Monday, December 15, 2014

Sometimes Bad Teaching is the Students' Fault

Sometimes bad teaching is the students’ fault. That’s right. I said it. I’m telling you something that teachers everywhere have thought, but few have the courage to come out and say. When things don’t go right in the classroom, it’s easy to blame the teacher. It’s easy for teachers to blame administrators. But, what is the most important component (by far, I might add) of learning? A student’s desire to learn! When that component is absent, everything falls apart.

There is nothing as demoralizing to a teacher as looking out into a room of blank stares. There’s the blank stare of confusion. That one isn’t so bad. That simply means to back up a little, use some examples and talk to your students about what isn’t working or what they don’t understand. The demoralizing blank stare is the one that screams, “It’s all on you to make this class interesting. I really don’t want to be here. And, I just don’t have enough humanity in my soul to try to care.” Now, perhaps when there is a lack of caring from children, I can understand it. You may not know a child’s situation. Maybe they’ve been abuse, abandoned, are hungry or no one seems to care. Children have the right to be needy and as adults we need to meet those needs. But, what about college students? Or, high school juniors or seniors? Sorry, but those people no longer have the right to display a lack of humanity.

I teach college students and I can tell you at times they lack humanity. They treat a teacher as if they have a right to be bored—as if they don’t have to care about the topic, support the person who is trying to teach them or bear a shed of responsibility in their own education. Until a person has dealt with such students—daydreaming, playing on their cell phones or shooting looks (and sometimes words) of contempt at their instructor, one can’t truly appreciate how it drains the soul. Occasionally I’ll come across students that I just want to punch in the mouth, shove their cell phone down their throat or just grab them and throw them out of my classroom. Such students are truly deserving of such treatment, but the system doesn’t allow it. No, a teacher is just supposed to silently bear the indignation. Or, try futile classroom management techniques. Such students suck the life out of the teacher and once that ember has burnt out the class looses its zeal. While a student’s hunger to learn is paramount, teachers are needed to direct that hunger.


Bad students create an environment that leads to bad teaching. Bad students lead to teacher burnout. Bad students create an environment adversarial to learning. While it might not be popular to say, I’m going to say it. Sometimes bad teaching is the students’ fault!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Protests

Over the past couple weeks we’ve seen many protests in this country. There have been protests over the events in Ferguson, protests during Black Friday and protests over the Eric Garner case. None of these protests have happened in a vacuum. Each of these protests has been brought on by a spark—a police shooting, a chokehold or an insufficient paycheck. However, that spark was insufficient unless it was sparking something.

The United States is no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. Perhaps we never were, but there was a time when we were freer and braver than today. We have become a land oppressed by the rule of giant corporations, greedy lawmakers, bloodthirsty financiers and big bankers. On a daily basis many Americans face a job that doesn’t give them any respect or a livable wage. Some go hungry, cold or lack necessary medical treatment.

On street corners I see former members of our military begging for money or food. Many of these brave warriors were sent on multiple tours of duty. Some come back without an arm or leg. Some have traumatic head injuries. Some face severe psychological problems—problems that are heightened when they realize their government doesn’t care. They were treated like a pawn, being used for missions and then thrown to the side.

While many citizens are poor, there is a small percentage that is rich. Certainly some worked hard to earn their wealth. But, many became wealthy because the system was designed to make them wealthy. I’ve personally seen abuse of workers and customers simply to make larger profits. I believe that is the primary cause of much of the backlash—when our system rewards people who do harm to our society.

As I consider the protests, I see a need for leadership like we had in the past. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great example. He preached nonviolent protests. It was a strategy that worked. As police turned tear gas, batons and attack dogs on peaceful protesters, those police and the ones calling the shots were seen as the issue. In many of our recent protests, protesters have looted stores, burned buildings and blocked traffic. While there are legitimate reasons behind many of these protests, the use of improper means has muddied the waters. What have been planted in some cases are the seeds of chaos as opposed to the seeds of legitimate discourse and change.

As I consider the plight of the average worker, I do think there is a need for unions. I know as soon as unions are brought up people point to union thugs and immoral tactics. I realize these are legitimate concerns. But, the average worker is powerless and uniting in mass may be the only tool available. The corporatism of America, with its business practices founded on evolutionary principles (survival of the fittest) demands a pack mentality. The need to unionize is not the disease. It’s a symptom of the disease—of a system designed to reward greed, graft and bloodthirsty practices.

You may have noticed I mentioned corporatism is built on evolutionary principles. Somewhere along the line people have fed us the lie that our economic model is based on Biblical principles. It’s not. And, it’s also not neutral. It’s a system at its heart that is based on principles in direct opposition to the Bible. It’s a system based on greed and profit at all costs—even it that cost means the lives of others.

