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Posts Tagged ‘American Culture’

What should should a church look and sound like to effectively communicate to today’s American?  There is a great deal of angst accompanying this discussion among church planters these days about what is the most effective design of a church’s organizational structure to reach people disconnected from church or altogether unchurched.  As the evangelical church continues to lose spiritual ground in American culture, this is an appropriate and urgent question.

The answer to this question is not as simple as it once was for the church planter or evangelist.  Today, while we have witnessed the rapid globalization of our culture, we have also witnessed the fracturing of our culture.  We never existed in a pure mono-culture in American society in the first place.  The arrival of new immigrants from the first settlers in the new world until now has always driven us to be more multi-cultural despite our most stiff resistance against it.

Seagulls In a Row  ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg 2012

Today, however, the challenge is not just the ever increasing multi-culturization of American society through the introduction of new immigrants from other parts of the world but also the tribalization of the American culture.  American society is not only fractured but has many social fissures that separate people into smaller distinctive groups.  This a new reality for people desiring to effectively communicate to our culture.

Fifty or sixty years ago, communicators could begin a conversation with our culture and its inhabitants with a few basic assumptions: common spiritual experiences and language, familiar Americana identity and shared patriotism.  This has slowly changed over the last fifty years.  Some would call this a cultural decay while others would celebrate it as a freedom from socio-cultural assumptions that have kept us separated from the rest of the world.  I’ll leave that debate for others to wrestle over.

For churches and church planters, however, this sets up an interesting and challenging scenario.  They must ask themselves not only “Where?” and “How?” but also “Who?”  There is no mono-cultural “Jack and Jill” to reach anymore – as if a homogeneous American culture ever really existed..  There is no singular avatar (like “W.A.S.P.”) that can adequately depict every person in most of the large communities around the United States.  Diversity has increased and is now the norm.

Many years ago, someone wanting to plant a church used to only ask, “Where shall I plant it – what community, neighborhood, city?”.  Then, a few decades later, the focus became, “How shall I plant it – what style of music, what preaching/teaching style, what discipleship method?”.  Now, the more appropriate question to ask is, “Who shall I reach out to?  Among whom shall I plant it – urbanites, bikers, emo’s, skaters, preps, cowboys, motorheads, low income, recovering addicts, ethnic or immigrant group?”

As mentioned before, the vast majority of church plants in the U.S. focus upon the large moderate center of American culture.  However, this leaves out the ever growing “outsiders” or fringes of our society who remain unreached with the church’s message.  Statistically, we already know that most church growth in U.S. evangelical churches today is from “sheep swapping” rather than actually reaching lost sheep and discipling spiritual seekers.

The focus upon the moderate center is a worthy goal.  It has its own challenges.  It has also shaped the format of most American churches: highly commercialized, appealing to pop-culture and driven to constantly excel at changes that produce a better product and better service.  Unwittingly, this has also shaped the mindset of the disciples of this group so that many are often looking for church to be a theater or shopping mall experience.  The challenge is that they will quickly change allegiances to the next brightest and boldest advertised store (i.e. church).  Those issues are for another time and discussion.

The question here is,What about those outside the moderate center of American culture?”  As the U.S. enters into an increasing post-Christian culture, it will be those on the fringes of what is now considered popular culture that will continue to grow.  This growing demographic should be the target group of new church plants and evangelistic efforts.  In other words, to re-format church, its leaders need to begin by looking on the fringes of American culture – to the least reached and the last considered.

Round Rocks Beach Line

Round Rocks Beach Line  ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, 2012

This will take an intentional missional mindset on the part of church leaders. The question must begin with the “who.”  This will answer the following two questions: “How?” and “Where?”  The answer to the question “Who?” may end in some surprising missional endeavors.  It will also possibly mean that church, as it is commonly known, will be completely reformatted – without giving up its core message – to look like something very different from what we grew up in.  This could also entail going to some surprising places and and “doing church” in some very different ways.

The urgent question is, who is up for this kind of re-formatting challenge for the church?  These are the leaders, missionaries to the U.S., evangelists, church planters and church leaders that we will need in the coming years and decades.  They are the ones that will need to identify unreached groups, untapped potentials for church planting and developing discipling methods in those settings.

I believe some of the answers we are looking for may actually lie in our past missionary and evangelistic endeavors.  There are ways of impacting and transforming culture that the American church seems to have forgotten in its heyday of being popular and among the wealthy of American institutions.  A few individuals and churches do follow these examples, but too few to create a movement to change the rising tide of the secularization and paganization of American culture.

This is the time to humbly return to past spiritual roots to look for and learn new models to re-format church.  It may be also a time to look to our spiritual children and grandchildren from our overseas missionary efforts for help.  It is in some of these very pagan and even anti-christian settings that the church is most effective.  In these surprising settings the church is not only growing and thriving,  but it is slowly changing culture.

Should the church look to re-format itself?  No.  Not if it is just another gimmick to be relevant and “cool”.  Yes, if it plans to reach the unreached groups in its community and city and start a spiritual movement that will change the present destination of our American culture.  Who wants to re-format the church and start all over?  Not everyone.  But I’m up for it.

©Ron Almberg/Weatherstone,  May 19, 2011

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I meet regularly with a number of friends involved in some sort of ministry. Some of them are in full-time ministry and some in volunteer places. Everyone of them have a passion to winsomely bring people to a relationship with Jesus Christ and help them grow in their spiritual journey.

One of the challenges is that what reached people a few years ago does not touch them today. Our culture has quickly changed and continues rapidly changing, much of it fueled and fed by technology. Technology has shaped how we receive and process information. While much of the church still depends upon a “talking head” at the front of the auditorium, much of the world has moved on to multi-media entertainment centers.

