around the conference.  It was full of stories of how our churches were making a difference in the name of Jesus Christ.  But the audience was not made up exclusively of people who appreciated reading that same material online.  If the churches where I have served are representative of the rest of the conference (and I think they are), producing an electronic only magazine will make it impossible for eighty or ninety percent of our members to read it.

    Trinity Church (my current appointment in a suburban, middle class community) has, by far, the most computer users of any church that I have served.  We have more than 250 members.   I have email addresses for twenty-five.  Of those, perhaps ten spend significant time on the Internet, and four might read a church magazine online.  Based on the performance of our Facebook page (where I post links of interest) ten to fifteen might see a particular post but less than five would click on it.

    I am certain that in churches that are older or less affluent these numbers would be even more discouraging.

    Joining Hands is not the first publication to move to an electronic format and it won’t be the last.  But many of those that have done so no longer exist.  The readership that they had in print did not follow them online.

    I do not doubt the professionalism or the good intentions of our conference leaders, but I fear that we have created a system that is cheaper, faster, and produces news…

…that no one will read.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Don't Be Weak, Be Tea

    I drink tea.  Although I like the smell of coffee, I never developed a taste for it.  
    In any case, it occurred to me that our relationship with Jesus is a lot like tea. 

    No one wants to drink tea that is watery and weak but that is exactly what you get when you only dip the tea bag (or infuser) into the water momentarily.  One quick dip might leave a vague, tea-like, drippy impression, but the result is still more water than tea.  To get a proper cup, tea has to steep.  The tea must remain in the water until the water begins to take on the characteristics of the tea itself.  The water becomes dark, deep, full-bodied, and begins to take on the aroma of the tea.

    It’s the same with Jesus.  No one wants to be a weak and watery Christian but that is exactly what you get if you only dip Jesus into your life momentarily.  A quick dip might leave a vague, Jesus-like, drippy impression, but the results are still more human than Jesus.  To become more like Christ, we need time to steep.  We need to stay in the cup with Jesus for hours at a time until we begin to take on the characteristics of Jesus.  Our humanity needs time to brew so that our faith becomes deep, full-bodied, and begins to take on the aroma of Christ.

    In our overburdened, over-scheduled, hurried culture, the temptation is to try to microwave everything.  But while you can microwave a cup of water, you really can’t rush tea.  Your tea still has to steep.  The temptation is the same in church.  We want to drop in on Jesus once in a while and call it good, but real faith has to steep.  Our Christianity needs time to brew.  We need to spend time with Jesus, in church, in group study, in scripture reading, and in prayer so that we begin to take on the character of Christ.

We have a choice.

    Our faith can be weak, watery, and vaguely Christ-like, or we can take the time to steep and let our faith become deep, full-bodied, with the aroma of Christ.

Be tea.

Monday, May 5, 2014

T-minus Two Weeks and Counting

    Last week, my wife, Patti, and I visited my Otologist (ear surgeon), Dr. Berenholz, for the last time before my surgery.  We are now armed with pre-surgery (and post-surgery) instructions, as well as prescriptions that must be filled.  The date has been set and we are “Go” for launch in two weeks.  I announced my surgery date to the church, informed my District Superintendent, and have asked a retired pastor to fill the pulpit for me on the Sunday after surgery.  My wife will go with me on surgery day and my Mom has insisted on going along so that Patti doesn’t have to wait alone for the two and a half hour surgery.   Everything is ready.

Except me.

    Someone asked me today if I am getting excited about the surgery and that stumped for a few seconds.  Honestly, I think I am well past excited and am moving toward nervousness.  And that, in itself is a little odd for me.  The only other time I have had surgery was for a herniated disc in my back twenty odd years ago.  Then, folks asked if I was worried that I might be paralyzed, but I wasn’t.  I don’t recall ever feeling nervous.  Of course, at the time, what I was feeling was pain, and I was looking forward to waking up without pain.

    My hearing loss doesn’t cause pain but it is a struggle.  I am glad that I have a chance to hear better but my joy is tempered by knowing that this surgery will not be like the last.  The last time, I woke up and knew the pain was gone.  This time I know that won’t happen.  I won’t wake up with hearing.  Three or four weeks later, when they finally turn the Med-El implant on, I still won’t have hearing in the traditional sense.  By most accounts what I will have (if everything works), is an ability to hear “sounds” that have been described as “electronic” or “robotic.”  In our meeting, Dr. Berenholz reminded me that my ability to hear and understand will depend upon my persistence in doing my linguistic exercises after surgery so that my brain will learn how to hear with the implant.  Further, Dr. B. said that my ability to hear and understand should be considerably better in six months and will likely continue to improve for as much as two years. 

    But even though I have generally been able see the big picture and look forward to the rewards of long-term investments like higher education and retirement savings, this time it’s harder.  It seems more like looking forward to the finish line of a marathon.  It’s hard to be excited about the race.  The finish line sounds wonderful, but enduring the workouts and the long race itself doesn’t sound nearly as fun. 

It’s hard to be excited about surgery because the finish line is so far off.

What I’m feeling right now is less like excitement and more like anxiety.

Your prayers are appreciated. 


Earlier posts about my hearing adventure:
Cyborg Adventure: Realistic Expectations         April 15, 2014
Managing Expectations                                     March 24, 2014

A New Cyborg Adventure                               March 12, 2014
Reflections on Going Deaf                                June 30, 2011

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