Jan 27 2009

Sermon Critiques

Jamie Barrows


I read a rather interesting article on the blog, Stuff Christians Like. It was kind of tongue in cheek, but also serious at the the same time.

How often are we just listening to a sermon so that we can find ways to critique it? So that we can find “Spiritual” things to say about the sermon to our friends later?

The article listed a bunch of common phrases people use to criticize a sermon, along with a rather sarcastic definition of what the phrase means.

  1. I’m just not being fed.
    What a fantastic way to look as if you’re more spiritual than the pastor himself.
  2. That message was not meant for me.
    You are so generous to have sat there patiently while someone else that needed that sermon was able to receive it. What kindness.
  3. That didn’t feel like church.
    What a perfect smokescreen of vagueness. How can anyone argue with your feeling? What does that even mean? More organ? Less organ? Better lasers? No lasers?
  4. There wasn’t enough Bible in that for me. That felt like a business leadership book.
    What’s enough? No one knows, which is why this is such a gem.
  5. I’m not sure that sermon works in a postmodern world.
    I’m not even sure I know what the word “postmodern” means, but it’s fun to say. Few things make you look smarter than repeating this word. Repeatedly.

From the article: Critiquing the sermon at lunch.
by Prodigal John

The truth is that I’ve heard almost all of these phrases before, and sadly I think I may have even used one or two. Which made me think about how often I’ve criticized a sermon for no real reason other than that it made me sound more knowledgeable or more spiritual.

There is always a need for examining what is said and studying it for yourself. And you should never just assume that because the pastor said it, it has to be true. But if you are just critiquing and criticizing so that you can avoid having to deal with your own issues, or so that you can appear more spiritual than others, you need to get a handle on why you are in church in the first place.

We don’t go to church to look good, or to make ourselves feel good. We go to church to worship God and to learn about Him what He would have us do.

Oct 8 2007

Tolerance and love – A few more thoughts

Jamie Barrows

Sand Heart

Why can’t we all just agree to disagree? Why do we have to fight and argue about our beliefs? I’m not asking people to like each other, just that we not fight all the time.

On my other blog, I posted a video demonstrating cymatics. I thought the shapes and patterns generated by the sound waves, were pretty cool. Obviously other people agreed with me because it started getting a lot of hits. And then it got stumbled, and I started getting thousands of hits. That’s a good thing, right?

At some point, someone posted a comment about the wonders of God’s creation. basically praising God and expressing amazement at what He has built into his world. Someone else posted a similar comment. There was no attack, or condemnation of others in either of the posts. Just some simple praise for God.

Shortly after that, the conversation went downhill. Someone else posted a comment attacking the first two. Saying that there was no god, and that the earlier commenter’s were stupid for ascribing to god what was nothing but simple science. I posted a rebuttal to his comment, telling him that everyone has a right to their beliefs, and that there was no cause for attacking them when they were simply expressing their beliefs.

After that, the comments attacking Christianity and anyone who believed in God, got a lot worse. Since it is my blog, I get to moderate the comments. Which is really a good thing. Because I deleted a lot of the comments that were using seriously excessive amounts of language and were saying very nasty things that were just uncalled for. My rule on comments is if they are using excessive language or are comparing other people to various body parts, they get deleted. I also don’t like advertisements, :)

All of this made me feel like the atheists, who were the ones doing most of the attacking, were simply intolerant and very much hypocrites. After all, it is usually atheists in the media and in colleges that are preaching and pushing tolerance. And now here it’s the atheists that are attacking Christians for simply expressing their beliefs.

I was feeling like I was so much better than they were. Saying to myself, “Christians wouldn’t stoop to that level.” But then I realized how stupid that thought was. We Christians aren’t really any better at this than anyone else. We may not preach tolerance, but we do preach love. And what are most of the mainstream Christian groups doing? They are actively hating and attacking anyone who believes differently.

Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God, is to love your neighbor. You’re supposed to love him/her the way you love yourself. How can you show love to a person that you are attacking? God loved us so much that he let us kill his son! And that is the example we are supposed to be following.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our differences should be ignored. or that they should be glossed over. Beliefs are important, and should not be abandoned in the interest of love or unity. But standing up for what you believe, does not mean you have to attack others. There is nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. No matter what side you are on and no matter what the belief may be.