Mount Adams, Washington State, Fall 2012Influence and information does not just come through technological sources, however. Now, it is taken in through personal encounters in one’s “tribal” or affinity group. The breakdown of the family structures and the displacement of family members across distances has caused people to seek out social groups with  which they identify. These play a huge part in filtering information and what is accepted as “truth” among its members. It begins as young as teenagers when they divide into Goths, Emos, Nerds, Jocks, Barbies, Preppies, Punkers, Rockers, Stoners, and Gamers. The list goes on to reflect neighborhoods, ethnic groups and social statuses.

The technolization and tribalization of our culture has created a fractured environment to share the Bible’s message of hope and redemption. This is the “new reality” that American churches face. The question is whether they will be able to quickly adapt to the changing environment or continue to perform old practices that reached bygone eras.

There is a danger in not fighting against the nostalgia of the “good old days.” It is that we miss what opportunities are given to us right now. We can celebrate the past, even grieve its passing, but we cannot be stuck in it if we hope to maintain any missional edge that keeps us relevant and able to relate to the culture we live in today. So, what does this mean – this “new reality” – for American churches?

First, it means we need to rethink our priorities. What is our “kingdom priority”? Is it to preserve our furniture? Is it to maintain our liturgical practices? Is it to shore up programs and ministries? Or, is it to carry a message to spiritually lost people and develop within them hearts and minds that seek after Christ and his kingdom?

As I have talked this dilemma over with ministry friends, one thing has become clear to all of us. The mission is the message of Christ and his lordship or rule. Church history shows us that methods have constantly changed over the centuries. The only difference now is that these  are needing to take place at a faster pace than ever before.

Mount Hood, Oregon, Fall 2012For instance, take the structure of church buildings. The church began with no properties – meeting in the homes of believers and seekers. Finally, when buildings were able to be constructed, they were gathering places for many “home churches.” Finally, these buildings became larger Cathedrals and the focus of the faith community.

Initially, the focus of the building’s interior was “The Lord’s Table“. Any pulpit or podium was to the side, not center stage. Sometimes it was intentionally placed high so that the preacher seemed to be ascending Mt. Sinai to deliver God’s Word to the people once more. Everything centered around the Eucharist.

When the Reformation arrived, it invited new models for church buildings. Some had art, some didn’t and some boasted fancy architecture and some simple. The Word of God became central and slowly the pulpit moved to center stage. The Communion Table remained either in front or behind the pulpit depending upon the prominence a church might give to it (Was there real substance in the food or only symbolism?). As scholasticism played a larger role in Christian education, teaching in preaching became more pronounced. The speaker/preacher/teacher became more important.

With the arrival of Evangelicalism and the Revival movements of the 19th century, churches took on the role of being auditoriums – places to hear a speaker. With the ever increasing role of music in the church, choir lofts, organ machines and pipes all played a role in shaping church buildings and affected how the Gospel message was communicated.

Now, today, in most Evangelical churches, the pulpit has given way to a lectern, music stand, or no prop at all. The worship band instruments are as prominently displayed as the pulpit or Lord’s Table once was a few decades ago. Clergy wigs, clerical collars, robes and suits and ties have given way to button-up shirts and slacks or T-shirts and jeans.

Change. The church has faced it for centuries. How the church today faces the changing reality of its culture will determine how effective it will remain. Sadly, like many church movements in the past, there may be a few today that will need to pass from the scene and become a memory of church history. Many individual churches and denominations will not be able to make the transition toward effectiveness in reaching today’s and tomorrow’s culture.

So, the question every minister, ministry and church organization must carefully assess is what is the main priority? What is “mission critical”? Something that is “mission critical” is absolutely necessary for the success of the mission. Without it the mission would fail. (This is assuming, of course, the centrality of Christ and a deep dependence upon the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.)

I don’t think there is one easy answer to that question. I strongly believe it will depend upon each congregation and each church leader to answer it depending upon their sense of God-given purpose and ministry context.

  • Where are they placed in their community?
  • Who has God given them to reach?
  • What resources has the Lord supplied them to accomplish it?
  • What “gifts and talents” are in its core leadership?

Finally, it means we will also need to re-examine our message delivery system. The message cannot change. Across every culture and every human age, the Gospel remains relevant and unchangeable. However, how it is communicated can change and must.

The new reality in our American churches is that we are facing an ever-increasing biblically illiterate audience despite the preponderance of biblical, theological and spiritual devotional resources available in our society. Many identify this as one of the signs that America has entered a “post-Christian” cultural phase. That may be true. However, that does not give us permission to throw-up our hands in defeat.

I believe that our culture is reverting to a story telling culture. Listeners are less linear in their thinking and how they relate to information. So, handing out and delivering an outline will not effectively reach them. However, story telling will communicate to them. This is a great advantage to the church since our source material, the Bible, is full of stories. Our lead-teacher, Jesus, used story to communicate important kingdom truths.

The danger becomes when our story telling only concludes with moralisms and pop-psychology. Too many of our White Mountain Flowers Flowing Down Rockspulpits and churches have already reverted to this diluted version of the Gospel. The Bible’s stories were given to us for more than to just teach us moral tales or to help us become better humans through positive living and thinking. They are pictures of the cosmic clash between divine righteous wisdom and human moral depravity.

The question remains, how do we most effectively tell this story of human failure and loving divine redemption? I believe that long educational sermons full to pretentious vocabulary is not going to cut it. We are going to need to simplify it – shoot for a 5th or 6th grade vocabulary. When it is necessary to use “big theological words”, then carefully define them. Scholasticism is out. Tribal narratives are the way in. Engage the individuals in the group as well as the whole group in telling the story of God’s glory.