I’m not sure how we’re going to change this system. Our politicians won’t do it. Quit believing when things are bad that if you vote in the other party it’s going to work. I do think Christian love can help bring about change, but I see the church in America as impotent. Often preachers support the current system. Until the church becomes a voice that brings about real change, most people won’t be interested in its message. I wonder if that is true for each of us? Until we become a voice for true change, will people really listen to what we have to say? What is the answer? The answer starts with each of us!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Start of a New Term

Dazed looks. That’s what the Monday after having a week off for Thanksgiving looks like from the front of the classroom. I could tell their minds were still on turkey and mashed taters. To be honest, I’d rather be home in front of the tube eating turkey and mashed taters.

Where I teach, we have a week off for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. We just started a new term. So, it’s three weeks and then Christmas break. The start of a new term is a foggy experience by itself. Add in those nostalgic for the family times of the previous week and those dreaming of sugar drop fairies, snowmen and Santa Claus and the holiday blur begins.

I honestly don’t blame my students for not being entirely there. I’m not entirely there. It doesn’t help that I spent several hours at the emergency room last night. My dad fell and hit his head. He’s going to be fine. Of course, there was the frantic phone call, the unexpected knock on the door and the drive to the ER. I wasn’t looking for all that excitement. Truth be told, I was enjoying a Sunday nap. It wasn’t just a regular nap. I was under deep. When all the excitement woke me up, I was groggy for a good fifteen minutes.

So, the holiday season begins. I wish it could be slowed down—a real vacation from work, no family emergencies, no crazy drivers (boy, the holiday spirit was evident on route 8 this morning), no need for presents or any of the holiday trimmings. It would be nice for one year to just relax and get away from it all. It wouldn’t matter if I was on a beach or in front of the tube. It would just be nice to have no responsibilities—none at work, none with the family, nothing that needed to get done—simply a time to veg with family and friends. Is that too much to ask for?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reasons to be Thankful

This past year has been rough. Last year at this time my dad was recovering from surgery from 4th stage cancer. He’s had a rough battle. He suffered, but he is getting stronger. January 2nd of this year my Uncle Ted passed away—a victim of cancer. I have a good friend from college whose dad passed away earlier this year. When I was in college we’d spend the weekend over at his house and his parents treated me like I was their own son. I also have memories of my Grandpa. Years ago he was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after Thanksgiving and passed away on January 2nd.

As I consider all this, I have many things to be thankful for. My dad is still alive. I see him fighting back. His struggle has given me a new vigor for life. I’m less intimidated by things. On occasion I perform standup comedy. I’m less worried about failure. A bad night on stage doesn’t seem so bad. I sent in a tryout video for America’s Got Talent. Will they call? It doesn’t really matter. If they do, I’ll take the stage. I’ve been writing more and pursuing the dream of one day being self-employed—writing, speaking and being creative.

I have had some sad moments thinking of my Uncle Ted. However, I realized one important thing. I don’t have a single bad memory of Uncle Ted—not one! He was a gentle man that showed love to all and brought joy to those around him. I was blessed to know him. My life is better because of his life.

As I think of my friend’s father, I have similar thoughts. He showed me love—true, Christian love. He was kind and intelligent. Perhaps with those I’ve lost, I can take the best parts of them and carry those things forward.

With my Grandpa, I have some great stories. He liked to drink and I can look back and laugh at his antic. The last few months of his life I had a special relationship with him. He called me, “My pastor”. I was comfort to a dying man. I also saw Grandpa put down the bottle as his best friend and grab hold of Jesus. I saw there was a kindness and compassion that alcohol had hidden. Those last few months there was an intimate bond that few share with another person.


I can look at those around me and see blessings. My mom has been a great strength to dad. I admire her character and steadfastness. I’ll have a chance to spend time with mom and dad over Thanksgiving. The antics of their two cats are also a blessing. Gizmo and Bootsy are true characters. I also have my brother. He’s one of the most hardworking and compassionate people I know. He’s also wired differently than anyone else I know, so he has an offbeat, ornery sense of humor that I love. Truly I have much to be thankful for this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The End of the Term

I just finished teaching another term. I don’t know how many times I heard the phrase, “I’m so glad this term is over.” To me this is shocking. It’s not shocking because I lack understanding. I feel the same way. What shocks me is that learning is a normal, natural process. So, why has the college system turned it into such a burden? Why have we created a system that leads to burnout?

As I step back and think about that question, my answer is the system is not primarily concerned about teaching or personal growth. The main point of the system is to teach someone to be an employee. But, if the system that’s training them to be an employee leads to caustic burnout, I have to wonder if the jobs we’re preparing people for are going to be jobs they love.

Another thing I have to question is the whole promise of education being a gateway to good jobs. Colleges provide few good jobs for their employees. If they don’t even supply their employees good jobs, can we expect them to help students find good jobs?


The sad part is that all this introspection will soon fade. Next week I will be eating turkey and won’t give my job a second thought. Soon the next term will roll around and the grind will continue. Some students and instructors will come and go, but the system will continue on—masticating people in its wake. It’s a broken system and I’ve lost hope it will change.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Term's End

I’m in week nine of a ten-week academic term. It’s this part of the term that really begins to drag. Students are tired. Faculty are tired. We’re there, but we’re not really there.

