Feeble Knees

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sick Happens

It struck me yesterday morning how much differently my perspective on the whole diabetes situation could have been if I was still in my old church. I can almost picture it now.

I would naturally mention my results to my friend, (that is, if we were still speaking). She would have taken the initiative to drag me up to the altar the very next Sunday to be anointed with oil and prayed over by the pastors and elders. And oh, what a prayer they would pray! They would pray their hardest, beseeching God to heal me and protect my unborn child as other congregants would, one by one, make their way over and stand behind me, hands outstretched towards my back. I'd probably cry, not for any particularly spiritual reason, but because such episodes tend to wind me up emotionally. This would be misunderstood by those around me, and people would assume I was fearful, or devastated, or desperate for God's intervention. So they would try their darndest to pray harder until something miraculous happened then or there, or I stop crying, whichever came first.

Eventually the pastors would wind down and move on to pray for the next person, but there'd be a bunch of lingerers who would remain with their hands all over my back and head, trying to wait an appropriate amount of time before disengaging themselves. I'd sit there and wait until they were all gone, so I could get up and turn around and not be faced with all these people so packed in around me. When the coast finally cleared, I'd high-tail it out of there back to my pew.

Each Sunday thereafter, people would inquire after my health. If I had not been miraculously healed of diabetes, they would seek to drag me back up to the altar again for more prayer and anointing. Depending on where I was emotionally and spiritually, I'd either wonder why God wasn't healing me, or I'd start looking for places to hide.

That's probably how it would have been, if I was still going there. People would want me to be healed, and they would care what happened to me. And that's nice, really. But...

I always had this deep down feeling that my church really couldn't handle sickness. I'm talking about serious, chronic conditions that aren't curable or easily treated. There was almost an irrational fear of it - not that serious illness isn't something to fear and dread, I don't mean that. But if you live long enough in the world, you know it happens. It happens to people you know, people you love. It happens to you yourself maybe, at some point. And while I do believe God does and can still heal people, miraculously or otherwise, I know from personal experiences that sometimes He doesn't. But my old church didn't seem capable of accepting that, much less coping with it.

Illness and death is part of this life we live. And while Lazarus was raised up and out of his tomb, the man must have died again at some point, because he's no longer walking among us today to tell the tale himself. We forget that part. So when a person gets sick, we're all about trying to move heaven and earth to pray them back into good and perfect health. I can't help but wonder if sometimes we do the person a disservice when we do that - not by praying for them, per se, but carrying on as if God must prove his Sovereignty by healing that person, right now.

I lost a friend, some years ago to a very rare and fatal disease. It was idiopathic, meaning there was no way to determine what caused it. The only treatment that could potentially save her was a bone marrow transplant. She lived through two failed transplants, but died a few months later. During the time from her initial diagnosis to her eventual death, people prayed up a storm. Special evangelists were brought to pray for her. One dastardly charlatan even claimed that she was healed, after he had prayed for her. (Boy would I love to find that guy and give him a piece of my mind today.) But her condition worsened. She weakened. She wondered why, if so many people, including her pastors, were praying, why wasn't God answering? Why was He letting her die?

Everyone got so hyped up about keeping her from dying, no one went about the business of helping her live out the time she had remaining. Instead of bolstering her faith, our frantic prayers for healing shook her faith. No one would come out and speak frankly with her about the very real possibility that she may die. So in addition to feeling all the pain and terrible side effects of her treatment, she had to struggle with the burden of an entire congregation's fears and expectations. Somehow, if she didn't get well, if God didn't heal her, maybe it was her fault. Maybe it was some secret sin she was being punished for. The burden was too much for a well person to bear, never mind someone clinging to life and small shreds of faith that God still loved her. Had it not been for the grace and intervention of God, we would have wrecked her faith.

It was during those days and the days following her death I learned that there is an ugly, destructive thing that may look and sound like faith, but in reality acts like fear. And it can be pretty hard to discern "impostor" faith from the genuine article. The real thing knows that even if the worst should come, God is good and faithful, in every circumstance. It doesn't pretend to be able to explain why, or how it can be so sure, it just knows this and rests in full trust, regardless of the circumstances.

A faith that is shaken by circumstances that don't go our way is no faith at all. It is and always will be just wishful thinking. It is worse than a leg gone out of joint in the midst of a long hard race. It will not serve us through difficult times, times of loss or struggle. It is worse and potentially more damaging than frank and honest doubt....

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Life as a Diabetic

It's been about a week now, and I think I'm getting the hang of this.