I also believe that we have to begin our message delivery system with the assumption that people do not know anything about the Bible, its stories or is truths for living in God’s world God’s way. At least, whatever they have heard  up to this time is false and misleading. From that starting point, we can begin to shape our message to shape the hearts and minds of our audience.

The delivery system will need to have much more variety. A lone “talking head” delivering information will not capture the attention or the heart of today’s seekers. Contemporary audiences are used to sound bites, short episodic delivery,  and a chance to interact. This changes completely how we view our audience and our message.

Without changing our message, it will require harder work to include a variety of methods to deliver it. This could be everything from video clips, to personal stories, personal response times, discussion time, Q & A’s, as well as team speaker/teachers/preachers. What may seem like a chaotic and disjointed delivery system will make much more sense and have much more meaning to today’s audience.

The new reality in American churches offers an opportunity for the church to stretch out of its old wineskins and see what God is doing in his world and how he is at work. None of this has caught him by surprise. He is not overcome with questions and doubts about the future. He already saw this moment in time and had a “new wineskin” strategy for it. It is our job to discover it, embrace it and go with it.

©Ron Almberg/Weatherstone   March, 12 2012

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We just spent several hours observing teenagers hanging out at our local mall.

We came to the conclusion that many teenagers in America today are living in poverty.  Most young men we observed didn’t even own a belt; there was not one among the whole group.

But that wasn’t the sad part.  Many were wearing their daddy’s jeans.  Some jeans were so big and baggy they hung low on their hips, exposing their underwear.  We know some must have been ashamed their daddy was short, because his jeans hardly went below their knees.  They weren’t even their daddies’ good jeans, for most had holes ripped in the knees and a dirty look to them.

It grieved us, in a modern, affluent society like America, that there are those who can’t afford a decent pair of jeans.  We were thinking about asking our church to start a jeans drive for “poor kids at the mall.”  Then, on Christmas Eve, we could go Christmas caroling at the mall and distribute jeans to these poor teenagers.

But here is the saddest part…it was the girls they were hanging out with that disturbed us most.  Never, in all of our lives, have we seen such poverty-stricken girls.  These girls had the opposite problem of the guys.  They all had to wear their little sister’s clothes.  Their jeans were about 5 sizes too small!

We don’t know how they could get them on, let alone button them up.  Their jeans barely went over their hip bones.  Most also had on their little sister’s top; it hardly covered their midsections.  Oh, they were trying to hold their heads up with pride, but it was a sad sight to see these almost grown women wearing children’s clothes.

However, it was their underwear that bothered us most.  They, like they boys, because of the improper fitting of their clothes, had their underwear exposed.  We had never seen anything like it.  It looked like their underwear was only held together by a single piece of string.

We know it saddens your heart to receive this report on the condition of our American teenagers.  While we go to bed every night with closets full of clothes nearby, there are millions of “mall girls” who barely have enough material to keep it together.  We think their “poorness” is why these 2 groups gather at the mall; boys with their short daddies’ ripped jeans, and girls wearing their younger sisters’ clothes.  The mall is one place where they can find acceptance.  So, next time you are at the mall, doing your shopping, and you pass by some of these poor teenagers, would you say a prayer for them?

One more thing:  Will you pray the guys’ pants won’t fall down, and the girls’ strings wont’ break?

We thank you all,

Two Concerned Grandmothers

[author unknown]

Happy Eating Lard

Happy Eating Lard

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  1. I will not play tug-of-war with Dad’s underwear when he’s on the toilet.
  2. I will believe my owners when they tell me that the garbage collector is NOT stealing our stuff.
  3. I will not suddenly stand straight up when I’m lying under the coffee table.
  4. I will not roll my toys behind the fridge.
  5. I will shake the rainwater out of my fur BEFORE entering the house.
  6. I will not eat the cats’ food…before OR after they eat it.
  7. I will stop trying to find the few remaining pieces of clean carpet in the house when I am about to throw up.
  8. I will not throw up in the car.
  9. I will not roll on dead things: seagulls, fish, crabs, etc.
  10. I will not lick my human’s face after eating animal poo.
  11. I will resolve to remember that “Kitty box crunchies” are not food.
  12. I will not eat any more socks and then redeposit them in the backyard after processing.
  13. I will stop acting like the diaper pail is my very own cookie jar.
  14. I will not wake Mommy up by sticking my cold, wet nose up her bottom end.
  15. I will not chew my human’s toothbrush and not tell them.
  16. I will not chew crayons or pens, especially not the red ones or my people will think I am hemorrhaging.
  17. When in the car, I will not insist on having the window rolled down when it’s raining outside.
  18. I will remember that we do not have a doorbell.
  19. I will not bark each time I hear one on TV.
  20. I will not steal my Mom’s underwear and dance all over the back yard with it.
  21. I will not treat the sofa as a face towel or Mom & Dad’s laps.
  22. I will remember that my head does not belong in the refrigerator.
  23. I will not bite the officer’s hand when he reaches in for Mom’s driver’s license and car registration.

[author unknown]

Funny Santa Cartoon

Funny Santa Cartoon

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The movie Forrest Gump is one of my favorites. Yes, I know one must suspend belief to hold on to the story line.  And, yes, I know that there is a certain sappy sentimentality in it.  Nonetheless, I like it for the interaction of its main characters and the certain philosophical message summarized at the end.

