Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Our Shelves, Not In Our Hearts

While I haven’t read The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, written by Timothy Beal, and can’t give a recommendation one way or the other, I found the following quote to be fodder for thought.

"According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78 percent of all Americans say that the Bible is the 'word of God,' and almost half of those believe that, as such, 'it is to be taken literally, word for word.' Polling data from the Barna Group indicate that nearly half of all Americans agree that 'the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings' (88 percent of all 'born-again' Christians believe the same), and the Gallup Poll finds that 65 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible 'answers all or most of the basic questions of life.' These statements are shorthand descriptions of the idea of the Bible as God's magnum opus, the first and last word on who God is, who we are, why we're here, and where we go after this.

"Yet ... recent polls and surveys offer these biblical revelations:

"Less than half of all adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis) or the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

"More than 80 percent of born-again or evangelical Christians believe that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a Bible verse. [It’s not.]

"More than half of graduating high school seniors guess that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife, and one in ten adults believes that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. (Those two must've been multiple-choice questions.)

"Almost two-thirds of Americans can't name at least five of the Ten Commandments. Some of these people, moreover, are outspoken promoters of them. Georgia representative Lynn Westmoreland, cosponsor of a bill to display the Ten Commandments in the chambers of the House of Representatives and Senate, could remember only three when Stephen Colbert asked him to recite them on The Colbert Report (Colbert, who I hear teaches Sunday school at his church, would probably have done considerably better).

"Even among the majority of Christians who identify themselves strongly with the Bible, Bible reading is a rare activity. In a 2005 nationwide study of religious values, practices, and behaviors by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, more than half of those identifying themselves as 'Bible-believing' said they had not participated in any kind of Bible study or Sunday school program at all in the past month.

"While biblical literacy is about as low as it can get, Bible sales have been booming. The biggest Bible publishers in this highly competitive business guard their sales data closely, but reliable industry sources estimate that 2007 saw about 25 million Bibles sold, generating revenues of about $770 million in the United States alone. That was an increase of more than 26 percent since 2005, which saw U.S. sales of about $609 million. In fact, the Bible-publishing business has been enjoying a healthy compounded growth rate of close to 10 percent per year for several years. Even during the high point of economic crisis in late 2008, when other book sales were hurting badly, Bible sales continued to boom, with an estimated $823.5 million that year.

"So biblical literacy is low to zip, even while biblical reverence remains high and Bible sales rise. What's going on? Could it be that biblical literacy is being replaced by biblical consumerism? In today's consumer culture, we are what we buy, wear, and carry. We identify ourselves by our patterns of consumer choices, by the market niches we buy into. It's gone beyond that post-Cartesian proof of existence, 'I shop, therefore I am.' Today, it's closer to 'I shop for what I am'."

Truth is…while reading the Bible doesn’t make a person a Christian any more than reading the packaging makes one a light bulb, not reading the Bible is certain to keep a person in the dark.

P.S.: Thanks to DelancyPlace.com for their work of sharing thought-provoking book excerpts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Tyranny of Procrastination

Between Friends is a comic strip by Sandra Bell-Lundy (distributed by King Features Syndicate) that focuses on the joys and struggles of three middle-aged professional women as they deal with this thing we call life.

The strip published Sunday, July 15, 2012 spoke truth to me, even though I am not a middle-aged professional woman.

Proverbs 15:19 speaks to the underlying issue: "The way of the sluggard is overgrown with thorns [it pricks, lacerates, and entangles him], but the way of the righteous is plain and raised like a highway." (Amplified Bible)

Truth is...I find it far too easy to delay and far too difficult to seize the day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bill Maher Speaks Truth

Throughout the school year, I talk to high school freshmen and sophomores about the benefits of sexual abstinence before marriage. You wouldn’t think that would make me very popular, but the truth is…I tend to get quite a few laughs and a fair amount of undivided attention.

Because I’ve been doing this speaking thing for something like 12 years, the following excerpt from the book, Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy, by Franklyn Ajaye, was an interesting and needed kick in the pants.

The author, who is a stand-up comedian himself, is interviewing television host and comedian Bill Maher:

Ajaye: Have you ever been working clubs and found that a routine that was working suddenly stops working for no reason?
Maher: Yeah, that's a funny phenomenon. The joke sorta like goes away. That's why I tape every set because sometimes it's just the delicacy of how you do it. You do it almost the exact same way, and it's a completely different result. It really depends on very, very minute things in there that either give the audience just enough information - or maybe too much information - before the punch line so that it's not a surprise. Whatever it is, it's still a mystery to me when a bit goes away. Also, I think an audience can sense when you're excited about it and it's new to you. Sometimes you're not thinking about why it's funny anymore because that's gone away for you. You have to get back into what you loved about it to begin with, so that you're not just reciting words that you've said before.

Truth is…I can’t believe I’m taking advice from Bill Maher, but I see a tremendous advantage to really caring about what you’re saying, instead of just adding to the planet’s supply of blathering.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Greener Grass

The comic strip, Wizard of Id, created by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart, has been around since 1964. Even at that advanced age, it still manages to produce a noteworthy set of panels from time to time.

Case in point, the strip that was published Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The first of the two panels has a pair of serf-like individuals utilizing pitchforks in a decidedly aromatic environment:

For those who are familiar with the cast of characters in the strip, the second panel should come as no surprise:

Label it "The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence," or "Walk a Mile in My Shoes"...either way, the lesson is universal.

Truth is...an idea doesn't have to be new or surprising or unexpected to be noteworthy and beneficial.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Things I Prayed For

Contemporary Christian musician, Eli, sounds an awful lot like Cat Stevens...which is, in the opinion of this writer, a very good thing. He made a few records as a signed artist but is now independent and able to be found on Facebook and at Jesus Freak Hideout. For those who know him for the relatively old song that is the subject of this post, it's probably making you smile right now to hear he's still at it.

Words and music by Eli
c. 1998, Song On The Forefront Music (SESAC)

Things I prayed for when I was young:
that my father would love me like his only son
that my mother would be patient with me
and my sister would not leave
and if my grandpa could see me beyond his grave
that he'd think his little man was so brave
that my hair would not stick up in weird places
and I'd be someone someday

Years go by so easily that sometimes I forget
Years go by and make me see that there's no time for my regrets

Things I prayed for in my teens:
that God would forgive all my evil deeds
that my father and my sister would come home
and that mom could meet our needs
and if my grandpa could see me beyond his grave
that he'd say a prayer for his family's sake
that my hair would stick up in weird places
and I'd be someone someday

Years go by...

Things I pray for now in my twenties:
that God will still love me
that my dad will like his new family
that I could hug my sister
that my mom could rest
that my wife would still melt every time we kiss
and if my grandpa has seen me beyond his grave
so cold and silent he has remained
that my hair would not fall out in weird places
and I'd be someone someday

Truth is...prayer can be just this personal, just this practical, and just this adaptable to the moment. That is also a very good thing.