Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Take This Phone and Flush It

Are you on your cell phone right now?

It seems like everyone is. But I don't like it. With the legislation banning cell phone use in cars being introduced in Ontario things may change - at least while you're on the road. Have you ever done your own informal survey and counted the number of people talking on cellphones while in their cars? I've done it a few times and each time the number of people on cell phones while driving their cars always outnumbers the ones who are not on cell phones.

With these unlimited plans some of the usage gets a little creepy. I know someone who was on the phone with someone literally all day - they called and then just left the phone on - talking once in a while as they were vacuuming or preparing their meals. There were some long silences but also lots of little chatter about nothing - they were just together all day. I don't get that.

I also don't like the interruptions so I often ignore calls - especially if I'm with someone else. That's why caller ID is so good. I almost always ignore "Blocked Caller ID" calls - if someone really wants to get in touch with me they can leave a message - almost no one does. And i never answer any 1-866 or 1-800 numbers - that's just somebody trying to sell me something.

I realize it's become a reality of our lives but I will not go easy into that dark night.

I was encouraged today when I read this little article by Lauren Winner (who wrote Girl Meets God). It was fun to read.

Monday, November 03, 2008

You Are What You Watch

I just heard the results of a study done on adolescent and young adult behaviours.
I looked up the study and found that CTV posted something about it on their website.

The report starts like this ...

"Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes."

So what you fill your mind with and spend your time looking at will influence your behaviour? Say it isn't so! Well actually studies show (like James Potter) that most people (88%) actually believe that what they watch or listen to in the media doesn't affect them. However, most of those same people believe that it does affect other weaker people and that those weaker people ought to avoid certain violent or otherwise offensive programming.

New neuroscience research, however, suggests that what we do in this physical world determines who we become. The model of a spiritual soul that is influenced by one category of our weekly activities – worship, prayer, church attendance, etc. – but not by our more mundane daily activities (like watching tv or playing video games) is becoming more and more ridiculous. This neuroscientific research has shown that:

"By repeatedly performing some behaviors we can change the function of our brain and even reshape it. Furthermore, repeated activities such as observing or reading about the behaviors of other people can change the physical shape of the brain and the strength of the neural impulses that correspond to the observed behaviors. The importation of external knowledge, feelings, morals and attitudes through sensory experience has been shown to change the shape and functioning of the brain."

"As an example, in London England taxicab drivers must spend two years learning every street, boulevard and cul-de-sac before they can begin to drive. When they began their training the hippocampus of these drivers was normal in size and density. This area of the brain is responsible for our sense of direction. After two years of intensive training, the hippocampus of these drivers was larger and denser than it had been, and it was also larger and denser than the hippocampus of comparable non-cabbies (Maguire et al., 2000). Intense memorization and training altered the hippocampus structure of these drivers. Considering this change from a different perspective, we could say that changes in the brain as a result of repetitive behaviors may reshape a person’s soul!"

[Much of this stuff on the function of the brain is from an article written by friends of mine Paul and Cahleen Shrier called Mirror Neurons and Visiting the Sick: A Neuroscientific Exploration of John Wesley’s Means of Grace.]

So we can reshape our brain by learning. The same research shows that our behaviours also reshape our brain. We change our brain by what we habitually do. We used to call that "developing a good habit." Now science proves it.

Actually, almost 300 years ago, John Wesley postulated that we can become sanctified by our repeated practices of spiritual discipline. Wesley’s theology of sanctification, highlights his role for "the means of grace" in sanctification, and his belief that acts of mercy, such as visiting the sick, allow God’s grace to sanctify us.

Some of the outward signs, words or actions that Wesley included in his means of grace were prayer, searching Scriptures, the Lord’s supper, gathering together in worship, and also acts of mercy towards others. Wesley believed that love of God and love of neighbor could not be separated. Therefore, acts of piety such as worship and prayer will increase a person’s love for neighbors, while acts of mercy such as visiting the sick and prisoners, providing others with food and clothing, will increase a person’s love of God.

He wrote that those who neglected acts of mercy “do not receive the grace they otherwise might.” Further, he argued that those who fulfill the acts of piety may still become weak and feeble in their Christian walk, because they have neglected acts of mercy.

