Month: December 2009

Ten Trends to Watch in 2010

The end of the year brings out the list-maker in all of us.  Not to disappoint you, here are the 10 trends that I’m going to be watching in 2010:

  1. Mobile everything. As the mobile phone morphs into the mobile communications device, 2010 will be a break-through year.  Google will introduce the first “unchained” phone in a a few days, giving Americans a taste of what the rest of the world already has — the ability to buy a phone separate from the mobile service provider.  Also, watch for “carrier billing” on phones, allowing you to purchase directly from your cell phone and have the item billed by your mobile provider.  Apple should introduce its new tablet, which will revolutionize the whole mobile entertainment world.  Think video, ebooks, ezines,  iTunes, podcasts, email, gaming, web browsing, and more, all from a tablet device that’s always on, always connected, and multi-capable.  The YouVersion Bible mobile app is a great example of how one church, LifeChurch.tv, recognizes and is capitalizing on this mobile trend.
  2. Economic recalibration. We are quickly learning to live on less, save more, and hedge against the next financial shockwave.  Paul Krugman writes of a contraction of the economy in mid-2010, so the pain of the past 15-months will extend another 6-9 months at least.  But economic recalibration is already taking place at the state and local government level — government will deliver fewer services and more of us will be on our own than ever before.  This economic adjustment will be longer lasting that other pull-backs and may mark a new attitude toward money and material goods on the part of Americans across the board.  Charitable giving, including church giving, will be affected by this adjustment.
  3. Prolonged polarization. The nation continues to be divided almost evenly into increasingly rigid camps.  What passes for political and social debate will continue to be little more than playing to the entrenched positions of the base of each party, ideology, and theology.  With the fading culture wars of the last century, of which The Manhattan Declaration is probably the last vestige, churches have a unique opportunity to bridge the social, racial, political, gender, class, and theological divide.  It remains to be seen if we will take that challenge.
  4. Weariness with war. With the battlefield focus shifting to Afghanistan, and possibly Yemen, we’ll grow increasingly tired of the whole idea of War, including the costs both human and financial.  Again the church may or may not grapple with the theology of war, but the issue will not go away in 2010.
  5. Multiple church models. Tall Skinny Kiwi has pronounced 2009 as the year the emerging church movement ended, and I think he’s probably right.  But the bright spot in its fading is that the emerging church discussion opened the way for multiple models of church to find legitimate expression.  The traditional, attractional, missional, postmodern, house, monastic, marketplace, mega, multi-site, multi-ethnic, and other models now exist and flourish in communities all across America.  For the first time in my lifetime, no one church model is THE model that everyone must follow.  The good news in all of this is that small churches are viable in many of these expressions, and small churches are receiving recognition as a healthy, legitimate church model.
  6. Denominational disinterest. Okay, this one is pretty obvious already, but it will only continue into the next decade which begins in a few days.  Rather than use the word “decline,” I am using “disinterest” because that is the attitude I see toward the centralized denominational headquarters model.  There is not a big push to dismantle denominations either, unless you’re a Baptist or Episcopalian, both of which are self-destructing without outside interference.  Mostly, the question of denominations is a big yawn for the next ten years.
  7. Spiritual longing. The opposite pole of denominational disinterest is spiritual longing, the desire for a meaningful spiritual connection to something bigger and better that can help us live life with more satisfaction.  Americans are taking a “do-it-yourself” approach to creating their own spirituality.  Churches can address this desire, or miss this moment.  As Andrew Jones says, we aren’t going to meet this kind of longing with a church like grandpa’s.
  8. Limited access. Fewer students will be able to afford the college of their choice, or any college.  Fewer families will rise out of poverty into the middle class. Fewer opportunities for advancement will accompany the flat job market.  In short, access to many of the possibilities we took for granted in the decade just passing will be limited in the decade just arriving.  The question for churches is, “How does hope flourish in a world of diminishing opportunity?”
  9. The problems of pluralism. We are just learning to recognize other faith traditions, and in 2010 the problems of religious (and non-religious) pluralism will continue to present themselves.  The traditional American response of “this is a Christian nation” will prove to be an inadequate response to other faiths and traditions claiming their place on the religious, or non-religious, smorgasbord.  Churches will adopt either an attitude of defensiveness, or of dialogue with non-Christian groups.
  10. Age, gender, and sex. These issues will continue into the coming decade as the baby boomers reach their 70’s, gay marriage becomes both accepted and rejected in various jurisdictions, and churches are increasingly challenged on the issues of gender in leadership of both ordained and laypersons.  The Anglicans have center stage in this drama right now, but no religious group will escape this discussion in the years ahead.

Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball, and most of these things are already self-evident, but I believe we will continue to see these issues impact what and how we do church in the next year, and in the next ten years.  What would you add to this list?  Or what do you take issue with?  What are your 10 trends for the 2010?

Are Angels The New Vampires?

Are angels the new vampires?

Anne Rice, the author who made vampires trendy in her Vampire Chronicles series, came back to the Christian faith in 1998.  Upon returning to the Roman Catholic Church, Rice published two books about the life of Christ. She has now turned her attention to the subject of angels.  Her new book, Angel Time, is the first in her Songs of the Seraphim series.

The question is — will Anne Rice do for angels what she did for vampires?  Rice was the author who spawned a virtual vampire industry.  Stephenie Meyer’s  The Twilight Series is being made into movies, and one blogger came up with the 10 most popular vampire book series.  Lots of vampires and lots of readers who love vampire stories apparently.

Time will tell if Rice is able to turn angels into the next cultural trend, which would be interesting if it happened.  Rather than the Goth look some kids love, we might get the Archangel look which parents would love.  Halos would become popular, and wings would make a big comeback.  But, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

But let’s say angels do become the new vampires, trend-wise that is.  What do you know about angels?  Rice sets her novel in a time-shifting milieu that finds a 21st century assassin transported back to the middle ages to defend Jews who are being persecuted.  She believes angels move, not in linear time, but in another kind of time reserved only for — you guessed it — angels.  Hence the title of the book, Angel Time.

But, back to my question — What do you know about angels?  Did you know that the evangelical take on angels is pretty thin compared to the Roman Catholic Church?  Did you know that a guy named Pseudo-Dionysius (called that because he wasn’t the real Dionysius apparently) said there were 9 ranks of angelic beings including Powers, Principalities, Thrones, Dominions, Angels, Archangels, Cherubim, Virtues, and Seraphim?  And, finally, did you know that angels are charged with care of creation as well as people?

In my own internet search for theological books on angels, I ran across very few.  Most angel books tell accounts of how angels appeared to various people, but few give serious theological consideration to the subject of angels.  In light of this dearth of material on angels, should we just dismiss the whole angelic order as though we’ve out-grown the childish notion that there are guardian angels?  Or should we get to know more about angels because we might have to respond to questions about Rice’s books?

What do you think?  Are angels the new vampires?

Here’s Anne Rice’s statement to her fans about her Christian faith and the Vampire Chronicles.

Sermon: Favor with God and Man

Favor With God and Man
Luke 2:41-52

41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

A Story About A Boy

Christmas has come and gone, and we are now in the season of Christmastide, those days between the feast of Christmas and Epiphany, the time when the wisemen come to pay homage to the Christ Child.  But other than the story of Jesus’ birth, and the visit of the wisemen, this is the only story we have of Jesus as a boy.

Some of the ancient writings that are not in our Bible have fanciful tales of Jesus making little birds out of clay, and then breathing life into them.  And there are other stories of the boy Jesus performing other miracles.  But somehow those stories don’t ring true today, and didn’t seem credible to those who gathered the sacred texts we now call the Bible.  So this is the only story we have of Jesus as a child between his birth and his baptism as a grown man.

I always liked this story when I was a boy because it was about another boy.  When I was 10 or 12, I would sometimes disappear from my backyard, too.  I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, where my dad was minister of education at Eastern Heights Baptist Church there.  From the time I got my very own red Schwinn bicycle, I was on it as much as possible.

Sometimes it got me into trouble.  Like the time my friend, Charles, and I rode our bikes to the Columbus Municipal Airport and lay on the hillside by the runway watching the planes land and take-off.  Or the time he and I wandered over to Phoenix City, Alabama, just across the Chattahoochee River bridge from downtown Columbus.  You could buy firecrackers in Phoenix City, and Charles and I wanted some.  We were successful in buying them, but not in getting them home because a couple of older boys pushed us down and took them away from us.

So, I knew what it was like to be some place and your parents not know where you were.

Of course, I thought Jesus’ parents were way too soft on him.  Mine weren’t.  On more than one occasion I got spanked for going too far from home.  So, I was kind of jealous of Jesus in a way for getting off so light.  But then he had a great answer when his parents finally found him —

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Well, I never could come up with an answer as good as that one, plus I wasn’t at church because I was either buying firecrackers or trespassing on airport property, neither of which were particularly spiritual pursuits.