Towards the end of the comment thread, many people started posting comments that seemed to echo some of what I’m saying here. We can just agree to disagree, without having to attack each other. I just wish more people had that view.

Jul 30 2007

Do we live in a disposable culture?

Jamie Barrows

Disposable Culture

The above cartoon really struck me. Probably because it is so real. Nearly everything I own is disposable. I don’t mean disposable in that you throw it away after a single use. There are plenty of items in my house and office that are single use items. People have been complaining about the amount of trash our modern society generates because of disposable items for a long time.

No, what I mean is that nothing I own was built to last beyond a few years. It used to be that things you bought would continue to work for your entire life. You could even pass them down to your children or grandchildren. Now, nothing lasts that long. I kind of already knew that. So it isn’t really a surprise, but I guess I never really thought about it and analyzed it. So why is everything disposable? Would it be better if things were the way they used to be?

There seem to be several reasons why everything is disposable. If it has to do with electronics, its simple. The technology changes so fast that designing anything to last more that a few years is a waste. No one is going to want the fancy stereo that is ten years old. Even if the stereo works as well as it did when it was purchased. And if the item is a computer it will not just be clunky, it will also be useless after a few years. The same goes for things like cell phones and TVs. No one wants them after a few years. So what is the point in building them to last that long.

But what about other machines we use? Things like coffee makers, microwaves, dishwashers, and pretty much any household appliance? Are the ones you have in your house really any better than the ones your parents had? No one really cares if they have last years microwave model, or if their vacuum cleaner is three years old. And yet, none of our household appliances last beyond a few years anymore either. I think that is largely a labor problem. It costs almost as much to fix something as it does to buy another one. So rather than fix it, we trash that microwave and buy a new model. The manufactures know we want the lowest price, and know we will put up with buying a new model every year or two. So they make the machine cheaply with inferior parts. And we buy them. The expensive four and five hundred dollar machines that will probably last longer are left on the shelf. The cheap under a hundred machines are snapped up. our logic being that if it breaks in a year, we can buy another one and still end up saving money.

But this doesn’t apply only to machines and electronics. It applies to everything from clothes to furniture. We buy cheaply made things with the intention of throwing them away when they wear out. And we expect them to wear out rapidly. Gone are the days when people would save for a year or two to buy a furniture set that would last them their entire lives. Now people buy cheap furniture and throw it out when it breaks or even sometimes when they move. Often it is more expensive to move the cheap furniture to your new home, than it is to just buy some more.

So I ask, is this a good thing? Would we be better off if everything wasn’t disposable? I really don’t know. On the one hand, nothing we have is actually worth anything. On the other, we can afford so much more.

I can afford to furnish my whole house without having to save for years. I can afford every appliance a modern kitchen would contain. Big screen TV, high powered stereo, a computer that runs all of the latest software, no problem. I can have it all now. No need to wait and save. That’s the benefit of the disposable culture.

The downside is that nothing I have is worth anything. I won’t be passing any of my furniture or dishes down to my children and grandchildren. because everything I have is junk. And all of it will break down or fall apart not long after I get it. everything I currently have in my house will be going to the dump after it breaks. And it will break.

So I guess I don’t really know what would be better. To have less stuff that is better quality, or to have more stuff that is poor quality. Let me know what you think.

Jul 9 2007

Dependencies in the modern world

Jamie Barrows

Internet Addiction

Last week I was on vacation. The place I went was up in the hills and too far out for DSL or Cable internet access. So I was stuck with very limited dial up as my only choice for internet access. I had forgotten how incredibly slow the internet is when you are stuck on dial up. It was so slow, that I really couldn’t use it for much beyond simple email. So in effect I had no Internet access for the whole week.

Until I didn’t have it, I really had no idea how dependent on Internet access my daily life had become. Being without Internet access was a real problem. Every time I wanted to do or know anything, I would want to look it up online. But I couldn’t. Directions, movie times, restaurants, schedules, orders, maps, and just general communications. I had to try to remember how I would have found the info without Internet access. Sometimes, I just decided it wasn’t worth knowing or finding out because it would be too much trouble to get whatever info I wanted.