Now, I’m not an extremely emotional person. However, I can never get through the scene of Forrest‘s monologue at Jenny’s grave with a dry eye.  At the same time, I find the underlying existential question Forrest is wrestling with very engaging because I think we all struggle with it.  Forrest, standing over Jenny’s grave, tells Jenny…

I don’t know if mama was right or if it’s Lieutenant Dan.
I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze.
But I think maybe it’s both.
Maybe both is happening at the same time.

The man with the IQ of 75 probably has it right. Life is most certainly like a box of chocolates, like his mother told him: “You never know what you’re going to get.”  Some of life is made up of an apparent series of accidents.  Thus, as is often said, “You have to play the hand your are dealt.”  Like a feather blowing in the wind, as the ending screen shot of Forrest Gump shows us, life can take us in unexpected and unplanned directions.  Forrest’s life seemed to be one accident after another.

This worldview is comforting to those who find themselves unable to control the direction into which the circumstances of life has thrown them. Tossed into a raging river, one does well just to keep afloat and the head above water.  In truth, we cannot always control life’s apparent unfeeling and meaningless events cascading our way, but we can only control how we respond and deal with them.  Thus, we retain some sense of autonomy and determinism and, thereby, meaning and purpose.  I have a feeling that the great majority of people in the world, intentionally or unintentionally, operate their lives with this in view.

Struggling to squeeze some sort of meaning out of life seems to be a part of the human condition. There is a longing to know, “Why am I here?” and “What does this all mean?”  At one point, Jenny asks Forrest, “Do you ever dream, Forrest, about who you’re gonna be?”  Forrest responds, “Who I’m gonna be?”  Jenny, “Yeah.” To which Forrest replies, “Aren’t – – aren’t I going to be me?”  Struggling to be someone other than himself completely escapes Forrest.

On another level, Forrest Gump’s life may seem to be divinely ordained. His destiny has taken him in a different direction than Jenny’s or Lieutenant Dan’s.  Jenny tells Forrest as she is about to leave him again, on a bus heading back to Berkley, California, this time, that they have two different lives meant to come out differently.  Lieutenant Dan tells Forrest essentially the same thing, believing that he missed his by not becoming a martyr for his country on the battlefield in Vietnam.  Does Forrest’s life tell the tale of a destiny fulfilled?  This is what Forrest is trying to figure out while talking to Jenny over her grave.

Baby Seal On the Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon, Summer 2009

Baby Seal On the Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

World religions attempt to answer the question of life’s meaning amidst apparent chaos. In fact, it seems that humankind has spent much of its existence from the beginning attempting to find meaning in the chaos of existence.  Religious answers run the gamut.  Some suggest meaning can only be found by escaping chaos through mindless detachment to the physical realm of chaos.  A dichotomy between the physical and spiritual realm results in a metaphysical battle between the two.  The physical in any form is bad.  The non-physical must be pursued to escape the physical.

Other world religions suggest that chaos is a result of humankind insulting gods or interfering with the unseen spiritual realm. The only correction is to make some type of appeasement, usually a sacrifice or penance of some sort.  Chaos results in life because humankind is constantly offending spiritual beings.  The work is to somehow keep them happy.  Other religious strains portray these spiritual beings as capricious and outside human influence or control.  Thus, one can only hope to offer some type of offering that will please the immaterial beings so that they will leave the material beings alone.  But there is no guarantee.

These two existential attitudes reflect the “flight or fight” approaches that humankind takes towards most threatening things. It should not surprise us, then, to find them evident in its worldviews or world religions.  We all seek to escape our troubles or wrestle some kind of meaning out of them.

Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. “Mark Twain”) remarked that existential meaning may also be determined by class. He noted that the Christians had one god for the rich and another god for the poor.  Taken another way, this may also mean that there was, and perhaps still is, one kind of theology for the rich and another kind of theology for the poor.

When one is born into privilege or arises to privilege, it is easy to assume that it must be because of some sort of “manifest destiny.” However, it is hard to come to that same conclusion when one is born underprivileged or descends into want and poverty.  It beggars the prosperity gospel message of American Evangelicalism to think that God would destine some to affluence and some to poverty even though it fits seemingly well with American Calvinism.

For example, Forrest Gump knew his mental condition effected his life. Was it a part of his destiny or just an accident of nature?  Visiting his mom just before her death, he asks, “What’s my destiny, Mama?”  Mrs. Gump responds lovingly, “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself.”  In other words, it is not something that is handed to you.  One must figure it out as he or she moves through life.

When one is born into a low class, it is easier to accept that life is simply what you make it than it is to accept that it is your destiny. No one faces life’s tormenting trials and failures and says to their self, “I was born for this!”  No.  Rather, one accepts it as one of the capricious circumstances of life.

Even Job, in his unfailing faith in God, when struck with heart rending and life altering tragedies, declared to his embittered wife, “Should we accept only the good things that come to us as from the hand of God and not the bad things that come to us also?”  Or, to put it as Mrs. Gump did, “You have to do the best with what God gave you.”  This view lends itself towards a self-determinism that supports an Arminian approach to one’s destiny.  We may not be able to control what comes our way in life, but we can control our own choices and outcome.  At least, we hope so.

I have often argued that the tired and worn out Calvin versus Arminian debate is attempting to make too simple what is really very complicated. I do not think proper theology fits neatly into all of our categories and systems.  So narrowly defining whether our meaning and purpose in life is divinely determined or self-determined attempts to remove life’s questions and mysteries when, instead, we should probably leave them alone.  As Forrest answered, “I think maybe it’s both.  Maybe both is happening at the same time.”  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg Jr. (2010)

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December 14, 2010

Dearest Dave,

I went to the door today, and the postman delivered a partridge in a pear tree.  This was a delightful gift!  I couldn’t have been more surprised or pleased darling!

