The Death Rate

by Andrew Forrest

There’s something just so strange about death, even though it’s entirely predictable.  I had this thought last week, after hearing about the death of a young mother in our congregation and thinking about her surviving husband and three school-aged sons: we are all so grieved at the loss, and yet every single one of us is also going to die.  Not all of us will die by violence or disease or accident, not all of us will die young, but every single person hearing of the loss of this woman and grieving for her husband and three sons is also going to die.  And it just struck me how strange this all is, both our shock at death (which shouldn’t be any more shocking than the sunrise) and the mystery that is death itself.

What’s that old saw?  “The death rate hasn’t changed: it’s still one per person.”

 

 

 

P.S.  Changes to this Blog

Starting Friday, August 24 through Monday, December 24, at Munger we are going to be reading through the New Testament.  I’m planning on posting more frequently in this space, including regular (daily?) commentaries on what we’re reading.  Right now, subscribers get an email every time I post, but I don’t want to fill up your Inbox, so tomorrow I’m going to be switching to a weekly newsletter that will contain links to the previous week’s posts, as well as some other original content from me not available anywhere else.

If you are already a subscriber, you don’t need to do anything else.  (If you want to be sure and read each post as it comes out, subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed.  There are lots of tutorials online to explain how to do that.)

If you are not a current subscriber, here’s how to subscribe:

I’ve written a very short whitepaper on a subject I care a lot about–communication.
Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you for free:
The Simple Technique Anyone Can Immediately Use To Become a Better Communicator.
(If you are already a subscriber, drop me a line and I’ll send you the whitepaper.)
0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Look at What I Found This Morning

by Andrew Forrest

I hadn’t been in my office for two weeks; when I walked in this morning this beautiful prayer kneeler was waiting for me.

My friend and colleague Jake Porter made it for me and surprised me with it.  I had no idea he was working on this; apparently he started earlier this summer, because he had some wood leftover from another project.  (I’m particularly impressed with the Munger cross he cut out using a jigsaw.)

What a thoughtful, beautiful gift.

2 comments
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Personal Update for Fall 2018

by Andrew Forrest

I’ve just returned with my family from 11 days in southwestern Colorado–our first time.  It was the perfect place to be quiet and rest before the fall season begins, a season that involves some significant changes to my responsibilities, which I will explain below.

Some friends in church had offered us the use of their house in the San Juan mountains in Colorado.  We drove there and back–two days each way–with the long drive as part of the fun.  From Dallas to Amarillo the landscape becomes increasingly dry and flat and lonely, with the road passing through little brittle communities with one blinking yellow stoplight and paint peeling from deserted furniture stores, until in the Texas Panhandle grain elevators dominate the horizon, which stretches for what seems forever.  And then, suddenly, the ground gives way and the Palo Duro Canyon opens up its reddish brown mouth right in front of your feet.

This is from a cave along the canyon wall.

We took the time to drive down into the canyon and hike around for a bit.  The Palo Duro Canyon isn’t as grand as its famous Arizona cousin, but it is similar, with the same warning signs about how the desert heat is deadly to the unprepared.

Our second day of driving took us north out of Santa Fe, from desert to high desert to an alpine landscape, passing through little clusters of houses in forsaken communities in the high desert, the kind of places where you drive past at 70 miles an hour and thank God you don’t live there.  And then you arrive in Colorado and secretly ask God if perhaps you could live there, or if he could at least make Dallas a bit more like Colorado in the summer.

The house we stayed in was expansive, with a huge second story balcony off the entire back of the place, and a cool basement totally underground.  Our cell phones didn’t work, but that to me was a feature of the place, and not a bug.  We were there to celebrate my dad’s retirement from pastoral ministry–43 years.  My parents and my brothers and their families joined us.

This time of year in that part of Colorado, the weather is perfect: upper 40’s at dawn, lower 90’s at noon.  I’d get up every morning early to sit wrapped in a blanket on the back deck in the dark, waiting for the sun to rise.  The deer and the wild turkeys and the hummingbirds paid me no attention, if I kept still enough.  I would have stayed for a month, but my life is here in Dallas, and I have a lot to do this fall.  We arrived back home last night.

