Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Are You a Half-man?

In stories we often see a character known as the “half-man.” This character may or may not be person, but I always think of a man sitting on the ground with his legs cut off. The purpose of this character is to give strength to the villain. The half-man does this by telling the protagonist about how he faced the villain and was defeated. The stronger the half-man appears to be the more powerful the villain and the greater the challenge the protagonist faces when he must test his own strength against the villain. One of my favorite half-men is Rock Biter in The Neverending Story. This character is a mountain of a character who causes the earth to quake when he walks, but the protagonist finds him sitting on the ground looking at his powerful hands because they weren’t strong enough to keep The Nothing from snatching his friends away.

But a half-man can be as simple as an image or a symbol. Suppose our protagonist is walking through a forest and he finds a human skull on a stake. We know nothing of the half-man this skull belongs to other than he was human. What purpose does this image serve? Without saying the words, the message to all who reach this spot is “Turn back, now!” That is the message of all half-men. “You cannot defeat the villain, so don’t even try.”

The thing about protagonists is that they don’t listen. You will never find a story in which the protagonist doesn’t face the villain because he was warned away by the half-man. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t trust the half-man. Perhaps it is because the cost of turning back is too great. If we remove the fourth wall, we know that the real reason is because that would be the end of the story. We have ninety more pages to write, we can’t let the protagonist give up just because he encountered a half-man.

So, why are half-men such important story elements and why do they strengthen the villain so much? Because in real life we encounter half-men all the time and unlike the protagonists in our stories we take their advice and we give up. For example, you might encounter someone who says, “I’ve tried to lose weight, but nothing works. It probably doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve heard that 90% of the people who lose weight gain it all back anyway.” Their words discourage you and you may find yourself giving up your own attempt to lose weight. Giving up is a realistic option for the protagonist even though we know he won’t.

Though the half-man is important in stories, we don’t want to be a half-man in real life. Unfortunately, that tends to be our default. We face the villain. We fail. We give up and then begin to tell other people why they will be defeated as well. By doing this, we give strength to the enemy that defeated us. But not all defeated characters are half-men. When we see a character gathering forces for a second attempt at defeating the villain, he is not a half-man (unless it is obvious his attempts will fail). In life, we will be defeated more times than we care to admit, but what are we going to do? Are we going to sit on the ground telling everyone we can that we failed and they will too? Or are we going to assess the situation and gather resources to break through the armor of the villain?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dying Malls and Dying Churches

She left a comment in response to mine in agreement with what I said and yet it changed my point of view. The original post was about a mall that like so many is dying. Once the crown jewel of the community, only a few retailers remain to keep the lights on. The article was talking about the owners of the mall looking for ways to innovate. My comment was that all malls are dying and that it is because of online shopping, but I don’t think brick and mortar is dead because mixed use properties that combine living, retail, entertainment, etc. have advantages that even thirty-minute delivery from Amazon.com can’t compete with. Online retail will never be able to compete with the spontaneous purchases made by someone walking past a store window. But her comment added something to the list that I hadn’t really considered, churches.

We all know that churches are struggling right now and those of us involved in church leadership spend a great deal of time thinking about how we can get more people involved at our church. Even though it is a similar problem to what retail stores are experiencing, we don’t link the two because we know that Amazon.com is the problem for retail stores and Amazon.com doesn’t have a church (yet). So even if we accept that retail stores shouldn’t be asking this question, we keep right on asking the question, “How can we get more people to drive to where we are?” We think retail stores shouldn’t ask that question because people don’t have to drive at all if they order online. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking that concerning churches either.

Imagine you’re a lost person. You believe there is a God. There must be, right? Church seems like the place to figure this out, but you couldn’t care less about whether the church is Baptist, or Catholic, or Presbyterian, or non-denominational. You don’t know about these things. Who cares what they put on their church sign? And who really cares what kind of songs they sing? You don’t know the songs anyway. It’s all strange to you. So here are some things you probably aren’t going to do. You probably aren’t going to follow sign on the highway that points off down a gravel road toward a church. You probably aren’t going to show up at this big huge building that looks kind of like a shopping mall that is only open on Sunday. And those smaller buildings? Why would you just show up? Do people do that kind of thing? Is that considered okay or would people look at you funny?

