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June 19, 2009

A couple of weeks ago Dr. Mohler supplied a suggested summer reading list. My tastes and Dr. Mohler’s run pretty much the same when it comes to recreational reading so I thought I’d go ahead and just read this entire list of ten books. I’m now forty percent of the way through (math wizzes will do the math and figure out that this means I’ve read four of the ten) and thought I’d report in.

The Unforgiving MinuteFirst up was The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney. Mohler says “The Unforgiving Minute is in account that mixes courage with intelligence and deep patriotic commitment with a reflective mind. This book is an account of education, growth into manhood, and the demands of leadership. It unites the intensity of battle with the anguished thoughts of a young man who desperately wants to be worthy of the trust invested in him.” I found it a fascinating read and one that was atypical for war memoirs (of which I’ve read many). Mullaney is both a jock and an intellectual, a guy who is as comfortable in the halls of academia (he was a Rhodes scholar) as he is in the wrestling ring (where he was quite an accomplished athlete). He is far from a Texas Republican (like the authors of many of the memoirs I’ve read) and yet he’s also not quite the Rhode Island liberal we might (unfairly) expect for a guy who is part of the Obama-Biden Transition Team. He offers a poignant look at coming of age on the battlefield that is reminiscent of the similar memoirs of men like Eugene Sledge and Erich Maria Remarque, to whom he is clearly indebted. Forewarned is forearmed and, as Mohler noted, there is a little bit of profanity in this book, though it is mostly descriptive and happens on battlefields (where, by all accounts, there tends to be a fair bit of profanity). If you are interested in war memoirs, this one is a must-read.

With Wings Like EaglesNext up was Michael Korda’s With Wings Like Eages. I’ve always had a deep fascination with the Battle of Britain (which probably began the day I saw the movie of that name) and read this book like it was a spy thriller. Mohler says “With Wings Like Eagles is an accurate and well-written account that takes the reader into the drama of those days and the lives of the pilots. Korda places the Battle of Britain within the larger context of the war and, in the end, makes clear that, had Britain fallen, the world we know would be a remarkably different place.” It is, indeed, both accurate and well-written. It is also perfectly-paced, never getting bogged down in the details. It is deep enough to give a good sense of the ebb and flow of the battle, but not so deep that it becomes inaccessible. If I was forced to come up with a negative for this book, I’d point to the author’s esteem, and perhaps even over-esteem, for Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. In fact, in many places the book reads almost like a biography of Dowding. While his importance to the battle and to the eventual Allied victory in the Second World War has long been under-appreciated, Korda may be just a little bit too positive toward his hero. Nevertheless, this is a very good book and one that describes an exceedingly important battle that without doubt changed the world.

Hunting EichmannThe third book I read was Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb. The book describes how a group of survivors along with a fledgling spy agency hunted down the man who engineered much of the Holocaust. And, of course, they quickly brought him to justice in a moment that was pivotal in Israeli history and in Israeli self-identity. Mohler says “Bascomb has written the only full account of Eichmann’s capture and its aftermath. He tells the story with great skill, and he sets the record straight on a number of questions. The most interesting fact about the search for Adolf Eichmann in the years after World War II is the fact that he was not even on the top list of wanted Nazi criminals at the war’s end. Eichmann’s central role in administering the “Final Solution” and the murder of millions of Jews in Germany and central Europe became evident only in the years after the war.” This is a book that reads like a novel, or close to it, in any case. It reminded me a fair bit of James Swanson’s Manhunt which also described the historical account of hunting down a notorious killer (and which is also well worth the read). Like that book, I couldn’t put it down until I had read the last page. I knew little about Eichmann and even less about his life after the war, his capture and his trial. This book provided the facts on all of these matters and did so in a fast-paced, compelling way.