The orange glint you see in the bottom right is the light from the gas fireplace reflecting off my mug.

 

Changes to My Fall 2018 Responsibilities

Earlier this summer, our youth director accepted an invitation to return to his home church and take his old boss’s job.  We engaged a search firm to help us find his replacement, and on one of the phone calls with the founder (David), he asked, “What’s your interim plan before you hire someone?”  We didn’t have a plan, but as soon as he asked the question, I thought to myself: “I think I’d like to do it.”

I got my start in full-time ministry by working with middle and high school students at a church in VA.  I worked there for 5 years before I went to seminary, and I loved it–there was just something so obviously important and exciting about reaching kids that age with the gospel.  Now at Munger I’m responsible for something much broader in scope than the youth ministry I led in Virginia, but I still haven’t abandoned one of my core beliefs from that time: that the strength of a church is determined by how well it is raising up the next generation in the faith.

My wife and I met as adults working with middle and high school kids. This pic is from summer 2006.

At Munger, the area of the church’s ministry I know the least is our youth ministry, and I’ve always regretted that I don’t have more interactions with our 6th-12th graders and their parents.  Although we are working hard to hire a new youth director, we just aren’t in the position to make that hire by the time school begins, and so David’s question on the phone caused me to think–could I personally offer some leadership to our youth ministry this fall?  I’m ultimately responsible for the youth ministry whether we have someone in place or not, and I don’t want to let our youth ministry languish while we are waiting to hire a director.  What if I stepped in as the interim leader?  I shopped the idea around to some people within and without the church who would have no problem telling me it was a bad idea, but no one did.

So, I’m going to be leading the Munger youth ministry this fall.

On the one hand, with the commitments and responsibilities I have, this may seem crazy.

  • We have an average worship attendance of just over 1,000 people on Sunday mornings;
  • A budget of $3 million;
  • And a staff of 10;

All of which I am ultimately responsible for.  Behind those numbers are lots of people to love and lots of problems to solve.

But, in addition to the above, this fall has some big things coming up, including:

  • The unveiling of our master plan for future growth and ministry at a congregational meeting on Sunday, October 21 at 5 PM;
  • And the launching of a 3rd worship service at 5 PM on Sundays, starting November 4.

Do I have time to lead the youth ministry?  At first, it seems clear the answer is “No.”  But….

Here’s the honest truth: I have all the time I need for what’s important, and I think the middle and high school students in our community are extremely important.  So, yes, I have time to lead the Munger youth ministry…if I get some help.

 

The Plan for Munger Youth This Fall

We’re going to keep things simple.  Our weekly programming will be on Wednesdays and will run from 7:00-8:30 PM.  Middle and high school students will meet at the same time, but they will not meet together.

High School Wednesday Schedule

7:00-7:45 PM, high school worship in the youth basement with me and our band.  (High school is 9th-12th grades.)

7:45-8:30 PM, high school small groups and dinner/snacks on the 3rd floor.

Middle School Wednesday Schedule

7:00-7:45 PM, dinner/snacks, games, and small groups on the 3rd floor.  (Middle school is 6th-8th grades.)

7:45-8:30 PM, middle school worship in the youth basement with me and our band.

Wednesday night youth will follow the above schedule from September 12 through December 12.  We will NOT meet on November 21 (the day before Thanksgiving), though there is a Thanksgiving Eve worship service at the church that night.  (Halloween is a Wednesday this year, so stay tuned for special programming on 10/31.)

In addition to the above weekly programming, we are looking to line up Bible studies at other times, etc.  Come to our kickoff on 9/5 to find out more.  (Kickoff info below.)

2018-2019 Confirmation Schedule

Confirmation is a year-long spiritual formation program for 6th graders.  6th grade is a transition period, and we want to do our best to prepare our young people spiritually to face the challenges of middle and high school, so they can own their faith as their own.  At the end of the year-long Confirmation process, the students will be commissioned by me in worship to go forth and take their faith into the world.

