Monthly Archives

September 2009

Blogging @ the Times Union Newspaper

First, I would like thank all of my readers and friends for keeping up with On the Bema.  Your support and interaction with the blog has been fantastic!  Keep it up.  Second, I would like to thank all of my fellow bloggers for their support.

With that said, I will now be blogging for the Times Union Newspaper (Albany, NY) as their protestant religion blogger.  The Times Union has a vast blog section on their website that you should check out.

Thank you again for your readership and see you over at the Times Union Newspaper protestant blog.

Continue Reading…

The Christian Image Problem

A recent ACORN undercover video has shown us how important “image” can be.  The video depicted two individuals seeking assistance with their fictitious prostitution operation.  ACORN workers gave pointers on how to avoid certain laws and tax rules.  The result of the undercover video was a disaster for ACORN.  Their funding was pulled by several government agencies and now the IRS is  looking into their organization’s financials.  ACORN’s image has been tarnished.

We too can have an image problem.  How people perceive us is important to our job, family, and standing in the community.  Even false accusations can ruin our life.  We should be conscience of our image, but not obsessive about our image.

Christians have a problem… it’s our image.  Time magazine reported:

Back in 1996, a poll taken by the Barna Group, found that 83% of Americans identified themselves as Christians, and that fewer than 20% of non-Christians held an unfavorable view of Christianity… Barna polls conducted between 2004 and [1997], sampling 440 non-Christians (and a similar number of Christians) aged 16 to 29, found that 38% had a “bad impression” of present-day Christianity.

Yikes!  What is going?  What is everyone’s beef with Christianity?  The Time article explains:

Continue Reading…

3 Reasons Why You Believe in "Prayerism"

Is prayer becoming a religion unto itself? That was the question that The Wall Street Journal asked in its recent article entitled “Prayer’s Place in America.”  A disconnect between prayer and religious affiliation has arrived:

  • 39% of Americans attend church weekly yet 75% pray at least weekly, according to the Pew Religion Forum.
  • And maybe most remarkably: 35% of those who don’t identify with any religion at all — the “unaffiliated”– pray weekly or daily.
  • In fact, 58% overall, and 66% of American women pray daily.

With 39% of Americans attending church and 75% praying at least weekly, there seems to be a separation between religion and prayer.  Or at least church attendance and prayer.  If you are reading this blog, you probably do not attend church, but you are more likely to pray weekly.  Statistically speaking of course.

The WSJ expounds on these notions:

But these statistics, as well as the popularity over the years of books like the Prayer of Jabez and The Secret and many other devotional books, show that prayer has become popular on its own, sometimes detached from the tradition of church. Call it Prayerism.

“Prayerism”.  That’s a new term, but an old concept.  The whole, “I’m not religious, I’m just spiritual” lends to this thinking of believing in prayer, but not attending church.  Why?

Here are 3 reasons why you probably believe in “prayerism”, but don’t go to church:

Continue Reading…

Upcoming Book Review & Blog Tour

Judson Press contacted me a few weeks ago and asked me to write a review of nuChristian: finding faith in a new generation by Russell E. D. Rathbun. Be on the look out the week of October 12 for a review on the book.  Hopefully, I will have a Q&A with Rathbun and feature him as a guest blogger.  My review will be a part of a blog tour for the book.  Check back.

Judson Press :: Product Catalog :: nuChristian.

Are You a Mega Church Drop Out?

With mega-churches basking in the spotlight of mainstream media, several studies have been done about the mega-church movement that might just surprise you.  A study just released a few days ago, indicates that the largest churches in the United States are “Christian, contemporary, and evangelical.”  Mega-churches are growing, so the short term studies cite.  The largest churches in the United States have reach amazing numbers:

  1. Lakewood Church – Houston, TX 43,500 weekly
  2. – Edmond, OK 26,776 weekly
  3. Willow Creek Community Church – South Barrington, IL 23,400 weekly
  4. North Point Community Church – Alpharetta, GA 23,377 weekly
  5. Second Baptist Church – Houston, TX 22,723 weekly

However, more long term studies show that churches and communities of faith are losing ground.   The 18 year American Religious Identification Survey show that the percentage of “other Christians” (evangelical, protestant, and non-denominational churches)  has dropped.  Even in the Bible belt!  In Texas, 20% of “other Christians” (basically, non-Catholics) have changed their faith affiliation to something other than Christian.   You can check out the interactive graphic here.