With truly the deepest love,
Agnes

December 15, 2010

Dearest Dave,

Today the postman brought me yet another of your sweet gifts.  The two turtle doves that arrived today are adorable, and I’m delighted by your thoughtful and generous ways.

With all of my love,
Your Agnes

December 16, 2010

Dearest Dave,

You’ve truly been too kind!  I must protest; I don’t deserve such generosity.  The thought of getting three French hens amazes me.  Yet, I am not surprised–what more should I expect from such a nice person.

Love,
Agnes

December 17, 2010

Dear Dave,

Four calling birds arrived in the mail today.  They are truly nice but don’t you think that enough is enough?  You are being too romantic.

Affectionately,
Agnes

December 18, 2010

Dearest darling Dave,

It was a surprise to get five golden rings!  I now have one for every finger.  You truly are impossible darling, yet oh how I love it!  Quite frankly, all of those squawking birds from the previous days were starting to get on my nerves.  Yet, you managed to come through with a beautiful, valuable gift!

All my love,
Agnes

December 19, 2010

Dear Dave,

When I opened my door, there were actually six geese a-laying on my front steps.  So, you’re back to the birds again, huh?  Those geese are dear, but where will I keep them?  The neighbors are complaining, and I am unable to sleep with all the racket.  Please stop, dear.

Cordially,
Agnes

December 20, 2010

Dave,

What is with you and those stupid birds!?  Seven swans a-swimming!!  What kind of sick joke is this!!??  There are bird droppings everywhere!  They never shut up, and I don’t get any sleep!!!  I’m a nervous wreck!  It’s not funny you weirdo, so stop with the birds.

Sincerely,
Agnes

December 21, 2010

O.K. wise guy,

The birds were bad enough.  Now what do you expect me to do with eight maids a-milking?  If that’s not bad enough, they had to bring their cows!!  The front lawn was completely ruined by them, and I can’t move in my own house!  Just lay off me or you’ll be sorry!

Agnes

December 22, 2010

Hey loser,

What are you?  You must be some kind of sadist!!  Now there are nine pipers playing, and they certainly do play!  They haven’t stopped chasing those maids since they got here!  The cows are getting upset, and they’re stepping all over those screeching birds.  The neighbors are getting up a petition to evict me, and I’m going out of my mind!

You’ll get yours!
Agnes

December 23, 2010

You rotten scum!!!

There are now ten ladies dancing!  There is only one problem with that!  They’re dancing twenty-four hours a day all around me with the pipers upsetting the cows and the maids.  The cows can’t sleep, and they are going to the bathroom everywhere!  The building commissioner has subpoenaed me to give cause as to why the house shouldn’t be condemned!  I can’t even think of a reason!  You creep!  I’m sicking the police on you!

One who means it!

December 24, 2010

Listen you evil, sadistic, maniac!

What’s with the eleven lords-a-leaping?!?  They are leaping across the rooms breaking everything and even injuring some of the maids!  The place smells, is an absolute mad house, and is about to be condemned!  At least the birds are quiet; they were trampled to death by the cows.  I hope you are satisfied–you rotten vicious, worthless piece of garbage!

Your sworn enemy,
Agnes

December 25, 2010

The Law Offices of
Badger, Rees, and Yorker
20 Knave Street
Chicago, Illinois

Dear sir,

This is to acknowledge your latest gift of twelve fiddlers-fiddling, which you have seen fit to inflict on our client, one Agnes McHolstein.  The destruction of course was total.  If you attempt to reach Ms. McHolstein at Happy Daze Sanitarium, the attendants have instructions to shoot you on site.

Please direct all correspondence to this office in the future.  With this letter, please find attached a warrant for your arrest.

Cordially,
Badger, Rees, and Yorker

[author unknown]

Reindeer Helping Santa Claus

Reindeer Helping Santa Claus

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‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
I searched for the tools to hand to my spouse.
Instructions were studied and we were inspired,
In hopes we could manage “Some Assembly Required.”

The children were quiet (not asleep) in their beds,
While Dad and I faced the evening with dread:
A kitchen, two bikes, Barbie‘s town house to boot!
And, thanks to Grandpa, a train with a toot!

We opened the boxes, my heart skipped a beat….
Let no parts be missing or parts incomplete!
Too late for last-minute returns or replacement;
If we can’t get it right, it goes in the basement!

When what to my worrying eyes should appear,
But 50 sheets of directions, concise, but not clear,
With each part numbered and every slot named,
So if we failed, only we could be blamed.

More rapid than eagles the parts then fell out,
All over the carpet they were scattered about.
Now bolt it! Now twist it! Attach it right there!
Slide on the seats, and staple the stair!

Hammer the shelves, and nail to the stand.”
Honey,” said hubby, “you just glued my hand.”
And then in a twinkling, I knew for a fact
That all the toy dealers had indeed made a pact

To keep parents busy all Christmas Eve night
With “assembly required” till morning’s first light.
We spoke not a word, but kept bent at our work,
Till our eyes, they went bleary; our fingers all hurt.

The coffee went cold and the night, it wore thin
Before we attached the last rod and last pin.
Then laying the tools away in the chest,
We fell into bed for a well-deserved rest.

But I said to my husband just before I passed out,
This will be the best Christmas, without any doubt.
Tomorrow we’ll cheer, let the holiday ring,
And not have to run to the store for a thing!

We did it! We did it! The toys are all set
For the perfect, most perfect, Christmas, I bet!