Confirmation will meet on Sundays this fall during our 11:00 AM worship service, September 9-December 16.  Confirmation will NOT meet on November 25 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving).  In Spring 2019, Confirmation will meet January 6-May 12.  Confirmation will NOT meet on March 10 or 17 (spring break) or on April 21 (Easter Sunday!).

Confirmation Sunday will be 11:00 AM on May 19.

Confirmation students need to attend 2/3 of Confirmation classes (20 out of 30 possible Sundays) to complete the course.

Please REGISTER your child for Confirmation HERE.

More info to come at youth fall kickoff.

2018 Youth Fall Kickoff

We’re going to start the new school year off with a BANG on Wednesday, September 5 from 7:00-8:00 PM for our Fall Kickoff.  All 6th to 12th graders AND their parents invited. Bring friends, even if they don’t go to our church. The agenda: food trucks, live music, and then I will lay out the plan for the year ahead.

My goal: a full house, so please move heaven and earth to attend with your family.

 

Munger Youth: What Will I Be Doing?

Each Wednesday, I’m going to give a talk on the topics that middle school and high school kids are asking about:

  • How can we know there is a God?
  • What about other religions?
  • Where did the Bible come from?
  • What about heaven and hell?
  • If God already knows what’s going to happen, why do we need to pray?
  • If God is love, then why does he allow bad stuff to happen to people?
  • Etc.

Every Wednesday, we’ll have a brief, high energy worship service with a band led by Josh Mojica (the young guy with the crazy hair who plays with Kate on Sunday mornings), and I’ll give a talk to our students trying to make the faith as clear, relevant, and attractive as possible.  Then, adult volunteers will lead youth small groups broken up by grade and gender to talk over the week and see how the kids are doing.

I can lead the ministry by providing vision and direction for our weekly gatherings and to our adult volunteers.  That’s what I’m good at.  But, I can’t do everything….

 

Munger Youth: What I Will NOT be Doing

I cannot serve as the Munger youth minister.  I can’t attend football games and concerts and recitals.  I can’t order the pizza or pay the trip deposits or lead the small groups.  In other words, I can lead the ministry, but I can’t do the ministry.

What I can do is recruit other adults who will do those things, and I’m going to need all the help I can get.

If you signed up earlier this summer to volunteer in our youth ministry, you should have already been contacted by us.  Thank you!  But, if you haven’t yet signed up or if you did but weren’t contacted by us, please consider stepping up and signing up below.  I particularly need parents of 6th to 12th graders to help me make this fall season happen.  We need a team of folks to support our ministry, to lead our small groups, to be positive influences in our students’ lives.

Want to help me and our youth ministry this fall?  Sign up HERE to be a youth ministry volunteer.

We’re going to have a Youth Volunteer Vision Dinner on Wednesday, August 29, from 6:30-9:00 PM at a home in Lakewood, so please mark that down if you sign up as a potential volunteer.

 

A Final Word to Munger

I’ve been wondering if perhaps this transition period in our youth ministry is actually a gift from God, because it will both allow me to make some new relationships in our church and at the same time require other people to step up and and become involved in ministry.  More than ever, I’m going to have to focus on the few things that I only I can do and do well and recruit other people to make our church’s ministry happen.  I’ve found that the Lord seems to prefer to place us in situations where there is a gap between what we need and what we have, and that he delights in providing for us.  That’s one of the things I’m excited about with regard to our new evening service–we currently have ZERO people showing up at 5:00 PM on Sundays, and we are going to have to pray and work like crazy to change that.  In the same way, our youth ministry is lacking a permanent leader right now, which might actually be God’s plan–he wants the rest of us to step up so he can show us something awesome.

May Fall 2018 be our best fall yet.