It’s now when pleas from failing students can arise. I’ve seen it happen. Someone doesn’t work the whole semester and all of a sudden they want to make up everything at the end. I’m now a seasoned teacher, so I no longer fall for the gambit. I enforce the late policies I established the first day.

While it may seem the worst students would be the most difficult, at this time of the term it’s often the best students. I’ve seen students with high A’s who are so tense and worried about their grade. They scratch and claw as if they are losing grip, when in reality they have nothing to worry about.

I think one of the things that has brought me success as a teacher is that I feel students. It’s like I have a sixth sense. Whatever mood they’re in—happy, sad, frustrated, exhausted or whatever—I feel it. At times the mood hangs in the air. There’s a palpable exhaustion and infuriation that wanders the halls. Unfortunately, it penetrates me. But, I’m the teacher and I have to be the one to supply energy and positivity. I know if I didn’t care, I’d be far less effective; yet, I also firmly believe if I didn’t care, the job would be far less stressful.

Lately teaching has become both more stressful and easier at the same time. It’s hard to explain, but I know I’m burnt out and I question how much good general education classes (which is what I primarily teach) do for students. Most students just do what is necessary to make it through. Without vibrant emotional engagement, little learning occurs. I also ponder how different academia is from the real world and also how incongruent it is with how we learn. In academia we package information, but that information can only be packaged after it has been slaughtered, dissected and sterilized. If the whole system is a flop, does the efforts of one instructor really make that much difference? And, if I don’t make that much difference, why put in the effort? This makes it more stressful, because it’s harder to keep my motivation up; but, it also makes it less stressful, because I’m not giving the same effort. In truth, I’ve grown burnt out.

It’s about this time in the semester that I’m really figuring out how to teach my students. Each student has a unique set of needs, wants, personality traits and learning styles. Each classroom is a unique mixture of individuals and develops it’s own personality and needs. It takes a while to figure out how to adapt what I know to their needs. But, these ten-week terms are too short. I’m just figuring them out when we’re entering the downward spiral of the final weeks. I somewhat envy those that teach elementary students. At least they have time to really develop the needed relationship with students. They actually have the chance to know their students. Of course, I also think this could be a real stressor. There are certain students I only want for ten weeks.


So, this is where I find myself this Monday morning. It’s probably the same place many teachers find themselves—questioning not just themselves, but also the system they exist within.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Needy and Needed

            Over the past year the neediness of humanity has confronted me: both the neediness of others and my own neediness. As individuals, we are weak. But, together we can be strong.
            My parents have been needy. Almost a year ago my dad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and had a large tumor removed from his left sinus cavity. My parents have needed me in myriad ways: as a chauffeur up to Cleveland, mowing their lawn, shoveling snow, as a listening ear, as a source of strength, fixing a broken toilet, encouraging dad through rehab, visiting him in the hospital and nursing home and countless other ways. My dad is now regaining his strength. It’s like he’s coming back from the dead.
            I have seen my parents in a new light. Certainly they have needed me, but yet I see how strong they are. My mom is a woman of highest integrity, a steady rock by my father’s side. Without her support, dad wouldn’t have made it. She’s been exactly what one would expect from a woman of highest integrity. She’s stood by her mate and I’ve gained a new appreciation for her.
            My dad is stronger than I ever imagined. He’s battled back from surgery, radiation and a rehabilitation stint in the nursing home. At one point he couldn’t even walk. Yet, he continues on.
            I’ve gained a new strength and vigor for life seeing my parents face this hardship. I needed them. I needed to see their strength. I’ve needed a new lease on life and their endurance has given me that.
            I am now taking steps to become a professional author. I have made some money, but not enough to turn it into a living. Up to this point, I’ve focused primarily on writing. How could I market before I even had product? Until I had gained a certain mastery of the art form, who would want to read my writing?
            Now, I’m connecting with others who are helping me push out to new boundaries. I’ve joined a writer’s group. They have been a wealth of knowledge and a huge encouragement. I need to be surrounded by positive people who are masters at the craft I’m endeavoring to learn. I’m been surprised by their helpfulness, positivity and how well they write. They keep raising the bar.

