BTW, Whatever Happened to Falco?

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A Church in NOLA, 2007

The Enid News and Eagle published a story on July 27, 2009  about the closing of a nearby rural church. Ringwood (OK) Presbyterian Church, established in 1895 closed its doors on Sunday. Only 12 active members remained for its last service on Sunday. Many factors contributed to its decline, most notably the loss of population in Ringwood itself.

What struck me about the story was this paragraph:

Most of the members started going because it was the most popular church at the time and their children wanted to go with their friends. Barbara Percy said it was an active church at the time, and the congregation still numbered in the 90s as last as 1995.

We denied it in Elementary School, in High School and now. We deny it when it comes to movie stars and rock stars. We deny it about churches, but the truth is inevitable. Popularity wanes. Being big and popular and active today is no guarantee for tomorrow. Churches can do all they want to be popular, to attract children and young families, to be important and desired and may succeed in the short run…but men are like grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8

Death of Small Towns

ghost-townIn the last post I may have implied that my town is one of the many that are slowly dying. Is that true?

Enid certainly has seen more prosperous days. In many ways we have never recovered from the oil bust of the mid 1980s, at least compared to Oklahoma City, which today is growing by leaps and bounds. Compared to surrounding towns, Enid is thriving. They are textbook cases of rural decline.

I think Enid is holding its own. What I wrote about yesterday can be seen in every large city, if you look in the right neighborhoods. In small cities like Enid (pop. 45,000ish) you just don’t have to look as far, and the strories of the golden years are closer, just next door. That the way of men, of our accomplishments is but the grass of the field is more obvious in smaller communities.

All things being equal, Enid has a chance–and a good one. Quality of life is high, good infrastructure exists to support growth in industry. When you look at Western Oklahoma and Southern Kansas, we are the largest hub of commerce for several hundred miles.

But all things are not equal. Never have been, but in our current climate it’s more obvious. If things go south in a hurry, the small towns will dry up more quickly than the large ones, but in time, everything will go bad.

So we are back where we started. Resurrection is our hope and comfort. Not prosperity, though it may come. Not worldly peace, though we still enjoy it. Not comforts of the status quo, not political rights and a Judeo-Christian heritage. Our hope is not in history or heritage but in the one who created and redeems history, the one who will come again.

Geronimo Cars and Resurrection

The Geronimo Motor Company was founded in Enid, OK in 1917. It built two models of the Geronimo, a six-cylinder and a four-cylinder at the rate of one car per day. The original factory still stands in Enid:geronimo

A few years later, the moved the factory to the (then) outskirts of town, which happens to be a block and a half south of my church. No sign of it remains.

Business was going well with the Geronimo until a fire consumed the factory on August 14, 1920. The plant was only partially insured and the owner was unable to rebuild. Around 600 Geronimos were manufactured in total.

Only one car is known to exist today.

I thought I had heard or read about the Geronimo somewhere before. I was pretty excited to read about this in our local paper this morning.

But then I searched the ‘net for some pictures of the Geronimo and found nothing. Not even a Wikipedia page on the Geronimo. After some more searching I found a reference to the auto company in a business paper which argued that Enid–and small towns–were dying.

If you live in a small town, it’s natural to get depressed about such stories–the stories of the good days of old, the golden years, the glory of once was superimposed on the decay you see around you. It’s depressing because the memories fade but the bricks and rust remain.

If you live in a city it’s natural to pity us, and then to go, seeing the growth and expansion all around you with renewed eyes–thankful eyes–that your town, your community, your metroplex is thriving. You invite us to move, if you are feeling kind. You mock the small town decay and our nostalgia if you are feeling mean.

Neither community is superior. Small town versus suburban versus city life all has its advantages and problems. I’ve enjoyed both experiences in my life so far.

But small towns are real. Not in the sense of community, not in the sense of safety, but in the sense of death. In decay. When you see abandoned factories, when you see population decline, when you see shopping centers half-vacant, you see the way the world is. Not shiny growth in Big Boxes. Not pristine landscaping around McMansion neighborhoods. Not unmitigated progress, ever spreading, ever reaching. That is the illusion. That is the illusion which keeps the resurrection at bay, and Christ from us.

The reality is transience. The reality is we are grass, flowering one day, and dust the next.Civilizations disappearing, monuments to men standing for centuries, then buried, broken and forgotten.

When the shrinking small town is before you, when the grass grows through the sidewalk and over the curb and the north east  side is full of factories standing closed, then you know that resurrection is your only hope, for Geronimo Motors is the standard, the touchstone of this fallen world. An empty tomb is our only escape.

