Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Response to THE VIOLENCE OF A HEARTLESS THEOLOGY



I am either an exceptionally honest person who has the ability to see both sides of an issue or I'm without principles. Depends on who you talk to. Those who would divide my church into evil heartless legalists and caring understanding, nurturing, accepting Christians, have a tendency to disallow agreeing with anything on the opposite side of the conservative/liberal wall. Jesus, if you remember, had just that sort of church to deal with at his first coming. Pharisees were conservatives, Sadducees were liberals. The Scribes were like the news media. Their job was to write things down and they were probably just as biased as today's news media.

I found my self agreeing with one article in Adventist Today and disagreeing with another. That's probably a sign that either Adventist Today is unbiased or that I am. One of us must be because I'm a conservative and I'm not supposed to agree with articles of either sort. The first article concerned the rise of authoritarianism in the church leadership (which I'm against) and the other concerned how mean it was not to accept homosexuality as okey dokey (which I'm also against). Though I am against both things, in once case I agreed with the author. In the other I did not.

I've spoken plenty in regard to the first issue. As to the second, I have kept fairly low key. The article entitled "The Violence of a Heartless Theology" by Alicia Johnston appeared in Adventist Today recently. It is a heart-tugging appeal to Adventists to accept the sexuality of Ms. Johnston and others like her. To not "accept" her sexuality, she posits is heartless and cruel and leads to suicide and other negative consequences to people who are members of what progressives and feminist studies professors today call "persons with non sys-normative gender identity".

There are some serious logical fallacies present in Ms. Johnston's argument. I'll try and address them with kindness and understanding. I have friends who struggle with gender identity and, contrary to the way my line of thought is portrayed in the Adventist Today piece, I do care about their feelings and do not wish to cause them unnecessary pain. Their struggle is a real one and deserves our understanding and sympathy.
  1. Begging the Question - In the article Johnston states, "Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion." She goes on to claim this "approach" is heartless, cruel and that such an approach is heartless and that scripture gives equal weight to reason and feelings (or spirituality as she calls it). This talking point assumes that feelings and reason are somehow equal in importance to the practice of Christianity. I would argue that we are born with instincts and that through experience and the process of making choices we reason out how we feel about things. More on the neuroscience behind that idea later. At this point I'd like to point out that the argument is a setup to an either/or question which is another logical fallacy (the false dichotomy). Our position on gender identity is not a question of whether or not we accept or reject the value of feelings in the Christian life, though the original statement would try to make it so.
  2. Straw Man Fallacy - Ms. Johnston next makes arguments to support her statement that "It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs." She backs this up with statements about what "they" think or believe, that is people who believe homosexual behavior is a sin. She sets this mythical "they" up so she can knock them down for their cold-heartedness. This type of magical thinking allows one to assume that if one or two people say something unkind to you, everybody else is thinking it. Unless Ms. Johnston has had a look at the Book of Life, she cannot make such a statement that again sets up a false dichotomy that "they" treat theology like arithmetic and people like computers. You either accept her argument that feelings are as important as reason or you are a cold heartless automaton (made of straw in this case).
  3. Post Hoc/False Cause - Ms Johnston next claims that since "Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit" then believing that same-sex relationships and transgender identity are sinful proves the tree of your opinion is a bad tree. She then goes about blaming all sorts of statistics related to homosexual and transgenders is caused simply by people not "accepting" a person's alternate sexuality. She blissfully ignores evidence that there might well be a mental disorder behind these consequences that has little or nothing to do with one's acceptance. If I were to claim, for instance, that if we all just "accept" people with bipolar disorder then the problem would be solved, I'd be barking mad. I have two family members with bipolar and accept them and love them both without reservation. One is in prison due to poor choices he made while manic and off his meds. I got three hours of sleep last night because I was up with the other one because she was having a panic attack. It had nothing to do with "acceptance". It has everything to do with having a mental disorder with a physical basis. Mental illness cannot be cured by everybody approving of your sexual lifestyle. Significantly, however, the LGBTQ community has gotten their condition removed from the American Psychological Asssociation's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, effectively halting research into treatment modalities. In essence, the only thing a therapist can do for a person who is homosexual or transsexual or whatever is to tell him to go and have sex with someone. This is quite the opposite of what Jesus told the woman caught in adultery. I'm sure she felt like having sex with the guy she was caught with. Jesus in his compassion forgave her and rebuked her accusers, but, significantly, Jesus did NOT say, "Go and commit adultery some more and feel better about it."  He was very definite that she should act against her very basic instincts and stop doing what she was doing.  In other words, her feelings weren't the issue. It was her choices.
  4. The Bandwagon Fallacy - The statistics she uses to "prove" her bad fruit/bad tree misapplied analogy. The analogy is false since the fruit she is talking about may not be coming from the theological tree she is attacking. She lists suicide rates and homelessness and apologies by conversion therapy groups as evidence that rejecting the Biblical position that homosexual and other nonsysnormative (i.e. deviant) behaviors are sin is the only way to prove you are a good tree and not a bad one.
  5. The Hasty Generalization - Like claims that only religions start wars, the article cites friends who were told that their "sexuality" was a sin then wanted to commit suicide as evidence that this is true across the board. First of all, I know of few people who claim that feelings are a sin. Otherwise every time a sysgender normal guy drove past a billboard with a woman in a bikini on it, he commits a mortal and unforgivable sin. Few Christians think that, although some loud ones admittedly do. It's not the feelings it's the behavior that is at issue and yet many many persons in favor of striking non-heterosexual behavior off the list o' sins seems to make their argument assuming that most people despise gay people. It's just not so anymore than we despise divorcees and adulterers. We still believe that the commandment about being loyal to your spouse is still one you should not violate, we do offer forgiveness and reconciliation. What we do not do is say, "Go and do it again so you'll feel better."
  6. The Non Sequiter - Then there's this statement. "God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering."  Sounds great doesn't it? But again it goes back and again creates a straw man built onto a false dichotomy swirled up in a bandwagon fallacy. She leaves out a crucial bit. God does love the world deeply. He sent His Son to die for the world. He does forgive us for our failures and teaches us how to love completely and fully. That's where Ms. Johnston would like to stop, but that's not all God does. He then tells us to "Go and sin no more," and helps us learn to obey. No where does God tell us to obey our feelings. Quite the contrary. He tells us to obey the law. He forgives us when we try and fail, but nowhere have I found a place in scripture where he tells us we can go on sinning if we feel like it, nor does he scratch out any commandments for us because we don't like them.
  7. Begging the question (again) - Ms Johnston finally makes this pronouncement about those who believe homosexual behavior is a sin.  "It’s easy not to involve yourself with those whose lives you judge to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership." This assumes that the people she is chiding (a group which includes me), do, in fact, judge people who struggle with homosexual feelings to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership. The truth is, it is most often the person who is gay or transgender who most often rejects church membership or the blessings of marriage of the sort the church offers.

