Horses and church membership

We live in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch land, the home of the most Amish in the world, and the “purest” form of them. The Amish here in Lancaster look down on the Amish in Ohio and Indiana as progressives and even liberals. Watch out for those buttons! Since I apparently like to post about the Amish and buggies, I’ve been thinking lately about their specific application to non-Amish church membership and the seriousness of membership vows. This thinking was started by Carl Trueman’s excellent, provocative article on cars and the loss of the seriousness of church membership.

Trueman, with his usual wit and precision, comments on church (s)hopping, discipline, commitment to one’s congregation, and cars:

“In the olden days, mobility was limited. If you crossed the local priest or minister, you could be in trouble because there might be no way you could go to the next town or village for worship on the Lord’s Day. So church discipline could actually mean something: sooner or later you had no choice but to face up to your responsibilities to the church officers…church shopping is one of the things that is weakening Christianity; but that is not simply a function of general human weakness or even consumerism; it is the result of the opportunity provided by the automobile. The thing that allows many of us to attend church is also that which is eroding the power of our membership vows.

“Of course, membership vows are as solemn and as binding as ordination vows. The average member is no less bound by them to the church than I am as a minister. But the car makes them seem so much more negotiable. We have come to believe that even God can be dodged when we are behind the wheel.”

Church membership vows are actually serious, even with what the automobile has done. Taking membership vows means something even if those doing the vowing don’t mean anything by them. We are thankful to have numerous examples over the years of people who take their church membership seriously. One of the first things we’ve learned from them is that there are no perfect churches. When the reality of being in an imperfect church sinks in, that doesn’t mean it’s time to find a new closer-to-perfect church, but to invest even more heavily in your own church and their people (granted, there are biblical times to leave churches, but that’s not the point). And the kicker in all this is that churches aren’t perfect because of you and me. As long as the church is made of sinners like us, there will be imperfect churches. Our tendency is to retreat when we are hurt by others or by the church. But we must fight our insular instincts, and instead force ourselves out of our comfort zones. After all, Jesus said that when you are insultingly slapped, turn the other cheek, not just accept the hurt and pout.

Anyways, check out Trueman’s article. And then while you’re thinking about this, check out my friend Bruce’s photo blog of Lancaster County, including many great shots of the agrarian life.

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Digital junkies

Did you know:

  • You are most likely not as good of a multitasker as you think you are
  • Many people would rather clean their toilet than clean up their email inboxes
  • The average person in the Western world consumes the equivalent of 200 single-spaced pages of text per day, but only remembers about 10 percent (if that)

Check out this well-done student video for more:

No, the irony of posting this video on my blog is not lost on me. And no, it’s not a perfect video, with several assertions and statistics that need to be verified or contextualized, but it is at least excellent food for thought. After watching, turn off, tune out, unplug.

The emperor’s lack of clothes

Fortunately, postmodernism is on its way out. But much like the devil being bound in Revelation and destroying half the stars with his tail on his way down, postmodernism is still exerting influence even as it draws its final breaths. It knows its defeat is imminent, and it is raging to wreak as much havoc as possible before its demise. What will arise in the vacuum it leaves might be equally as vacuous, absurd, or annoying; but one victory at a time. As we are still picking spoiled remnants of the Enlightenment out of our beards, we will be straining out postmodern influence for many years to come. This is especially true in the church at large, as the church always lags a few years behind academic and cultural thought.

In his recent book The Intolerance of Tolerance, D.A. Carson explains that though postmodernism as a movement is dead, its influence is still widespread. The premise of his book is that “tolerance” has come to be the dominant idiom of our time, even as its definition has changed over the centuries. The old meaning of tolerance is defined as holding to the truth while acknowledging the reality of other people holding to other truth claims, with room for respectful disagreement and criticism. The newer definition of tolerance is that of  claiming that all truths are equally valid except for those that are intolerant. In more extreme cases, the new tolerance does not acknowledge any truth, and labels any religion or system of thought claiming truth as intolerant. Thus, voicing any disagreement, criticism, or claims to exclusivity is ironically demonized as intolerant, leaving no room for anything but “tolerance,” which is no truth at all. Full speed ahead to the absurd. The following quotation is worth reading, and Carson uses “tolerance” here in the newer way.

“Regardless of the widespread inability to agree on what it is, postmodernism has exerted incalculable influence in much of the world. Disagreement over the essence of postmodernism cannot blind us to its effect. Almost all sides agree that as a movement postmodernism is dead. Except in some American undergraduate programs, its luminaries are no longer read – certainly not in Europe, whence most of them sprang. Yet the effluents of postmodernism, however defined, are still very much with us, shaping our thoughts and cultural values. What cannot be denied is that, in its wake, countless millions of people find it difficult, at least on some subjects, to think in terms of truth and error, much preferring to think in terms of differences of opinion, of varying perspectives. The dawning of postmodernism coincided, at least in part, with the increasing diversification of the populations of many of the world’s metropolises. The impact of this increasing empirical pluralism is multiplied many times over by the digital revolution: with minimal effort we find ourselves exposed to an incredibly broad diversity of cultures, opinions, interpretations of history, languages, and so forth. Moreover, in the virtual world we can create our own realities. All of this conspires to push questions of truth to the margins while magnifying the importance of tolerance…Regardless of the terminology pragmatism now commonly eclipses both nature and religion as cultural authority. But if in its most aggressive forms postmodernism has declined, it has left a residue of subjective eclecticism that fosters the elevation of tolerance to the enthroned status of supreme virtue.” (pp. 73-74)