            I’m working on Internet promotion and have joined a marketing group. After one meeting, I can already see how helpful they will be. I never knew how generous people are. People genuinely want me to succeed. Maybe it’s the rugged individualism we’re taught in our culture—that we’re supposed to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That becomes hard when our arms are weary and our boots have sprung leaks. As a writer, I certainly embrace individuality. However, I also realize that the power for success comes from community. I have learned just how needy I am and just how needed I am. The former produces humility and the latter produces hope.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's Going on in My Life

            Over the past few months I’ve really gained focus in my life. I want to be a writer. I’m just not sure how to turn this into a career. I’ve been working with a writer’s group and recently met an online marketing group. One of the fascinating things is how much people are willing to help another to help reach their dreams.
            I recently finished a play entitled, I Hate My Job. I am working on a short story for Escape Pod. They accept submissions for science fiction short stories. It should be a challenge, but probably not as big a challenge as the horror story I wrote. It was a first person perspective of a serial killer. I’m not sure how much I’ll write in that genre. I just don’t want to become too in tune with that part of my personality. It’s a little scary.
            I currently made the decision to close down my blog for children. I never write for that blog, so what’s the point. I need to start narrowing my focus while at the same time broadening my network. I hope all my readers will come along for the ride.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Neophyte

            The Neophyte sat in the chair looking across the desk at the Bishop. The chair was well padded, but had one spring poking the Neophyte in the left buttock. The Neophyte didn’t give it a second thought, but the chair was trying his best to give him a warning. “Beware of the Bishop. He’ll bite you in the ass.”
            The Neophyte scanned the large, cedar desk. On one corner were a mouse, keyboard and monitor. On the other corner was a large Bible. It was nearly 6 inches thick and was covered in red leather. It sat upon a small pile of handwritten notes. The heft seemed the sole justification for the imposing pulpit sitting a few hundred yards away in the sanctuary.
            Behind the desk was shelving containing several thousand books. The books knew it was just a sham. The Bishop wasn’t a man of letters. When he did occasionally consume a book, it wasn’t for knowledge. He was merely analyzing its form for techniques to use to communicate his messages, which were more showmanship than substance.
            Behind the imposing desk sat the Bishop, rocking back and forth in his black leather chair. The Neophyte casually glanced at the Bishop’s stern face and gold glasses, but then his eyes were fixed for several seconds on the Bishop’s suit. The sheen of the fine silk glimmered in the light beaming through the office window. The light hit the Bishop’s ring—solid gold with diamonds surrounding a ruby.
            The ring emanated a rainbow. The Neophyte was beguiled by its gaze. He peered at the ring and the ring appeared to stare back.
            The Neophyte’s concentration was broken by the booming voice of the Bishop. “So, you’re the one.”
            “Um, . . . ah, I-I-I don’t know.” The Neophyte felt sure the tremors in his stomach were a moving of the Holy Spirit. After watching the Bishop for years from a distance, the Neophyte was sure every aspect of the Bishop’s ministry emanated from the Holy Spirit.
            The Bishop sat up in his chair and proclaimed in a slightly louder voice, “So, you’re the one.”
            “I’m, . . . n-not sure what you mean by that.”
            “The Elders have told me about you. You’re quite a charismatic young men.”
            “Well, thanks.”
            “Yes, yes. You have the look. You have the voice. You have the strut. You have what it takes to increase my ministry.”
            The Neophyte wasn’t sure what to say. He sat frozen.
            “Do you know what I’m offering you?”
            “I’m not sure.”
            “You’ll be my anointed. You’ll help to shepherd the flock. With you in my stable, we will build the fold—bigger and grander. You’ll be my right hand man.”
            The Neophyte wasn’t sure what to say. He stared at the Bishop.
            The Bishop stared back. “Are you in?”
            “Huh? I’m, . . . um, . . .”
            “Take a breath young man and listen.” The Bishop stared him in the eyes. “I’m offering you the role of being my right hand man. Are you in?”
            “I, I, I guess so.”
            “No guessing. I need a firm commitment. Are you in?”
            The Neophyte sat up in his chair. The chair tried its best to give one last warning, digging deep into his backside. By this time the Neophyte was too beguiled to even notice. He stiffened his spine, looked the Bishop straight in the eyes and forcefully said, “Yes!”
            “Good, good. Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you a secret.”
            The Neophyte felt God’s hand must be moving. “A secret from the Bishop”, he thought. “It must be a message from God.”
            “I want you to listen closely. Everything you see, I mean everything, is an illusion. My preaching, my ministry, the miracles are all an illusion.”
            The Neophyte was stunned. He sat listening in silence.
            “It’s all about control and power. It’s made me a wealthy man.”
            “I, I-I’m, . . . not sure.”
            The Bishop reached his burly paw across the desk and grabbed the Neophyte by the collar. “You tell this secret and you’ll be ostracized. If I disown you, your family and friends will disown you. You will be all alone—no connection, no help and no guidance in this world.”
            The Neophyte grimaced as the Bishop’s paw tightened his collar. The Bishop let go and sat back in his chair. The two stared at each other for several minutes, like two prizefighters measuring up their opponent.
            The Bishop broke the silence. “I know what you’re thinking. How could this all be a lie? Well, it’s not a lie. It’s a reality that I’ve created. There’s nothing like power, son. Nothing!”
            The Neophyte was again beguiled by the Bishop’s ring.