Then off to dreamland and sweet repose I gratefully went,
Though I suppose there’s something to say for those self-deluded…
I’d forgotten that batteries are never included!

[author unknown]

Merry Alien Christmas

Merry Alien Christmas

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I consider myself somewhat of a manly man. I like to do physical things.  Admittedly, I am not the best at fixing things.  But give me a chance to hike, fish and hunt, and I am right there.  I have gutted my fair share of fish and deer and various birds and smaller game.  Like most outdoors men, I have had a chance to push the limits of my own endurance and then take pride in retelling the experience.

There is, however, one thing that cowers me into a namby-pamby girly-man. It is the site of my own flesh-and-blood’s flesh and blood.  The experience of being at the birth of my two sons was not inspiration for me.  It was traumatic.  The birthing instructor was a bold-faced liar when she cheerily told my wife and me, “Blood?  No!  There’s almost no blood involved in child birth.”  Yeah, right.  My wife screaming in pain and the sight of blood sent me into a shock that rendered me mute and useless to my poor wife.  Good thing her best friend was there.  She took over.

When our two daughters were born at home with a mid-wife, it was mutually decided that my wife would be better off with close friends and family at her side than her husband. And so it came to pass.  I do not think I missed anything by not being there to “play catcher”.  I enjoyed my newborn daughters shortly after their loudly proclaimed and bloody arrival.  They were handed to me clean and pretty as all newly born little girls should arrive into the world, not wrinkly and bloody like my two boys arrived (which, come to think of it, may be a proper portent of things to come).

Our oldest daughter arrived into the world with a sweet tooth. As soon as she learned to totter on her own two feet, she could easily be called to one’s side with the sound of unwrapping candy and gum.  Her acute hearing for such sounds was a marvel to everyone.  At the sound of any wrapper crinkling, she would come running.

Unfortunately, for the grandmotherly types in our little church at the time, her cuteness and irresistible personality caused them all to disgorge their purses of any gum or candy they had available every Sunday. So, my daughter would return home from church each Sunday looking like she had just gone trick-or-treating on Halloween.  For her, every Sunday was Halloween.  Church was not a place to find God as much as it was a place to find candy.  After she went to bed at night, we would find candy and gum wrappers under her bed and pillow as well as leftover uneaten pieces tightly gripped in her tiny fists as she slept.

This, sadly, did her no favors as she developed really bad cavities in her baby teeth by the time she was three. Several were serious enough to threaten the budding permanent teeth behind them.  Thus, we were advised by our regular dentist to take her to see a pediatric dentist to have the cavities taken care of as soon as possible.  We made an appointment with one in Gig Harbor, Washington.

I was still a young father then and had not yet learned my physical and psychological limits to familial pain and blood-letting. So, I offered to take my daughter to the dentist.  I figured it would be a good father-daughter bonding time as we had an hour-and-a-half drive to the dentist and back again.  I loaded her into our little red Subaru wagon and off we went.

After a long drive of noticing the passing scenery, singing to the “oldies but goodies” on the radio and chattering away upon childhood topics, we arrived at a beautiful brand new building. The pediatric dentist’s office was located on the second floor of the building, which had a large, airy open atrium with a glass ceiling and tiled floor with a coffee barista right in the middle of it.  As we walked into the main doors, the smell of fresh coffee hung in the air along with the sound of an espresso machine working overtime to satisfy the thirsty and drowsy morning customers.

I decided against the elevator, so we walked up the double stair-flight to the second floor. Soon, we were standing in front of the dentist’s office door.  I looked down at my daughter with her blonde golden curls and bright blue eyes.  She looked up at me and smiled her big, wide toothy smile full of confidence.  I smiled back and opened the door.

The large room we entered was made for children. Bright colors, big toys, cartoon pictures on the walls and balloons decorated the room.  There were children playing and parents looking on, smiling, and talking in whispers to other parents.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  What a great place to bring your very young child to have dentistry work done.

I took my daughter’s hand and we made our way over to the registration counter. After acknowledging our names and appointment, I was handed a clip board with a cord’s worth of firewood for paperwork.  I have never liked filling out paper work.  But I found a seat with my daughter and started on the hundred’s of questions.  Every page needed the same information at the top: name, address, phone number, social security numbers, emergency contact and their numbers and the VIN number of the first car you owned.

I returned the filled-out paper work to the kind lady at the counter and took my seat to wait. It was only a few minutes before a nurse called my daughter’s name and my name.  We were escorted into a small dentist’s work room with the same childhood decor that we saw in the waiting room.  I thought to my self that it would be fun to work in such a bright and cheery place.  Such surroundings couldn’t help but bring out the innocent child in all of us.

Soon, the doctor arrived. She was a very beautiful young doctor, well dressed in a bright yellow colored pant suit that accentuated her red hair.  She looked like she was dressed to go to a professional presentation for pediatric dentists, not about to delve into the mouth of my daughter or any other child’s mouth for that matter.  Her demeanor and look reflected a person who had it all together with her prefect hair, make-up and clothes.

She smiled sweetly to my daughter, knelt before her and engaged her in a friendly conversation. Soon, she easily maneuvered my daughter up on to the dentist’s chair and was looking in her mouth.  I thought to myself, “This lady is good!

I felt myself relax and more willing to place my daughter into her care. Shortly, she turned to me and explained to me what she was going to do.  Then she invited, “Mr. Almberg, you are more than welcome to wait in the waiting room or go downstairs and get a cup of coffee.  We will be about an hour.”  I thanked her and shook her hand, turned to my daughter with a reassuring smile and kissed her on the forehead, which was returned with that big toothy smile.

