Ask Me Anything

If you are a user of Reddit then you are familiar with the Ask Me Anything event.

I have plenty of ideas floating around in my head waiting to escape and scream into the light, but it occurs to me that not all my crazy eclectic ideas may be interesting to you.

In an effort to address that unlikely possibility, i’m asking each of you to give me one or two (or three) things you’d like me to post about in coming weeks/months.  Just write a comment to this post so everyone else can see your ideas. Ask Me Anything!

Each idea begets more ideas.  My areas of interest include (but are not limited to) books, music, tech stuff (including computers and software, but NOT phones), Christianity, the Bible, politics, movies, TV Shows, and science fiction.

Ask away!

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What Does “Christian” Mean in Our Society

The post below is from May of 2014 by Ed Stetzer at edstetzer.com i am copying it in its entirety because it ties in directly with the post i made last week Can Music, Art or Books be “Christian”  This post reinforces the idea that the adjective “Christian”, because of its cultural and nominal use has lost much of its meaning.  It then goes on to draw inferences about what this means for the future.  Ed Stetzer’s blog begins below.


 

What trends must we consider when it comes to the state of the church in America?

Despite what many think, the church in America is not dying (and no serious researcher thinks that). However, there are some challenges and changes to be considered.

Here are four trends that are already evident, but will become even more important in days to come.

1. The Word “Christian” Will Become Less Used and More Clear.

There are three broad categories that make up the approximately 75 percent of Americans who refer to themselves as Christians. I wrote about this earlier in The State of the Church In America: Hint: It’s Not Dying, but it is worth keeping in our minds moving forward. The fact is that not everyone who uses the word “Christian” is using it the same way.

Cultural Christians, about 25% of the U.S. population, are simply those who, when asked, say they are a Christian rather than say they are an atheist or Jewish. They are “Christian” for no other reason than they are from America and don’t consider themselves something else.

The second type is what I call a congregational Christian. They account for another close to 25% of the population. This person generally does not really have a deep commitment, but they will consider refer to themselves as Christians because the have some loose connection to a church—through a family member, maybe an infant baptism, or some holiday attendance.

Convictional Christians, also about 25% of the population, are those people who self-identify as Christian who orient their life around their faith in Christ. This includes a wide range of what Christian is—not just evangelicals, for example. It means someone says they are a Christian and it is meaningful to them.

So, what’s the trend?

Well, first, the trend is that less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously. In other words, cultural and congregational Christians, or the “squishy middle,” is collapsing while convictional Christians are staying relatively steady.

In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean—and will be used—less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.

2. The Nominals Will Increasingly become Nones.

Basically, type one (cultural) and two (congregational) are what we would generally call nominal Christians. Nominal comes from the Latin, meaning “name” or “name only.” A growing number of people are name only Christians. They claim “Christianity” for survey reasons, but rarely attend church or give any consistent consideration to their faith identification.

They’re simply calling themselves Christians because that’s who they consider themselves to be, not because of any life change or ongoing commitment. Those types of Christians, about half of the population now, will become a minority in a few decades.

It is fair to say we are now experiencing a collapse of nominalism. Many of these who have been labeling themselves as Christians are starting to feel free to be honest about their religious affiliation, or lack thereof. The “Nones,” those who give say they have no religious preference, could potentially represent as many as half of the population in the next 20 to 30 years—it’s already over 30% among college students (with a third of college students still being religious).

As I explained in Christianity Today, the nominal Christians in the squishy middle (cultural and congregational Christians) are becoming those who now answer “none of the above” on religious surveys. In other words, the “nominals are becoming the nones.”

As the Nones rise in their number, Christian influence on culture will begin to wane. The minority of Christians in a culture will begin to feel even more like a minority when more nominals become Nones. As people no longer claim to be Christians, Christianity will be further marginalized, which should change the way we think about engaging culture.

3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics.