            “That’s twenty-four karat. And, the ruby is real. Feel it.” The Bishop took off the ring and handed it to the Neophyte.
            The Neophyte was shocked by the heft of the ring. The ring glimmered—a prize to be had, an object to be coveted.
            The Bishop chuckled. “Oh, there’s more. There’s so much more to power than just things. Power is erotic.”
            The Neophyte sat in silent contemplation.
            The Bishop leaned back in his chair. He cocked his head and peered quizzically at the Neophyte for several minutes. He was measuring him up.
            The Neophyte was bewildered. “Could this all be a lie?” he thought to himself. “I couldn’t be that easily deceived.”
            The Bishop broke the silence. “I know what you’re thinking. I couldn’t possibly be that deceived!”
            The Neophyte was shocked and a little scared. Could the Bishop read his mind? He continued to sit there, motionless and in utter silence.
            The Bishop again broke the silence. “That’s the secret of control. Yes, yes. The secret is people won’t admit they’re deceived.”
            That last statement was so shocking, it broke the Neophyte’s silent contemplation. He had to engage the Bishop at this point. Curiosity was pushing him to find his voice. “No? How can that be?”
            The Bishop chuckled. “Son, you need to understand human nature if you want to control them. It’s really quite simple. People are prideful. And, people are self-serving slackers. But, people don’t want to admit to those things. So, it allows one to control others. You just have to learn a few techniques.”
            The Neophyte forcefully responded. “So, you’re just, . . . a performer!”
            “Well, that’s one way to look at it. Let me just begin with the statement that people won’t admit they’re wrong. What’s at the root of that?”
            “Um, . . Pride? Pride is the root of that.”
            “Right. And, what does the Bible say about pride?”
            “Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
            “Exactly. And, what do they fall for?”
            “Well, I don’t know.”
            “I’ll give you a hint. You’re holding it.”
            The Neophyte had completely forgotten the ring in his hand. He held up the ring and looked at it. The ring, in the most beguiling way, looked back at him chuckling.
            “It’s all about the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”
            The Neophyte was confused. “But, all those things are in the Bible.”
            The Bishop peered at him for a few seconds. “Yes, it’s all in the Bible. Why does that surprise you?”
            “Aren’t we supposed to use the Bible for good? To help people? It’s not a manual about how to manipulate others!”
            “Well, it depends on your perspective, now doesn’t it? There are all kinds of commands for people to do good. And, you can use that to control people as well.”
            “That’s not my point. The Bible isn’t about controlling others. It’s about loving our neighbors.”
            The Bishop stared the Neophyte in the eyes for a few moments. It was the beguiling gaze of a serpent before it delivers its deathblow. “You don’t understand young man. The Bible is both. It can be used either way. It can be used to serve others. There are many that do that. Just look at all the small churches in the area. Lesser men with lesser ministries may use it that way. But, the Bible teaches us about human nature. And, when you understand the nature of man, you can control him. You can harness him, just like a farmer harnesses a mule. Or, a jockey harnesses a horse. Or, a butcher leads cattle to slaughter. You can turn him left or right. And, you can do it all for your own glory.”
            “But, that’s not right!”
            “Put on the ring!”
            The Neophyte stared back at the Bishop incredulously.
            The Bishop rose, slamming both hands forcefully on his desk and uttered in a shattering voice, “PUT ON THE RING!”
            The Neophyte put on the ring and stared at it. The ring gleamed back, smiling like a beguiling serpent. The cool metal caressed his skin. The heft spoke of power. The Neophyte was intoxicated.
            “You may keep the ring.”
            The Neophyte was taken by surprise. “Oh, no, . . . I-I-I couldn’t possibly . . .”
            “Keep the ring!” The Bishop sat back down and watched the Neophyte stare at the ring. “Can you see why I call power erotic?”
            “This is a nice ring!”
            “Now, see that picture on my wall?” The Bishop pointed at a picture of the Politician.
            “Yeah, I see it. What about it?”
            “Do you know who that is?”
            “Well, sure, that’s the Politician.”
            “What do you think of his policies?”
            “Well, I don’t know. Good and bad I guess?”
            “Good and bad.” The Bishop chuckled. “Okay, are you happy about the war the Politician started.”
            “Well, no, not really. It all seems to be about oil and power.”
            “Are you happy the Politician gave all that money to the banks.”
            “Well, no. I mean, we really needed that money and he gave it to the rich.”
            “Are you happy about the scandal?”
            The Neophyte was a little confused. “Which one?”
            “How about the one where he gave arms to the Terrorist.”
            “Well, no. Those people want to kill us.”
            “How about the one where the Corporate Head poured toxins in the river?”
            “Well, no. People drink that water.”
            “What about the one where they lost all those files on the government computers?”
            “Well, no. That was a huge security breach.”
            “So, what has he done that you’ve liked?”
            The Neophyte sat silent for several seconds. He then boldly proclaimed, “Yeah, but he’s still better than the other guy!”
            The Bishop laughed maniacally.
            “What’s so funny?”
            “You voted for the Politicians, didn’t you?”
            “Of course I did. We all voted for the Politician.”
            “So, why did you vote for him?”
            “I told you. He was better than the other guy?”
            “Why?”
            “Why? I don’t know. The other guy was an idiot.”
            “See, see, here’s my point. The Politician has done nothing but evil. Yet, you still defend him. Why don’t you just admit you were duped?”
            “I wasn’t duped!”
            “You weren’t?”
            “No!”
