While I am still working on putting together all my thoughts from The Summit, I found this article which really speaks to a lot of what I have been thinking about lately... so I wanted to share it here:
Goodbye, Christian America; Hello, True Christianity
by Richard Stearns
The day I became a Christian, one of the first people I wanted to tell was my mother. I had considered myself an atheist while I studied neurobiology in college. But as I studied more, I discovered Jesus and became a Christian. It was the early 1970s, and my mother's response to my life-changing decision captured the view of most Americans at that time: "That's nice, but isn't everybody Christian?"
Times have changed. According to a recent survey by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of Protestants has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in American history. Catholic adherents have remained stable thanks to immigration, but many U.S.-born Catholics are leaving the church. The survey also revealed another startling fact: the number of people who are not affiliated with any faith rose four percent in just the last five years. Nearly 20 percent of the population say they are of no specific faith at all.
If my mother were alive today, I think she would agree that we are quickly moving toward a secular society.
As this cultural shift has occurred, many Christians have reacted in frustration. We have fought to place the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and Christmas crèches outside town halls. We have sued over public prayers and crosses in state parks. One court recently weighed in on whether cheerleaders at a Texas school should be allowed to post Bible verses on their banners.
While symbols can be important, we have focused perhaps too much on them instead of the underlying reality they reflect. Instead, we need to go back to the basics of living as disciples of Christ, living missionally for Christ and demonstrating the Gospel in tangible ways within our schools, workplaces and communities. While I would be happy to see the Ten Commandments back on the courthouse wall, the fight over symbolic issues is backfiring, alienating people from the truths of the gospel rather than attracting them to it. The kind of Christianity the world responds to is the authentic "love your neighbor" kind. Its appeal can't be legislated through court battles and neither can courts stop its spread.
Dean Curry, senior pastor of Life Center Church in Tacoma, Wash., is a pastor who has made this change. He told me that a decade ago people would say to him, "You're the church that has that neat Christmas pageant." Like many churches, Life Center was also best known for what it opposed.
But that began to change after he made a trip to Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa in 2005. Dean had an encounter with suffering and an encounter with God. After witnessing the ravages of AIDS and the plight of orphans he had met one day, Dean lay in a bed in a grass-roofed hut weeping. He was overwhelmed by a problem that was so much bigger than anything his church could address.
"This is too big for our church," he said. "We can't just add this to our missions budget. How can I do this?" Dean believes that God gave him an answer that night. "You need to mobilize your city to care for these orphans." The group returned to Tacoma with broken hearts and a determination to come together as a city to help this tiny country of Lesotho 10,000 miles away. The Global Neighbor project was born.
Today, now seven years later, more than 5,000 people have become involved in one way or another. The mayor, public schools, Rotary Clubs, other churches, small businesses, judges, the head of the humane society, the Jewish community and some of the local policemen: They are all transforming lives half a world away. Pastor Curry told me, "We also engaged folks from the gay community. These were people who wouldn't have returned my call as an evangelical leader but now they want to partner with the church."
They achieved in five years what they expected to take 15. HIV/AIDS orphans received help. Those who are HIV positive receive care so that their children won't become orphans.
In the seven years since the Global Neighbor Project began, Life Center Church has seen its membership double. Pastor Curry told me, "We used to be known as that church with the big Christmas pageant -- now we're known as the church that is helping AIDS orphans."
There was a time when Pastor Curry might have worried about things like posting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, but today he's too busy changing the city of Tacoma and world. This is the work Christians are called to do. Christians can stop worrying about the symbols of the decline of Christian America and get back to the mission Jesus gave us to show the world a different way to live -- a way that demonstrates the great character of God: his love, his justice, his compassion, his forgiveness and his reconciliation.