 

 

P.S.  To My Dear Readers: Changes to this Blog

Starting Friday, August 24 through Monday, December 24, at Munger we are going to be reading through the New Testament.  I’m planning on posting more frequently in this space, including regular (daily?) commentaries on what we’re reading.  Right now, subscribers get an email every time I post, but I don’t want to fill up your Inbox, so next week I’m going to be switching to a weekly newsletter that will contain links to the previous week’s posts, as well as some other original content from me not available anywhere else.

If you are already a subscriber, you don’t need to do anything else.  (If you want to be sure and read each post as it comes out, subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed.  There are lots of tutorials online to explain how to do that.)

If you are not a current subscriber, here’s how to subscribe:

I’ve written a very short whitepaper on a subject I care a lot about–communication.
Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you for free:
The Simple Technique Anyone Can Immediately Use To Become a Better Communicator.
(If you are already a subscriber, drop me a line and I’ll send you the whitepaper.)

 

 

4 comments
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Burial at Sea

by Andrew Forrest

“We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the Sea shall give up her dead, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”

 

“Amen,” said the assembled men.

–from The Terrorby Dan Simmons

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Early this morning, I caught a quick flight from Love Field to come down to San Antonio.  For the next 2 days, I’ll be working with Greg Hawkins, doing a two-day coaching session.  Greg was the long-time executive pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, and now works with Max Lucado at Oak Hills Church, in addition to doing consulting and coaching.  I’m really looking forward to our time together.

As I hadn’t had time for breakfast, I stopped at Jesus’s favorite fast-food joint this AM.  I dug out my old Kindle last night and brought it with me (you can see it to the right of my MacBook in the pic.)  Man, I’d forgotten how much I love that device.  The kid who was setting up the umbrellas on the Chick-fil-A patio asked me, “Sir, what is that tablet thing?”  I told him, and he asked, “Does it do any cool stuff?”  I said, “No!  And that’s why I like it.”  It’s just so nice to use a device that can only do one thing: show words on a (digital) page.  I don’t like my mind jumping from app to app–I need focus to be effective.

Here’s hoping my time with Greg will be equally focused.

6 comments
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Father’s Day Book Ideas

by Andrew Forrest

If you need some gift ideas for yer pops, you can’t do better than a great book.  You can click through and read my 2013, 2014, and 2015 reading lists for some ideas, but below I’ve listed five books I’ve not mentioned previously elsewhere, plus a bonus suggestion if you really like the father in your life.

 

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, Karl Marlantes

The title says it all.  Karl Marlantes, a Rhodes Scholar who volunteered to serve in Vietnam, saw action there as a green Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marines.  Those experiences obviously lie behind the terror, bravery, and misery he describes here.

 

Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer

Another war novel.  I was browsing the end notes of Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans and saw that Stanley McCrystal referenced it.  (It’s my understanding that it’s required reading for all the cadets at West Point.)  It’s the story of an American soldier who serves in the First World War and through the Second.  The combat descriptions in the First World War scenes are among the most brutal I’ve read anywhere.  I think every American man should read this book.  (Be warned–it is long: 1300 pages!)

 

Angels Flight (A Harry Bosch Novel)by Michael Connelly

I discovered the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly last year, and at this point I’ve read 14 of the 21 Bosch novels.  Harry Bosch is a homicide detective in the L.A.P.D., and Connelly has a gift for bringing the Los Angeles underworld to life in vivid detail.  Angels Flight takes place right after the Rodney King incident, and I think it’s one of Connelly’s best novels (though I’d recommend all of them).

 

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, by Ralph Moody

As I mentioned in a previous post, we read through this memoir as a family earlier this year.  For dads who need a great book to read with their kids, I can’t recommend Little Britches highly enough.  Ralph Moody lived on the Colorado prairie as a boy in the early 1900s, and this memoir tells about the hard but rewarding life he experienced there.  Great for dads and kids alike.

 

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith, by Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens has become one of my favorite journalists, and I read his columns and blog at “The Mail on Sunday” regularly.  Mr. Hitchens is the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, a man well-known for his strident atheism.  Peter Hitchens, in contrast, had an adult conversion to conservative Anglicanism, and this book is partly a memoir of that journey.