Maybe the author of the Book of Hebrews was right when he said in chapter 12:

2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

He started that section off with:

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Fix our eyes on Jesus - great advice (an imperative really) in this media murky societty, and ...
Run your race with perseverence
Get rid of the stuff that tangles you up.

The truth still echos through our culture.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Behaving Before You Belong or Believe

I've been reading a chapter by Alan Kreider in a book called The Origins of Christendom in the West - fascinating stuff really. He speaks about the erosion of deeply Christian behaviour in the church from the second century or so until the fifth or sixth century. He's really the guy who coined the phrase "Belong, Behave, Believe" (after Grace Davie who wrote a book about the British Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing before Belonging).

He makes a statement on page 3:
"Christendom was the product of millions of conversions. In the early centuries, becoming a Christian entailed a many-faceted change which involved a rupture with conventional values: the converts’ beliefs, belonging and behaviour were all expected to change. To foster this change, the church developed a process of catechesis and ritual which culminated in the cathartic experience of baptism. "

Baptism and entrance into the church during the first couple of centuries did not occur until after behaviour had changed or until there was absolute certainty that conversion had really occurred. This sometimes involved a three to five year adult catechism period. I wonder what that would do to church growth in the 21st Century? Probably slow it down at the beginning but then I think it would really start speeding up.

Another comment:

"Thus conversion was bound to challenge more than a person’s mental ruts or philosophical categories; it was bound to be more than a Glaubenswechsel or a ‘reorientation of the soul of an individual.’ Indeed the change in belief was often quite secondary to the change in behaviour. People were first attracted to the Christians, not by their ideas, but by their distinctive behaviour and/or by the mysterious spiritual powers that seemed to be among them. … Early Christian writers often commented tht people were drawn to inquire about the faith by observing Christian behaviour."

To explain it further:

"Conversion required something deeper [than experience or attraction]. It required the ‘candidates’ – those who had been impressed by the Christians’ exorcisms (i.e. power encounters) or question-posing lives – to submit themselves to a journey of multi-dimensional change. The catechetical programmes that emerged were developed to superintend this change and to ensure that it was genuine. In the fullness of time, this journey would culminate in baptism as the candidates died to their old selves and were reborn. Then and then only, would the process of conversion be complete."

What happened?

"In the early centuries of the church, we have noted, conversion entailed a process of resocialization which taught converts the skills and understanding necessary to live the deviant life (i.e. different from early Mediterranean culture) of an alternative society; and this required of every candidate a change of life. Now, after Constantine, the alternative society was becoming society itself; and conversion was enabling the now deviant pagans to shape up, equipping them to conform to the now normal norms of a Christian society. As this happened, the processes of conversion changed."

"Significantly the subject matter that they were taught was shifting from earlier patterns. The teaching of Jesus which had been central to early catechesis had now in (the Edict of) Milan (i.e. post 313 AD) been supplanted by stories of the Old Testament patriarchs and behavioural guidance from the proverbs, and the stories and examples of Jesus had been supplanted by stories and examples of the saints. Meanwhile the formation of Christian conduct had come to be replaced by a concentration on the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed."

The Results were predictable:

"In Constantine’s baptism, the church had required the Emperor to change his lifestyle; in Volusian’s baptism (a century later), there is no hint that conversion required a respectable aristocrat to change - whether in his attentiveness to the needs of the poor, in his attitude to violence, or apparently in the opulence of colour of his dress (i.e. wearing purple signified a governmental position which Christians and also many in government had felt was incompatible with following Jesus). It is hardly surprising that in Rome the result was a respectable aristocratic Christianity."

We certainly see that in the current presidential race. We actually see it in many of our churches and even in our own lives. I have been asked countless "ethics" questions. Can I still do this (fill in the blank) and be a good Christian. As Rodney Clapp says in Peculiar People:

“The question is no longer ”How can we survive and remain faithful Christians under Caesar?” but now becomes “How can we adjust the church’s expectations so that Caesar can consider himself a faithful Christian?””