War War One a Short HistoryFinally, just this morning I finished World War One: A Short History by Norman Stone. Mohler says “Without flinching, Stone tells the story of the hubris and insane optimism that brought Europe into this disaster and he recounts the blunders and grinding murderousness of this war. Most Americans want to know more about World War I and, most importantly, they want to understand what that war meant. World War One: A Short History is a great place to find those questions answered.” It is difficult to do justice to as great an event as the First World War in only 180 pages, but Stone does as well as we could hope. He does particularly well in describing the causes of the war and in showing at the end of his narrative how this war was really the prelude for the even greater, even more costly Second World War. Though it is relatively easy to read, it can be a little bit difficult to follow simply because so much had to be left out so this could be, as it claims, a short history. Still, anyone who is eager to read a brief overview of the War, or anyone who seeks to understand some of the background to the Second War, would do well to read this book.

That brings me to four out of ten. For Father’s Day I’ve requested three more from the list: Sultana, The Third Reich at War (which, based on its size, is clearly going to be a challenge) and Horse Soldiers. That will leave me with Masters and Commanders, Maverick Military Leaders and For the Thrill of It. Speaking of which, for the thrill of it, I also picked up the novel City of Thieves which Mohler also recently recommended. It’s going to be a busy summer. I’ll check in again when I’ve scratched a few more off my list.

One more quick note. While browsing the shelves of my local bookstore a short time ago, I came across What I Read, a little reading journal. It simply offers a place to record the books you’ve read along with a few brief comments about them. I’ve quite enjoyed using the journal and think it would make a perfect gift for any reader. So take a look and consider getting one for anyone you know who loves to read. They’ll love it.

June 17, 2009

Last Friday I encouraged you not to take your iPod to church. Not surprisingly, this generated a bit of discussion both at the blog and across some other social media (Twitter, Facebook, and so on). It’s a good discussion to have, I think. I realize that I am probably overstating my case just a little bit, but this is deliberate. I want to get people thinking about this issue. I offer special thanks to people who offered such incisive, head-in-the-sand feedback as this: “Maybe should worry about people who don’t bring any type of Bible to church instead of chiding technology” or “Why don’t we just go back to scrolls and the original languages, while we’re at it?” I guess it’s not worth responding to some comments.

I was quite far into a second article when I went found myself on a rather lengthy rabbit trail, writing about our love of information. Today we have unparalleled access to vast quantities of information to the point that we are nearly drowning in it. Yet we hoard it almost compulsively. So let’s call today’s article Don’t Take Your iPod to Church! (Part 1.5). It is a bit of an aside, but an important and relevant one, I think. We’ll start it this way…

I know a lot about my wife. I know what she likes to wear around the house, what she likes to wear to church and what she likes to wear when we go out for dinner. I know what she likes to eat and what she hates to eat. I know what books she likes to read, what movies she likes to watch, what web sites she likes to browse. I have all of this accumulated knowledge about my wife. But I think I could have this same level of knowledge about whoever the latest Hollywood heartthrob happens to be. This is exactly the kind of knowledge that you might find in those newspapers and magazines that clutter the checkouts at the grocery stores and it is the kind of knowledge that I might find on the hundreds of gossip blogs that pollute the internet.

I also have knowledge of my wife, knowledge that goes far beyond the facts of preferences, likes, dislikes, hobbies. I have an intense and intimate knowledge of my wife—a kind of knowledge shared by no one else in the world. She and I enjoy intimacy that transcends mere bits of information.

A trend we see today through today’s digital technology is the exaltation of this kind of knowledge, cold facts, at the expense of more intimate knowledge. This is true, I’m convinced, when we take our iPods to church. Quentin Schultze says that we have become like tourists who are so enamored by our mode of transportation that we cruise through nation after nation largely indifferent to the people and the cultures around us. We have our passports filled with the little stamps telling people just how many places we’ve been, but what is the purpose of being in places if we have not experienced them? And what is the purpose of knowing people if we do not care to know them on anything more than a surface level? The trend today is toward these fleeting, surface-level interactions.