 

*Bonus* Suggestion, If You REALLY  Like Your Dad: a Fancy Bible

As I mentioned in my post about my 2018 Bible reading plan, I bought myself a fancy Bible to read through in 2018: a Cambridge Clarion Reference ESV in Black Goatskin.  I’m telling you: this Bible is just so beautiful you can’t NOT pick it up and read it.  Buy your dad a Bible, and encourage him to read through the New Testament with me, starting August 24.

 

 

 

I’ve written a very short whitepaper on a subject I care a lot about–communication.
Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you for free:
The Simple Technique Anyone Can Immediately Use To Become a Better Communicator.
(If you are already a subscriber, drop me a line and I’ll send you the whitepaper.)
0 comment
1 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Hero is an overused word, but Arnaud Beltrame was a hero.  This morning in my Easter sermon, I mentioned the heroic sacrifice of Arnaud Beltrame, and each time I told his story, I felt a catch in my throat.  From the Washington Post’s account of his death:

Arnaud Beltrame, a French police officer who willingly took the place of a hostage during a standoff with a rampaging gunman Friday in France, died of injuries suffered in the incident early Saturday. His bravery earned him recognition as a hero in a country that has been shaken by a number of terrorist attacks in recent years….

Beltrame lost his life while trying to end a police standoff with a gunman at a supermarket.

Authorities say Redouane Lakdim, 25, hijacked a car Friday near the town of Carcassonne in Aude, killing a passenger and wounding the driver. Lakdim also shot at a group of police officers on their morning jog, wounding one of them. In the nearby town of Trèbes, the gunman then stormed into a supermarket and took hostages.

Beltrame was one of the first officers to respond, authorities said. Police negotiated with Lakdim to release the hostages, and Beltrame offered himself in place of the final one.

I think it’s the considered and deliberate nature of Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame’s sacrifice that I find so striking.  It’s not that he rushed in like an action hero, shooting at the killer and losing his life in the process–which would be impressive enough–but that he walked into danger, freely offering himself as a substitute for the hostage.

Greater love hath no man….

On this Easter Sunday, I’m grateful for the martyrdom of Arnaud Beltrame, “of whom the world was not worthy.”

P.S.  Lt. Col. Beltrame had a conversion experience as an adult, and was received into the Roman Catholic church.  Here is an interesting letter from his priest that was read at his requiem mass.

I’ve written a very short white paper on a subject I care a lot about–communication.
Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you for free:
The Simple Technique Anyone Can Immediately Use To Become a Better Communicator.

 

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

How should we treat that school cop from Florida?  I’m going to tell you at the outset that I don’t know how to answer the question that I’m going to raise in this post, but I think it’s important to raise it anyway.  No doubt you’ve heard that the school resource officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida remained outside during the massacre on February 14.  No one knows what might have happened if the school cop had entered the building and confronted the killer in the midst of his rampage, but we do know what did happen: the killer walked out of the school unharmed, leaving 17 corpses behind him.

I don’t know what I would have done if I were the school cop that day, and neither do you: it was literally a life-and-death moment, and we should judge not lest we be judged.  On the other hand, it was that officer’s job to protect the school, and he clearly failed in his duty.  As a result, this man is internationally notorious as a failure, and that judgment will stalk him the rest of his life.  All of this raises a question I’ve thought a lot about:

How do we maintain clear moral standards while at the same time offering grace to the people who violate those standards?  Put another way, How do we hate the sin and love the sinner?

Almost always, when we think about the above question, we’re talking about sexual ethics.  But this case shows that the question is much broader than that.

Option A–Be Lax With the Standards

Let’s say we decide that it’s too high a standard to expect our cops to risk their own lives on behalf of the public.  The inevitable result of that decision would be fewer cops who risk their lives on behalf of the public.  The expectations we set matter.  If we relax our standards, behavior would follow.

Take marriage and divorce: when a culture frowns upon divorce, there are fewer divorces.  (I’m not saying that the marriages that persist are good marriages, or even if social condemnation of divorce is a good thing–I’m just making the obvious point that our standards matter.)  Today, divorce has much less social stigma than it did in previous generations, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we have more divorces than in previous generations.