Confidently, I left the room, walked through the waiting room and headed to the atrium to the coffee stand. As I made my way down the stairs to the first floor, I crowed to myself how easy all of this was going.  The warm fragrance of coffee caught my attention and I was soon focused on getting some caffeine in my favorite latte flavor.  It had already been a long day.  The appointment was made for early morning so we had been on the road since 6:30 am.

I paid for my coffee and found one of the overstuffed leather couches located near by. I selected one that was situated with the sun coming through the window upon it.  I picked up several magazines lying around on various tables and finally settled upon an old dog-eared PEOPLE magazine.  I planned on relaxing and enjoying a few moments of solitude before the long ride back home.

Only into the second page of the first article in the PEOPLE magazine, I heard a faint scream come from a far away room.  “Wow,” I thought to myself.   “That must be what the Spanish Inquisition must have sounded like.  Poor person.  I wonder where that is coming from…who that is?”  There was another scream, but this one more discernible.

Suddenly, a sick feeling came over my stomach as if my latte had been served up with sour milk. I recognized the voice in that scream.  There was no mistaking it as another scream echoed through the atrium.  It was most certainly my daughter.  I looked around at the people scattered around the room.  They all looked at one another and then it seemed as if they looked at me with an accusing stair, “How could you!!?”  I stuck my nose deeper into the magazine trying to find some anonymity.

I tried to enjoy my latte but, with every piercing cry, it was becoming more difficult.  I had given up on attempting to read any magazine articles after the first fifteen minutes went by on the clock.  Fortunately, the screams grew more and more less frequent.  However, this only tended to add to the tension.  The silence in between led to an anticipation of when the next one would come.  Just about the time that I thought it would never come after all, there would come another crying echo throughout the building’s chambers.

Pink Wild Flower, Summer 2009

Pink Wild Flower, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Finally, I could not stand the suspense any more.  I drained my now cold latte and headed up the stairs to the dentist’s office.  After a half-an-hour, I was starting to think that they perhaps needed my help.  I did not consider what that help could possibly be, but I had to find out any way.  I entered the office, only to enter another universe.

As I came through the door, the same calmness that had greeted me the first time was still there.  The room had not changed decor, children were happily playing and parents were mildly watching and chatting with one another.  “Don’t they know that my daughter is being tortured in there?” I wondered.  I went to the front desk.

Yes, I am Ron Almberg.  My daughter is being worked on right now and I am wondering if she is all right.”

The polite lady behind the counter smiled at me and said, “Let me check for you.  I’ll be right back.”  Then she disappeared around a corner.  I could imagine her going down the hall and into the little torture room that they were keeping my daughter in.  I waited impatiently for some news.

Finally, after only a few moments, she returned and said, “The doctor said that they have had some difficulty with your daughter but everything is going fine right now.  She said she should be done in about 15 or 20 minutes.”

OK,” I timidly returned.  “I’ll just wait over there.”  And pointed to a chair in the waiting room.

I took my seat. However, moving into the waiting room only made things worse for me.  Not only was the noise level louder, but one could hear the sounds of dentist tools doing their worst.  My hands grew clammy and I started to shake.

Just about the time I thought that I could not take any more, all of the noise stopped. After several more minutes passed by, the door to the way to the dungeon opened and out stepped my daughter.  Her mouth was stuffed with a few pieces of cotton, her hair mussed up, her eyes almost swollen shut from crying so hard.  Later, we discover that she had broken blood vessels in her face from screaming so hard.

I looked up at the doctor as she came through the door behind my daughter. She was the polar opposite of the picture of perfection that I had seen earlier that morning.  Her dress suit’s blouse was askew, her fair fell out in several places and the make-up on her face was worn and blotched like she had just come from someone’s funeral.  She smiled a crooked but victorious tired looking smile.

As you probably heard,” she began.  “We had some difficulty getting your daughter to settle down so that we could do the work on her.  We finally had to put her in what we call a “papoose”.  I was able to treat all the real bad cavities; however, we just were not able to get to the lesser ones.  I would recommend just monitoring them.  As long as they don’t get any worse, she will be fine until they fall out when her permanent teeth come in.”

Thank you, doctor,” I replied.

Without further comment she turned and disappeared behind the door.  “She looks terrible,” I thought.  “I wonder if she’ll take the rest of the day off.

I picked up my daughter with her swollen and Novicained face. We returned to the car for a long ride home.  I had planned on stopping in Silverdale for a treat, but she immediately fell asleep in the car and did not awake until we got home.  Then I laid down and slept the rest of the day.

The next Sunday, an announcement was put in the church bulletin and made from the pulpit.  “Please do not feed the Almberg’s daughter anymore candy of any kind!  She had to have cavities filled in her baby teeth this last week.  Anyone found doing so will be excommunicated and shunned.  May the Lord have mercy upon your soul.  The Almberg’s thank you for your help.  The pediatric dentists of America thank you.”

Except for one little church grandma lady who turned to sugar-free gum, we had no more trouble with church candy coming home.  Thanks to the pediatric dentist who saved her teeth, our daughter, to this day has a wonderful toothy smile.  But you will always find a piece of gum stuck in it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “AMERICA” in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.

This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

[Author: Church Volunteer Central]

santa and reindeer complainers cartoon

santa and reindeer complainers cartoon

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Salvation By Works In American Evangelicalism

The Protestant Reformation demanded many changes in the theology of the Church. Perhaps one of the biggest theological shifts was the idea that one’s salvation could not be earned by any human work: penance, alms giving, purchasing indulgences, baptism or participation in the Lord’s Supper (i.e. the Eucharist or Communion).  Admittedly, these last two regained prominence and authority in some Protestant branches.