The American Religious Identification Survey said “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”  With so many mega-churches growing, there must be a “drop out” rate that is not being reported because “the percentage of those who choose a generic label, calling themselves simply Christian, Protestant, non-denominational, evangelical or “born again,” was 14.2%, about the same as in 1990.”

Even more surprising are what these surveys and studies have found:

Continue Reading…

Controlling Our Inner Freak

People love to watch a control freak melt down.  A popular reality show about overly controlling brides-to-be is now in its sixth season (what reality show isn’t?)   The show’s description reads:

“Who among us has not met a Bridezilla?” This reality series from WE takes us inside the hectic wedding preparations of brides-to-be who are determined to have the perfect wedding–no matter how many tantrums they must throw to achieve that dream. Every episode we meet a new bride who is more selfish and controlling than the previous one. This unique reality show, shows the life of brides-to-be and how they fight with their friends, family and future husband to get anything they want for their wedding and for it to be just the way the like it!”

One word: wow.

All of us have a little bit of a control freak in us.  We want things our way, on our time table, and we want to control.  Control freaks.  We have all seen them.  Crazy bosses, celebrity selfishness, bridezillas, and overbearing friends.  The need for control and power is in every aspect of our culture.  From government to Google, someone is always looking for power.  Someone is always looking for control.  There is a little control freak in all of us.  Things have to be just so, we feel possessive about our groups, property, or relationships.  But why?  Why do we have this innate need to be in control?

Continue Reading…

Obama's Presidental Donkey: Watching Our Tongues

The saga continues for the Kanye West story, but his time President Obama has unwisely gotten himself involved. (Remember Henry Louis Gates Jr and the Harvard Police?)  The President called Kanye West a “jackass” for interrupting the MTV Music awards during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech.  You can find the audio of the President’s incident here.

If you want to pass up on the audio, here is the transcript of the event:

“I thought that was really inappropriate. It’s like, she’s getting an award, why are you butting in?” Obama says in the audio clip. “I hear you. I agree with you. The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She’s getting her award. What’s he doing up there?”

Someone asks, “Why would he do that?”

Obama groans, comically: “He’s a jackass!”

There’s a nervous explosion of laughter from the others in the room, which Obama immediately reacts to: “Now, now, all this stuff… I’m assuming all this stuff — come on guys, cut the president some slack. I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my plate.”

How did this come about?  How could we catch such an unusual Presidential event?  Why would a President or any politician say something like that on the off chance of it being recorded?  How did someone get a recording of this?

Here’s how:

Continue Reading…

5 Reasons Why We Love Angry Outbursts

The recent outbursts of congressman Joe Wilson, tennis star Serena Williams, and rapper Kanye West strikes a note within our own anger and need to be heard.  Congressman Joe Wilson has now become famous for shouting out “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to a joint session of congress.   Wilson has faced addition criticism for the way he has handled his apology to the President.

Serena Williams made waves during a Grand Slam match in which a line judge called her on a serve violation.  Williams then cursed out the line judge, shouted at tennis officials, and was finally suspended from the match.  She was quotes saying, “”If I could, I would take this …… ball and shove it down your …… throat”

Kanye West  recently grab the microphone away from Taylor Swift, who just won the award for Best Video at the MTV Music Awards, and told the crowd in an outburst that Beyonce Knowles should had won the award.

We love to watch when this type of drama unfolds.  Why?  Here are 5 reasons why we like these angry outbursts:

Continue Reading…

How much does it cost to be a Christian?