The next 20 years are going to be a challenge for convictional Christians and churches in many places. We will be engaging in cultural conversations often as the minority we truly are. Those who aggressively fight this as a culture war will find it hard to reach people. Instead of being seen as those who are seeking to engage and serve people in the culture, Christians will be seen as an enemy. That’s not to say there are not important causes to engage—there are—but how we engage is almost as important as that we engage.

In biblical terms, we may experience what it means to be salt and light in the midst of an adversarial culture.

In response, we should look to two groups of people from the Bible, which I profiled in Creating an Assessment Culture By Being of Berea and Issachar. We must hold the Word of God in high authority as the Berean Christians did in Acts 17:11. Christians must become seriously committed to Scripture and the Gospel in every aspect of our lives. We should also wisely discern the present culture and strategize how to best glorify God. “From the Issacharites, who understand the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

I desire for the church and Christians to be examining the Scriptures daily to know the Word of God and also to know the times, the context, and the Spirit’s wisdom to address the culture with the Good News.

As I see it, some Christians will go down fighting. Other Christians, will go on loving. But either way, convictional Christians will increasingly see they are not the moral majority and will advocate less for the legislation or traditional values and be more focused on protecting religious liberty.

There are ways to stand for the good, advocate for cultural realities that engender human flourishing, and do so in a loving way. That’s the future convictional Christians need.

4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism.

It is beginning to cost something to be a Christian in America—not as much as in many places in the world or in much of history, but more than it used to. And, as living for Christ costs more in our culture, it will mean more in our context.

Churches that are preaching the Gospel and are focusing on biblical truths are going to become more clearly distinct from the culture around them. The end result? Robust Christian communities are going to get stronger.

These Gospel-preaching churches will have members who are more, not less, committed and these committed churches will have less nominal Christians in the years to come. Christianity will become more of a minority in culture, but more refined, more biblical, and more missional churches will be the result.

Where from Here?

The lasting effects of these shifts will force churches to make a critical decision. They will either become a cultural church that allows the societal trends to dictate their ever-changing beliefs. Or they will become a counter-cultural church that faithfully adheres to Scripture and proclaims the gospel in a carefully considered way. The latter church will offer real hope in the midst of an adversarial culture and is the only real future for the American church.

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CSNY 1974 Live

Music is a huge part of my life.  It brings me great joy, peace, fun, relaxation and of course entertainment.

I bought some music last year.  We won’t talk about how much, ok?  But i can say that this is easily the favorite musical thing I bought.

CSNY 1974

CSNY 1974If you are of a similar age to me, I don’t need to regale you with the awesomeness of Crosby Stills Nash & Young.  They are an ingrained part of our high school and college years.

You get three distinct things with CSNY:  beautiful harmony, moving acoustic music, powerful electric rock.  It’s the reason they had such a huge following.

While this live tour from 1974 was recorded at the time, it was never released until last summer, its 50th anniversary.  The reasons are several:  There were actually hundreds of hours of live recordings to go through in order to select the best takes of each song, there are 4 guys who are notorious for their inability to cooperate in the non-performance aspects of their musical careers, and lastly, there is Neil Young, who has a rather intense and inflexible commitment to releasing music in only the highest quality possible.  Well, those things finally got worked out enough to result in this wondrous compilation of songs from their 1974 live tour, when CSNY was at their peak of both popularity and ability.

Let me say, that while i wish this had been released years ago, the final version has been worth waiting for.  There are 3 CDs and a DVD in this set.  The selection of material is outstanding and the sound quality is in fact incredible.

For fellow members of Oneida High School Class of ’73, regretfully, Carry On is not in this collection.  It was the opinion of CSNY that none of the live versions that were recorded that summer were good enough to appear here.  We’re stuck with the excellent version which is on their Deja Vu album, which is fine by me.  I love that song!

If you just want to kick back and relive some memories, this is for you. If you just want to enjoy some great music, this is for you.  If you want to see what your parents (or grandparents) believe good music was back in the day, then this is definitely for you.  You can click on the title above the picture or the picture itself if you want to go directly to Amazon and listen to some previews of this great music.