To demand that a church reject it's own beliefs in order to accommodate your personal sins so that you don't have to feel guilty about doing them, is really not fair. If I am a child abuser and see nothing wrong with knocking my kids around, should I demand the church make me a board member? If I like gambling, should I demand the church allow me to set up a floating crap game in the youth department? If I want to attend church in the nude, who am I hurting? Adam and Eve started out naked after all. Our bodies are beautiful. Your prejudice against undressed people hurts my feelings and makes me want to commit suicide. Must the church accommodate.

Jesus offers a place in his kingdom based on two basic requirements - that we love Him and keep his commandments. He even offers to help us keep those commandments by changing our hearts. I can tell you that I didn't "feel" like changing some of my bad habits. Some I'm still working on. I'm heterosexual. I have those kinds of feelings too. Unfortunately, due to health issues, that aspect of my life with my wife has been curtailed severely. I feel like having sex, but can't because it would harm my partner. One can live without it. It's not easy, but having sex is not required to be a fulfilled person. Remember Paul said he had a "thorn in the side" that he was forced to live with. One wonders if that "thorn" was related to his lifelong celibacy. I think Paul showed us how to deal with urges to do things scripture tells us not to do. Peter struggled with his lifelong prejudice against Gentiles. God and the Apostle Paul both reprimanded him. God punished David for his adultery. It didn't matter that David had seen Bathsheba naked and had an "urge". God forgave him horrible things and he submitted. Despite David's struggles with sin, God called David a man after his own heart. That was because David never gave up the struggle.

As to the feeling vs. reason issue, recent advances in psychology and neuroscience have shown that the brain is set up so that if we think out a thing or repeatedly do a thing enough times, we train our feelings to recognize such thoughts or actions as "right". It's the same for physical skills. Swing a baseball bat enough times and you'll come to recognize a good swing by how right it feels when you make one. Jesus understood the human mind and how it can be trained. I've been a Christian for 46 years and studied Scripture daily. I've struggled with old "urges" and behaviors for many years. All these years later, I find that things that appealed to me back in the 70s, no longer whole any appeal for me today. Things feel "wrong" now that once felt natural. It took more than four decades for God to teach me to "do justice" and to "love mercy" and to "walk humbly with my God." I'm not all the way there yet, but it does get easier with time and practice.

I've never considered demanding that the church "accept" my bad language or my short temper. Both things "felt" right because in my youth, before I met Christ, I practiced both a lot and they became natural. Jesus asked me to give up those things and because I love Him and because He has forgiven me my sins, I want to obey Him and please Him. Sin is sin and a thing to be overcome with his help. He will put a new heart and mind in you, but it may take some time. Heart transplants and Neurosurgery are very delicate things. Just because it doesn't happen instantaneously, doesn't mean that it won't. I know many individuals who struggle with homosexuality and have overcome it. It's slow and they get support from their straight friends in the church.

Those who reject people who have "feelings" that betray them into sin are not unique because they are gay. Everyone struggles with impulses to sin. Homosexual lust is not  greater or lesser a sin than heterosexual lust or greed for money or power. It's all one and the same and God can help you overcome your particular sins whatever they are.

And we don't have to change the rules; we only must allow God to change ourselves. Ms Johnston was right about one thing. God does love us and forgives our sins and wants to produce "good fruit". He also wants give us the power to obey and even changes our hearts for us. That seems to be the thing missing from Ms Johnston's argument.

© 2017 by Tom King





Friday, November 24, 2017

Shoot Your Own Side First!

When Christians start feeding each other to the lions, we're in trouble.