You know what really annoys me.... Those pictures so many people post that have some saying on them that is most-often controversial… and the end of the picture says, "if you agree, like this and share. 99% of you won't" - SO manipulating!!!! It makes me not only want to NOT share it, but to speak out against it (even if I agree with what the little picture says). It makes me want to say, "where in scripture do you see Christ using manipulation and guilt to encourage his disciples to spread the gospel, the good news, or any message of His?" Jesus himself never used that tactic, so why are you???" UGH
At Columbine, I have seen this before. But not up close. As a church pastor in Denver, I have worked as a chaplain alongside several police and fire departments. I was privileged to counsel parents just hours after the Littleton Columbine shootings. However, in this new tragedy at the Aurora Theater Dark Night shooting, one of the victims was a 22-year-old woman from my church, Petra Anderson (pronounced Pay-tra). Petra went to the movies with two young friends who are biking across America. You and I have been inundated with news about what happened next. A joyful movie turned into bloody, unbelievable chaos. Petra was hit four times with a shot-gun blast, three shots into her arm and one bullet which entered her brain. This a bit of Petra’s miracle story.
With awesome people from our caring and pastoral team, I spent all day Friday in the ICU with Petra and her family. Her injuries were severe, and her condition was critical. A bullet had entered Petra’s face through her nose, and then traveled up through her brain until stopping at the back of her skull. The doctors prior to surgery were concerned, because so much of the brain had been traversed by the bullet. Many areas of brain function were involved. They were hoping to keep her alive long enough to get her into surgery. The prognosis was uncertain—if she lived, Petra might struggle with speech, movement, and thinking due to considerable brain damage. With Kim, Petra’s mother (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer), we simply cried, hugged, and prayed.
It is pressed into my memory now. Motion and emotion…
Other families come and go into the ICU waiting room. Some sit with us, and we talk. Others are visited by doctors with “Family Advocates” in tow. The families listen, sob, and then are moved like stunned cattle to a more private space to grieve. We pray. Petra is finally taken into surgery, using two different surgical teams. One team of neurosurgeons will open up the back of her skull to remove the bullet and clean up brain damage as best they can. Another ENT-specialty surgical team will then work through Petra’s nose by scope to follow the bullet’s path up into her brain. Their hope is to remove bone fragments, clean up damaged brain tissue, and reseal her brain to reduce infection.
If you have lived any of your days in a hospital waiting room, you know how long the enduring process is. It has a woeful pattern to it. Sit. Walk. Grab a drink. Sit. Walk. Answer a phone call. Sit. Walk. Hug someone. Sit. Talk to the FBI. Sit. Pick at the food. Sit. Walk. Go down the hall, but not too far because you’re afraid to miss something. Back. Hug. Pray. Sit. Sit. A picture of a five-year old waiting for next Christmas from January 1st comes to my mind. FOREVER. Only this feels worse: a heavy forever, with no promise of presents, Santa, or good news at the end.
Petra Anderson and her world class violin.
After the waiting drags for over five hours, tired doctors and nurses spill back into the room, one or two at a time. I look for “Family Advocates” but can find none. I exhale. The doctors update us: “It went well, and she’s recovering now. We found very little damage to the brain, and got the bullet out cleanly. It went better than we hoped for.” Each brings a warrior’s smile, and a bit of information—information that we turn into hope as we regurgitate it over the next hours. Still, the medical team remains professional and reserved, “Something might still go wrong. We just need to wait and see if she makes it for the next 48 hours.”
Tears and thank you’s abound. We are so thankful for these men and women. We hug. Everyone hugs. Then, round two. Sit. Wait. Pray. Fully dressed people cuddle into small snails and try to sleep on the floor. Some are shuttled to a room donated by the Holiday Inn across the street. Thank you, Lord, for every little thing. We sit. We pray. “We’ll understand better tomorrow.”