            “And that, my young friend, is a huge part of controlling people. You won’t admit you were duped. You were, but you won’t admit it. You’re too prideful.” The Bishop rocked back and forth in his chair for several seconds and smiled at the Neophyte. “So, how did he dupe you?”
            “I wasn’t duped!”
            “Okay, okay. You weren’t duped. So, how did he dupe all those other people?”
            “Well, he told lies.”
            “Okay, he told lies. But, what kind of lies?”
            “I’m not sure what you’re getting at. What do you mean what kind of lies?”
            “What exact lies did the Politicians tell?”
            “Well, he promised us jobs.”
            “Okay.”
            “And, he promised us wealth.”
            “Good, good. What else did he promise?”
            “Healthcare. And, um, . . . a return to national pride?”
            “Anything else?”
            “Safety from our enemies.”
            “Anything else?”
            “I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can remember right now.”
            “Okay, think about that list: jobs, wealth, health, national pride and safety. Does that sound a lot like the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life?”
            “I guess so. What are you getting at?”
            “He told lies, but not just any lies. He told the lies everyone wanted to hear. That’s where the self-serving part comes in. Promise people what they want and you’ll hook them. You don’t have to hook them for long. So many people out there are just like you. They won’t admit they were duped, but they were. And, the only real commitment they made to the Politician was one or two votes. Just a few seconds in a voter’s both and that commitment is enough to make them defend the man.”
            “That can’t be true!”
            “Oh, it is. Get people to believe a lie they already want to believe in. Once they make the smallest of commitments, their pride stops them from admitting they were duped. Pride and self-centeredness work in tandem. You work one side, you’ll fail. But, when you work them both you can lead people around by the nose. That’s what the Politician did.”
            “This all seems so unreal.”
            “Yes, but there’s another part to it.”
            “So, it is more complex.”
            “Well, yes and no. This next part really isn’t all that complex. Remember what I told you about people?”
            “Um, . . . which part?”
            “Well, they aren’t just self-serving, but they are self-serving . . . ?”
            “They’re self-serving slackers.”
            “Right. People are slackers. They’re lazy. They don’t want to be responsible for their own actions. They want the easy way out.”
            “What’s that got to do with power?”
            “People hand over the reins?”
            “I’m not sure I get you. Hand over the reins?”
            “Okay, let’s say we were to drive across the entire country—from New York to Los Angeles.”
            “That’s a long drive.”
            The Bishop chuckled. “Sure is. So, if you had the choice between doing the driving or kicking back as a passenger, which would you choose?”
            “I suppose I’d be a passenger. That driving is a lotta work.”
            “Right. There you have it.”
            “Have what?”
            “Driving is a lotta work.”
            “What? I’m not following. How does this apply to controlling people?”
            “People don’t want to be behind the wheel. They want someone else to do the driving.”
            “You mean, they hand over control of their lives, because being in charge is too much work?”
            The Bishop glimmered at the Neophyte. “Now, you got it.”
            “So, wait, it’s all about manipulating pride, self-centeredness and laziness.”
            “Those three are the trinity of control. And, here’s another dirty little secret.”
            The Neophyte leaned in close to hear.
            The Bishop whispered. “Deep down, people know they are being prideful. They know they are being self-serving. They know they are lazy. And, all those things make them feel guilt. And, guilty people are far easier to neuter.”
            The Neophyte sat in silent contemplation.
            The Bishop gave him several minutes to let the truth sink in. “Okay, here’s the biggest lie.” The Bishop took a long pause.
            The Neophyte held his breathe, waiting to here this.
            “I’m the biggest lie.”
            “What?”
            “I’m the biggest lie.”
            “Huh?”
            “You like that ring, don’t you.”
            The Neophyte stared at the beguiling serpent caressing his finger. “Yes!”
            “People look at me and they see the ring. They see the suit. They see the Mercedes. They see my lovely wife. Hell, that damn woman doesn’t even love me, but she’s a great piece of eye candy. And, they want what I got. It’s as simple as that. I can take what they have, because they want what I got. I control them through this lie I’ve created.”
            The Neophyte continued to stare at the beguiling serpent.
            “Do you know what that ring is worth?”
            “Um, . . . ah, . . . I have no idea.”
            “Easily fifty or sixty grand.”
            “Whoa!”
            “Now, young man, you have a choice to make. We’ll meet again in a week—same time, same office. If you take my offer, the ring is your. You can sell it, pawn it, wear it, it’s yours to do with whatever you want. That ring is a new car. That ring is a beautiful woman. That ring is fine clothes. That ring can be yours. Or, in a week you can reject my offer and return the ring.”
            “Wait, so if I keep the ring then I’ll be your assistant.”
            “Not just assistant. You’ll be my anointed. You’ll share in all my wealth, all my power, all my influence. Everything the world has to offer will be yours.”
            “And, if I give back the ring I reject your offer.”
            “That’s right. If you reject the ring, you may be that do-gooder you see in the Bible. You can serve your fellow man. You can make the world a better place. You can feed the hungry and clothe the homeless. That’s the choice the Bible leaves you with. You can either serve God and your fellow man; or, you can use it as a tool to control others. You have a week to decide.”
            The Neophyte continued to stare at the beguiling serpent. He felt the Bishop’s large paw grasping his elbow and lifting him from his seat. He is escorted towards the door.
            As the door closed, the Bishop’s booming voice is heard. “One week. You decide.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why the Church is Declining