We see this in a technology like Facebook. It is why I may have 1600 Facebook friends but no real face-to-face friends. It is why Facebook measures friendships in quantity, not in quality. And this, I think, is why so many of us love Facebook. It is a conduit for seemingly endless knowledge of the facts of the lives of our friends and families. We can log on to Facebook and at any time access a myriad of facts about our friends: what they are doing at that moment and what they have done update-by-update since they first joined; we can see who their friends are, what movies they enjoy, what books they read (or don’t read), what blogs they like, where they were born, what networks and groups they belong to, and on and on. We learn all these facts about them, even if we do not know them. These facts bring us no closer to knowledge of them—of who they really are. We have hundreds of people flitting around on the edges of our lives, but perhaps fewer than ever with whom are intimately involved. After a while we find real friendship too much, too terrifying, too intimate. Instead we reveal private details to all who will listen, almost as if those private details need to be known by someone.

But the wise observer might ask, if I have 1600 friends, why am I so lonely? Shouldn’t at least one of those 1600 friends be available when I need help painting my living room?

This trend manifests itself in other ways. We are increasingly moving knowledge to the cloud and relying on knowledge that exists in the cloud. The cloud, of course, is that sum of knowledge, or is it information?, that exists “out there.” When you just need to know what is in that bottle of pills you left in the closet and type its name into Google, you are accessing the cloud. It is convenient, to be sure. But it is encouraging us to emphasize the skill of accessing in favor of the skills of knowing and understanding. Hence we are becoming people who have little knowledge in our minds but great knowledge available with a few taps of our thumbs. And then we might ask, if we have little knowledge in our minds, how much can we have in our hearts? What use is memorizing Scripture if we can access our favorite translation faster than we begin to recite it. Why expend effort in getting the Bible into our hearts and minds if we already have it in our pockets?

The trend thus causes us to care more about accessing information that will make our lives immediately easier, that will fix our little problems, than the morality of what we do with that information. The information we access thus has no moral purpose, but instead a purely practical purpose. I need to know what the lyric is for this song, but I am not concerned about the fact that I have downloaded it illegally. This technology allows us to manipulate the world so we can get what we want and when we want it. Students increasingly see study as a means to getting good grades and making parents and teachers happy, but not as a means of acquiring knowledge that will impact their lives and benefit society. So we download essays from the internet, caring nothing of the morality of doing so or of the missed opportunity to actually know something. Says Quentin Schulze, “To know is to leverage information to accomplish instrumental goals.” (Schultze 33) Heart knowledge is downplayed in favor of using information to get what we want, now. What happens when we regard our friends in such ways? Our spouses? Our God?

Today’s digital technology is unparalleled in history as a means of communicating with others and as a means of sharing information. For this we ought to be grateful. Yet at the same time it may just be changing how we understand, perceive and gather information. We must exercise great caution that we do not lose knowledge of with our newfound ability to find knowledge about. I don’t think I even need to tell you how today’s generation differs in regard to past generations when it comes to their level of knowledge of history, language, Scipture and just about everything else. We may know how to do more, but we do not necessarily know more.

In a future article (part 2.0) I’ll return more pointedly to issues regarding digital technology and Scripture.

June 11, 2009

About a year ago I wrote a review of Amazon’s Kindle reading device. At the time, I loved it. That was then. A couple of months ago I traded my Kindle to a friend for a stack of old-fashioned ink-on-paper commentaries. This is now. I think I made a good trade. He is enjoying the Kindle and I am enjoying the commentaries. Win-win. Something changed between then and now—I came to see that all of the things that frustrated me about the Kindle were things that made it not like a book. It’s book-like qualities were it’s best qualities; it’s non-book-like qualities were the ones that got to me. All of the things that annoyed me were the things that made the experience more like operating a computer and less like reading a book. Pages took too long to turn; I could not splash yellow highlighter on the pages; I could not skim through the book looking quickly for a word or phrase or note; I could not scrawl notes in the margins. Sure, there were a few advantages—the notes I did take (saved in a text file on the Kindle) could be exported to my computer simply by plugging in a USB cable; books were less expensive and instantly added to my collection; hundreds of classics were available for free. But overall, the Kindle experience paled in comparison to the happy, familiar, comforting experience of sitting down with a book. Everything I wanted the Kindle to do, a book could do better.