Petra is moved back to ICU. She looks, surprisingly, wonderful. With a small hole in her nose, and her arm wrapped, she almost looks uninjured. She is medicated and sleeping when I come to visit her on Saturday. I sit, talk, and pray quietly with Kim amid the darkened room, lit by glowing medical screens and power switches. Nurses, like quiet soldiers posted on guard, come in, march attentively through the machines, and go out. These men and women really care. Finally, one of the surgeons comes in to check on Petra. He has had some sleep, and looks more like a movie star this time. As Petra sleeps, he retells the story of the surgery, and we ask questions. The doctor reads the perfect script, as if he is on Hallmark Hall of Fame. He fills us in on the miracle. Honestly, he doesn’t call it that, he just uses words like “happily” and “wonderfully” and “in a very fortunate way” and “luckily” and “we were really surprised by that.” Kim and I know a miracle when we see it.
It seems as if the bullet traveled through Petra’s brain without hitting any significant brain areas. The doctor explains that Petra’s brain has a small “fluid pocket” in it. In our non-medical minds, it is a tiny route of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, winding from front to rear. Only a CAT scan would catch it, and Petra would have never noticed it. It seems many people have these places in their brains, in random places.
But what is significant is that in Petra’s case, the shotgun buck shot, maybe even the size used for deer hunting, enters her brain from the exact point of this channel. The bullet is channeled from Petra’s nose through her brain. It turns slightly, and comes to rest at the rear of her brain. And in the process, the bullet misses all the vital areas of the brain. In many ways, it almost misses the brain itself, doing very little damage. Not exactly, but like a giant BB though a straw created in Petra’s brain before she was born, it follows the perfect route. The bullet moves in the least harmful way. A millimeter in any direction and the the brain is destroyed. Evil wins a round. (Medical update at the end, below)
As he shares, the doctor seems taken aback. It is an odd thing to have a surgeon show a bit of wonder. Professionally, these guys own the universe, it seems, and take everything in stride. He is obviously gifted as a surgeon, and is kind in his manner. “It couldn’t have gone better. If it were my daughter,” he says quietly, glancing around to see if any of his colleagues might be watching him, “I’d be ecstatic. I’d be dancing a jig.” He smiles. I can’t keep my smile back, or the tears of joy. In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.
While we’re talking, Petra awakes. She opens her eyes, and sits up, “Mom.” Movie-star doctor spins to grab her, to protect her from falling. The nurse assures him she’s been doing this for a while. He talks to her, and she talks back. He asks questions, and Petra has the right answers. “Where do you hurt, Petra?” “All over.” Amazed, but professional, he smiles and leaves the set shaking his head. I am so thankful for this man.
Petra is groggy and beat up, but she is herself. Honestly, I look worse before my morning coffee. “I’m thirsty,” she proclaims.
“You want an ice cube, honey?” Kim replies.
“Please.” Wow. She lays down, back to sleep, a living miracle who doesn’t even know it yet. Good flowering out of the refuse pile of a truly dark night. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whisper.
Petra, you are amazing. Kim, you, too, are amazing. I am so proud of you both. But God, you are in a league of your own. (Duh.)
There is much ahead. More surgery. Facial reconstruction, perhaps. And for Kim, chemo therapy to stretch every moment out of life. But life remains.The ending is yet to be written for this family. One final note: I am told Petra will take her first steps today. Time for the miracle to go for a walk.
It is amazing to me the different things that one gets to experience in a small town. And not just any small town, but a small town that is MANY miles (like 90) from the nearest city that has more than 5,000 people. I find myself discovering and experiencing new things almost daily now that we live in Quincy, CA.
One of the things that has really struck me recently about living here was in regards to going to the movies. It really got me thinking about the way in which a lot of people in America approach going to the movies in the 21st Century. And rather than trying to be general and off-base (because this is NOT a scientific study of any sort), I will focus more on the way in which I, personally, had approaching going to the movies, and how that has changed since moving to Quincy.