If you want to read some discouraging stuff, check out the "comments" section on virtually any Adventist sermon posted on Youtube. Now Youtube is a wonderful communication tool for churches, Christian groups and evangelists for spreading the Gospel. At no other time in history has it been possible to physically spread the gospel to every kindred, tongue and people. There are more people alive today at one time than have lived in all the history of the world. Through television, radio and the Internet, the Word can reach anyone, anywhere. It is almost impossible to suppress the Word in the modern world thanks to these amazing communications tools.

And what do we do with these wonderful tools?

We turn it all into a spectacle of Christian on Christian violence. And it's not just atheists, Catholics or Apostate Protestants who are duking it out with us online!  There is plenty of Adventist on Adventist violence out there for your entertainment and edification. At one time the kind of church members, whom Ray Stevens in his hilarious song "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" referred to as "Sister Bertha Better-Than-You", used to foster gossip and church dissension largely within the walls of the local church or the immediate community. With the advent of the smartphone and the Internet, Sister Berthas everywhere can now spread their vitriole world-wide with breath-taking speed.

Adventist have long been a fighting people - stubborn, hard-headed and passionate. We often argue among ourselves over details of theology, hermaneutics (whatever that is), and Christian practice. The big issues, we hammer out in Bible Study Committees like the three iterations of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) which sought to resolve an issue that had been already discussed and resolved in 1861 by a General Conference meeting (they supported women's ordination by the way). The GC administration of the time ignored the resolution and swept the whole thing under a rug then as they've tried to do now.

Families have arguments. It happens. If families are smart, they keep these discussions within the family and present a unified front to the rest of the world. If they are not smart, they open up the windows so the neighbors can hear better and even move the "discussion" out into the yard so witnesses can see the conflict more clearly.

That's what you'll see on Youtube in the comments section. It's bad enough to see the heathen denouncing out pastors and evangelists and leaders, but when some of the nastiest comments come from our brothers and sisters in the faith, I rather wonder what Jesus thinks of the whole thing. Civil discussions are one thing and probably should be kept within the brethren until such controversies are resolved.

The late Andrews University professor, C. Mervyn Maxwell once lampooned our self-destructive tendencies as a people in a song he wrote that enjoyed a wave of popularity among theology graduate students back in the late 60s. The song, Shoot Your Own Side First, was wildly popular among the theology grad students as it was during the great Righteousness by Faith uprising that happened about the same time. It was even included on a folk song album Song, Soul and Six Strings by former King's Heralds member, Jim Ayers - an album which disappeared from the ABC shelves shortly after its debut and which you cannot find anywhere anymore.

The song lampooned the propensity for Christians to approach the battle to spread the Gospel of Christ by first taking potshots at those who are lined up beside them in the forefront of the battle. Well we're doing it again!  And with the advent of the Internet, we're doing a much more effective job of making ourselves ineffective as a church. Adventist of every legalistic stripe are lined up to take a swing at any preacher with whom they disagree. And I'm certain Lucifer is helping them write their copy.

The devil loves nothing better than to muddy the waters over any little point of doctrine so that he can divide and conquer the faithful, such that they be. The recent kerfuffle over women's ordination is a case in point. We've seen it before in 1888 when the servant of the Lord lost a battle with the titular head of the church over the promulgation of the message of Righteousness by Faith. Before the devil got through leading all the factions into a muddled power play, we saw Ellen White shipped off to Australia, but not before declaring that the she believed that the GC administration no longer spoke as the voice of God to His church. When she returned, she championed a General Conference in 1903 that divested the GC administration of much of its power over the local church conferences and created the Union Conferences, which, not so ironically were recently divested of power at the GC in San Antonio which was manipulated in precisely the same fashion that GI Butler did the 1888 GC.

While it's obvious I have certain opinions about the power struggle going on in the church right now, there is no way I'm going to come to the aid of Satan. He's doing fine all on his own. But when I see brethren with whom I partially agree making snide comments about evangelists like Doug Batchelor on Youtube simply because he is working with the GC on a recent evangelist series, I despair of having any kind of intelligent conversation over women's ordination or anything at all involving an attempt to increase our understanding of God's Will for us here on Earth.

When we resort to venal accusations and name-calling in public forums, we "Shoot Our Own Side First." And such attacks are not limited to the laity or to offshoot preachers. George Knight has done a series of talks on SDA history that are very enlightening as to the nature of this problem. Even in reviewing the text and speeches in support of the so-called "loyalty oath" that the GC administration placed before this year's Annual Council, much was revealed. I never knew HMS Richards Sr. was at one point considered by some of our leadership to be "in rebellion" and Richards himself a "problem". Elder Richards was listed in a speech by one of the GC execs at Annual Council alongside Robert Brimsmead and Desmond Ford as a threat to SDA unity successfully overcome by the GC administration.

Really? There is either something very wrong going on here or someone is very badly handling the situation. In either case, it is not time to start publicly executing our own people like communists do when their system starts breaking down. Shooting our own side first is a very very bad idea.

Could we please just keep it down folks and try not to disturb the neighbors?  With the Internet it's impossible to keep our disagreements out of the public eye, of course, but we could at least make the discussion a little less Mob Rule and a little more Golden Rule.

How about it?