Disc: 1
1. Love The One You’re With
2. Wooden Ships
3. Immigration Man
4. Helpless
5. Carry Me
6. Johnny’s Garden
7. Traces
8. Grave Concern
9. On The Beach
10. Black Queen
11. Almost Cut My Hair
Disc: 2
1. Change Partners
2. The Lee Shore
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
4. Our House
5. Fieldworker
6. Guinevere
7. Time After Time
8. Prison Song
9. Long May You Run
10. Goodbye Dick
11. Mellow My Mind
12. Old Man
13. Word Game
14. Myth Of Sisyphus
15. Blackbird
16. Love Art Blues
17. Hawaiian Sunrise
18. Teach Your Children
19. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Disc: 3
1. Déjà Vu
2. My Angel
3. Pre – Road Downs
4. Don’t Be Denied
5. Revolution Blues
6. Military Madness
7. Long Time Gone
8. Pushed It Over The End
9. Chicago
10. Ohio
DVD
1. DVD: Only Love Can Break Your Heart
2. DVD: Almost Cut My HaiR
3. DVD: Grave Concern
4. DVD: Old Man
5. DVD: Johnny’s Garden
6. DVD: Our House
7. DVD: Déjà Vu
8. DVD: Pushed It Over The End
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Watches

You can’t read anything on the internet or view a TV show without being continously assaulted by advertisements, reviews, comments and hype about the Apple Watch which officially enters the world of reality today.

I have no interest in the Apple Watch, but not because i think it isn’t an interesting or intriguing product.  I don’t like watches.  Any watches. Smart watches. Dumb watches.  Beautiful watches.  Collectible watches. I haven’t worn a watch in more than 20 years.

You see, i have a touch of OCD.  Not the overwhelming kind, but the slightly inconvenient kind.  I tend to count things.  I have a fear of germs.  I like things straight and organized.  I do things in preset orders, in patterns.  I like the volume control to always be on an even number or a multiple of 5.  I can’t stop listening to a song in the middle. It has to finish.  Just little things.  Lots of little things.  Time became an element of the ‘obsessive’ part of obsessive compulsive disorder for me more than 20 years ago.  I found myself glancing at my watch a lot. Not every 5 or 10 minutes a lot, but every 30 or 60 seconds a lot.  My solution was to stop wearing a watch.

Now, if you see the problem i have with a regular watch, can you imagine what would happen with a smart watch?  More things to obsess over.  That’s the reason i don’t have a smart phone, just a regular tracphone for making calls, and i don’t usually carry it around with me. I do have my iPad but i’ve turned off the alert tone that dings every time i get a text or a notification.  This way, i can use my iPad without it become obsessive.

This, however, creates a bit of a conflict.  You see, i like techy stuff.  I want to have an Apple watch, but i know what would happen.  So, i’m not in the market for a smart watch of any flavor.

However, if any of you get an Apple Watch, please comment to this post with how you like it and what you are doing  with it.  Since i can’t wear a watch, i can live vicariously and get my tech/geek jollies by hearing about your experiences.

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Can Music, Art or Books be “Christian”

Formulating my thoughts on this topic in a coherent way has been a struggle.  My gut tells me the answer to the above question is NO. However, explaining what i mean by that and why the answer is no is a very complex thing.  I asserted my position on this in a Facebook post back in October of 2014.  A friend challenged me to explain and i promised him an answer.  I’ve been putting this off for 6 months because i am fully aware that many will not understand what i am trying to say, and i am struggling with a way to explain this in a way my friends will tolerate and understand.

Here Goes!

Christian is an adjective that literally means like Christ.  It was originally used by non-believers as a way to describe those who were believers in Christ in the city of Antioch in Syria in the first century.  It described the lifestyle of these followers of Christ in that they appeared to those in Antioch to be people who based their lives on the teachings of Jesus and who believed that Jesus was God’s Son come in the flesh and who lived and then died for them and was resurrected.  It was not necessarily a compliment.