Books are the perfect technology. I’m convinced of it. This is why the Kindle experience failed me—it was an attempt to make the book better. And this is impossible to do. There is no technology more perfectly suited to its purpose than this one. In comparison to the book, any e-reader falters and fails.

Consider: I can take a book from my shelf—I have 1,000 or 1,500 within six feet of me, and it is immediately on and ready to go. There is no waiting for it to boot up and no questions about its compatibility or obsolescence. I open the book and it immediately does what it was created to do, without first needing an 8-hour charge of its battery. I can store within that book a full history of my interaction with it not fearing that this will be lost when a hard drive crashes or when my hardware becomes obsolete. I can see every note, every highlight I’ve ever done. I can see how I interacted with that book—the parts of the book that brought me delight and the parts that brought me to despair. The pages turn instantly and are numbered for easy reference. When I have completed the book, I can put it back on my shelf or I can lend it to another person so he, too, can read it and, if he so desires, see how I have interacted with it. Despite being printed on dead trees, there is a living quality to books that is lost on e-readers.

Though the words in each may be the same, there is more to a book than its words. A book is an experience, and the experience includes the media through which we consume those words. Reading a book printed on paper, reading a book on a reading device and listening to a recording of a book are, at least in some way, different experiences.

Since the launch and overwhelming success of the Kindle, much ink has been spilled (scratch that and replace it with “many pixels have been lit”) discussing the future of the book. For the first time, people are now turning in large numbers to a device that allows them to read books on a gizmo that is not made of dead trees (though, ironically, the manuals telling how to use said device are still printed on dead trees). With the iPod and iPhone becoming increasingly positioned as reading devices, the chorus swells. There are hundreds of books and articles struggling to understand what it means for the word to transition from print to bits, from paper to screens. The consequences, I am convinced, are profound and I think we are prone to underestimate them.

As for me? Well, I am sure I’ll take another stab at an e-reader at some point in the future; it’s probably inevitable. But I would be awfully surprised if I ever allow such a device to become a substitute for all the ink and paper surrounding me on all sides here in my office. Unless the e-book can become more perfect than an already perfect technology, I’m going to stick with paper.

June 10, 2009

I’ve always loved Acts 12. It is such a fascinating bit of writing—a little story in three acts, each of which fits so well with the others. I was reflecting on the chapter this morning and thought I’d share a little bit of that.

The chapter begins by describing the beginning of Herodian persecution against the church. Herod, the king, presumably to please his Jewish subjects, has the disciple James arrested and killed and then goes after Peter, having him thrown in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts him under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail, but something the author offers as a foreshadowing of what will come.

The second act tells how Peter was delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes by the first and second guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happened to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived without ever bothering to let him in. With the prayer meeting having come to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that Peter really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while, knowing that Herod is going to be mighty displeased in the morning.

In the third act we return to Herod who has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. We find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this chapter, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

Acts 12 contains a great little story, a great little vignette of life in the early church. Despite the miraculous (Peter being rescued, Herod being struck down) there is such a human element to it. We see the church in prayer, undoubtedly begging God for the life of their friend and pastor Peter. Yet when God answers their earnest prayers, they refuse to believe it. “You are out of your mind,” they told Rhoda when she tried to tell them that God had answered them. Two thousand years later we laugh at them, wondering why they would bother praying if they did not think God would bother to answer. And then we realize that we do little better; we realize how much effort we put into pleading for God to act and how little effort we put into seeking answers to those prayers. I trust the lesson was not lost on the early church. I trust they learned from it that God’s miraculous rescue of Peter was not in any way separate from their prayers. Those prayers, offered as they were even with little faithful expectation of an answer, were undoubtedly instrumental in God rescuing Peter from his imprisonment. God answers prayer, even when we ask with little faith.