Further, to borrow a C.S. Lewis-ism, postmodernism is built on ladders in the air. The postmodern emperor has no clothes, to mix metaphors. The absurdity of postmodernism has been staring us right in the face, and it is finally starting to show. As leftist scholar Terry Eagleton writes:

“For all its vaunted openness to the Other, postmodernism can be quite as exclusive and censorious as the orthodoxies it opposes. One may, by and large, speak of human culture but not human nature, gender but not class, the body but not biology, jouissance but not justice, post-colonialism but not the petty bourgeoisie. It is a thoroughly orthodox heterodoxy, which like any imaginary form of identity needs its bogeyman and straw targets to stay in business.” (qtd. in Carson, pp. 82-83)

We must keep fighting to expose the bogeymen and straw targets of postmodernism for what they are. The best ammunition against such absurdities is the gospel, and especially the “foolishness” of the forgiveness of sins and the incredible triumph of the resurrection.

Broad, flapping American ears

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important message; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey…

“This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.”

-Henry David Thoreau in Walden, 1854

Carved amulets in pockets

“Make no mistake about it: Whatever our time and place, the cultures of this present age are catechizing us all. We may see this more evidently in places other than our own…But that’s ‘over there,’ right? This is America, after all, born in the cradle of Judeo-Christian civilization. We forget that ever since our founding, our culture (including religion) has been a mixture of traditional Christianity and successive waves of infidelity, pseudo-Christian sects and cults, and esoteric spiritualities. We are catechized more by the rituals of the market than those of historic Christianity. Although bells rarely announce the assembly of saints today, the ringing of the opening bell on Wall Street is a daily ritual. We may recognize idolatry in the tribesman’s dependence on the carved amulet in his pocket, but it doesn’t occur to us that we may be idolaters as we clutch our iPhones for security, look to the market’s daily news for our hope, entertain ourselves to death, and crave an identity that is shaped by the fashions of the moment.”

-Michael S. Horton in “Trees or Tumbleweeds?”,  July/August 2011 Modern Reformation, p. 14

Feet up on the stove

“If the prophets of automation and cybernation are right, leisure, not labor, is going to be the normal condition of man. Men will become philosophers, artists, and poets just to stay sane: Contemplation will be the only defense against drowning in our own spare time. Even now, the doctrine of justification by work is difficult to defend. Jobs are shorter and more boring than they used to be. It’s hard to believe that five hours a day of button-pushing and paper-shuffling are the heart and soul of human existence. Heaven help us, then, in the bright new day of the guaranteed income and the twenty-hour week. The grim old religion of salvation by rushing will go bankrupt altogether, and we shall go straight out of our minds – unless we learn to sit still.

“The habit of contemplation, therefore – the ability to sit down in front of something and care enough to let it speak for itself – cannot be acquired soon enough. Accordingly, I invite you, too, to put your feet up on the stove. If some true believer in the gospel of haste comes along and asks us why we are wasting time, we shall tell him we are busy getting the seats of our pants properly shined up for the millennium.”

-Robert Farrar Capon in The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (1967), p.68

The Amish, Gelassenheit, and technology

I found this article, “Amish Technology,” very interesting in helping to debunk some popular misinformation about the Amish and their rejection of some technologies, embracing of others, and finding loopholes for yet others. I’d be curious to hear a perspective from someone here in Lancaster County to see if this is an accurate representation or not:

“The Amish were once technophiles. One leading scholar on the Amish said that until the 1920s, ‘the Amish were often the first ones in a community to buy the new inventions as they came on the market’ (Kraybill 1989:173). This is not the reputation they have today. Today, the Amish do not own cars, but they will hire drivers to take them places. They do not have phones in their homes, but many Amish families share “phone shanties” (think, wooden phonebooths). They do not use electricity, but they have refrigerators, generators, and flashlights. We think of the Amish as epitomizing the Luddite philosophy, so how do we reconcile that with their use of these 20th-century innovations?

“To many, these paradoxes seem erratic, illogical, or plain hypocritical. Some outsiders may simply shrug and pity the Amish for such apparent flawed logic. The truth is that “the Amish have an elaborate system by which they evaluate the tools they use” (“Look Who’s Talking,” Wired). The Amish approach to technology is not a carte blanche rejection of technology, nor is it unconditional acceptance.

“The key to understanding the Amish paradox is through something called ‘Gelassenheit.’ Roughly translated, the term means submission. In the Amish context, it specifically refers to yielding absolutely to a higher authority.”