            The question isn’t if the church is in decline, but why? In order for the church to thrive, it will need to go through a radical transformation. In so doing, it won’t become something new. It will become something old—something that more resembles the first century church. I see three areas that will require transformation: 1) The church needs to move from a monologue approach to a discipleship approach. 2) The church needs to move away from its focus on buildings. 3) The church needs to reconnect to Israel.
            Realize when I am talking about church, I am not talking about a building. I am not talking about a weekly meeting. I am not talking about any program or organizational structure. By church, I am talking about all true believers in Jesus Christ. While there are local expressions of this larger body, a change in a few local expressions won’t revive the church. The church as a whole must change its course.

MONOLOGUE VERSUS DISCIPLESHIP

            Go to any church and what is the focus? For the most part it’s some weekly service that revolves around a sermon. And, what is a sermon? It’s nothing more than a lecture. So, most local churches center their life around a weekly lecture.
            Is this Scriptural? Those that support this model will bring up all kinds of Scriptural references about preaching and teaching the Word. An in-depth study of those passages (particularly if one looks at the original languages) forces one to come to some conclusions. 1) God considers teaching and preaching of primary importance. So, we must take it seriously. 2) Preaching has the idea of proclaiming the truth. 3) Teaching has the idea of discipleship—a mentoring, hands-on type approach. 4) These commands apply to all believers, not just to a specialized class of clergy.
            Taking teaching and preaching seriously, let’s look at how it should be done. We must conclude the best teacher and preacher was Jesus. Read the gospels and you will find that his go-to method was a discipleship approach. Much of his teaching was done in dialogue. So, he didn’t just talk while people passively sat. He was talking with people—reacting, responding and leading the dialogue. He was also extremely hands-on. He chose twelve and poured his life into them. There was little sermonizing. His style was relational as opposed to stage oriented.
            So, a discipleship style of preaching involves dialogue and hands-on within the context of relationship. This also agrees with what the Bible shares about teaching—where parents teach their children, elders teach less mature believers and how the apostles nurtured the early church. It’s pretty simple—A Biblical model of teaching and preaching isn’t monologue; it’s discipleship—dialogue and hands-on within relationship. This isn’t what I’ve seen in any local congregation I’ve been in—at least not as a primary focus.
            Now, I know someone will be thinking, “Yes, he has a point. But, why not do both? Why not have our weekly worship service and sermon; and, supplement it with dialogue and hands-on?” It’s pretty simple why not. You can’t serve two masters. One will win out. I’ve been in some groups at various congregations that have some wonderful dialogue and hands-on training. But, as long as they have a weekly sermon and worship service, the bulk of the energy goes there. Which means the bulk of the energy goes to a teaching and preaching style that isn’t Biblical.
            There’s only one way to cut this—as long as people are spending time preparing sermons and working on the Big Show, they aren’t spending time in the true task of discipleship. The church has taken on a Big Show, monologue model—a model that has proven its shortcomings in our secular education systems. That model must be abandoned and replaced with a Biblical model. That will completely change how everything is done with church.

FOCUS ON BUILDINGS

            The early church met from house to house. This is pretty clear if one reads the book of Acts. However, today most local congregations meet in some building. Why? Just imagine the current Big Show model of church working in a house. There wouldn’t be enough seats. A large auditorium is required. Ninety-plus percent of the time that large auditorium sits idle, but it still must be maintained throughout the week. And, the only reason for that huge auditorium is to support the Big Show model, which isn’t Scriptural to begin with! We’re spending huge money for something that isn’t even helping us fulfill our mission.
            The message of the gospel isn’t inward (how we meet our needs), but outward—loving the Lord and helping our neighbor. It involves things like feeding the poor, visiting those in prison, helping the widow, caring for children and the like. If one buys, builds or leases a building for those purposes, then one could make a Scriptural case. There’s nothing wrong with having and using resources, but those resources must be focused on our purpose. In all honesty, most of our focus on buildings is so we can have a big Christian country club—a place for us to meet, greet and have a little dose of Christian entertainment. This falls way short of the gospel mandate!
            For the sake of argument, let’s consider the church from a business perspective. In the business world everything has a benefit and a cost. The cost-benefit ratio determines whether something is even worth the effort. What would an accountant say about resources with great cost, but they’re only used a small percentage of the time? Such a resource would quickly be liquidated to free up money for more useful endeavors. Who is a local congregation serving when they have a big mortgage? Scripture proclaims that the borrower is servant to the lender. So, a church with a mortgage is serving the bank? What if the building is paid for, but under-utilized? Then, they are serving the utility company, the insurance company and those congregants that have an I-want-the-feeling-of-ownership mentality.
            I don’t believe having a building, a piece of land or resources is always wrong. But, the true mission of the church (which focuses on helping others) is already resource intensive. Let’s not waste resources on unnecessary overhead. Debt, building maintenance and bills can be severe hindrances and too many local congregations are overwhelmed or under-utilized because of them.

