It has been far too long since I shared a collection of letters to the editor. So here, to remedy this transgression, is a selection of just some of the letters from readers like you that have come my way in the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy them! They deal with sports and hobbies, smutty movies, and what we lost when we lost our hymnals.
Regarding hobbies, I believe you are missing the mark. Whereas I agree there is nothing in and of themselves (sometimes) wrong with one’s chosen hobby, we happen to live in a society with an abundance of time to be spent on whatever pleases us. This time is often better spent in relationship, or entering into someone’s reality. That is, not hiding from truth or reality or the responsibilities placed before you. I grew up in a home where I was raised by a mother and father who were nearly strangers. The television and movies were their “hobby”. The example was set for me that the real joy in life is in pursuit of pleasure. They ignored the relationships around them (and the suffering) and chose to insulate themselves and live in a mediated reality. Seeking to control one’s pain through distraction and submitting to the manipulations of media is really no different than addiction. To this day, I actively have to fight this inclination to follow what pleases me with my spare time. I have a bad track record of pursuing hobbies that take most of my “spare” time and shuts out my family. These hobbies are all much more interesting than movies and television, but they are exclusive and consuming and that is the point. I’m not sure if you meant to convey a wholesale approval of hobbies. It is what I read in it though. So often our hobbies become our lovers, and our pride and egos are fed by our successes. In this society, hobbies have a way of becoming covert idols, or the sense of escape created by their pursuit, the idol. There is a way to judge whether a hobby is legitimate, and it is this: does this pastime refresh me to do what God has put before me, or does it take from those around me and diminish my ability to do what God has for me to do?
—Chris M,Wasilla, AK
I just read “Is there Anything Wrong with Sports and Hobbies?” One area that you did not discuss is the risk of a hobby or sports becoming an idol. That happened to me and it was extremely destructive to my family. A basketball team (and its players) became extremely important to me and I began watching games over spending time with my wife (and kids). My mood swung with the team’s losses and wins. After my wife left me because of my other sinful behavior, I realized I needed to take action. My wife called my addiction to watching sports “my at home mistress.” So I gave away my TV. I rarely watch sports now and am writing to warn others of this danger. Sports can be fine a wonderful hobby as long as they do not become a priority or idol that affects your family and relationship with God.
—Anthony W, Claremont, California
Letters on Are You Godly Enough to Watch Smut?
THANK YOU! This post was refreshing. I often feel ashamed that I cannot watch things on TV without blushing or feeling uncomfortable. This post reminds people that it’s okay to blush. Blushing is not a sign of weakness and it’s not a sign of sin. I often feel that if I express my feelings about scenes in movies I am exposing my own sinful heart. I should never forget that my heart is sinful and not yet fully transformed. We should also be able to be frank and honest that ‘Hey-this scene makes me think things that I know are wrong.’ If we cannot, we are hiding in the dark and avoiding the light.
—Shawn F, Charleston, SC
When reading your article about watching smut, I was thinking about what Paul said about smut in Ephesians 5. What he says about porn, uncleannes (or lewdness) and covetousness. That a pornographer, unclean and covetous person has no inheritance in the Kingdom of God. That because of these things the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience and that we should not be partakers with them. That we were sometimes darkness, but now are light in the Lord and that we should walk as children of light. Have no fellowship with the works of darkness but rather reprove them. If it is shame to speak even of the things that are done of them in secret, how can we look at those things? Why, as in Ephesians 4, verse 17 and following should we walk as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness?
Then I looked up the word for lasciviousness, and saw that the Greek can be translated as “insatiable desire for pleasure.” If we are honest with ourselves, isn’t that the reason we are looking at smut? We have this insatiable desire for pleasure and we are looking everywhere to have it satisfied.
But we have not so learned Christ and should put of the old man and be renewed in the spirit of our mind and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
—Jacco P, Heeze-Leende, the Netherlands
Letters on On “Stranger Things” and Being a Big Prude
I agree that we should be careful about what we set before us as entertainment. My only issue is that it seems that I hear all too often that the only problem is with sex and nudity. Why is it that is seemingly the only concern raised in the Christian community? I hardly ever read a blog that addresses other blatant sins enjoyed as entertainment. Why is it not okay to watch a sex scene, but completely acceptable to enjoy people getting blown to bits or shot to death in the name of entertainment. I read multiple blogs when Beauty and the Beast came out about the half second scene of two men supposedly kissing (which I even looked for and didn’t see), but the same people complaining about this will hail some of the “cutsie” movies about singing groups and high school dances teens watch as fun and innocent even though the themes throughout are often completely dishonoring to parents and authority in general. I guess I’m having a tough time understanding the double standard. Perhaps you could address this in a post at some point. Thank you.
—Sam, Wakefield, RI
Letters on What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals
I’m curious as to whether or not your position on not returning to hymnals in the church is still what it was about a year ago when you wrote the excellent article “What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals,” which I’ve read more than once over the last year. I’m a hymnal kind of guy, but I’m not necessarily anti-anything else. But I feel that these losses you mention in your article are enough to mitigate a gravitation away from the hymnal. So much is lost, indeed!
Far too often today I see the entertainment-driven, hugely-popular electronic media and slides and videos and praise groups take the place of good hearty congregational singing, and it breaks my heart. I think the elements you mention in your other article, “Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church” are enough reason to be very, very cautious about switching our method of public praise in the assembly.
Anyways, I don’t mean to drag on and on. Just curious if the last year of observation of the modern evangelical church at large has caused you to reconsider or at least given you some degree of pause and pondering regarding the shift away from the old hymns. Thanks!
–Michael B, Topsham, ME
Tim: No, not really. I still think the days of the hymnal are numbered and still think we, as Christians, need to do a better job assessing both the benefits and the drawbacks of that change or any other one we wish to make. What looks like quite a simple and “progressive” change can actually have significant and unforeseen consequences.
While you mention the vetting of the songs for hymnals, it goes a little deeper. Care was typically taken to choose a hymn that was rich in doctrine. The repetition of these songs allowed people to learn doctrine and that, in turn, helped us to be more solid in our faith. We now listen to songs on the radio that are adopted in our churches because it has a great melody, but the songs are often very mixed in their doctrinal consistency. At many times the ‘new doctrine’ learned through our songs is much shallower and more feelings-based. This loss of solid doctrine, which anchors us much more than feelings is the greatest loss for me.
–Al G, Murrieta, CA