But I always liked the story, nevertheless, just because it was about Jesus as a boy.  And I liked the verse that said in the King James Version —

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

My mother had explained to me what that meant when I was younger.  Jesus grew wiser, he grew taller, and he found favor with both God and other people.  I am sure she encouraged me to do the same.

The growing in stature part was pretty well beyond my control, or I would have made myself taller.  But my mother pointed out, I am sure, that I could grow in wisdom and in favor with God and others.

The Point of the Story

Of course, most of the time the point of this story is the almost other-worldliness of Jesus.  He knew even as a kid what he was supposed to do.  And even as a 12-year old boy he was about his Father’s business.  We’re also pretty impressed, along with the teachers in the Temple, that a 12-year old was sitting with the teachers, the religious leaders, listening and talking.

This story then becomes a spiritual story for us, and we lose sight of the 12 year old boy sitting there.  Not to take anything away from the way we have traditionally understood the story, but I could identify with Jesus sitting and listening to the adults talk.

When we went to visit my mother’s family in south Georgia, the cousins would play outside all day in the hot Georgia sun.  We’d kick off our shoes and run in the sand road that passed by my grandparents’ farmhouse.  But in the evening, we’d all gather for supper — dinner was what you ate at lunchtime — and then after the supper dishes were cleared, everyone went out on the front porch.

There were two porch swings and several rocking chairs and all the adults would sit in the chairs or swings, while the kids played around the front porch steps.  But while we were playing, we were also listening.  And as we listened we heard stories about the neighbors, who was sick, or who had just had a baby; and we heard stories about the price of beef, or what corn was bringing, or how fertilizer had gone up.  But, we also heard stories about our relatives, some already gone to their reward.

It was sitting on that front porch on a Sunday afternoon that I heard my older cousin, Johnny Kitchens, talk about going to South America as a missionary, and what he was going to do down there.  That was the only conversation I remember because Johnny got polio in South America and died.  The little chapel at the First Methodist Church of Douglas, Georgia was dedicated in his memory later.

So Jesus was doing something kids have done for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  But, of course, he was also asking questions, and apparently answering them as well because all the teachers were amazed at his answers.  I had some teachers amazed at my answers in school, but not always because they were correct or profound.

The point of the story is to give us a clue that this 12 year old wasn’t just any 12 year old.  Even his parents were amazed at his response to them.

Favor with God and Man

Once we’ve told the story of Jesus in the Temple, and after we’ve read the last verse, we usually think about how we can grow in favor with God and man.  Which is a good thing to think about.  But we don’t get anymore clues about how Jesus did it — how he grew in favor with God and man.  There are no more stories about Jesus as a boy.  As a matter of fact, the next time we see Jesus, we see him at his baptism.  And, we hear God his Father saying,”This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”

So, Jesus kept growing in favor with God at least.  Man would be a different story because eventually some of the same teachers who were listening to Jesus in wonder that day might have been present when the cry went up, “Crucify him.”  But he continued to grow in favor with God right up until his baptism.

Which always made me wonder how I could do the same, and that usually was the point of sermons taken from this story.  Of course, it was a lot easier to explain how to fall out of favor with God.  There are a lot of ways you can do that.

This week I read Eli Weisel’s first book, Night.  Weisel is a Jew, and the Noble Peace Prize winner who survived the Holocaust.  I had read Weisel’s book, All Rivers Run To The Sea, but Night is his first book, the book that shocked a generation after World War II.

In Night, Weisel tells the story of how his family, and all the families of his small village in Transylvania, were forced from their homes, stripped of their possessions including their gold teeth, and taken in cattle cars by rail to a Nazi concentration camp.

Weisel recounts the horror of filth, degradation, genocide, and deprivation in this book of barely 100 pages.  His tone is not shrill or panicked, but he quietly tells the story of how his father and mother, and his sister and he are taken to an extermination camp.

One woman on the train appears to have a nervous breakdown.  Separated from her husband, she despairs to the point of madness.  Periodically during the train ride through the night, she stands and cries out, “Look at the fire! Look at the fire!”

The occupants of the cattle car strain to see through the slats, only to see the dark night outside.

Several times she jumps to her feet to shout the same message — “Look at the fire!”  Finally, two men gag and tie her up to keep her from disturbing everyone.