I remember, even when I lived in Boerne, Texas, there was a theater named "The Palladium" that was only about 10 miles away from where we lived. Boerne, itself, didn't have a movie theater - which made me think at that time that Boerne was a TINY city (boy, have I discovered how wrong I was about that). Anyway, the Palladium had 20-some screens, was gigantic, and even had two VIP movie screens that were for adults 21 and over, had full-sized leather seats, and full arm rests. It was a huge and incredible theater. When Christi and I would talk about going to see a movie, we had a few decisions to make: 1) Should we go to the Palladium, or one of the other multi-screen theaters within another 5-8 miles? 2) What movie of the 20+ choices should we go see? and 3) What time should we go see the movie we wanted to see (of the 5+ times available each day)? It was quite the smorgasbord of options to choose from.
I admit that I used to think that made life "simpler" - to have all those choices and times - so you could go see what movie you wanted and when you wanted. However, that might be more "convenient", but I have come to discover it is not "simpler." I have discovered movie-going simplicity since moving to Quincy, CA.
At first when we moved to Quincy, I was thinking, "Hey... this can't be much different than Boerne, even if Quincy is less than 1/2 the size. Quincy has a movie theater! Woohoo!" But boy is it different... and that difference has come in the experience of Movie-Going Simplicity!!!
Quincy has a movie theater... yes... but it is only a ONE-Screen Movie theater. In addition to that, it only has one showtime per day (7 pm) except for Sundays (it has two 4 pm and 7 pm) and Wednesdays (when it is closed completely). If you want to see a movie there, you have approximately 3 days to see it. The movies show from Sunday through Tuesday or from Thursday through Saturday. And then, when you get inside, you will find a quaint little snack-bar. There are very few options, but at least the prices are not as steep as the mega-plexes. The theater itself isn't too large, and is clearly available for both movie showings as well as live theater, as there is quite a large stage stretching out in front of the screen.
So, in short... what is Movie-Going Simplicity? It is: 1) Do you want to go to THE movie? And that's it. If you want to go to the movie, there is only one show time to go to. And if you don't go to the movie that is showing now, in 3 days max, it will be gone. Different - yes. Bad - not at all.
And, just to add to this post of simplicity, I had to take pictures of this single-plex to show what I am talking about. Enjoy.
Having lived in a couple of the places I have lived (including Colorado and California), it is not all that uncommon for events to have to be cancelled due to the weather. And in recent years, this has become a much more common occurrence, not only all throughout the United States, but throughout the world - as there have been a lot of natural disasters and inclement weather that has brought many things to a halt.
However, I am not even referring to your extreme situations (hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.) It is not too uncommon in the U.S. to have events cancelled due to the snow, the rain, the ice, and even extreme heat.
But yesterday when I was reading the local paper, I came upon a first for me..... an event that was cancelled for a reason I have never seen formally given....
Here is the clip from the paper:
Yes... that is right. The film series was cancelled due to GORGEOUS WEATHER!!! :-)
I will admit, it is true that we are having BEAUTIFUL weather here in Quincy, CA right now. But I just had to take a picture of that and post it for the official record of something being cancelled, formally, in the local newspaper, due to gorgeous weather! I love it.
Stay tuned for other news from "Life in a Small Town"
I saw this picture today and thought it was SO funny that I had to post it on my blog. (NOTE: No, I am NOT saying that the Swine Flu that is infecting people is funny, I am saying this picture and caption is funny)
WOW! I will admit, I love using facebook. I love connecting with friends and people who I have not seen or talked to in many, many years. In fact, in the last couple of months, I have re-connected with a lot of high school classmates, people from my youth group when I was a teenager, college classmates, and former youth group members... in addition to keeping up with the people in my life on a daily basis today. I have been a member of myspace and facebook and many other social networking sites. My favorite, though, has to be facebook. I like its structure, its security, its ease of use, its applications, and more. I know facebook has been catching on recently, but I had no idea how much.
Today I came upon this description of the growth of facebook and how it is expanding, and expected to continue growing in 2009. AMAZING. Check it out...