I think Jesus would be pleased if we did.  I've included a video below of Maxwell's wonderful "Shoot Your Own Side First." It's not very good. I'm no singer, but I cannot find any extant version of the song. I think it's been suppressed. It wouldn't surprise me at any rate. 




© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Reaching the Forgotten

I wrote last week about a new project God seems to be pushing me into. I thought this week I'd post the rough development plan I've started developing this week. I like this project because it allows individuals to develop their own personal ministry performing a valuable service for the church - finding lost church members and shut-ins and bringing them home to church.  Here's the layout of the project. If you'd like to help, check out our donation page at Fundly. We can use startup seed money to help us get the paperwork filed.


Going Home Ministries – Transportation for Shut-ins & Kids

Demographics
  • 89% of Americans say they believe in God
  • 51% of Americans say they attend church
  • 25% more Americans have become more active in religious services recently
  • Pew survey cites business, inconvenience, habit, work and other reasons for lack of church attendance.
  • Pew didn't ask whether or not transportation to church was an issue
  • A big factor for elderly church members is inability to get to church. As many as 1 in 4 seniors are no longer able to drive.
Background:

Back in the 70s my church got itself a new pastor. Ron Halvorsen, a former Brooklyn gang-banger, was an unlikely choice for pastor of a large university Texas Adventist church. To say he shook up the church is an understatement. One of the things he did that upset the old guard of the church was to buy and borrow 9 old school buses. Pastor Ron discovered we had a huge shut-in population in the surrounding county. He set up a volunteer phone line to find where all these folks lived, they developed bus routes and began picking up seniors who couldn't drive themselves to church. Then they discovered that they had lots of parents who wanted their kids to go to church services so we started picking those kids up. One of the things that happened was that we filled buses with children and seniors who thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.

Within a few months we had 3000 people coming to church services (in a town of 2500) and had to divide the services into two separate services and were looking at adding a third. We set up a youth service on Wednesday night opposite prayer meeting and pretty soon we had 900 people coming to prayer meeting (up from 46 people just a few months earlier. We discovered that a huge number of those new members simply had transportation problems. Even with the kids, the bus service allowed parents to send their kids off to prayer meeting and gave them a few precious moments to themselves before they drove to prayer meeting where they could enjoy the services in peace and meet their kids back at home. It's little wonder prayer meeting became so popular.

In doing transportation advocacy in East Texas we discovered that one of the reasons our rural transit system didn't run on Sunday was that they didn't think anyone wanted to go anywhere on Sunday and certainly not to church. I did a transportation survey in the region and “ride to church” was just behind “ride to the doctor”, which is #1, as a reason that people without transportation needed a ride.

We'd like to see churches filled up again. That's what this initiative is about. We are looking to create a transportation resource to see that no one who wants to go to church has to miss services because they can't get there. Churches that have tried bus ministries have found that the need is more vast than they had any idea. With the massive baby boomer generation retiring and dealing with the effects of aging, huge numbers of our church members are finding themselves unable to get to church in any kind of regular way.

We can do bus ministries individually, but it makes more sense for us put our resource together and help each other. If church buses and individual volunteers can find a way to coordinate their efforts we should be able to get people without transportation to church and other faith-based activities. We believe that technology can help make church bus and transportation ministries more effective. Back home in Texas we did the same thing with social services for churches by creating a church social services agency that shared resources and was supported by most of the local churches. It helped us avoid duplication of services and helped us be more effective at providing help to people who needed it. It is our intent to do the same thing for transportation needs like going to church, prayer meeting, church food banks and other faith-based activities not covered by local charities and government services.

The Parable of the Wedding Guests tells of a king who invited guests to a wedding. After many refused to come, the king takes action to fill the wedding hall.

So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
(Matthew 22: 7-10)

There is a time to gather God’s children together. It seems to me that it’s about time we do a better job of doing that given the state of the world and the shortness of time.

Mission Statement

Our Mission is to build a network of transportation resources to transportation-challenged believers and searchers to church and other faith-based activities.

Vision Statement

Our Vision is of a flexible, expanding network of volunteers providing transportation for seniors, shut-ins, children and low income families to faith-based and church-sponsored activities.

Philosophy

We believe that as Christians we should embrace all Christians and seekers after truth and that we should work together across denominational lines to get those in need to their church homes. We are the servants of the King, sent out into the villages and the byways to gather all who may wish to come into the wedding feast. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, neither black nor white, nor Baptist nor Catholic, nor Adventist nor Lutheran, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Strategy:

Step 1 – Setup Nonprofit Organization to manage and coordinate the organization
Step 2 – Develop website for signing up volunteers, drivers and riders with expandability potential for duplicating in other cities
Step 3 – Develop relationships with churches, volunteers and Christians with transportation issues and create mechanisms for connecting
Step 4 – Pilot the program for one year.
Step 5 – Expand to other communities

Tentative Startup Budget:
  1. Website design and hosting............................................................$ 5,000.00
  2. Legal costs & accounting...............................................................$ 2,000.00
  3. Staffing costs (part time project director – 12 months).................$12,000.00
  4. Grant writing costs.........................................................................$ 1,000.00
Total.........................................................................................................$20,000.00

