Monthly Archives: July 2018

When “War” Comes to Worship, All Sides Lose

I try to avoid ever firing any shots in what have been called the “worship wars.”

“Worship” and “war.” Those two words together, not held at arm’s length from each other by a conjunction, form a jarring contradiction.

We know what the Apostle Paul would say because we know what he did say in Philippians 4:2 to two squabbling gals named Euodia and Syntyche (who some wit has christened Odious and Soon-touchy). He doesn’t describe the “issue” or take sides. He just says, “Get along.” The mere fact that Christians were fussing was shameful, as out of place as a cow patty on a cheesecake. It still is.

Our Lord Jesus went to the cross, completely emptying himself, laying aside his own will, out of his love for his Father and us. How ludicrous, how deeply wrong, it is for those saved by his sacrifice to refuse to sacrifice their own rights—maybe even to shoulder the unbearable burden of singing a song or two that we might not like but that might very much bless someone else?

I wonder. In times of persecution, do people worry and fuss about such minutia? I wonder how long we could endure the real thing if our idea of suffering is to sing a song we don’t like or endure a service with the thermostat set a bit too high or too low for our personal comfort. (Oh, it’s impossible to ever get that one “right.”)

I do understand why some fine pastors I very much respect and some great churches have chosen to offer separate “traditional” and “contemporary” services, particularly when the whole congregation can’t fit into the building at the same time anyway. I’d likely do the same thing. But, ideally, I much prefer a “blended” worship where we sing a variety of styles and thereby inch up on something called sacrifice. Or love.

As the disparity between styles widens, though, I admit that “blended” is a challenge. “God of Our Fathers” cries out for an organ. “Kumbaya” equivalents, soundly Trinitarian (that’s good) with three hundred verses (fine for the first 150), need a guitar (and maybe a campfire). And the latest coolest Christian Luv Radio Top 40 or sorta sacred rap songs call for calisthenics, maybe some amazing riffs, and perhaps a good deal of other jumping about. It can be a tad jarring to go straight from some of these into others of these.

Yes, and I suppose church folks have always been like all folks. Everyone is somewhere on a continuum from dyed in the wool and pretty much calcified traditional (danger: ossified folks bend poorly and break easily) to folks burdened by carrying about a heavy load of coolness (danger: cool marches on, and we look silly chasing it). The fact that the former folks on one side of that continuum have usually paid the freight and are the reason the church exists perhaps should at least not be totally forgotten but never brandished like a club.

But the One who truly paid the price, the Reason the church exists, is Jesus. And if we ever catch ourselves fussing about worship, we’ve already lost the fight and are utterly defeated. Claiming to see better than our brothers and sisters in Christ’s family, we’ve already poked out one eye and are half-blind and stumbling; we’ve lost the focus of all worship, and we are denying the Cross. Then whether we’re doing so with a pipe organ, a cappella, or a heavy metal guitar makes precious little difference.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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“So, Bob, Would You Hand Me That Thingamajig?”

Thingamajig. Doohickey. Dillybob. Whatsit.

Those are, of course, all words we use to refer to things for which we are unsure of the actual word, if there is one, for the thingamajig in question.

There. I’ve written “thingamajig” twice now, and my spell-checker has thus far resisted the impulse (do spell-checkers have impulses?) to squiggle a red line under the word, thereby calling my spelling into question. “Thingamajig” is evidently now a bona fide word for something we don’t know the word for. Ditto for doohickey.

Yes, but dillybob and whatsit still get red squiggles. Since I usually write these columns using software which, perhaps like its owner, tends to straddle American and British English spelling a bit—its preference for “anesthesia” or “anaesthesia” is mostly anesthetized, not to say completely anaesthetised (red squiggle just appeared; the “s” did it)—I often double-check the spell-check.

So I just did. Now the gate arm swings up and whatsit strides on past the spell-check check point. Dillybob is still being held at the border, though the Urban Dictionary (not, I admit, the highest authority) recognizes its usefulness. The Oxford English Dictionary must be dilly-dallying and hasn’t given dillybob its official papers yet.

Still, you know what I mean when I use the word. We need words for thingamabobs, whatchamacallits, doodahs, and hoobajoobs. (Sea of red squiggles now, but I’ll stake my English degree that these whatsitsname words for things unknown or as yet unnamed exist to answer, rather creatively and with a touch of heart-tickling whimsy, a real need.) The language would be much poorer without them.

We need a word for the crunchy little tidbit left on a corn dog stick when the dog is doggone. And along that line, what about a word for that little smidge of chocolate sticking to an ice cream stick until you lick it off?