RECONNECTION TO ISRAEL

            I must be honest. There have been times I have doubted God. It seems at times he hasn’t been active in my life. At times I’ve wanted some sort of sign. I’ve wanted to touch the wonderment of the spiritual, but I’m stuck in the day-in, day-out mundane things of life. I’m stuck in a world of bills, problems at work, illness, family issues and God doesn’t seem to hear my cries.
            Recently I’ve been struggling at work. My workplace is a place of turmoil and I’m looking to move on to better things. But, no job has opened—after sending out hundreds of resumes over years of time. It seems I’ve held up my end of the bargain, but God has not upheld his!
            Recently my uncle died and my dad has been going through treatment for cancer. This past winter, my parents needed me. Since my job was close to them and I was only working part-time, I’ve had the time to give them the help they’ve needed. As I look at the situation, God didn’t answer my prayers. It wasn’t because he didn’t care. It was because he saw the whole picture. It wasn’t all about me, but he was caring for others as well. If one could only see the big picture, I think one would better understand God and those moments where he seems silent.
            The big picture involves a battle between good and evil. A huge part of that battle centers around the land of Israel and the Jewish people. As one studies Scripture, this is quite apparent. As I watch the news, I am seeing prophecy unfold before my eyes. I am seeing the same spiritual battles unfold that I see throughout the Old Testament. Even when God seems silent in my life, Israel is a blaring example that God is true. What happened back in ancient times is happening today. What the prophets spoke of is coming to pass.
            Certainly the miracle of the rebirth of Israel has spiritual roots. But, at times, it’s hard to see the spiritual. It’s not hard to see a piece of land, a group of people, battles and politics. The mind can grasp that piece of dirt known as the Promised Land. It’s earthy, but at the same time is a physical representation of the spiritual.
            How many churches focus primarily on the New Testament? How many operate with a focus on the Christian life, but overlook a focus on the land, people and blessings that began with Abram and continue to this day? How many have any kind of missions outreach to Israel?
            Israel gives us a focus on the big picture. Israel makes the Bible alive—it’s not just ancient stories, but it’s prophecy unfolding before our eyes. Israel gives us the earthy to ground the spiritual. As the Apostle Paul proclaims in Hebrews 11, we are wild olive branches grafted into what God started with Israel. If we don’t consider Israel, at times our faith seems unsubstantiated. When we consider Israel, our faith is grounded in something tangible.

WHO’S NOT THERE?

            As I consider these three points of transformation, I have to think about those who aren’t in church. Walk into the local church and look around. You’ll see a bunch of women—far more than men. You’ll see a huge gap between high school and middle age. Likely you’ll see a lot of grey hair. I’m not opposed to women, children and the elderly. But, can you build something vibrant without young people and without men?
            So, why don’t young people go to church? I’ve spent over a decade teaching college. I have some insight into young people. First, young people hate lecture. They want their voices to be heard. They want to have input. They long for relationships. I fully believe if they are given a genuine, Christian experience where discipleship is vibrant, they’ll be attracted to it. They see right through to the core of the Big Show approach and they don’t want it. They’ve already been fed that diet in our education system and they find it repugnant. Only a genuine return to first-century principles will work.
            So, why don’t men go to church? Quite frankly, men find passivity boring. They don’t want to sit in a pew and watch some guy talk. They want to do something and feel like they’ve accomplished something. You give them an action guy like Jesus, who proclaims, “Come and follow me” and they’ll follow him. You give them a sermon and a song and they’ll walk out the door.
            The first century church had danger and a mission. The warrior inside a man says, “Yes! I’m up to a challenge!” The modern church gives them a lecture and a group hug.

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

            Where is the church in a decade or two if we don’t attract young people? Quite simply, we’re dead. How do we attract those young people? We must go through a radical transformation and return to our roots.
            Where are churches unless they attract more men? Men are the warriors and visionaries. I’m not saying women can’t have those qualities, but men have those qualities in abundance. When men have a mission things get done. Lives are changed. The world is transformed. The church needs both the strengths of men and women to survive. Right now, it’s lacking the masculine.
            The church is currently on the edge of a cliff and the enemy is looking to push us over. We need to change our ways and do it quickly.