Timeline

Milestone 1: First Month
  1. Setup nonprofit corporation and recruit board of directors
  2. Create request for proposal for website design
  3. Choose web designer and map the site
  4. Setup accounting and bank accounts
  5. Research potential grant funding
Milestone 2: Second Month
  1. First board meeting
  2. Map website and begin site design and coding
  3. Visit local churches for help organizing inter-denominational transportation resources
  4. Create policies and procedures manual for organization
  5. Create methodology for expanding into new cities/counties
  6. Begin organizing technical advisory group
Milestone 3: Third Month
  1. Begin field testing website
  2. Continue recruiting churches as supporters for the project
  3. Develop advertising/marketing strategy for recruiting riders and volunteers
  4. Continue grant writing & extended budget development
  5. Meeting with advisory group
Milestone 4: Fourth Month
  1. Complete Policies and Procedures
  2. Complete field testing website and begin data collection
  3. Deploy advertising and marketing
  4. Launch website
  5. Identify transportation resources
  6. Continue grant writing & budget development
Milestone 5: Fifth Month
  1. Continue recruiting volunteer drivers/church partners
  2. Prepare to launch initial services
  3. Meet with advisory group/revise development plan
  4. Continue data collection/promote services
  5. Second quarterly board meeting
Milestone 6: Sixth Month
  1. Ramp up to full operations
  2. Continue recruiting volunteer drivers/church partners
  3. Continue marketing/grant development
  4. Continue working out the website bugs
  5. Meet with advisory group to evaluate progress
Milestone 7: Seventh Month
  1. Third quarterly board meeting
  2. Continue testing website, policies and procedures
  3. Continue marketing/grant development
  4. Continue recruiting volunteer drivers/church partners
  5. Expand resources and area served
Milestone 8: Eighth month
  1. Meet with advisory group to evaluate progress
  2. Continue testing website, policies and procedures
  3. Continue marketing/grant development
  4. Continue recruiting volunteer drivers/church partners
  5. Expand resources and area served
Milestone 9: Ninth Month
  1. Continue testing website, policies and procedures
  2. Continue marketing/grant development
  3. Continue recruiting volunteer drivers/church partners
  4. Expand resources and areas served
  5. Implement grant-funded programs
Notes:

When I was back in Texas, I did transportation advocacy for a time. One in five East Texans don't have reliable access to transportation. I helped lead an effort to improve funding for our region's rural transit system. I was appointed to the Department of Transportation's Public Transportation Advisory Committee by the Governor that rewrote the funding formula. I testified before the legislature's transportation committee and led a bipartisan coalition to make the funding formula for transit fair.

When my wife and I moved to the Pacific Northwest, we inadvertently lost our own transportation. Suddenly, instead of being advocates for seniors, low income families and people with disabilities who need transportation, my wife and I became the people who use public transportation. I learned all sorts of thing about public transit from the consumer side. With no transportation of your own to fall back on, you learn fast.
I used to hear folks, especially seniors, at our public comment meetings, complain because they could go everywhere, to doctors, to appointments with social services, and to shopping and even recreation, but there was nothing that runs to church services, which for many had been the most important thing in their lives. The transit services were either too expensive or not running during these times. Many providers claimed there was just no need for it.

After losing our own transportation, my wife and I soon found ourselves unable to attend church. The bus routes don't serve the areas around most churches as they tend to be built on less commercial property and off the main bus lines. Paratransit services either don't run to our churches or simply shut down at church times. As the baby boomer population retires, it's only going to become more of a challenge for churches to retain their older members as they lose our ability to drive or even to afford to drive.

And boomers have more savings, they bring their grandkids with them, they nag their children about coming to church. Because we are bleeding members from our congregations, in part, because of lack of a car, busy schedules, illness and loss of driving skills.

© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Shut-Ins: The Lost Tribe of Adventists



 When we do surveys asking what religion people are, we find that there are usually a lot more people who say they are Adventist than there are who come to church each Sabbath. Mostly we assume that's because people just don't want to come to church because they're too busy or someone's offended them or (my favorite) "I like to worship out in nature." 

I think there's another reason for the miscount. I think a lot of Adventists don't come to church anymore because they've gotten too old. I know because it's happened to me. Through a series of unfortunate events, my wife and I became isolated from our church and the church forgot we'd ever been there. 

For one reason and another, seniors are much more likely to find themselves without transportation and therefore, without a way to get themselves to church. In East Texas, my old stomping grounds, we did a survey that showed that one in five East Texans didn't have a reliable way to get to town to go to the doctor or get groceries. Many are virtual prisoners in their own homes. The other missing group is children. They don't drive cars. They are totally dependent on older people to drive them around.

These church members are too often forgotten by their own churches. I found that out when my wife and I moved up here to Washington State. We found a nice little church and, though my wife wasn't able to attend regularly, I started to. Unfortunately about a year later, I lost my ride and next thing I knew, we'd disappeared from my church's radar screen. I got a ride about two years later and everyone was surprised to see me. Most thought I'd gone back to Texas.

I've seen what happens when a church goes looking for its lost older members. Pastor extraordinaire, Ron Halvorsen Sr. breezed into my home town of Keene, Texas and began actively looking for lost members. He somehow managed to find something like 9 school buses, find drivers for them and create a maintenance and fuel fund.  We had about 800 coming to church (it's an SDA college town) and about 40 coming to prayer meeting in the youth chapel every week. Pastor Ron went out looking for children and old people and sent buses out into the surrounding counting collecting those who had been missing services.