It is worth noticing as well that Peter, as soon as he arrived, shared all that God had done. Peter, the object of all those prayers, wanted to ensure that the church knew that it was God who had acted with such power and in such an unusual way. “He described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Tell these things to James and to the brothers.’” He wanted this great act of God to encourage all of the believers. And then he departed and went elsewhere, surely a smart move for one who had just managed to slip away from four squads of soldiers who were now facing execution.

The chapter closes with these familiar words: “the word of God increased and multiplied.” Have you ever noticed how often these words, or ones just like it, appear in Acts? Just a brief overview of the first chapters shows them in chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12. In every case, Luke wants us to know that God continued to build his church. In times of joy and pain, times of peace and persecution, God built his church. All that God did was for his own glory and served his ultimate purpose of drawing a people to himself.

And this God, who acted so faithfully, so consistently, so powerfully, is the same God we serve today.

June 04, 2009

Yesterday I looked briefly at entertainment addiction and attempted to propose a definition of entertainment. I said that entertainment is an escape or distraction from normal life. Perhaps I should have added that it is an “enjoyable” escape or distraction. While this is an imperfect definition, I think it is useful, at the least. We seek entertainment to take our minds off the stresses and strains and reality of life.

Today I want to offer a couple of ideas that may help you see the impact entertainment has on our lives.

Qualify Entertainment

I think we need to first qualify our entertainment. We need to figure out what constitutes entertainment and this may well vary from person to person. A lot of what we may think is news or information or otherwise beneficial information may really be entertainment thinly disguised. Do you check Drudge Report eight or ten times every day looking to see the newest headlines? If so, I suspect you are being entertained more than you are being informed. That little bit of information you get from glancing at the headlines and skimming through the stories should probably be filed as entertainment. The same is true of much of the evening news or the blogs you read. Are these things really integral to your life and faith? Or are they really just a form of entertainment? In Amusing Ourselves to Death Neil Postman asked when the last time was that you read a news headline and were compelled to take action. He realized that the vast majority of the news that comes to us is news which demands no action; instead, it is mere information that entertains us but without edifying or challenging us. Even news is often entertainment.

So my encouragement here is to take a look at your day and especially the time you spend in front of screens to determine how much of it is genuinely useful, genuinely applicable to life and how much of it is really a form of entertainment. Which of the shows you watch are entertainment and which are genuinely useful? Which of the web sites you read are entertainment and which actually impact your life? Which of the books you read are amusing and which are edifying? Just pause briefly to think about it.

Quantify Entertainment

Once you have qualified what you do to entertain yourself, try to quantify it. Here you simply attach a number to your entertainment—a number of hours or minutes every day in which you enjoy entertainment. I suspect that, almost invariably, you will be surprised at how large that number is.

As of 2008, the average person between the ages of 18 and 24 spent 8.5 hours every day in front of some kind of a screen—whether computer, cell phone, television, or any other. Mom and dad (aged 45 - 54) fared better (or is it worse?), clocking in at 9.5 hours. These are incredible statistics that give a sense of how digital technologies are reshaping our world. Consider that in 1940 the average would have been 0 hours per day. In just 70 years we have radically reshaped our lives.

How much of this screen time is entertainment-related? In most cases I suspect that it would be the vast majority. Almost 5 hours of the 8.5 for that 18 to 24 year-old are spent watching television (with mom and dad tallying over 6). Can any of that be deemed something other than entertainment? Not likely. How much of the computer time is related to work or school and how much is chatting or browsing or looking at pornography? And even when we seek to be productive on our computers, how often do we switch quickly to email or Digg or Facebook, even if just for a moment or two at a time? How much of the time spent texting and chatting on the cell phone is for entertainment purposes? And even when we do sit back on the couch with a good book, do we keep the television on, just within our peripheral vision?