Churches are actually dealing with the same thing that retail stores are. The problem isn’t Amazon.com. The root of the problem is that people don’t want to deal with the hassle. Amazon.com has just found a way to provide a solution. People don’t want to sit in traffic getting to the store, then have to fight their way through the aisles looking for a product, only to discover the store no longer has it in stock, then wait in the checkout line to purchase the things they did find, and then fight the traffic going home. Just order online and the problem is solved. But we are asking people to do some of these same things when they attend church. Sit in traffic getting there, deal with a crowd of people they don’t know, sit through songs they don’t know, then sit through a sermon that has no content, and then fight the traffic going home.

What if we put a church in one of these retail/residential developments? Now we’re not asking people to drive anywhere. Their car is already parked on the property, or maybe they show up while on their Sunday morning jog or bicycle ride. They walk past our front door on the way to breakfast or on their way to dinner. We’re going to put a greeter outside the front door ready to hand out flyers, invite people inside, and answer any questions they may have. We’re going to have big plate glass windows so that people can see what we are doing. It may look strange at first, but after a few Sundays of walking past, it’s going to seem normal. We’re going to put up big signs telling about the various activities and those activities are going to be age appropriate for the community we are in. We might even offer them free donuts and coffee. And what about the rest of the week? If we’re smart, we’ll keep the doors open during the times the retail shops are open. Maybe we have some classes or small groups that meet onsite during the week. Maybe it’s just a couple of staff members part of the time. But people living there or visiting the shops should be able to expect that when they need answers that only God can provide they need only show up, open the door, and they will find someone who can point them in the right direction.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this would work? Why or why not?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Churches Separated by Age

I skipped church the other day, but this isn’t about that. Instead it is about age group separation. I read an article that suggested that maybe the reason young people leave the church is because they were never a part of the church in the first place. We start them out in the nursery because who wants to hear crying babies in a worship service. Then we move them into Children’s Church because they would just be bored in worship. Then they go into the Youth Group. So when they reach adulthood “church” is very different from what they are familiar with. I can buy into that as being a problem, but what do we do about it and what does that have to do with me skipping church?

On Wednesday night our church is broken into several different groups. I am one of the Awana leaders, but because of Christmas break, Awana and Fear One (youth) weren’t meeting. That left one available activity, the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Because the young people meet in other groups the Wednesday night prayer meeting is primarily a meeting of the Senior Citizens. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone I said that.) It isn’t like we want to label it that because we want to tell people that we have a place for everyone, but it is what it is. They seem to enjoy it, but I struggle with it because after nine hours of sitting at a desk my sitting ability is shot. The very thought of sitting in a meeting listening to an hour long lecture is about like fingernails on a chalkboard. I literally dread the summer months when Awana doesn’t meet.

When we consider a solution to the problem of separating age groups our natural tendency is to think that we just need to bring the young people into the worship service. We have this idea that we have “church” and then we have these groups of young people that are meeting separately. But that’s not the case. Instead of church and two ministries what we actually have are three age separated ministries. Just because one of those ministries is meeting in the auditorium, singing songs and hearing a sermon doesn’t mean they are “church” and the other are not. It isn’t reasonable to expect that we can combine the children’s ministry and the youth ministry with the senior adult ministry and just keep doing what the senior adult ministry does each week.

Visually I saw a representation of the situation when our church did Lifeword Sunday. We met outside one Sunday evening and had a 5k walk/run. The young people were running and participating in various activities, but most of the senior citizens had arranged their chairs in rows like they were ready to have church. I didn’t spend much time over there. I’m sure they did a lot of talking and had a good time, but there was no mutual interaction. If there young people had been forced to sit in those chairs they would’ve been miserable. If the older people had been forced to participate in the activities they would’ve been miserable.

One of the things that happens when we separate by age group is that the younger groups tend to play games and the older groups tend to be spectators. There is something to be said for young people having time in which they sit and learn, but also something to be said for older people becoming more physically active. I could see both of these occurring if we could find ways to merge the age groups, even if occasionally.

What that might look like is this: For a game at a church picnic people are split into teams. Each team is made up of one child, one teenager, one senior citizen, and someone who is in between. The teams are given a challenge to complete that involves runners retrieving balls with Bible questions on them. These questions would be things that most children would not know the answer to and might require looking them up in the Bible to get the correct answer. The team that answers the most questions in the shortest amount of time would win. The key thing here is that each team member would have strengths that would benefit the team, but weaknesses that would require them to rely on team members in a different age group.

