Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Thursday
Feb162012

ARE YOU READY TO READ IN PUBLIC?

In my second year at Harvard Law School, a professor asked me to read aloud a section of the Uniform Commercial Code.  I read it, but stumbled through the section with half a dozen mistakes.  Thus, to my horror, I showed the 150 fellow-students in the classroom that I had not properly completed the third grade.

It was always that way for me.  All the way through public school, I was an inept public reader – while being the most avid silent reader in my class.

So, at the age of 28 in law school, I had to teach myself how to read in public.  I didn't know where to get help in this task, so I thought about it, practiced, and discovered how to do it.

Is this a significant problem?  Of course.  Only a few of our Nation's presidents have been fluent public readers, and most CEO's are wooden when reading a text.  But perhaps the worst epidemic of bad public reading is to be found in our churches.

The rector of a large Seattle congregation told me that she is pleased when a lay reader gives any evidence of having read the text in advance before going up to the lectern on Sunday morning.

And it isn't just the laity that reads badly.  Last summer, I was subjected to a pastor who committed the following crimes as he read three texts:

*  Zero explanation of what he was reading.

*  Zero eye contact.

*  Zero inflection.

And what were the texts?  Daniel 7:9-14

13  “I was watching in the night visions,  And behold, One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven!
 He came to the Ancient of Days, 
And they brought Him near before Him. 14  Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, 
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
 His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
 And His kingdom the one
which shall not be destroyed.

(He read this whole passage in a monotone, as if he were reading the phone book.  Internally I was both cringing and guffawing and at his performance.  This passage deserves to be sung by a heavenly choir.)

Next:  Romans 12:14-21.

14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  16  Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own opinion.

17  Repay no one evil for evil.  Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  20  Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. 
If he is thirsty, give him a drink. 
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Here, the monotone was even worse.  These are Christian marching orders for world conquest. It was with these weapons that the Christians conquered the Roman Empire by the Fourth Century – and have been conquering China for the past 60 years.  We shouldn't read this passage; we should sing it to La Marseillaise.)

Next:  Matthew 10:34-39:

34  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

(It's impossible to read this in a monotone, but the Pastor managed to do it.)

Now, I need to be fair.  The pastor was an elderly gentleman, almost as old as I am.  I can imagine that a Seminary professor instructed his class half a century ago:  "It's not about you.  When you read Scripture, read it devoutly and firmly in a measured voice.  It's not a performance.  Let the congregation focus on the meaning of the text, not on the way you read it."

Such instruction is well-intended and is an antidote to reading Scripture in the style of selling cars on TV. However, the instruction overlooks two real problems:

*   A public reading is always a performance. 

*   Monotone readings bore the congregation. People don't meditate on the Bible passages – they tune them out.

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OK. that's the problem.  Now, how does one learn to read well in public?  I needed a succession of insights.

First, disregard the instructions of your first grade teacher.  She told us, "Don't put your finger under the words when you read."  Excellent advice – for silent reading.  But, it's the wrong advice for public reading. 

Do put your finger under the words as you read.  Why?  (1) It slows down your eyes. That was the root of my public-reading problem. I was a very fast reader, and I stumbled as I read aloud because my tongue couldn't keep up with my eyes.  The moving finger coordinates eyes and tongue.

(2)  You know where you are.  The finger liberates you as a reader.  You can make as much eye contact as you want with the congregation – and then, every time, you can send your eyes back to the exact place in the text without searching.

Second, public reading is not reading – it's short-term memorization.  I developed this insight from an unexpected source.  I remembered when I went out for track in high school.  I was a good runner, with both speed and endurance.  And then I got my first pair of track shoes.  They had no heels.  All my life I had been running heel and toe.  Now my track coach told me I could run only on the balls of my feet.  Bouncing along on the balls of your feet is not running; it's leaping.  So, competitive running is a series of controlled leaps.

And public reading is short-term memorization.  You glance at the page, immediately memorize the next phrase or sentence, and then deliver it to the congregation, with full eye contact.

As you alternate memorization and speaking the words to people, you slow down your reading. That's good. You're giving the words significance.  If you read fast with your head down, people are impatient for you to finish.  If you speak the passages with your head up and looking in turn at everyone in the congregation – including the choir behind you – they'll wait expectantly for what you are saying.

Third, rehearse.  Public reading is no place for sight-reading.  Before you read in public, go over the material over several times – aloud -- so you'll have it partially memorized.  Being familiar with the texts allows the meaning of each passage to register as you speak. You'll naturally give emphasis to weighty words. To be certain, underline important words.  And with long passages, insert a caret to mark the breaks for breathing.

Fourth, think.  If you haven't thought about the Bible passages, you can't expect listeners to think either.  Look at the three Scripture passages above.  What brief introduction could you give which would help the congregation coordinate and understand the three passages?  Possibilities:

"We'll now hear God's plan for Christian revolution." 

"Overcoming through sacrifice" 

"We're also suffering servants. but rejoice -- thru suffering, God wants us to conquer the world."

Fifth, public reading is a public performance. You can't get away from it. The only issue is whether you do it well. And the seminary professor was partly right half a century ago – read to communicate, not to show off.

Now, what can our congregations do to improve the quality of public Bible reading? It's simple. Before anyone reads the Bible aloud to the congregation, train them.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2012 by Jack Towe

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