I’m so used to having all of the info available to me online, that I don’t even realize how often I use the Internet. I use the it for all my banking, planning, scheduling, news, and communications. I also use it for general trivia and curiosity whenever I see or hear something I want to know more about. Without it, I felt lost and cut off. Sure I have a cell phone on which I could call anyone I wanted. And the place I was staying at had satellite TV. If I wanted news, I could pick up a newspaper or watch TV any time I wanted. But it wasn’t the same.

I couldn’t read a headline or hear a news blurb, and look up 30 different stories on the topic or event. I couldn’t instantly look up historical background on the city, company, person, nation, or item in the story. Even worse, I couldn’t get the story reported from several different political, social, and demographic points of view. All the news I got was limited and filtered through a few mainstream outlets.

If I wanted to go somewhere I had never been, I needed to ask someone for directions rather than simply looking it up. I’m so used to looking up directions online before going somewhere, that I don’t even own a map anymore and I almost never ask someone for directions. I usually just ask for an address.

I had to call places to find out times and schedules because the information wasn’t right there in front of me just a search away. Movie times, store opening times, calendar events. Even phone numbers for stores and businesses. I had to discover all over again how to find things in a phone book(a huge pain in the neck). All the info I needed was either unavailable or had to be discovered in ways I don’t normally use.

This whole problem kind of surprised me because I hadn’t really realized how dependent I was on the Internet for everything I do and learn now. To think that just 10 years ago, I was barely using it for email, and now I have trouble functioning without it. It makes me think I may be just a little too dependent on it. I guess I’m sort of addicted.

So how necessary is the internet to your daily life?

Jun 13 2007

What is Tolerance?

Jamie Barrows

Peace symbol with hands

What is tolerance? Am I tolerant of other peoples beliefs? These are questions that have been running through my head since I had a disturbing conversation with a friend of mine. She accused me of being intolerant because I told her that I believed her belief system was wrong. The accusation caught me completely by surprise.
To understand why I was so surprised, I need to give you a little background about myself and about the conversation we were having. I’m an extremely non-confrontational person. So unless I know the person very well, I avoid having conversations with people about religion, politics, and belief systems. I avoid them like the plague. I have definite opinions and beliefs, but am much happier agreeing to disagree with someone than I am arguing them with. If I think that voicing my beliefs to a person will cause conflict, I usually just stay quiet.

So back to this particular person who thinks I am intolerant. I’ve known this person for several years. She has a rather forceful personality and is just about the opposite from me when it comes to conflict and voicing her opinions. So needless to say, I’ve known almost as long as I’ve known her, that her opinions and beliefs were strongly in conflict with mine.

Anyway, she and a few other people were having a discussion about the existence of God and hell. Everyone present, including her, knows that I’m a Christian. But I was mostly keeping out of the discussion. Unfortunately this time, I was not allowed to keep out of it. She started pressing me about whether I believed non-Christians would really go to hell. I didn’t really want to tell her yes, because I knew that would upset her. So I tried to deflect the question, but she wouldn’t let me. So I finally told her that yes I did believe that. She then said the following, “Well I don’t believe that. Are you saying you think I’m wrong?” Since I had already put myself into hot water with her, I figured I might as well go all the way. So I told her that yes, I thought that her belief was wrong. That is when I she accused me of being intolerant of her beliefs.

So back to my original question. What is tolerance? And am I intolerant?
Well, I don’t really think I’m “intolerant.” I strongly believe that everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. I don’t think anyone should, or even can, be forced to believe in something that is contrary to what they “believe.” I have no problem accepting people who believe differently from me, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been friends with this person for several years. So why did she tell me that I’m intolerant?

I think it is because she, and much of our current culture, has redefined the meaning of tolerance. Tolerance to me means that I put up with and “tolerate” beliefs I don’t like, and that I think are wrong. In her mind that isn’t true tolerance. She has equated tolerance of beliefs with acceptance and equality of beliefs. In her mind, in order for me to tolerate her beliefs, I must also accept that they are equally as correct as mine. Which is impossible. Since they are contradictory, they cannot both be right. One or the other must be wrong.

I personally am incapable of taking that strange middle ground that she wants me to. A place where somehow both views are right at the same time. I simply can’t do that. I either need to abandon my belief and take hers, or I need to believe that her belief is wrong. One or the other is wrong. I’ve taken the position that her belief is wrong, but I’ve also taken the position that she has the right to be wrong. Does that make me intolerant?