I check my blood glucose seven times a day, once first thing in the morning, then two hours after I eat, every time I eat. I've been given a diet plan that includes eating three small meals and three snacks a day, so I have to check my blood six additional times during the day. So my day is compartmentalized into these two hour blocks of time where I'm either eating or waiting to take a blood glucose reading.

Some things I've learned about myself in the process:

  • I'm very unstructured, and I have a tough time adapting to a schedule with so many hard stops (my 2 hour glucose readings)

  • I loathe wearing a watch, and would rather put it on my keychain than my wrist

  • I am a perfectionist. I got one reading of 128 last night and was upset that it was going to throw off my 14 day average (I'm supposed to be at or below 120).

  • I am a control freak. I have to know what I'm eating at each meal and snack at the beginning of the day. I do not like winging it.

  • I'm a little paranoid. If all goes well up to my next OB visit, my doctor will probably let me take fewer readings during the day. But I will probably keep taking all seven. I'm obsessive like that.

All in all, it hasn't been as bad as I feared. It's good to get used to it now, since I now have a 50/50 chance of developing type 2 diabetes - possibly as early as sometime within the next five years (that was an eye opener!)

I've seen up close what this disease can do. Family members and friends have suffered very severe complications from it. And while I always knew it was serious, and that I was at an elevated risk, I never really thought about it too much myself.

Oh how things have changed since I got that diagnosis last week! I'll do what I can, God helping me, to stay healthy and hopefully stave it off. But even if it does happen that I do develop type 2, at least I'm starting to learn now how to live with and manage it. That's not a bad thing at all.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Something Wicked This Way Comes?

Outside of my old church, I think I'm the only person I know who has never so much as laid a fingertip on any of the Harry Potter books. Haven't seen the movie(s?) either. With the release of each new title I find myself wondering again:

  • Do I avoid them because I believe they are evil?
  • Do I avoid them because my old church believed they were evil?
  • Do I avoid them because I really just don't care to read them?

I'm quite aware of the controversy surrounding the books. The first one came out while I was still attending a very strict Pentecostal church. As a Sunday School teacher, I was warned not to let kids bring the books in, or talk about them to the other kids during class. My pastors preached vehemently against the books from the pulpit, saying that any parent who allowed their kids to read them was essentially purchasing them a one-way ticket to demonic influence & damnation. In the privacy of my own thoughts I felt this was a bit extreme, and probably only succeeded in making the prohibited books all the more desirable to the kids, like forbidden fruit

I'd grown up reading terribly scary, freakish and gory stories like Grimm's Fairy Tales and Irish folklore and legends (I doubt anything in Harry Potter is as disturbing as some of those Irish stories - talking severed heads that give battle advice, etc. Lovely stuff.) I read everything I could get my hands on, and that included stories about gory battles, witches, wizards, spells, enchantments, great evil and great good. Some scared me witless and caused more than a few nightmares and sleepless nights when I begged my sister to leave our closet light on for safety's sake. Others made me fantasize about having magic powers and being able to get people to do things I wanted them to do.

But none of them thwarted or prevented my eventual decision to surrender my own will, follow Christ and endeavor to love Him with my whole heart. And this is what I have to wonder:

When we attempt to ban these kinds of books and stories, is it because we're afraid that they hold a power to deceive or corrupt that is more powerful than Jesus' power to redeem? What does that say about our esteem for the power and ability of our Almighty God?

Now granted, I know all the scriptures about "I will set no evil thing before my eyes", etc. They recited that ad infinitum at my old church, and I do think there is some value in that. For example, I tend to think it's rather detrimental to one's mental health to repeatedly subject yourself to repeated viewings of "Faces of Death" or other brutal and depraved depictions of murder, torture, etc. It just can't be good for a person on any level to willfully subject yourself to having those kinds of images in your head. (And boy do they stay in your head). Ditto pornography.

But is anything I would end up reading in a Harry Potter book any worse than half the real-life stories relayed in articles found in my daily paper? Because I read a tragic story about a woman who jumped to her death from a high-rise building with her nine-month old baby, am I now more likely to commit suicide myself?

Books have power. The pen is mightier than the sword. Writers do have the ability to influence people through entertainment and exposition. I don't deny that one iota. But there is no written word going on the planet that has more power to change men's lives than the Bible itself. A person could read all the Harry Potter books in the world, and I grant you that none will have even close to the same level of impact that reading the New Testament cover to cover would have.