But as the train pulls into the concentration camp platform, Weisel says they were all stunned to see the giant smokestacks belching flames against the night sky.  Smokestacks that they would later learn were the crematoria where Jews were being burned.

The Holocaust stands as the epic example of how humanity can fail and fall so far from earning favor with either God or man.

The Father’s Favor

But I think the point of the story of Jesus in the Temple is just this — God loved him and, if possible, that Divine love grew.  God was more pleased each day with Jesus.

Jesus grew in favor the way a grandchild does.  Those of you who are grandparents know what I mean — when they’re born you love them, but as they grow older you delight in their learning to walk, to talk, and then in the funny things they say.  Each day, not because they do something to earn it, but each day they grow more precious to you without their having done anything.

I think that’s something of what growing in favor with God means.  Each day God loves us more and more.  Each day God’s grace shines upon us more fully than before.  Each day brings God’s delight in His creation, made in His own image, marred by sin, God takes such great delight in us that He sent Jesus to make all things new.

We think we have to earn God’s favor.  Of course, like Jesus, there are things we can do that please God greatly.  To be about God’s work, to love God’s word, to join with God’s people — these are all things that please God.  But God loves us without our deserving it.  Without our qualifying for it.  Without reservation, God loves us and Jesus is the proof of that love.

The Father’s favor comes to us in spite of ourselves, and in our worst moments.

So, how do we know when we have grown in favor with God?

I think God’s favor shows itself in the little things of life.  Do you know why we don’t have any other stories about Jesus as a boy?  I think it was because his life was so very ordinary.  He helped Joseph in the shop, went to synagogue school, obeyed his mother, played with other kids, ran the hills of Nazareth with the rest of the boys, and if they had a baseball team, threw a mean curve ball.  Of course, they didn’t have a baseball team, but they had something like it, and I’m sure Jesus was involved with the rest of the boys, whatever it was.

It’s in the little things of life that we know we have grown in favor with God.  Not the big gigantic things, not the great achievements, but in small ways God let’s us know we have found favor.

Madeleine L’Engle tells one such story.  While speaking at Wheaton College, word came to her that her 9-year old granddaughter, Lena,  had been hit by a truck while she was walking home from swimming.  The news was not good — Lena had two broken legs, broken ribs, her jaw was fractured in two places, her arms and legs had bruises and contusions, and she had a head wound that laid open her scalp to the bone.

She finished her lecture at Wheaton, and asked there for prayer for her granddaughter.  Returning to her room, she tried to call both an Episcopal clergy friend of hers in New York, and the Episcopal Sisters who ran the school her granddaughters attended. Neither of her calls went through.  Finally, after ringing and ringing, one of the sisters answered.  Madeleine told her about Lena, and the sister said that all of New York was blacked out and that she had to feel her way through the dark building to find and answer the phone.  Later, the same sister would tell Madeleine that hers was the only call that came in that night, that afterward the phones quit working altogether.

As was her custom, that night in her hotel room, Madeleine L’Engle reached for the Episcopal Book of Prayer she carried with her.  She always read Evening Prayer.   However, that night when she turned to the Psalm for that evening, a photograph of Lena stood at the page.  Taken only a few days before, L’Engle had stuck it in her prayer book hastily without thinking.

She said she could barely stand to see the photo, but as she held the prayer book, a piece of paper fell from its pages.   Given to her years before by some Catholic nuns, the card contained a quote from St. John of the Cross, a medieval Christian mystic.  The quote read —

“One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.”

And so she thanked God for Lena’s nine years of life, for their family, and for God’s blessings.  Ten days later, little Lena emerged from her coma.  Among her first words were “Read to me.”  And so they did, night and day, until little Lena recovered. — Walking on Water, p. 184-186.

God’s favor shines down on us in a forgotten photograph, a quote from another time, and the prayers of others.  The little things that make a big difference and remind us of how much God loves us.

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Doing God’s Work Pays Well If You’re Verizon or Goldman-Sachs

I thought we had heard it all when the chairman of Goldman-Sachs testified that they were “doing God’s work.” Apparently, that altruistic assertion went so well that Verizon has picked up the refrain.

In a response to the FTC’s request for justification for their high fees, Verizon claims their higher early termination fees “help the poor by making it more affordable for them to access the mobile internet,” according to Wired.com.

Of course, both companies made billions of dollars this year.  Apparently doing God’s work pays very well.