LCMtvS

I fully expected the videos from the Commission on Worship (CoW) to include a Contemporary version. I clicked on the first one and wasn’t too surprised. The song was vaguely familiar, and after a while I realized it was a rockified version of a hymn in Lutheran Service Book. The phrase “become the Lamb of God” stuck in my maw, as I commented below. The video images presented varied from boring to horrifying. One image of Jesus in particular could have come from a fever-nightmare.

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So I expected the second video to be more “traditional,” if you can call music videos traditional at all. I was flummoxed that it wasn’t. Not only was it contemporary, but it was more obnoxiously contemporary than the first. I didn’t notice the images in the video because I became increasingly distracted by the  loud and obnoxious guitar soloing in the back ground. And I used to own a Les Paul. And I think “Randy Rhodes Tribute” album by Ozzy is one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. And I even tried to learn many of the songs and solos Rhodes played. It was that bad, friends.

I spent some time pondering this. My gut said it was garbage and must be taken out, to put it politely. But why? Why was I reacting so viscerally to it?

I tried to justify it. Before Gutenberg, there were no hymnals. Would I have thought those an abomination? Go back further and there were no organs used in church. Would I have thought those inappropriate once they were introduced? Less than fifty years ago churches started using PA equipment and microphones. If I had been there as those were introduced, would I have thought them inappropriate? What is wrong with using a projection screen to show lyrics and images while people sing? I enjoy the “smells and bells” of high church liturgy and explain it as involving the senses; what’s wrong with involving the sense of sight while singing a hymn?

I believe there are many criticisms one can make, but most fundamentally for me is that Church is not for watching TV.  It is that fundamental. Watching music videos and possibly singing along is not worship. I cannot change the fact that almost everywhere we go televisions are on and blaring at us. Restaurants, stores, the gym, chances are you will be watching TV. Not at church. That’s where I draw the line.

Marjorie had some good insights into this. She is active in Mothers Of Preschoolers (MOPS), attending the national conventions for the past several years. They have a worship time at all their conventions which involves a high-profile “worship leader” coming to sing songs and give testimony in between. A high-profile speaker gives the “message.” That’s worship. Marjorie noted that most of the worship leaders really are giving concerts. They have the spotlights on them, sing to the audience, tell stories about the songs in between and then sing some more.

My observation: people confuse worship with feeling. They see a great performer, hear great songs they can believe in and think it’s worshipping God.

American Idol indeed.

Vacation Report, Part II

After Church on Sunday we elected some new members to the building committee in order to replace one member who was moving. It was a quick and easy meeting, with good results. I came home, changed and we left for Texas.

After the six-hour drive, we arrived at my sister’s house, ate and got a swim in before the kids went to bed. Every year there is discussion at whose home we will sleep; my parents live in a small home on five acres next to my sister’s large home on ten acres. We often alternate “home bases” with each visit, but since my girls and my nieces always want sleep-overs, staying at my sister’s makes more sense. Florida Suzanne with hubby Christian and Baby Marcus decided to stay at my sister’s too, so that we could all stay up late to visit and play Spoons.

On Monday, all the girl cousins went to a dance camp (my sister graciously sponsored my kids’ tuition! Yeah!). They did tumbling, dance, cheer and crafts for two hours every morning and had a blast together. The grown ups and boys (my Jack and his two younger boy-cousins) hung out at the “Compound.” Several mornings Jack and I went to Grandpa’s house and played guitar or poked around Dad’s wood shop. Good fun.

We swam in the afternoons, celebrated July birthdays before dinner (we had three over the course of the week!) and then once the kids were in bed, my brother-in-law and sister discussed the fascism they think is descending upon our nation. They watch a lot of Fox News. We joked about building a wall around the two properties–hence, the Compound–and shutting ourselves off from the world. Marjorie thinks emigrating is the better answer.

And so it went. The children played wonderfully well together, the adults got along, despite some political differences :), and Marjorie and I both gained five pounds. The Buchhofers had to go back to Florida on Thursday, and we said a sad goodbye, knowing that it would probably be next summer before we saw them again. It was also sad that my oldest sister was unable to be there with her boys, but we also get to see her more often.

We had a great time, and now it’s back to life as normal…whatever that means.

The Latest from the Commission on Worship

I received an email from the LCMS Commission on Worship. It asked me to watch two video clips and then respond to a 22 question survey. Here are the two clips:

Lamb of God (CLIP ONE) from John Smythe on Vimeo.

Lamb of God (CLIP TWO) from John Smythe on Vimeo.