The board balked at the cost of manning the buses, the liability issues and even the playing of guitars onboard during the rides.  But Pastor Ron, with the enthusiastic support of the congregation ignored the good old boys who thought they ran the church, and before we realized what was happening we had better than 2000 people in two and three daily services and 900 people at PRAYER MEETING! Can you imagine that?

We started youth prayer meetings for the kids, run by the kids and aimed at the kids. Kids came, often accompanied by parents and grandparents. The bus singalongs got more than a little rowdy and it wasn't just the youngsters. If you think Grandma has forgotten how to do "If You're Happy and You Know It" You've got another thing coming. It was a truly joyful noise unto the Lord.

I know, because me and my guitar were on those buses. Every Adventist Church, particularly in North America and Europe needs to go through their membership lists and find out who is missing. Once they find who and where those folk are, they need to go get them. A big yellow school bus is great for that. If some of your seniors have mobility issues, I can show you how to address that with a portable ramp you can run up to the rear exit door.

And you don't have to limit the use of the church bus to shut-in transportation to Sabbath services. If the kids are having a program at your school, go pick up folk and pack the audience with appreciative fans. If you've got a food bank in your church, USE IT!  Every month about social security check time, run around and pick up your non-driving or physically impaired members and take them to Walmart, the mall or to your church food bank. Organize trips to the park or to church recreational activities. If you hear about a free clinic going on in your city, get out the buses and go get people. Jesus said, "Go ye therefore into all the world..." If you can't be globe-hopping, you should at least explore the corner of your world. Besides those big buses running around town on Sabbath with the name of your church on it are a powerful witness, not to mention advertisement, for your local congregation.


It can be good for your church budget too. Seniors control the majority of the wealth in this country, but they don't donate to causes they don't participate in in some way. Make them active participants in the life of your church and you will see more money coming into the church coffers if that's what you're worried about.

Actually, if running a couple of buses to pick up non-attending members will, perhaps, minister to what St. Paul called "the widows and the orphans", then let nothing stand in your way. It's time we "come rejoicing" before the Lord and get to bringing in those lonely and isolated sheaves still standing out in the field with no way to get home. Gleaning the fields for left behind fruit is an ancient tradition with God's people.

© 2017 by Tom King



Saturday, October 21, 2017

Pathfinders: How to Effectively Praise





      “Fathers, provoke not your children, lest they be discouraged.” Colossians 3:21

The modern world embraces self-esteem as the end-all/be-all of child-rearing goals. Convinced that poor self-esteem is the cause behind our children's rebellion and misbehavior, a generation of parents have poured praise on their children and have succeeded in producing a crop of what many observers have called "precious snowflakes" - spoiled bratty kids who expect the world to heap approval on them as a right rather than something one earns.

As youth leaders, we have a solemn responsibility to guide children toward responsible adulthood. We are called to walk the narrow line between lifting up children's spirits and indulging their worst impulses.  So do we do that by giving everyone a participation trophy and eliminating any recognition of hard work and effort so some kids don't feel inferior and have their self-esteem damaged?

I used to work with emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and abused kids. Many of them were seriously damaged. Most had virtually no self-confidence or self-esteem. My primary job there as a recreation therapist, a vocational counselor and equestrian therapist was to help build up the ability of children whose spirits had been crushed. These kids were like abused animals, lashing out at everything and everyone that got close to them.

It was at this time I found a wonderful book by a psychologist named "Haim Ginott" called "Between Teacher and Child".  He also wrote a companion book for parents called "Between Parent and Child." The new version was updated by his daughter and I haven't read it, but his earlier book was really a departure from the loosey-goosey and ultimately disastrous child-rearing philosophy of Dr. Spock.  Ginott talks about how to:
  • Discipline without threats, bribes, sarcasm, and punishment
  • Criticize without demeaning, praise without judging, and express anger without hurting
  • Acknowledge rather than argue with children's feelings, perceptions, and opinions
  • Respond so that children will learn to trust and develop self-confidence
One of Ginott's most powerful techniques for engaging children is a simple principle for praising a child effectively. Too often we think we can praise kids by telling them things like "You are a great musician" when they bang out a song on the piano. We hang their crayon artwork on the fridge and proclaim, "You are a great artist!"  We praise a good grade on a test by telling them they are "...so smart!"  And we do surprising damage to our children by doing so.

How? When we label children great artists and students and musicians, we judge them, something even Scripture tells us we are told not to do. The exhortation, "Judge not that ye be judged" doesn't just apply to negative judgment. "Praise, done lazily by applying labels, is ineffective at best and damaging at worst. You don't full kids. If you tell a child he is a good boy, he knows better. He knows you are a liar because he knows what ungood things he sometimes does.

A teacher once decided she was going to change her unruly class's behavior by building their self-esteem.  She walked into her classroom and started her class by telling her kids she knew it was going to be a "great day" because all the children in her classroom were all "good boys and girls". The classroom erupted. It was the worst day she'd had in her career.

So why would that happen? It's because when we lazily label a child a good something or other, we tell the child we expect that they will always be good at whatever it is we are praising them for. Many times, children will try to prove you are wrong. Then they don't always have to meet the perfect standards you evidently expect of them.  God showed us that with the children of Israel who thought they'd show God they were good enough to please Him.