Even when we look exclusively at screen time we find that people must spend several hours a day being entertained. And this does not include all the other means of entertainment available to us. So quantify your entertainment. For just a day or two track what you do and define appropriate categories. Keep an eye out for how often you switch from work to entertainment, school to entertainment, even if for only two or three minutes each time. I suspect you will find that you are demanding hours of entertainment every day.

What To Do?

Before we continue, I wish to emphasize once again that entertainment is not inherently evil. In fact, I am sure that God created us so we desire and pursue times of entertainment. However, I do think we live at a time when we pursue entertainment with reckless abandon and when we demand it in unprecedented quantities. And for this reason it does us good to think about it, to qualify it, to quantify it.

Now we return to the question that triggered these articles. Somebody wrote to John Piper and asked “I believe I do love Jesus, but most of the time I’d rather spend time being entertained than spend time in God’s word. How do I break this hold that entertainment has on my heart?”

Here is Piper’s reply:

1. Recognizing it is a huge step in the right direction. 2. Seek the Lord earnestly about it. Pray like crazy that God would open your eyes to see wondrous things out of his law. 3. Immerse yourself in the Bible, even when you don’t feel like it, pleading with God to open your eyes to see what’s really there. 4. Get in a group where you talk about serious things. 5. Begin to share your faith. One of the reasons we are not as moved by our own faith as we are is because we almost never talk about it to any unbeliever. It starts to feel like a kind of hothouse thing, and then it starts to have a feeling of unreality about it. And then the powers of entertainment have more sway in our life.

What I have sought to do yesterday and today is give some guidance, some context, to this first step. I want to help you recognize if and where entertainment has dominated your time. If you quantify your entertainment and find that you are spending four or five hours a day being entertained, you may will identify with this person’s honest statement: “most of the time I’d rather spend time being entertained than spend time in God’s word.”

At this point I’d encourage you to pursue Piper’s remedy. I know there is much more that could be said at this point but his suggestions are, at the very least, a great place to start. Pray like crazy, immerse yourself in Scripture even (and especially) when you do not want to, talk with others about serious things and share the gospel. Let God’s Word shape and mold you, showing you what really matters.

June 03, 2009

A few days ago John Piper answered a question about addiction to entertainment. He expressed his concern with our need today to be entertained and to be entertained near-constantly. He then offered a few pointers on escape this addiction. This little article got me thinking and I wanted to offer just a couple of thoughts on the topic.

First, I want to try to define entertainment. The best I can do, at least for now, is this: Entertainment is an escape or distraction or break from normal life. That’s not a great definition, but I think it is a start, at any rate. Entertainment distracts us from the cares and concerns and normalcy of life. It is a form of escapism. It is not necessarily bad to be entertained; but it is meant to be just a part of life, not normal everyday existence. Entertainment is meant to be supplemental, not instrumental. I’ve thought also about amusement. Amusement, if we wish to draw a distinction, is a passive form of entertainment. The roots of the word mean “not thinking” and this clues us in to how it differs from entertainment. A person watching television may be both entertained (as he lets himself take a break from the stress of life) and amused (as he just turns his mind off). A person who is playing Settlers of Catan is entertained, but probably not amused, since playing a game of that nature requires him to use his mind.

Not all entertainment is bad; not all amusement is bad. But I think we have a higher capacity for entertainment than for amusement. I may be entertained by reading a Tale of Two Cities even while not being amused by it. Watching The Office or 24 is pure amusement. The entire purpose is to have me turn off my mind, to stop thinking, and to just go with the story. I think it’s a helpful distinction, then, to see whether we prefer entertainment or amusement. Neither is intrinsically evil, but I think if we ought to be careful to measure both.

