Internet Monk Discussion Panel Reviewed

So the Internet Monk introduced a new discussion panel a few days ago.  The panel consists of spiritual leaders from most of the major Christian denominations allowing for comparative discussion of spiritual topics.  Which is a pretty cool idea for anyone that likes to contemplate such significant matters. The credentials of “The Liturgical Gangstas” panel are listed at the beginning of the I Monk post.

The first question for the panel was the following:  A person comes to you and says “I want to grow significantly as a Christian in the next year.” What kind of guidance would you give this person? Be as specific as possible. I have summarized the panel responses below:

Father Ernesto/Orthodox:

  • Read the Bible daily. (using a read the Bible in 2 years plan)
  • Pray daily using an Anglican prescribed morning and evening prayer.
  • Read about the lives of the saints.
  • Confession.
  • Church community.
  • Serve others outside the church.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist:

  • Participate in a 32-36 week Methodist Discipleship Bible study.
  • Pray for each other in the study.
  • Church community.
  • Respond to bible readings.

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican:

  • Worship every Sunday with preaching and communion
  • Read the Bible and pray daily using The Daily Office (Anglican/Episcopal/Catholic) prescribed prayers and verses.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:

  • Lower your expectations for growth. (I’m not making this up)
  • Place yourself inside the liturgical rhythm of the Church with the traditional Christian calendar.
  • Attend mass frequently.
  • Find a spiritual mentor.
  • Pray liturgically and often.
  • “Find a way to get a steady diet of Scripture.”
  • Take a yearly retreat.
  • Don’t try to measure your growth.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist:

  • Make sure your expectations for growth aren’t too high.
  • Love your neighbor through acts of service and giving time.
  • Give away a possession you value each month.
  • Make the “I” in the question a “We” (as in Jesus and me)

William Cwirla/Lutheran:

  • Look towards Jesus not inside you for growth.
  • Attend church regularly in a disciplined way, hearing the Word preached – faith comes by hearing – and taking communion.
  • Pray daily from hymns, readings from Scripture and the church fathers, the Creed and the catechism.
  • Avoid Drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual sin.
  • Confession.
  • “Active use of the fruit of the Spirit.”

So I have a three comments after reading this panel discussion:

1) Should I be concerned that 2 of the 6 spiritual leaders want us to lower our expectations for spiritual growth?

How can one believe that Jesus was raised from the dead or that God parted the Red Sea but not think that God could produce “significant growth” in a person in as “short” a time as one year? Wasn’t Saul changed instantly on the road to Damascus? Didn’t the disciples quickly change from cowardly hiding in a house to boldly preaching on the streets? Isn’t the fact that God changes lives at the very CORE of the gospel? If God can’t help me grow in a significant way – why should I become a Christian?

2) Are Christians incapable of praying without a guide?

3) How understandable is this seemly foundational Bible?

Should you only hear it?  Or read proscribed excerpts from it?  Can you read it only with a study or another book to guide you?  Or can read it all alone with out help or guidance from another person or book or some other resource?


Two of the panel responded to my comments (below), so I respond to them and (hopefully) reinforce my point.

I don’t think so, personally. Not if the two weren’t talking about “lowering expectations,” but were instead trying to caution against a naive idea that we become super-saints in a moment and encouraging people not to despair and abandon the whole enterprise if they struggle in their advancement.

Mustard seeds and all of that.

– Wyman Richardson

Amen and all that, Wyman. Exactly. Quick change in people is unusual, not because of God but because of us. It’s the nature of real spiritual growth that it takes a long time. Yeah, weeds and all that too. Peace.

– Alan Creech

Well the question wasn’t how do I become a spiritual superstar overnight – it was how do i achieve “significant” growth in a year.

Now personally I read “significant” as the opposite of “insignificant”.  IE measurable, real, growth or change.

Wherein, I became concerned when given any possible methods for a full year – spiritual leaders are hesitant to promise too much.

In defending my position, however, I decided to look at the actual definition and I found it illuminating:

– of a noticeably or measurably large amount (basically my earlier def)
– probably caused by something other than mere chance (as in statistically significant)

This second definition opens up what I consider the heart of the matter – is not significant spiritual growth evidence of the divine? Proof that Christianity works? If all we can promise is small growth – how are we sure that isn’t just chance or human efforts?

Without SIGNIFICANT growth – can Christianity claim to be more than a support group? Or a 12 step program?  Those both can do SOME good but they are really only man’s efforts and will at work.  Wherein is the God that changes people?  Are we afraid to set the bar too high lest God’s reputation be tarnished?  Is not God able to deliver on his promises to make someone a new creation?

While I understand the whole instant gratification culture, I feel that a year is a reasonable time frame.  Consider that the Human lifespan is 40-80 yrs depending on where in the world you live.  1/40th of your life is not a small commitment. Jesus only trained his disciples for 3 years.  Most grad schools consider 3 years enough time to significantly train students.  Are college professors better teachers than the Spirit?

Here are some more examples of quick significant growth/change:
– In the span of an hour a naked, possessed, crazy man living in the cemetery was sent as a clothed, sane, missionary alone to Decapolis (“ten cities”)
– In a few hours, an Ethiopian court official was converted, baptized, and left to go back to his country.
Slower change happens too: today Mission USA is working with Chicago gangs.  Over time, Gang members are putting down guns and taking up bibles.  Still “significant”

Quick changes are COMMON in the bible.  And in desperate parts of the world.  Here in comfy cultures and comfy churches – comfortable Christians struggle to standout from nonchristians.