The E-book revolution

E-books are popping up everywhere suddenly.  As I write this, mediabistro.com’s e-book summit is livestreaming on my office PC.   The hot nearly-new gift for Christmas this year is an e-reader — a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, or one of the others coming soon.  The entire publishing industry is all abuzz about e-books.  Simon & Schuster announced last week that they would delay e-book editions for four months, giving breathing room to their print editions. Stephen Covey has just broken ranks with his print publisher, asserting his ownership of digital rights, and has struck a deal with Amazon to sell his books at the Kindle store.


What does all this mean?  Here’s my take, for what’s its worth:

  • E-readers are transition devices. Just like PDAs and netbooks, dedicated e-readers are going to bridge the gap between the non-technology generation (baby boomers and older) and the technology natives (those who grew up with all this digital stuff).  In less than 5-years (maybe sooner) e-readers will look as quaint as PDAs do now.
  • Print publishing and print publishers are going away. Just like newspapers, it’s not the content people don’t want, it’s the format (print) and the super slow delivery system.  Even daily newspaper delivery looks really slow compared to instant access to anything you want to read or see. Having to go to a store to buy a book, or even wait for the Amazon delivery 1-2 days later will quickly fade.  This is the always-on era, including all media — books and magazines are just late to this party.
  • Creators will own the entire process, if they want to. People can now create, format, and upload to Amazon and other epub bookstores.  Good stuff will still find its market.
  • Creators may not want to own the entire process, and may outsource the editing and epublishing technicalities to others.  Hence, epublishers are born to deliver as much or as little assistance as needed, both editorially and technically.
  • Distribution can work across multiple channels like Amazon, Sony’s ebookstore, B&N’s ebookstore, and lesser knowns such as Boooklocker, etc.  But, Amazon rules the day now.  They created the instant delivery, the first e-reader that did not need to hook up to a computer, and the “first instantly available with no hassles” delivery system.
  • Print publishers are still trying to protect a dying format — the hardcover first edition.  Note the ill-conceived plan of Simon & Schuster to delay ebooks for 4 months after the hardcover edition.
  • New epublishers who do not think “print” will offer new perspectives on the whole publishing industry.
  • It’s all going mobile soon. Back to my fascination with mobile phones.  Obviously the iPhone was the game-changer that set a new paradigm of multiple uses for a mobile phone.  Tomi Ahonen had a piece last week citing stats that Americans now use their phones more for texting than for voice calls.  The transition has already started of mobile devices as total communication tools — voice, text, data, reader, video, photos, music, internet, pda, etc, etc.  Depending on what Apple does with its iTablet, if it exists, this could be another game changer.  However, the new, rumored Google Phone (bigger screen than the iPhone), which is set to work seamlessly with Google Books is really the future.  One device, that fits in your pocket, that does everything you want to do.
  • What, you ask, does this have to do with small churches, or churches of any size?  For the first time ever in the history of humankind (drumroll) you will be able to communicate directly, personally, and at any time with anyone you choose to.  This has huge implications for how churches communicate, gather people, do ministry, and publish their message.  What do you think are some ways churches could benefit from the epublishing, ebook, and mobile phone revolution?

    Grief as the surprising companion of cancer

    As cancers go, it was the best kind to have, the doctor said.  Basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, that lives at the base layer of the skin, but rarely metastasizes to other parts of the body.  The bad news, he said, was that it was in the worst place it could be — in the middle of Debbie’s upper lip.  It would have to be removed.  There would be a scar.  He couldn’t work miracles.  That was only for Hollywood, he said.

    Debbie had noticed what appeared to be an enlarged pore just at the bow of her lip.  Early last summer, she noticed a lump inside her lip just under this pore.  Summer was busy, though.  We had Vacation Bible School in June.  In July, my brother died and we made a week-long trip to south Georgia for his funeral.  In August, I spoke at a conference at Myrtle Beach, where we had a few days in the sun.  In October, Debbie went to a new dermatologist because the lump was bigger.

    The dermatologist immediately diagnosed the enlarged pore and the lump as skin cancer, probably basal cell.  We were both stunned.  Neither of us had thought about cancer.  A cyst, maybe.  A clogged pore.  But cancer was a complete surprise.  A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.  Then we had to wait for an appointment with the surgeon.  Debbie had the option of scheduling a consultation with the dermatological surgeon prior to her surgery.   On a November day we met him in his office.  That’s when he told us the good and bad news.  Most of it seemed bad to us.  Surgery was scheduled for December 11.