I want to point this out as well: entertainment is not a right and should not even be a necessary expectation. The Bible gives us no reason to expect it as a right. Entertainment is a privilege. And historically, the widespread availability and expectation for entertainment is the exception, not the rule. In fact, it has not even been a possibility. And this is at least one of the reasons: here is a small table outlining the cost for a general laborer to enjoy the entertainment of that day, given as a proportion of his daily wage (drawn from Todd Gitlin’s Media Unlimited):

18th century (theater)More than a full day’s wage
Early 19th century (theater)
1840s-50sA little less than ⅓ (25¢)
1870 (minstrel, variety shows)⅙ (still 25¢)
1880s (melodrama, vaudeville)1/13 (10¢)
1910 (nickelodeon)¼0 (10¢)
1920 (movie theater)less than ¼0 (10¢)
1960s (television)⅓60 (amortizing cost of $200 black-and-white set)
1998 (cable television)1/100 (amortizing cost of $300 color set plus basic cable

OK, so this is long enough for today. I’ll come back tomorrow with some further thoughts on what to do about entertainment. For now, I’d love to get feedback on what I’ve said here so far. I am really trying to think this through.

May 24, 2009

There are a couple of songs we sing in church for which I’ve seen only the barest information. In our bulletin we generally record at least the author, composition date and name of the tune. For these songs we’ve got nothing (except, in one case,the author’s name). I thought I’d put them up here today to see if anyone out there can point me in the direction of more substantial information about them.

The first is titled, “A Man There Is, a Real Man” and it’s written by Joseph Hart (who also wrote such hymns as “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” and “Come, Holy Spirit, Come.” Beyond the title and the tune, we don’t really know anything about this hymn. Google and NetHymnal, between them, turn up little that is useful. Does anyone else sing it? Does anyone have any useful information about it (the collection it appeared in, the date it was composed, the name of the tune, etc, etc).

It is a great hymn as you can see by the words. I am especially fond of the fifth stanza: “Come, then, repenting sinner, come / Approach with humble faith / Owe what thou wilt the total sum / Is canceled by His death!” Here it is:

A Man There Is, a Real Man

A Man there is, a real Man,
With wounds still gaping wide,
From which rich streams of blood once ran,
In hands, and feet, and side.

2 ‘Tis no wild fancy of our brains,
No metaphor we speak;
The same dear Man in heaven now reigns,
That suffered for our sake.

3 This wondrous Man of whom we tell,
Is true Almighty God;
He bought our souls from death and hell;
The price, His own heart’s blood.

4 That human heart He still retains,
Though throned in highest bliss;
And feels each tempted member’s pains;
For our affliction’s His.

5 Come, then, repenting sinner, come;
Approach with humble faith;
Owe what thou wilt, the total sum
Is canceled by His death!

6 His blood can cleanse the blackest soul,
And wash our guilt away;
He will present us sound and whole
In that tremendous day.

This second song is one we have not sung for a while, actually, but we’d still like to know more about it. I’m quite sure it comes out of my pastors’ Masters College days and, indeed, when I mentioned the song in the past, several other Masters alumni said they remember it as well. One person suggested it was penned by Don Kistler, though I’ve never seen that confirmed. So once again, if anyone can tell me who wrote this song and the music for it, that would be great. It’s not a bad little song (though I’d love to see someone reimagine the line about “I’ll be the glove for your hand to fill…”).

Here are the words:

Teach Me To Live What You Say

Teach Me to Live What You Say
Teach me to live what You say,
Make me a child who’ll obey;
Holy in all that I do,
May I bring glory to You.

My life is all Yours to shape as You will
I’ll be the glove for Your hand to fill;
I want to be pleasing, to You may it be,
That You might be glorified somehow in me.

To be more like Jesus with each passing day;
More like the Master in every way,
A servant who’s yielded his heart to the One,
Who gives life and says to His servant, “Well done!”

May 22, 2009

This is a topic I’ve written about before, but one that has been on my mind again lately. I’ll be interested in your feedback on it.