American evangelicalism developed in the later 18th century and matured in the 19th century. Influenced by Puritanism, then Scottish Presbyterianism, and later a Methodism with a uniquely American flavor, American evangelicalism gained astounding influence well into the 20th century despite Liberal theology’s attack on its basic tenets and Fundamentalism’s failure against scholasticism.  Perhaps its hold upon the American psyche was so strong because it appealed for a “heart-felt religion” vis-a-vis a rational Christianity built mainly upon propositional truths and tenets.  American evangelicalism aimed for a change of mind through the heart.

This is not to suggest that American evangelicalism threw out belief tenets and systematic theologies. Rather, these came to confirm what one felt was true.  Thus, Mormonism would appeal to the “burning in the bosom” and the material evidence that something was true or not.  It was only following the primary appeal of American evangelicalism at the popular level.  Later much of Pentecostalism and then the Charismatic Movement of the late 20th century would make the same appeals for one’s faith.

Maintaining its Protestant Reformation roots, American evangelicalism still claims the truths recovered for the Church: the priesthood of all believers, sola scriptura, sola fide and sola gratia.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a natural propensity for the Church in whatever form to religionize in order to control.  This is true within American evangelicalism too.  Perhaps no greater example within evangelicalism is the very thing that gave it mass appeal – “the heart felt” faith or religion by experience.

I am not advocating a hyper-rationalism. God made his human creation emotional beings.  Tying head and heart together is a frequent theme throughout Scripture.  However, it becomes dangerous when one’s salvation is determined by whether or not one has had a particular religious or emotional experience.

Flowered Crown, July 2010

Flowered Crown, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Recently reading about the life of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), I was struck by his experience within American Presbyterianism of the 19th century. Not only was one’s salvation in constant question so as to attempt to make sure (though one never really could) that he or she was a part of God’s elect, but it seemed that only a particular religious or emotional experience could really confirm to the seeker whether this was attained – assurance of salvation.  Without such an experience, one was left with the demoralizing thought that he or she was numbered among God’s predestined damned with no possible relief.

This was the conclusion that Samuel Clemens was to arrive at in his life after attempting all he knew how to guarantee his salvation. Albeit, he did so as to gain favor with the object of his affections, Olivia Langdon, and her family, particularly her mother.  This was long after his younger years when he and his brother, Orion, seriously considered entering ministry!  No doubt his upbringing with his devout mother played an important part in his life.  Nevertheless, Clemens seemed to forever feel that God had “elected” him for salvation.  So, he went on his merry way with his life.

This same drive to experience religion at the emotional level later came to define much of Pentecostalism. Rather than become the mark of one’s salvation, it marked one as being Spirit baptized and empowered, even Spirit-filled in some circles.  I have often remarked that it became the Pentecostal version of Confirmation; once one had the emotionally religious experience of speaking in tongues, then one had arrived spiritually; nothing further was needed really.  Those who for some reason never gained access to this emotional experience, no matter how hard they attempted it, were left to feel like second class citizens in God’s kingdom.

As a leader in Assemblies of God churches, I have been dismayed at the emphasis or desire to have some type of emotional release at a church altar or in a revival meeting without real life transformation. Like its spiritual roots in American evangelicalism, the goal has become the experience rather than the desired effect – life change.  The emotional assurance that one is at peace with God or experiencing God’s presence takes precedence over obedience to God.  In worship, emotional engagement becomes more important than whether worship engages believers to change their ways in the light of God’s grace and greatness.

It has caused me as a former church leader to consider whether American evangelicalism’s emphasis or focus upon an emotional experience or response is just another “salvation by works” trap. It would seem so if that experience becomes the litmus test of whether one is saved or, in the case of Pentecostalism, Spirit-baptized.  If it is truly a work of faith through grace (ala Reformation theology) that is available to the priesthood of all believers according to the Scriptures, then why attempt to push it through the sieve of emotionalism?

Probably no one thought through this better than Jonathan Edwards who preached and pastored at the birth of American evangelicalism during the First Great Awakening (1703-1758). His short writing, “Religious Affections,” does bring balance to the extreme intellectualism of his age and the emotional exuberance the Great Awakening revival was stirring in many people.  He still helps us today distinguish between what are reliable and unreliable emotionally spiritual experiences.

Both the human mind and heart are unreliable measurements for true spirituality in the way of Jesus. This is probably why Jesus used word pictures like “fruit” and “harvest” as the true indicators of spiritual knowledge and experience.  The Apostle Paul picks up on this also and emphasizes to the Corinthians and the Galatians that experiences are not an indicator of spiritual maturity, let alone authenticity.  Rather, a life changed that exhibits it in behavior and attitudes is the real indicator.  The Apostle John made the indicator even more simple by saying, “It’s how you love others.”

We probably prefer an emotional spiritual experience to indicate our salvation rather than how we really live and get along with others. It makes us feel better about our selves because there is a touch of self-justification about it all.  However, God’s judgment and measurement of our lives is not going to be determined by whether we wept at an altar, spoke in tongues, was slayed-in-the-spirit, got teary-eyed during a song, laughed uncontrollably, had visions, prophesied, or felt a burning in the bosom.

No.  I think the good Lord is going to only want to know one thing about our spiritual journeys while we were here on earth, “Did you unconditionally love and serve others in my name?”  Answering, “No.  But I had a really good time!” is not going to cut it, I think.  Neither is defaulting to, “No.  I never felt that you were with me.”  To either response, God will hold up his son, Jesus, given for us and only want to know, “Did you believe him and so follow him?”  Then our lives will speak for themselves.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, (2010)

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