As for mustard seeds: they start out the smallest of seeds but become large plants in a matter of months.
As for weedy soil: there is also GOOD soil that yields a 3,000-10,000% return.
I would say both of those are significant growth!

God: Best Selling Author

So I had this thought today: If God is not capable of making his book (or his prophet’s book) a best seller, what does that say about his power? (or its or hers)

Starting with this premise, I sought wisdom with the mighty google. Ok, first off, the phrase “one of the most published books of all time” is one of the most overused statements on the web. Secondly, no one really knows the exact figures for all these books and the most commonly cited reference was ten years old:

When we get asked these questions about bestselling books, we always have to remind our patrons that their question is basically unanswerable. No one really knows which books have sold the most copies in history, because we simply don’t have records that cover all of history! As such, any answer that we find is essentially just a “best guess” that is based upon estimates made by historians and other experts.

Probably the most often cited estimates come from a book titled The Top 10 of Everything by Russell Ash. The following lists come the The Top 10 of Everything, 1997 – Librarians

It’s actually pretty funny how little this information is out there. Many people think their favorite book with a mere 28 million copies or so is actually in the top 10 or 5. The last 10 years, of course, changed the list significantly with Harry Potter. Tho Potter fans need to settle down a bit as several people think several individual H.P. books have outsold the Bible’s total numbers. Which laughable to anyone with a smidge of education, if for nothing else that the Bible has been pretty well published for years and years and years where a Potter book sets a record for a single year. But I digress…

The following seems to be the best data available on the most sold books ever:

  1. 6,000,000,000 The Bible
  2. 900,000,000 Quotations from Chairman Mao
  3. 800,000,000 The Qur’an
  4. 505,000,000 Harry Potter Series (total)
  5. 400,000,000 Xinhua Zidian
  6. 200,000,000+ Book of Common Prayer
  7. 200,000,000+ Pilgrim’s Progress
  8. 200,000,000+ Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
  9. 120,000,000 Book of Mormon
  10. 110,000,000 And Then There Were None

(see the excel file for a full list of 28 with some notes)

So back to my premise. If a god wants to mettle in this world (a prereq for a religion), and has the power to effect things here – why not make your book big to generate converts? All religions on some level want to convert everyone (their approach varies from patience to death threats), so why not get the teachings out there?

Or to put it another way: if Chairman Mao can climb to the #2 spot of all time books through governmental power – is he more powerful than your god? Mao accomplished this feat in a mere 5 years, by requiring every Chinese adult own a copy.

Now, I’m not saying that religious truth boils down books sold or people in the pews – lord knows the Bakers had the numbers – but I think it merits some thought. How much can and will your god help you if he/she/it can’t or won’t help its sacred texts… (at least make the top 10?)

Di-Worsity Training At British Air Pays Off

So a week after a company-wide diversity training program was held at British Airways a woman was suspended for wearing a small metal cross necklace. Now in BA’s defense they claim that she wasn’t suspended just sent home on a (manditory) leave without pay – which is really quite different from suspension. She was told that she could not return wearing her cross in a visible manner: wearing it under her clothing was acceptable, but if anyone ever saw her cross again, she would be disciplined.

Now what makes this outlandish is that Islamic women at BA can wear their full head and face coverings since that is a part of their religion – yeah.

So why is it that it seems diversity and tolerance these days seems to mean the acceptance of all things except Christianity? A provative adult bookstore billboard is "ok" but a large cross on a hill is "offensive". Uttering "Jesus" as a curse word is totally acceptable on TV, but mentioning the man is taboo.

How can the followers of Islam kill so many people and yet its Christianity that has the bad rap. Often after this point is made in the debate, the crusades are brought up. The crusades were misguided and a LONG time ago. Get over it. Islamofascists are killing people today. Just turn on the news. Take for instance the Pope that quotes someone else regarding Islam as violent religion. The Islamic world responds to this with, ta da, violence. Where is the outrage directed? The Pope for saying such "offensive" things. It seems insane. There are those that argue this is proof that Christianity is the one true religion. If its all sheepeople following stories made up by man – why is man trying so hard to destroy it?

Reasons Not To Be A Minister

I met a girl on ThanksMas that was looking to move down here from Boston. She liked the area and was pursuing a career with Young Life. Apparently there are more positions available locally than up North. After further conversation she admitted the following:

…Well, I dropped out of college… I tried the whole job thing and I didn’t like it — so I decided I’m going into full time ministry… Yeah. Ok, I understand not everyone sees the problem — people seem to be commonly blinded by religious commitment and miss the motives. Not liking work is not a “calling” to ministry. There’s a reason it’s called “work” and not “fun” or “play time”. Don’t like your job? Get a new one. Don’t like your options? Get additional training or education.Now don’t get me wrong… I don’t have anything against a calling for ministry in general or Young Life in particular. But a calling is more than avoiding pain, responsibility or effort. Personally, I believe everyone is “called” to something — some vision, some milestone, some purpose. Your calling may have a spiritual aspect, but I view a “calling” more holistically. What makes you tick on the inside, your passion in life will effect more in your life than just your job or your spiritual walk. It will affect every aspect of your life.

Don’t know your calling? I recommend 48 Days To The Work You Love. While this is a work focused book, it approaches it in such a way as to discover your gifts and passion and move you towards things that use them in the real world. So while it is task driven, your task may end up be feeding the homeless in Nigeria… or clearing mine fields in the Balkans… or even becoming the music minister at your church. BUT more importantly than the tasks it helps you find, is the clear sense of purpose you can discover while ferreting out said tasks.