Ted Wallis, a doctor in Austin, Texas, recently came upon a lost child in tears in a mall. His first instinct was to help, but he feared people might consider him a predator. He walked away. ‘Being male,’ he explains, ‘I am guilty until proven innocent.’” As awful as it sounds, I sympathize with this guy. As terrible as it might be to see a young child lost and alone, as a man in this society I feel like accusing eyes would be upon me if I was I to walk up to that child and offer my help. My instinct would probably be to look for an authority figure—a police officer or mall security guard—or a harmless-looking stranger, perhaps an elderly woman or a pregnant mom. These people could help the child without making others assume that they have evil ulterior motives.

Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal has written a couple of compelling articles dealing with our society’s view of men as predators. They are well worth reading (Are We Teaching Our Kids To Be Fearful of Men? and Avoiding Kids: How Men Cope With Being Cast as Predators). He asks, “Are we teaching children that men are out to hurt them? The answer, on many fronts, is yes. Child advocate John Walsh advises parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are seating unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers. Soccer leagues are telling male coaches not to touch players.” An ad campaign for Virginia’s Department of Health features a picture of a man’s hand holding a child’s hand with these words plastered over it: “It doesn’t feel right when I see them together.” The message seems clear. “The implication is that if you see a man holding a girl’s hand, he’s probably a predator,” according to Marc Rudov who runs a father’s rights site.

Clearly there are going to be consequences to making society (and children in particular) fearful of men. “Fathers’ rights activists and educators now argue that an inflated predator panic is damaging men’s relationships with kids. Some men are opting not to get involved with children at all, which partly explains why many youth groups can’t find male leaders, and why just 9% of elementary-school teachers are male, down from 18% in 1981.” Children are beginning to be distrustful of men and society in general is becoming increasingly distrustful of men. Men, meanwhile, bear the weight of feeling like they are always on the edge of being accused of some deviant behavior. “The result of all this hyper-carefulness, however, is that men often feel like untouchables.” “While we don’t want sexual predators to harm our kids, we do want our kids to develop healthy relationships with adults, both men and women. Instilling a fear of men is a profound disservice to everyone.”

Here are a few examples of how this is working itself out according to the testimonies of men who responded to Zaslow’s articles:

In Cochranville, Pa., Ray Simpson, a bus driver, says that he used to have 30 kids stop at his house on Halloween. But after his divorce, with people knowing he was a man living alone, he had zero visitors. “I felt like crying at the end of the evening,” he says.

At Houston Intercontinental Airport, businessman Mitch Reifel was having a meal with his 5-year-old daughter when a policeman showed up to question him. A passerby had reported his interactions with the child seemed “suspicious.”

In Skokie, Ill., Steve Frederick says the director of his son’s day-care center called him in to reprimand him for “inappropriately touching the children.” “I was shocked,” he says. “Whatever did she mean?” She was referring to him reading stories with his son and other kids on his lap. A parent had panicked when her child mentioned sitting on a man’s lap.

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand I don’t want to feel (and don’t want my children to feel) that all men are perverts who are untrustworthy simply by virtue of being men. At the same time, I have too often seen the harm done to children through predatory men. Though it may be the case that only the smallest percentage of men are predators, the fact remains that the vast majority of predators are men. Early on in our marriage my wife and I established a couple of ground rules pertaining to our children (such as not allowing men or boys to babysit our children and being exceedingly cautious about sleep-overs). To use these seemed like common sense rules and not ones born out of a great fear of all men. They are rules that we do not tell the children so as not to make them overly fearful toward men. We are cautious towards relationships between our children and other men, but rejoice when godly or otherwise concerned adults show a genuine interest in them.

I would be interested in hearing from the people who read this site to hear how you cope with these situations.

  1. Would you leave your children with male babysitters?
  2. Would you allow your teenage boy to babysit other children?
  3. Are you immediately hesitant or nervous when a man shows friendly interest in your children?
  4. For the men: if you saw a child standing alone and crying in the mall, would you stop to help the child? If so, would you do so with confidence or with some level of fear?