    Last Friday, she went in for what would be called minor surgery by a casual observer.  With Mohs surgery, they don’t even put you to sleep.  She walked into the clinic, then out again four hours later.  The cancer was excised, and the doctor, who is also a plastic surgeon, did a wonderful job of repairing her lip where the cancer had been.  It was larger than he thought it would be, he said.  About the size of a nickel, right on her upper lip.

    What surprised us both was the grief that was companion to the cancer.  Our first reaction was shock and disbelief.  How could this be cancer, even the least invasive kind?  It didn’t look like cancer.  Not like all the warning signs of cancer you typically see.  Our shock turned to anger at another doctor who had dismissed the enlarged pore with an “I don’t know what this is, but don’t worry about it.”

    And then we prayed.  And read books on healing, and wondered if somehow God would not heal her so she wouldn’t have to go through the surgery.  And we prayed until we could not pray about it anymore.  We had no more words, no ability to sit together and ask God for anything — healing, peace, grace, calm, nothing.  We had come to the end of our prayers.  We had to hope that Paul was right, that the Spirit would pray for us because we did not know how to pray for ourselves.

    And we cried.  We cried in our private moments, when we turned out the light at night, lying in bed.  We held each other and cried for the uncertainty, the loss, the fear, and the anxiety.  We wept because we had no words with which to comfort each other in the face of this disease that had crept into our life and now occupied almost our every thought.

    We cried for each other when we were not crying for ourselves.  We grieved the loss of this part of Debbie’s body, this part of her lip on which I had seen a million smiles take form and blossom.  We grieved because no one else could grieve for us.  Because all the well-intentioned assurances did not help.

    But the prayers of others did help, we believe.  The surgery went well, the doctor was skillful, and Debbie is healing.  Her lip no longer has its Cupid’s bow, as that little curved part is called.  But she’s well, the cancer is gone, and we’re on the other side of this experience.  What surprised us was the grief, whose shadow is just now fading.

    I have always tried to visit my members who were facing in-patient surgery, and I have sat with families waiting the outcome of open-heart, cancer, and other types of major surgical procedures.   Day surgeries don’t seem as serious.  Medically, I suppose, they are not.  But few will know the emotional and spiritual pain accompanying those procedures we call ‘minor.’  Grief, however, makes no distinction and visits us at surprising moments of our own vulnerability.  I’m going to remember that, I hope.

    Jesus never denied the presence of grief, never dismissed it, but always was present with those in grief.  “Blessed are those who mourn,” he said, “for they shall be comforted.”  I want to be among those who are the comforters, as well as the comforted.

    Study Links Luxury Goods and Selfishness

    A new study reveals a specific link between luxury goods and selfishness. Two experiments showed that “exposure to luxury led people to think more about themselves than others,” according to a Harvard Business School paper.

    Professor Roy Y. J. Chua and Xi Zou conducted two experiments in which one group of participants was exposed to pictures of luxury goods such as watches and shoes, and the other group was shown pictures of watches and shoes that were not luxury brands. After participants identified characteristics of the goods, they were then asked to take an unrelated survey about decision-making. Those exposed to luxury goods were significantly more likely to act in their own self-interest, even at the expense or harm of others.

    In a second experiment, those exposed to luxury goods were less able to identify words that expressed positive social actions, than those who were only exposed to non-luxury goods. In other words, the cognition, or thought process, of those exposed to luxury goods tended to be self-centered, and self-interested with less regard for others.

    All of this might explain why people like Tiger Woods make such absurdly self-centered choices. Tiger owns both a luxury yacht and private jet, not to mention the Cadillac Escalade he just wrecked, or the mansions he owns, and so on.   This might also explain why the head of Goldman Sachs described banks, including his, as “doing God’s work.” Luxury tends to blind us to the needs of others, and bias us toward our own self-interest.

    The Harvard Business article is playfully titled, “The Devil Wears Prada?” — an apparent play on the book and movie by the same name, only without the question mark.

    So, when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” he was telling us how to order our lives so that we have the basic necessities of life, but also are concerned that others have them too. It also puts the “prosperity gospel” (I hate to write those words together) in a new light. Preachers who drive around in luxury cars, fly in private jets, and tell their flocks how they can get ahead, may be creating the next generation of self-centered church members. Not that we haven’t seen that before, but this time we have proof that the more you have, the less concern you have for others. Something to think about during the Christmas season.