What about a word for that disgusting little puff of smelly air that hits you in the face when, after delaying a bit too long, you bag the kitchen trash and then lean over and pull the plastic drawstring tight?

Often you discover that a word really does exist for the whatsit you wondered about. It was a fine moment when author Madeleine L’Engle taught me that dragon droppings are called “fewmets.” It’s a shame to accidentally step into something and not know its official name. Now I’m fewmetically safe. (Definite red squiggle.)

And is there a one-word description for a dweeb with a weird sense of humor? I guess so. (See dweeb. Or dork. Or nerd. Maybe doofus.)

I stepped right into that one, but I’m still smiling. Words can sting a little or a lot. But they can also morph wonderfully into delightful whimsy. And they can fly to heights of breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring mystery.

And, yes, sometimes you just need a word and don’t have one. But our heavenly Father knew exactly what this world needed when, out of infinite love, he sent us his Son, the Word.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“Trendy,” By Its Very Nature, Can’t Last

“Trendy” can’t last.

Whether you’re talking about clothing and hair styles, the latest instructional “cure-all” in education, technological whiz-bang devices, automobiles (think Pacers and PT Cruisers), tattoos still affixed to one’s epidermis long after the tatt has sagged past its coolness date, “cool” marches on.

No surprise, words and phrases also have a shelf life; the trendiest end up the moldiest most quickly.

For years, no mission statement (speaking of trendy) was complete without some form of the word “excellence” in the paragraph that could have been a horse until a committee turned it into a camel. It was enough to make one want to settle for “fair to middlin’” so as to give real excellence a shot at the same time as giving the word a rest.

You may have noticed that everybody’s “reaching out” these days. In times past, reporters asked for, requested, or sought interviews. Now they reach out. Continually.

And we’re in love with “systems.” Good luck finding a hospital; you’ll have to settle for a system. I’m sure your tooth paste is now part of your “dental wellness system.” (Wellness. Another trendy slinky overly-impressed with itself hot air sort of word with questionable credentials.)

Of course, shampoo is integral to your hair care system. And where would a carpenter be without what I assume is now a nail installation system? (Just hand me my hammer.) Got facts? If you need more, head to your handy dandy information system. You can even buy special food for your cat if she has a “sensitive system.” (Personally, I’d just buy a new feline.) It’s all a little too much for my system.

And here’s an increasingly trendy phrase for you. I’ve been trying to figure it out for a long time: “spiritual but not religious.”

I’m not sure what that means. Is it like “I’m a fan of sports but not athletics” or “I‘m sick but not enough to be contagious”? But make no mistake: it’s definite and certain. It definitely partakes of the seriously indefinite. It certainly feels deeply, albeit vaporously.

I only have two problems with “spiritual but not religious.” One is with “spiritual” and the other is with “not religious.”

I’m not sure what “spiritual” in this context means. Maybe it has something to do with liking sunrises and sunsets, mountains and birdies. (I do.) I think it may have once included a little New Age-tinged mysticism, 90 per cent of which was old warmed-over Eastern religion all dressed up as new. Define “spiritual” in this context. Good luck to you.

And “not religious.” Phooey! You’ve never met anyone who doesn’t worship something by making it their focus. It may be God, fame, fortune, success, work, pleasure, science, creation, or just themselves. We all worship something; we just don’t always name our God.

But that “jello nailed to the wall” phrase may hold some advantages. I’ll betcha “spiritual but not religious” folks get to sleep in on Sundays and never tithe. (If so, a lot of Christians got there first.) It must be handy to believe in an impersonal force who set this world in motion but can’t ask anything of you. Good luck, though, in getting that force to love you. You’ll get as much love from a carved piece of wood or chiseled stone. (That’s already been tried; it didn’t work.)

The God of the ages, our Creator, our Father, is changeless. Real. Strong. Not trendy at all, he is 100 per cent love. Now and always.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Home Renovation Is Easier Than a Soul Upgrade

 

It was a joy last week to finally come out of the closet.

Well, perhaps I’d better rephrase that lest you get the wrong idea. And, to be completely accurate, I probably should say “out of the closets.” Two of them.

For clarity, maybe I’d better back up and take another run at this.

One of my sons and his sweet family are moving into a new old house. New to them. But very old. And they’re involved “up to their eyeballs” in serious renovation.

Part of the renovation involves the kind of wall work required when you take out old wall furnaces, ducts, and vent covers, alter some existing walls and deal with various imperfections in old ones. This involves sheet rock and drywall work. And that means slathering on mud (gypsum joint compound), putting on drywall tape, floating it out with two more coats of mud, and matching the old texture.