When we praise children (and adults for that matter), says Ginott, we should avoid labels and instead tell the child what you like about what they have done. Even better, tell them how what they have done pleases you. Kids want to please grownups. The secret is to give them praise so that they know how to please you. They don't know. Targeted praise like this is like catnip to tabby cat. Once children know what gets them your approval, they will repeat this behavior over and over.

Let me tell you a true story that illustrates the power of targeted praise. This is one of the first times I tried Ginott's targeted praise technique. I worked with emotionally disturbed children who were really messed up. Most had concurrent diagnoses of mental illness, abuse, neglect and developmental disability. We were experimenting with an art therapy program. We later hired an artist to run it, but at first I did the art classes.


There was this one little girl who had a history of abuse and neglect. She didn't trust anyone and had difficulty bonding with adults in particular. During her first art therapy class, she was fascinated with the marker pens. She worked at her table for quite a while. I saw her jump up after a while and come to me with her paper in her hand. She presented me with a picture that was light blue on the top half and dark blue on the bottom half.

I was stumped as to how to praise the little girl. You don't use empty praise like "You're a great artist." (I'd just finished Dr. Ginott's book so I knew that kids don't fall for that). So I told her, "Hmmm. It's a shade of light blue and on the bottom it's a darker blue. I like those colors."

She immediately jumped to my aid. "That's the sky," she said pointing to the light blue, "And that's the water," she explained proudly.

"Oh," I sighed, relieved to know what the painting was about, "You have done a seascape." The little girl lit up like a Christmas tree and dashed off to do another picture. The next picture was the same blue on blue with a little green pyramid shaped thing in the boundary between the two blue spaces.

"An island!" I said, hopefully. She gave me a big grin and dashed off again. The next one had a little house on it. The one after that had a palm tree. Then the house gained a chimney, then the sky gained a cloud and the sun. Every time I mentioned the new addition, it remained in the next picture. If I forgot to mention the new addition - the bird she added or a window on the house, it got left out the next thing. The little girl is now 40 years old and lists me as her Father on Facebook.

Another of my helpers had a similar, but opposite experience with an young autistic boy in the class. The boy struggled to make a very detailed and actually quite stunning picture. When he showed it to his counselor, the counselor went for the easy praise. "You're a really wonderful artist, Chris," he said holding up the picture for everyone to see. Horrified, Christ snatched the picture back, crumpled it into a ball and threw away the evidence. He refused to do any more pictures. That one picture was evidence that he was a "great artist" and Chris knew that he wasn't always able to do work that was that good. So he shied away from even trying lest his counselor find out he wasn't a "wonderful" artist. 

You may not always see an immediate reaction from your kids when you use empty praise like that. Emotionally disturbed kids react much more quickly and demonstrably than normal kids do. Tell a regular kid that he or she is a great baseball player or a brilliant mathematician and they may smile at the praise, but they soon figure out you're blowing them off with the easy compliment.

Empty praise tells a child nothing about what pleases you. If he cleans his room and you tell him he's a "good boy", it says nothing about what he did right.  Try these techniques when you praise and you'll tell the child what he or she is doing that pleases you. Remember the child want to please you. When you give only empty praise and the only time you are specific is when he is doing something wrong, the the only thing the child learns is how to disappoint you. Try this:
  1. Find specific things that the child does that please you.
  2. Tell the child how what he or she has done pleases you.
  3. Tell the child how what he or she has done helps you.
  4. Show the child you appreciate what he or she has done.
  5. Avoid telling the child what you think he or she is. 
  6.  


When you are working with your Pathfinders, remember to keep your eyes open. Know what they are doing, especially when they don't think you are watching. When you let them know specifically what they did and why it was a good thing,  and what it meant to you, it's a very powerful thing. It lets the child know how to get your approval.  Most of the reason we get into trouble with kids is we aren't very good about telling them in detail what we want from them.  Oh, we're very good at telling them what they do wrong, which may be why they repeat that sort of behavior more frequently than they do the kind of behavior we want.

Instead of "Good job!" tell a kid "Wow, this floor really shines!" (if the floor really does shine). Show them something that they did well, let them know it pleases you, and they will repeat it. Don't tell a kid, "You're a great helper!"  Instead tell them, "Thanks, that really helped me get done with my work." The child then understands why you are pleased with them. You made it personal. 

If you're on a camping trip, pick out a group that did a good job pitching their tent. Walk around it, looking at the tent pegs, the tent poles and how they stowed their gear. Comment on everything they did right. Mention if the pegs are driven in at the proper angle, if the poles are set squarely and secured, or if the inside of the tent looks neat. Before you know it other kids will ask you to look at their tents too. Make the same kinds of observations with all of your kids and pretty soon you'll have a crackerjack tent pitching crew as they compete to draw your praise for their work. And each time you praise a specific thing, you teach them what they did right. The others will watch and learn.

This way you don't have to teach by criticizing. You teach by praising. I've seen too many Pathfinder "leaders" who thought they were drill sergeants and who treated the kids as if they were a part of some kind of a paramilitary organization. The point of summer camp and Pathfinders is to teach kids practical and social skills by having fun. Robert Rider, president of the Oklahoma Conference taught me that you can save more young souls by showing kindness, by paying attention and by remembering what your job is, than you can by by barking orders.

