Sunday, January 16, 2011

Keeping Church Flexible

At church today it occurred to me that though our church is more than 100 years old, we really don't have big fights about music, and I got to thinking about why.

First, I think the reason people get upset about changes in church music (or how communion is served, or any of a hundred activities that take place on Sunday morning) is that they become used to a particular way of doing things and it bugs their socks off when you change it on them.

I'm not innocent. For example, if I hear a remake of a classic song (Christian or otherwise) in which the artist has made some change, it grates my nerves. Logic can tell me all it wants that it's okay if the artist wants to try something a bit different, but all the time my mind is saying, "That guy is totally messing up that song!"

So how do you prevent grumpy people like me from getting bugged by changes at church?

Well, what my church does - and it seems to be fairly successful - is to make a point of changing things just a little bit almost every Sunday.

We don't sing exactly the same songs all the time. Sometimes there are new songs. We don't always play the organ or piano. Sometimes there is a choir and sometimes there isn't. We don't serve communion the same way every time. Sometimes people come up front; sometimes they are served in their seats; sometimes we take the bread and cup as a group and sometimes we take them when we receive them.

I think this flexibility helps me remember that it isn't the form that should be unchanging, but the Gospel itself.

So I guess if I was in charge of a church that was stuck in a debilitatingly rigid pattern, I might introduce one small change in one area for one Sunday, and tell people that it will be changed back the next week, perhaps saying, "Let's just try it and see how it feels." The next week it would be changed back and I'd introduce a small change in another area, again, just for one Sunday. And so forth.

The point here is not to say, "My way of serving communion is better than your way." After all, is it really a good idea to replace one rigid pattern for another? Rather, the idea is just to limber people up a bit and help them be a bit more receptive to new ways God may have of doing things.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Clarity in Marriage

Once, when a man and woman got married - at least in the United States - they understood their duties fairly well. The man would support his family and the woman would take care of the household. Clear, perhaps, but not very flexible.

Then, a few decades ago, things began to change and those roles stopped being well defined. Now, if, say, the wife hates cooking and the husband loves it, then no problem, he does the cooking and nobody sneers that he is doing "women's work." And if the wife wants to work outside the home, she can do that. Nobody raises an eyebrow.

The big advantage, of course, is that the new system is very flexible, and each task can be performed by the person who enjoys it most, or who dislikes it the least.

But there is a problem with the new system.

Let's say that the wife hates ironing, but decides early in their marriage to do it for a little while as a special treat. "I just want to show how much I love him."

She doesn't see ironing as her duty, as she might have in years gone by, because now there's nothing that says ironing is one of her duties. Now she may feel that she is doing something special.

But the husband thinks, "Oh, she's more traditional than I realized. Well, I'm okay if she does the ironing."

So now she is a bit miffed. She was doing him a favor but he is taking it for granted and handing her the shirt that needs to be ironed for tomorrow's meeting. Pretty nervy!

Or, let's say she is traditionally-minded and expects that when she marries she will be able to quit her job and that her husband will provide for her to stay home and take care of the household. But he was expecting a second income. Ouch!

So, years ago the problem was lack of flexibility; now the problem is expectations. When the roles were well-defined each partner pretty much knew what to do and what the other person was supposed to do. Now not so much.

So, my unasked for advice to couples planning to get married is this: Discuss what tasks each of you will do - making sure to cover them all - then write down who will do what.

I know, I know. You don't need to write it down because you trust your spouse, but trust isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about memory. We forget things - especially things that we find unpleasant - so being able to refresh your minds with a written agreement can be very helpful.

I'd like to end this by saying that this is what my wife and I did before we got married. Well, we didn't. We married when the marriage relationship was still rather traditional. But in retrospect, even though things have been good for us, it might have been a wise idea all the same.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A New Year's Resolution for Mr. Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

With a strong Republican showing in the last election you are not going to get anything done on the domestic front that the Republicans don't like.

So why not accomplish something internationally, something for which you could probably get bipartisan support.

What? China and Taiwan.

I can't see any reason why the U.S. should have bad relations with rising superpower, China, except for one left-over problem from the Cold War - Taiwan.

Mainland China wants Taiwan back and the U.S. Navy is preventing that. That made lots of sense when China had gone insane after the communist takeover, but China is no longer insane. It is no paragon of law and liberty, but it is not insane either.

So why not - while we still have a lot of influence in the area - persuade The Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (mainland China) to sit down and start doing some serious negotiations on their future relationship, with the understanding that we don't intend to be stuck between them forever?