Call me weird, but I like “taping and bedding” sheetrock. I’ve made this deal with several folks: I’ll do the sheetrock finishing if you promise me I’ll never have to touch a paint brush. I do not like painting. By the way, want to watch a real craftsman? Take a look at any of the YouTube videos featuring Laurier Desormeaux. Poetry in motion with mud!

So, that deal made with my son (oh, did I remember to mention that deal specifically before I jumped in?), I got started. And I was quickly sent to a closet. Patched some holes. Re-sheeted the ceiling and a wall or two. Then finished it. (This description was time-altered. Drying between coats takes time.)

Then I was sent to another closet. A really small one with three walls and one needing to be built. Repeated the process above.

But with that one, I ran into a problem my son says he has already repeatedly hit head-on in this house. (Did I mention that it is a very old one?) Do I try to agree with Earth and gravity with regard to what is truly level, square, and plumb? (Folks may think everything from gender to the Ten Commandments is alterable depending upon the latest opinion poll, but the Earth is amazingly close-minded when it comes to items such as “square.”) Or do I give in and match the sags, pitches, and yaws of the old house? Or opt for a combination thereof and go for a split decision?

Well, for the closet in question, I went with Earth, deciding that inside that closet one door frame board that tapers from 3 inches to 1/2 inch will rarely be seen anyway. The real challenge there was to suck in enough of my girth to be able to climb in, turn around, occasionally change my mind or my knife angle, and not mud myself into the wall. Coming out of that closet eventually was a joy.

Maybe I like working with sheetrock occasionally because there’s really not much about it that can’t be easily fixed with a little mud. That sort of progress and healing in my own soul and those around me is not as easy to see. Sad to say, even that old house is far closer to plumb, square, and level than my life has ever been.

But the renovation that I need in myself is underway, and my hope is in the finest Carpenter of all. It’s amazing to watch him work!

 

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Strong Faith: How Badly Do We Really Want It?

If God exists and is all-powerful and all-loving, why does he allow suffering in the world he created?

Life’s biggest questions, the ones that truly matter, can be condensed into a few that can be counted on one hand. The question I’ve just asked is one of them. It, and the very few more in its league, are worth asking. I’m convinced that our God will help us face such questions in his strength if we really want his help.

But if we’re fat and sassy, dollar-blinded and bloated and quite comfy, swimming along in the warm stream of our society’s sea of selfishness . . . If, most of the time, pretty much our highest goal is to get through life with more and more stuff and not lose too many golf balls . . . Well, then we easily shove out of our consciousness the questions that matter.

Yes, but then one hope-withering medical test, one terribly sick child, one life-shaking tragedy is all it takes to toss us out of the hot tub and into very deep, cold, and turbulent waters indeed. Then the questions that really matter really matter, and easy answers and “throw-down,” “Facebook-faith,” TV-preacher platitudes will never weather the storm.

I hope you’re not in such a storm right now, but we don’t have to live long to know that we will all go through times that shake us to our core. Before the time of testing, it’s best to remember that strong faith cannot grow in a heartbeat. However badly I want a 50-year-old oak tree to shade me from oppressive heat, I won’t get it this afternoon by planting a seedling this morning. As G. K. Chesterton said, “No one ever grew a beard in moment of passion.” Some things just take time. Possessing faith that is strong and mature is one of those things.

Don’t misunderstand. You can sincerely give your life to the Lord in a heartbeat and your contrite heart will be accepted into the Father’s warm embrace. Even mustard-seed faith, Jesus said, can be real faith.

But if we think “baby faith” is all the faith God wants to build in us, and if we think genuinely trusting God is easy, we’re mistaken. For our faith to mature, we need to yield our wills to God and follow our Lord in practical ways. The Son worshiped the Father. He spent time in prayer. He was steeped in Scripture. He lay down his will, wrapped himself in a towel, washed the dirty feet of those who should have been washing his, and, because of his deep love for and trust in his Father, went to a cross.

If I want strong faith, I’ve got to walk the way of the cross. Can I carry a cross if I can’t even go to worship? How can I expect to grow in selfless, mature faith if I’m chafed by singing a song I don’t like in worship (but that might bless someone else)? More spiritual still, how strong is my faith if I won’t carry out the trash for my wife or switch off the TV to read our kids a Bible story?

God wants us to love him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. He’ll help us to grapple with hard questions and live through hard times. But for our hearts, minds, and souls to be strong and integrated, real relationship and growing faith is required—not to buy God’s favor; God’s people already have that. No, we need faith to help us through life’s storms. And the question is unavoidable: how badly do we really want it?

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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