When “The Great Recession” began in December of 2007, the stock market lost huge amounts of equity and value.  The Bush administration made efforts to keep businesses and banks afloat.  The word “bailout” became a catch word in our cultural vernacular.  Later, the Obama administration put forward more plans and policies to try to improve the economy.  Political pundits and financial consultants keep talking about the “cost” of all of these governmental plans and programs.  Numerical amounts of millions, billions, and trillions were used to put a price tag on these programs.  Terms like “deficit”, “gross national product”, “credit”, and “macro economics” flooded TV and radio.

Before and during this Great Recession, we saw gas prices shoot to unthinkable levels: $3.50, $4.00, and $4.50 per gallon.  Prices for milk, food, and even toilet paper increased.  Retailers raised prices to keep up with rising manufacturing costs.  It seemed that everything was costing more and more money.  People were lost (and still are losing) their homes.   Now, there is talk of the cost of government offering access to affordable health care.   Cost, cost, cost!  Everything is about the price or value of something.

If there is a cost or price to everything, is there a price to pay to be a Christian? Continue Reading…

Churches Use Wine to Fight Swine Flu


It seems that the H1N1 “Swine Flu” is changing church and changing the way congregations do “church”.  Churches in Sweden, who use a common cup,  are using strong or fortified wine for communion to fight against Swine Flu.  In Anglican, Catholic, and other European churches, it is more common for churches to share one cup to drink from instead of individual cups for communion.

As reported on by The Local , church leaders hope that fortified wine will give better protection against the spread of swine flu when the common communion cup is used from parishioner to parishioner. The change is a local decision and the Church of Sweden said that the church has not  made any mandatory regulations using the fortified wine.

The rationale for this change is the hope that a heavy content of alcohol will kill germs and fight the spread of swine flu than non-alcoholic communion juice.

If you are wondering what the specific definition of fortified wine is, the following is useful:

Saying a wine is fortified means the alcohol content is greater than what natural yeast fermentation could give. Wines are ‘fortified’ to higher alcohol content by adding brandy or neutral spirit hence the name fortified wines…The higher alcohol content will kill the yeast and after a day or two.

I could not find any official medical proof for the rationale of using a fortified wine for communion, but one would think that it the practice could guard against the spread of germs.  Sailors for hundreds of years would drink only beer or alcohol related drinks on ships because it would not harbor disease like water would.

Of course, this brings up many concerns for some Christians.  Most non-Catholic churches and non-Anglican related churches use grape juice instead of wine for communion because of the concerns of contributing to alcoholism.  In
addition, these non-Anglican/Catholic churches sometimes believe  drinking alcohol in general should be frowned upon or even is sinful.

Churches are not only changing the way they serve communion, but also how congregants greet each other.  The Church of England took steps to protect church goers by ending the common cup from communion time:

In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu. For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister, whose hands should have been washed with the appropriate alcohol-based rub before handling the elements and the vessels, personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

European churches and Anglican churches are not the only churches changing how church goers interact with each other.  A Catholic church in Cincinnati, OH has band priests and parishioners from shaking hands because of fears of swine flu.  Florida churches made similar changes when they ended the tradition of Passing the Peace or shaking hands during church.

Are these modern concerns and fears of illness changing centuries of how Christian churches operate?  Not being about to embrace other congregation members during the Passing of the Peace certainly changes the theology behind being a community that practices reconciliation in worship.  Can such illnesses change the way churches relate to each other?  Will we have to wear medical masks to church?

These actions do not change Christian theology, but they do challenge our how we fellowship, worship, and live.   We can take communion in a variety of modes and each mode is a different way to experience the symbol of remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice.   Certainly, one of our prime concerns for congregants should be their health and safety, but this is one of those issues that pushes churches to be creative with their worship.

At what point do medical concerns take “the holy” out of the moment?  Certainly receiving communion from someone with surgical gloves and a mask changes the way we think about communion.  When does the sterile affect the sacred?

Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day! I’m taking a break from blogging today. Instead, check out the origins of Labor Day: link.