A culture’s standards and expectations affect the behavior of the people in that culture.

Option B–Be Rigid With the Standards

Instead of relaxing our standards, we could choose to vigilantly maintain them.  We could decide, for example, that we do expect our cops to risk their own lives on behalf of the public, no matter what.  Anyone who refused to do so, we would socially shame and professionally reprimand.  When it comes to marriage, we could decide that our culture values fidelity highly, and we could have the cultural guardrails and legal safeguards in place to make divorce undesirable and difficult.

The Problem

Each option poses a problem, however:

Option A will mean that we’ll get more of the behaviors that we don’t want;

but, human nature being what it is…

Option B will mean that those who violate the standards will be marked forever as violators.

But again, if we say to the sinners in Option B–“It’s really okay.  Don’t feel bad about it.”–we are in danger of making Option A a reality.

I confront this problem all the time.  If I don’t preach strongly in favor of marriage and against divorce, for example, it might seem as if marital fidelity doesn’t matter that much.  But, if I do hit that topic hard, it might be the case that I am heaping shame on people who are already covered in it.

Imagine if the school cop from Parkland were in your church: if you immediately said to him, “It’s fine” you’d be saying something that isn’t true: it’s NOT fine.  But, on the other hand, if you didn’t extend grace to him, you’d be lying, too, since Jesus forgives sinners.

It’s a tightrope.

I think sometimes that this tightrope–balancing between hating the sin and loving the sinner–is actually impossible for us.  Fortunately, it is possible for God, who both hates sin and loves sinners at the same time.  What’s difficult to know is how we practically live out the mysterious grace of God in the world.

Sohow do we maintain clear moral standards while at the same time offering grace to the people who violate those standards?

I don’t think there is a quick and easy formula.  I think this requires wisdom and prayer.

(And, I think we should add the school resource officer from Parkland to the prayers we are already praying for the grieving families.)

 

I’ve written a very short e-book on a subject I care a lot about–communication.
Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you:
The Simple Technique Anyone Can Immediately Use To Become a Better Communicator.
9 comments
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

Everything worth having comes with a cost.  This is incontrovertibly true.  But what happens when we become the kind of people who are no longer willing to pay the price?  I think that’s exactly what’s happening to us: we modern Americans have become increasingly unable to deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.  How did this happen, and what can we do about it?

On February 18, I preached a sermon I entitled “Everything Worth Having Comes With a Cost.”  (The video is embedded below this paragraph; if you don’t see it, refresh the page.)  From time to time, there is more I want to say about a Sunday sermon, and so I will be running an occasional series here with extra thoughts and clarifications that I either didn’t have time for on a Sunday, or thoughts and insights that didn’t come to me until afterwards.

How Did We Get Here?

The increase in just the last 20 years of Americans who require anti-anxiety medications just to get through the day is as good an indicator of our problem as anything else.  More and more, we are people who are overwhelmed by daily life.  There is a time and place for these sorts of medications, and surely they do a lot of good, but what I want to know is why the increase?  Why are we consuming more and more medications to fight off anxiety and despair?  Sure, Big Pharma has found these medications lucrative, and sure doctors might be more aware of our disorders now than in previous times, but these factors are not the cause of our anxiety, but a response to it.  In any case,I am not concerned with our reliance on these medications so much as what that reliance indicates: we have a problem.  We’ve become unable to deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.  So, again, I want to know, Why?  What’s happening to us?

Here’s my theory: life has become too comfortable and convenient.  One hundred years ago, just staying alive and feeding your family required more work that most of us have ever experienced.  My family recently read a book together called Little Britches: Father and I were Ranchers, by Ralph Moody.  It’s a remembrance of a boy who moved with his family from New Hampshire to the plains of Colorado in the early 1900s.  The amount of sheer hard work that the little boy–Ralph–undertakes just to help his family survive is astounding.  And this was in the 20th century!  Describing life a generation or two before that, anyone who’s ever read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder will have noticed the same thing: just how hard life was for so many people in previous times.  (The Little House books are well-known, of course, but I would highly recommend Ralph Moody’s Little Britches to everyone reading this–whether you have little kids in your house or not.  As a grown man, I still found it fascinating, moving, and edifying.)