Over the centuries, people have begun to use this adjective as a way to describe not just people, but other things.  Christian is now a term used to describe a religion, buildings, books, music, art, nations and individuals.  The more broadly this adjective is used, the less exact its meaning becomes.

The primary issue which is at the heart of my objection to calling a piece of music, a book or a work of art “Christian” is the lack of an adequate definition of what that means.  The secondary issue i have is the concept that “christian” art, music or literature is somehow better, or more to be preferred than those same things without the adjective “Christian”.

Time to Elaborate

What does the adjective “Christian” mean?  How is it defined?  I fear it is somewhat akin to pornography in that it is vaguely described by “i know it when i see it”.  If it simply meant that the artist/author/composer was a Christian, a follower of Christ, then i could get on board, but many who are Christians in fact produce what can best be described as secular works.  For example, John Grisham, a self-described believer, writes some excellent books, but it would be a stretch to label them with the “Christian” adjective.  The same can be said for musicians and artists. Da Vinci painted the Last Supper, but he also painted the Mona Lisa.  If a Christian artist/composer/author can produce non-Christian works, then what makes a work Christian?

Can a non-Christian write/compose/create a “Christian work?  If you say no, then we have a conundrum.  We must then find out and evaluate the personal beliefs of every author/artist/composer/musician so that we can determine whether they truly are followers of Christ before we can safely label their work as “Christian”.

If a work can be considered as “Christian” without regard to the personal beliefs of the creator of the work, then we must conclude that the work is Christian not because of its creator but because of the work itself.  What then makes a work “Christian”?  Must it mention Jesus? Must it mention the Gospel?  Must it quote scripture?  Is it enough that the work seems to have a Christian worldview, without ever being specifically or overtly scriptural or Biblical?  Most would say the later, but you can see the nebulous territory this can lead us into.  We have moved toward a place where we are defining something as “Christian” essentially on the basis of it being inoffensive to Christian beliefs.  We are defining it not by what it says or does, but by what it does not say or do.  It’s the philosophy of many believers who, after becoming Christians, gradually eliminate from their lives things they consider non-Christian.  People who are not believers.  Music that isn’t played on the local Christian radio station.  Books not sold in a Christian bookstore. R-rated movies, etc. etc.  These people transform their entire world into one insulated from things which they perceive as being not “Christian”. However, there is great subjectivity in this approach.  It is an approach of ‘not’ and an approach of isolation, an approach of separation.  And most importantly, it is an approach absent from the Bible. We’ll come back to this at the conclusion.

The second issue:  is “Christian” art/music/writing better than that which is not “Christian”.  I will answer this unequivocally and adamantly, NO!  Merely creating a work that speaks about Jesus or the Gospel or quotes scripture or has a Christian worldview, does not make it of good quality.  I can personally testify to some “Christian” music, writing and art that is pure schlock.  Work which would never have an audience of any kind if it did not bear the label “Christian”.  Being a Christian does not necessarily gift you with abilities or skills in creating art, music or writing.  Not being a Christian does not mean that you have no skills or abilities as an artist, author or musician/composer.

Conclusion

Fortunately, for those of us who are Christians, there is a solid and Biblical answer to the issue i have raised.

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

This is the Biblical instruction we have.  Stop trying to label things as “Christian”!  Instead, look for literature, art and music which are true, honorable, just, pure. lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. Think on those things.  Listen to that music.  Read those books.  Look at that art.  Yes, those terms are subjective, but then we are not creating a label for them as approved, we are asking that each of us be intentional, deliberate and astute in choosing what to expose ourselves to. This means that there are some non-Christian things you could/should be reading or listening to or looking at, and also some “Christian” things which you should not be watching, listening to or looking at.

I look forward to your comments.

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