But it’s not just about playing games. Why can’t we do something similar with our worship services and ministries? Why don’t we give children and teen church members responsibilities that are suitable to their development level? I don’t mean having them shadow adults as they do ministry (though that’s not a bad thing). I mean give them real responsibility. Maybe put a child in charge of making sure that the offering plates are where they need to be every Sunday morning and evening. Maybe find one who shows up early and make them responsible for making sure the hymnals are straight and there are offering envelopes in every rack before the service. As for teenagers, a lot of the stuff adults do could be done by teenagers if we would just let them. There are other things that they can’t do yet, but we can teach them now so that they are ready to take on those tasks when they are old enough.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Real World Facebook

We laugh when people talk about treating people in the real world like we do on Facebook. One such post begins, “every day I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later and with whom.” The post continues with other things and ends by saying, “I already have four people following: two police officers, a private investigator and a psychiatrist.” Yes, we laugh, but what if we really did apply the same principles that we use on Facebook to the world outside?
Suppose your car won’t start one morning and you decide to take the city bus to work. While you’re waiting at the bus stop you see a stranger approach the bus stop. You make eye contact and you say, “Good morning. How are you?”
The stranger replies, “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Good, but my car wouldn’t start this morning. Now I’m going to be late for work.”
“My wife went to see her mother, so I’ve been without a car all week.”
“Have you been cooking for yourself this week?”
“No, I’ve been eating out.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
This conversation isn’t farfetched, but here are two strangers who have within moments of meeting each other talked about what they have eaten, how they feel, what they have done, and what they will do later. It ends with an affirmation (a like, if you will) for what one of the people has said.
It isn’t that doing the things we do on Facebook would be so strange if we did them in the real world but we’ve isolated ourselves so much in the real world that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to do these things. I find it interesting that people talk about what they would do if they “walked down the street.” It isn’t that people don’t do the things they do on Facebook, but people don’t “walk down the street.” Instead, they get in their cars and drive from one parking space to another. They see many cars, but few people. There is no communication between cars. Once people reach their destination they might talk to other people, but mostly they assume that other people don’t want to communicate with them. Then they get in their cars and drive home where they lock themselves inside and contemplate how unrealistic Facebook is.
Imagine how different it would be if we would remove the shell. Imagine if we gave ourselves opportunities to talk to people, even if we just talked about eating at a favorite restaurant or at one that we hated. Imagine if we removed the glass bubble. Imagine knowing your neighbors by face if not by name. Imagine having a conversation with someone just because they happened to be standing or sitting near you. Imagine expecting this to happen every day. This is what we would really have if we applied the principles of Facebook to the real world.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why I Ride to Church

I’ve been riding my bicycle to church. If you’re wondering why I would do that, so am I. The thing is, I can think of all kinds of reasons as to why other people should ride their bicycle to church. Probably the most important reason is that it creates opportunities for interaction between the church and the members of the community around it. When you’re in a car, people might see that you are headed to church but they will never speak to you and you will never speak to them. At no point will you ever say, “Come and go to church with me.” Of course there are other reasons like it being good for your health or it freeing up parking for guests or getting your brain in gear before you participate in corporate worship. But none of these reasons are the reason I’ve been riding my bicycle to church.

Those are great reasons and I tell myself that I should be more concerned about those things than what I am, but the real reason I’ve been riding my bicycle to church is because I can. What’s the use of being able to do something if you don’t do it? I have lots of people tell me that they aren’t able to ride a bicycle more than a short distance. I don’t know if they believe they can’t ride a bicycle, but they may be right. Years of sitting around too much and eating too much has resulted in people who can hardly move their own weight around. But there’s more to being able to ride to church than being able to balance on two wheels while pedaling.

The ability to ride a bicycle for transportation is as much about the knowledge of how to get from one place to another as it is about the physical ability. Riding a bicycle requires less effort than walking. If you can walk one mile, you can ride a bicycle four. But there’s a significant difference between riding a bicycle around the block and back to your house and riding to a destination. First, there may be things that you need to carry with you. Once you get to your location, you probably want to lock your bicycle, so a bike lock is required. For longer distances you might need to carry water.

Also, there is the question of what roads to ride. Many people assume that they will ride a bicycle along the same roads that they follow when in a car. Many of the roads that are ideal for cars are the least suitable for bicycles. Finding alternate routes may require some research. Sometimes an alternate route is just a street that runs parallel to a road, but often you will find that roads cut through areas where streets are not connected.