What I can’t do, however, is complain that my kids are too comfortable.  See, it’s not just that my children are growing up in comfort, but so did I, and so did my Boomer parents.  I’d suspect that the last American generation to have to known daily drudgery was the one born before the Second World War.  Since then, American life has become–through our wealth and especially our technological innovations–easy.  By easy, I don’t mean morally easy–more on that below–but that the daily process of being fed and clothed and sheltered has become easy.  This ease is not restricted merely to the wealthy, either.  I’m aware that there are millions of poor people in America who have none of the advantages that my wealth brings me; but I’m also aware that the poor people in America are not having to make their own clothes or grow their own crops or butcher their own meat or chop their own wood to heat up water.  (This is not to say that it’s not extremely difficult to be poor in America–I’m just making a point about how even the poor among us are exempt from the sort of tasks that virtually everyone–except perhaps the fantastically wealthy–who lived before 1940 would have encountered on a daily basis.)  For several generations now, our daily lives have been made easier than any humans who have ever previously lived.  But at what cost?

Tim Wu wrote an excellent essay in The New York Times in which he argues that our eager embrace of convenience has become a form of tyranny over us.  It’s entitled, appropriated, “The Tyranny of Convenience,” and if you’ve ever bought a book on Amazon instead of the brick-and-mortar bookstore you say you support will understand immediately “the powerful force shaping our individual lives” to which he refers:

In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value….

But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us….

The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it? Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenient actions and time-consuming pursuits….

I do not want to deny that making things easier can serve us in important ways, giving us many choices (of restaurants, taxi services, open-source encyclopedias) where we used to have only a few or none. But being a person is only partly about having and exercising choices. It is also about how we face up to situations that are thrust upon us, about overcoming worthy challenges and finishing difficult tasks — the struggles that help make us who we are. What happens to human experience when so many obstacles and impediments and requirements and preparations have been removed?

Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.  [My emphases.]

Read the whole thing.

I’m grateful for modern medical care, and I don’t want to have to take cold showers, but the truth is that all our modern life conveniences are having an effect on our character.  See, when you are confronted every single day with inconvenient and uncomfortable tasks that are necessary to life, you learn that difficulty is an inescapable part of life.  You learn through experience that everything worth having comes with a cost.  And then, when you face larger difficulties of life–the sort of difficulties that cannot be solved by technology, that is to say the moral difficulties that involve self-denial and selflessness and moral courage and strength in the face of pain and hope in the face of despair–you are more prepared the pay the price to overcome them.

But us?  We experience the big difficulties of life, the difficulties that cannot be eliminated by technological innovation, and we find them overwhelming.  And so more and more of us lack the character to pay the price necessary to flourish in the world.  I find this terrifying, because I find it in myself.  For the Israelites, the generation that refused to pay the price to enter The Promised Land was condemned to wander in the desert and die before they ever got there.  What about us?  Since I believe it’s true that everything worth having comes with a cost, our lack of fortitude will mean that there are lands flowing with milk and honey that we’ll never enter, because we just can’t stomach it.  What will this mean for marriage and citizenship and difficult political questions?  Instead of facing the hard things straight on, we’ll medicate through media or medicine and try to ignore the fact that we’re constantly busy but have little to show for our efforts.  And this in turn will cause us more anxiety.  So it will go.

What’s to be done?

This is what I ran out of time to say in my sermon: there are two steps we need to take, as I see it.  The first is for us to dare to question the cult of convenience.  As Tim Wu points out, maybe some forms of inconvenience are actually good for us.  When it comes to our children, it may actually be good for them to have to work harder than we did at that age.  As for me, maybe I need to choose to do some of the things that I could pay a machine or a person to do for me, and maybe I should require my children to do some of those things, too.  Maybe all the tools for convenience that we use should be more like hard painkillers–obviously necessary sometimes, but problematic if we rely on them all the time.  If not, we’ll become the moral equivalents of the obese, slippery humans in Wall-E: unable to do anything necessary and difficult.