The survey determined what demographic I was in, what role in the church I served, who plans worship, what hymnal or resources we use, how many “lead worship” on a given Sunday, how we project hymns and video, if we use background images that are moving or static, what software we use, and then survey me about how much I would pay for the clips above for use in worship.

What do you think? How would you respond to this? How does this look to you?

I’ll tell you what I think after I hear from you.

Your Tax Dollars Bringing Armageddon Just a Little Closer

Wired reports:

From the file marked “Evidently, many scientists have never seen even one scary sci-fi movie,” the U.S. Defense Department is funding research into battlefield robots that fuel themselves by eating human corpses. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s see: “human” scientists are inventing robots that can kill us and robots that will eat us to stay powered up. Who are these “human” scientists anyway? Has anyone scanned them to make sure they don’t have titanium endoskeleton? Red lights for eyes?

Who needs devils and Antichrists, plagues and boils, earthquakes and brimstone to bring about The End when you have the US Defense Department?

A Prayer to Change Your Life

I noted one of the automatically generated sponsor ads on this  site offered a “prayer that can change your life.” I don’t know what they are proposing. Part of the agreement is that I cannot click on the links. I have no idea what kind of snake oil they were selling.

But here is a genuine prayer that will most assuredly change your life:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

One could add more prayers to this category of prayers that will change your life–the Lord’s Prayer would be tops. The Lord’s Prayer is probably the prayer that will change your life. And to be honest, you could say that any and every prayer offered in faith to the Holy Trinity (and not some other false god) will change your life.  But this short prayer, called “The Jesus Prayer” is excellent in its brevity, in its humility, in its simplicity. It leads itself to repetition, to holding it in your mind and heart, to accompany you while weeding, while doing dishes, while sighing sitting in traffic.

The prayer does not promise or imply it will bring you wealth, influence or otherwise “enlarge your borders” or whatever that prayer was supposed to do. It’s not a marketing scheme at all. It’s simply a honest prayer of faith.

It implies–it promises–nothing but reminding you of your great need for mercy and from Whom we receive it, and faithfully urging you to His grace and peace.

Long before I knew of this prayer I made a hospital visit to an inactive member of my congregation. Though he was raised Lutheran, he had not made worship or Christian living his life since his confirmation. As he was dying of cancer he confided to me, “I don’t know how to pray, and I want to.” That’s music to a pastor’s ears–not that we enjoy such a sad sentiment, rather we have medicine for such people and rejoice they are willing to take it. I told him to say, “Jesus help me,” over and over again. “That’s prayer,” I told him. “It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be long. Just ask Jesus to help you.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

That’s it. But that’s everything, isn’t it?

Vacation…Part I

Instead of a two-week cross-country extravaganza, we’re breaking up the Chicago and Texas visits by spending a few days back at home. Here’s the report from Part I.

We left for Chicagoland a day or two earlier than we had first planned. Realizing that Wednesday was Jack’s birthday, and Thursday travel meant the rush of pre-wedding Tyszko Family choas starting the very first full day there, we decided to leave Tuesday. Once we settled on this, my amazing sister-in-law and her equally amazing friends at Pepsi surprised us with tickets to the Cubs v. Braves at Wrigley Field on Wednesday!

We left her house at 10:30, driving to the blue line station at Cumberland. We caught a train to Addison, and then a bus straight to Wrigley. The morning rain slowed to a drizzle by game time, so after a twenty-minute delay the game got started. We sat under the upper deck and stayed dry the whole time. It was nerve-wracking to hear the barkers calling “Peanuts! Get your peanuts!” Especially nerve-wracking since we forgot Eliana’s Epipen. To me it sounded like “Cyanide! Get your Cyanide!” Or “Hey–oh! Who wants to kill Eli-aaaana!” Thank God nothing happened, but I know why the Cubs lost: all the angels in the outfield were hovering over my poor allergic one.

On the way back, Jack fell asleep on the bus and slept until we got back into the car. When his other grandparents called they asked what he did for his birthday, he said, “I went on a train. And on a bus….And I saw a baseball game.” That was the order in which he was impressed, too. We had deep-dish that night and Jack played with his new toys. Good fun.

Thursday they went to the neighborhood pool and had a great time. Friday was a slower day until some of the family not at the rehearsal came over for a party. It was good to see them! The wedding on Saturday was beautiful and the reception got pretty wild. Eliana struggled with a migraine and spent Sunday feeling sick and vomitting. Poor girl.

We drove home yesterday and got in around 10:00.  The kids were so happy to be home they rolled on the carpet for ten minutes before we herded them up to bed.

Next we we head to Texas to see my side of the family…but that trip is shorter, thank God.