I suppose there’s something about being able to do something that many other people can’t. Of course it is easier to get into a motor vehicle to get to the destination, but where’s the fun in that?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Disconnected Roads

I love riding a bicycle, but I'm surrounded by roads that I'd rather not ride. To the West I have Crowley Road, which is a six lane road that is constantly flowing with traffic. The City of Fort Worth is planning to put an on-street bike path along it at some point, but they won't tell me when. An on-street bike path is a glorified sidewalk that is wide enough for bicycle traffic, but it still has to contend with driveways along the street.
To the North I have Sycamore School Road, which is another busy street that they aren't likely to do anything with anytime soon. To the East there is Hemphill Street. It's a little better than the others. The speed limit is only 40 mph, so only some of the traffic goes 50 or 60 mph and there is less traffic. I do ride this street when it isn't too busy. The plan is to remove two lanes on this street south of I20 and mark it for bicycle traffic. I like the idea, but I don't see it happening soon.
To the South there is Risinger Road. It might be okay except it is incomplete. There is a private road that connects it, but that does me no good. Going farther South there is Crowley Cleburne Road, which is narrow and I would have to ride some distance with the 60 to 70 mph traffic on Crowley Road before I reached it. It would be well out of my way if I wanted to go North.
In looking at the map I noticed that that are as couple of streets that would make a world of difference to my bike rides if they weren't dead end streets. One is Winn Drive in Edgecliff Village. If there were a bike trail connecting it to Camelot Road I could avoid Hemphill Street completely on my way to Westcreek Drive and the Trinity Trail.
But then I noticed another one. If Cunningham Street were connected to something on the other side of the train tracks most of my heavy traffic concerns would disappear. On the other side of the tracks, there are plenty of residential streets.
In time it will probably be different. Those empty spaces will be swallowed up with housing and there will be streets connecting everything. Right now that isn't the case. I just think it is interesting how much difference a few yards of concrete would make in terms of improving cycling in my neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lose Weight the Easy Way

Most people want to lose weight and get in shape. People may be content with their fitness level, but they would prefer to be in better shape. The problem isn’t a lack of desire. The problem isn’t that people don’t know what they need to do. Eat less. Exercise more. This isn’t rocket science. So, why don’t people do it?

I spent several years knowing what I needed to do but not doing it. Concerns about my health convinced me to rearrange some priorities. There are things I don’t do anymore because riding a bicycle is high on my priority list. But the reality is that we can’t always do that. Work, church, family, life. These things constantly pull us away from our fitness goals.

There is an article in Bicycling titled America’s Most Bike-Crazy Mayor and it highlights Betsy Price’s efforts here in Fort Worth to get people riding bicycles. They quote Betsy Price as saying, “I realized if I was going to maintain an active lifestyle as mayor, it would be vital to find ways to incorporate it into my city activities.” I love that quote because that is the thing that people either don’t get or they do it poorly. For Betsy Price, the concept translates into doing rolling and walking town hall meetings. She gives city residents the opportunity to communicate with her, which is a job requirement, but rather than this taking away from her ability to exercise, it enhances it.

We may find ourselves saying, “I don’t have time to exercise.” We may feel guilty about it, but the reality is that it is true. But what if we incorporate exercise into our high priority things? What does that look like?

Bicycle commuting is one of the first things that comes to mind. If I were to bicycle commute rather than drive and then ride afterward, I would get more exercise, but it would take me less time to do it. I don’t do that because my day would have to start even earlier and some of the streets I would have to travel make me a little nervous, especially in the dark. But if I lived within three miles of work, it would take me less time to ride my bicycle than to drive, and I would get exercise “for free.”

There must be other ways we can incorporate activity into the things we’re doing anyway. I’ve heard of people gaining weight because the office copy machine was moved closer to their desk. I’ve also heard of managers turning their staff meetings into walking meetings, in which they walked the halls instead of meeting in a conference room.

Church stuff bothers me. Have you ever noticed how much church stuff involves sitting or eating and sometimes sitting and eating? At our church, we have tons of pillows that people leave at church because people sit so much that they feel uncomfortable. Instead of sitting on those pillows, we would be better off if we would have a pillow fight once in a while.

With as many things as we have going on in our lives, there will always be things that take higher priority than exercise. And sometimes that may even be something like sitting around watching television or reading a book. There are times that we need the down time. These days, it is rare that it takes less time to exercise than what it does not to exercise, but if we find ways to combine that exercise with things we are already doing it will reduce the time required. And if we set things up so that doing the high priority things forces us to exercise, we won’t even consider the excuses we have for not exercising.