Of course it is impossible to remove oneself totally from modern conveniences, even if we wanted to do so (and I don’t want to).  But it may be that just small acts of inconvenience–waiting in line without my phone (God help me–how will I survive?!); walking when I could drive–will be helpful.  That first step we each can begin to do immediately: question the cult of convenience, and act accordingly.

But the second step is the exact opposite.  See, the truth about us is that we’re stuck.  Not only are we stuck in the modern world, and not only can we not turn back the clock even if we wanted to (and we’ve seen enough post-apocalyptic scenes to know that the only way back lies through destruction), our problem is even deeper than that: the deepest price we need to pay we won’t ever be able to pay, not because we won’t but because we can’t.  We can’t ultimately fix ourselves; we cannot perfect ourselves, we cannot save ourselves.  Everything worth having comes with a cost, and Good News is that God has paid the price for us.

What difference does the Gospel make here, practically?

Mercy is receiving something you don’t deserve, something you can’t get on your own, something you can’t earn.  And so, in light of what we know about God’s character since that first Easter, the second step to help us become stronger, is, paradoxically, to ask for help.  To admit that we’re weak.

Everything worth having comes with a cost.  But what happens when you’ve become afraid to pay it?  What happens when you’re afraid to do the hard but necessary thing at work, in your marriage, with your health, about your addictions, etc.?  Practically, what do you do?  You ask for help.  Literally.  You ask God to help you.  “Lord, I want to enter The Promised Land, but I’m afraid of what it will take to get there.  I don’t like difficultly and I hate suffering.  Will you please help me?”

And you know what?  He always does.

 

 

Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send you my brand-new e-book
The Simple Technique Anyone Can Immediately Use To Become a Better Communicator.

 

7 comments
1 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest

“Annihilation”–Book Review

by Andrew Forrest

I finished the Jeff VanderMeer science-fiction/horror novel Annihilation last month; the movie opens this week.  [No spoilers below, by the way.]  I’d seen the trailer for the movie online and was intrigued by the “BASED ON THE ACCLAIMED BEST-SELLING NOVEL” title that flashes across the screen, so I put the novel on hold at the library. (I’d not heard of it previously.) My verdict, now that I’ve read it? If the movie Annihilation is anything like the novel Annihilation, it will be STRANGE.

The novel begins in medias res as a team of four women—each unidentified, except for her title: psychologist, anthropologist, surveyor, and our narrator the team biologist—begin to explore a wild coastal wilderness known as Area X. Area X is beyond a mysterious border that requires the women to have been hypnotized to pass through it; the team’s mission is to research the area and report back to some mysterious agency called The Southern Reach. Almost immediately, the team stumbles across a mysterious underground “tower,” the top of which begins at the earth’s surface. The entrance leads to a spiral staircase that continues underground. The team explores the tower, and below ground, in the dark, they discover a long stream of words running along the wall. The string begins

Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that….

etc.

The biologist comes close to the words and discovers that they are in fact a living organism or organisms, perhaps some type of fungus. They return to the surface, and strange things begin to happen.

Or, at least, strange things are implied and occasionally shown. The strangeness of the novel slowly increases the more you read, because the characters in the midst of the strangeness don’t seem to be overly bothered by it, which I take is the effect the author was going for: the very fact that everyone in Area X takes its increasing weirdness in stride is a clue to us that the entire situation is uncanny. We wonder, What’s wrong with these women? Why is our narrator so matter-of-fact in describing a situation that is so utterly bizarre?

The novel in fact is so bizarre that I finished it and had to ask myself, What was this about?

Now, you should know that almost none of the scenes in the movie trailer is actually in the novel, but if you’re planning on seeing it, expect it to be weird.  And let me know if you figure it out.

 

2 comments
0 FacebookTwitterGoogle +Pinterest