I took those lessons with me to my later work as a teacher, as a recreation therapist with emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children, and as a community organizer working with bipartisan groups to help people in need. Our jobs as youth and Pathfinder leaders is to lead, not drive. We show kids the way, with kindness, humor and clear signals. We mark the trail for our young people to follow. We let natural consequences teach for us when they stray and we welcome them back when they return to us, even if they are a little battered for having gone off track.

God says that he will be our children's teacher (Isa. 54:13). Our job is to go before them and show by example what mere words can never teach.  Jesus said let your words be well chosen. He didn't lecture. He told stories and let his listeners draw their conclusions. We all learn like children for most of our lives. Children want to know what to do that will please us. Let's show them by telling them we notice when they do the right thing.

© 2017 by Tom King

   

Friday, October 13, 2017

Youth Ministry: Backyard Ball Field Marker

Homemade line marker.
Acts 17:26 says - From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

Boundaries are important, especially in working with kids. Kids need boundaries. If their boundaries are not clearly marked, they will push those boundaries until you absolute define what those boundaries are. This need for boundaries extends to children's play.

Here's a handy little device for making soccer fields, baseball, football and even grass tennis courts in your backyard or your church school playground for the kids. Let me just say this. A lot of people dismiss going to the trouble of marking a ball field for kids games. I think they are mistaken.

The first thing God did when he was ready to build a nation out of the rabble that came out of Egypt was to write down the rules and build a temple. The temple was the playing field on which the Hebrew people worked out their salvation with fear and trembling. The boundaries and layout of the temple was the field upon which the Children of Israel played out the plan of salvation.

I'm here to tell you that marking out the boundaries of a playing field and putting on a striped referee's shirt makes a difference in how the kids approach obeying the rules. The lines define the boundaries of the game. With lines the arguments over whether the ball or a runner were out of bounds are vastly reduced.

I worked with emotionally disturbed kids and found that my taking the time to mark out the lines on our playing fields changed the attitude of children who played on them. The well-marked boundaries not only helped make games easier to officiate, they also made the kids feel like our games were real games and that they had been admitted to a special place as privileged participants. The boundaries said, "You are important enough for us to have taken the time to make the playing field look professional.

I've been a Pathfinder leader, a recreation therapist, a PE teacher and youth leader working with a wide array of kids. I'm here to tell you. Mark your ball fields. It makes a difference.

You can buy field markers or make your own. The link below is to my article on building a simple homemade line marker.

http://howdyyadewit.blogspot.com/2011/02/make-your-backyard-ball-field-look.html#.WeGQHjtdpeM

© 2017 by Tom King

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Devil's Labelmaker



I struggled with the subject for this week's blog. This week Annual Council was busily debating whether or not to make Adventist church officers sign a loyalty oath promising to obey the 790 page General Conference Working Policy. The documentation was not provided until the actual meeting to hold a vote on the issue began. No one had a chance to look at the documents in advance before the meeting. Fortunately, the delegates put off the decision, sending it back to committee for another year.

In reading about the ongoing church debate, I've heard all kind of labels for various factions that supposedly are at war over this issue. I've discovered that I don't fit into any one of these discreet groups. I have beliefs I share with some persons and some beliefs that I don't share with the exact same persons. I'm still an Adventist church member. Labels can be divisive. Labels are also a great way to sow disunity.

I've discovered that some ministers and other church figures I respect are considered part of groups with which I have differences of opinion. I'm not sure I wanted to know that. Some of the articles bunched people like HMS Richards Sr. in with people like Robert Brimsmead and Desmond Ford. Adventist historians seem to have taken a real beating in terms of being dismissed from their positions over the year. That's a technique that political movements use to forward their movement - deleting or obscuring history that conflicts with the political narrative. George Orwell talked about it in his book "1984". For some reason whenever those in authority feel challenged, they want to make sure that the historians who document it are on their side.

It's not an accident that Adventist historian George Knight is in the spotlight right now. As I watch the debates, read the stories and academic papers and watch the videos, I see moving in the background something very sinister. I've always been good at stepping back and seeing the flaws in the background against which the action in the foreground takes place.

There's something sinister in the background that's been there a long time. It's a snake in a tree. It's whispering, "Just a little more power and you can make things perfect."  It's the basic theme of "You can be like gods."  It's happening in politics. It's happening in our church. It's everywhere - the flip side of the Great Controversy.  The opposite of His Grace will save you and set you free. We have the snake selling the opposite message - Your knowledge will allow you to make the world what you want it to be. It's the old narrative.

With church people it's the idea that you have to believe just the right thing. If you can just get your theology, your behavior right, or have some special knowledge or practice that you perform and you can make sure that God has to let you into heaven, then there's no need to rely on God's mercy and Grace.

In the political realm it's if you just have the right political system, then you can create heaven on Earth - no need for God. All you have to do is get the laws right and get the right human leaders in place, you can create a human God-free utopia.

When Satan starts using these kinds of techniques, watch for a concentration of power. Power is what Satan craves. It always goes back to power and the need to have it. That's what the Great Controversy was all about in the first place. Lucifer had a better system than God. 

It's important that we reject the labels the Prince of Darkness sees to tag us with.

© 2017 by Tom King