The Harry Potter books give flight to the imagination, yes. Might some kids (or adults) become interested in the occult or witchcraft as a result of reading them? Let's not kid ourselves. It would be silly to say "no, that would never happen." Maybe it would, and maybe some do pursue those things after reading the books. But perhaps the same people would have been so inclined and pursued them anyway, even if J.K. Rowling had never picked up pen and paper in that coffee shop in England several years ago. You cannot pin the total blame on the books. I'd rather blame the individuals themselves for making foolish choices.

So if I were to go up the street to Borders next hour and buy a copy of a Harry Potter book, and read it through by tomorrow, I don't think I'd be sinning, despite what my church preached. My conscience would be clear, right? So why don't I? Why won't I watch the movie(s? is there more than one? I'm not even sure). Perhaps I should, just to confirm my stated opinion that they really aren't so much of a threat to the spiritual welfare of Christendom. That would be the intellectually responsible thing to do, I suppose. Curious himself about all the buzz, Mr. F downloaded an audiobooks version of the first book from iTunes and I think he got a chapter or so into it, but hasn't picked it up again, that I know of.

But maybe that's just it - I'm just not all that interested, when it comes right down to it. I don't have kids (yet) that are of the age that would be reading this stuff. Perhaps when that time comes I'll be much more inclined to read these things first for myself to determine whether or not they're suitable for little guy to read. Maybe it's because I already have so many books piled up around me that it just isn't foremost on my to-do list.

But I suspect there's at least one other reason: my non-conformist streak has kicked in, and I refuse to even show the merest hint of interest until all the insanity and popular public opinion dies off. In other words: It's too popular, ergo I'm choosing to be an ignorant snob.

So there.

But I'd rather that than discover that I'm still bound by legalistic fears and guilt. Now there's a power I fear more than any silly spells or enchantments. Legalism is by far the more formidable curse, as I know nothing else so stubborn and unyielding, even in the face of all the powers of heaven itself!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

But I'm Much Better Today!

Boy am I glad it's today. Yesterday may have marked a new personal low point for me with this pregnancy.

I thought I was doing a very good job keeping a stiff upper lip and maintaining a positive outlook despite the word that came early yesterday morning that I do in fact have gestational diabetes. "Thank the Lord we found out!" I said. "This is probably a very good thing for both Mr. F and I to find out now, considering our families' history of diabetes." (Both sets of parents were and are diabetic) "This will be a good incentive to watch what I eat now and give me a head start on losing the weight after the baby arrives". I said all these wonderful things, and I meant them too. I calmed the jittery nerves of my parents, I reassured Mr. F that I was okay with the news. I was doing marvelously. I caressed my belly as if to let the little guy know that Mama was going to take care of both of us, and we'd be OK.

Later in the afternoon while changing the cats' water dish, it slipped from my hand and spilled the entire contents all over the kitchen linoleum. Grumbling, I grabbed some paper towels and began to mop up, as one very thirsty and cranky cat stood by squawking. "Meaaaargh!" He protested. He wanted water ASAP. "I'm working on it!" I snapped "Meaaaaaaaaaargh! Meaaaaaargh!" He complained, now pacing about my legs, carefully avoiding the spilt water.

My impatience grew as his squawking continued. Bending down awkwardly, best I could with this belly of mine, I tried to mop up quickly and shifted my weight ever so slightly. Before you could say accident waiting to happen, down I went.

I fell backwards, hard onto my bottom. Instantly upon impact, my bladder burst much like a dropped water balloon.

Then I swore at the cat.

The cat got right up in my face and dished it right back at me. "MeeeeEEEEEEAAARGH!"

Sitting there in a puddle of my own making, I held my breath. Did I hurt the baby? Is he okay? I waited for what seemed like forever to see if he'd move, or kick. I assessed myself - no cramps, no abdominal pain, no backache. A few minutes passed before it began to feel safe to move, but instead of getting up, my eyes welled up with tears. Slumped there in front of the fridge I sniffled a little and felt very, very bad for myself all around.

* * *

With the benefit of a dry pair of britches and the passing of a few hours I managed to regain my composure and some perspective. The only thing hurt in the fall was my ego; the baby has been keeping to his regularly scheduled program of kicks and bumps, and other than some soreness in my left wrist (I jammed it in an unsuccessful attempt to break my fall), I seem to be none the worse for wear. Mr. F later pointed out sympathetically that at least it hadn't happened in public, where the level of embarrassment could have been exponentially higher. As it was at least the cat was the only other living thing present to witness my haplessness, and it seemed he couldn't have cared less. It did seem somewhat like adding insult to injury, to get the bad diabetes news AND have a falling & wet myself moment in the same day. But I suppose if you're going to have a low moment, no sense it dragging it out - get it all over with and that right quickly.

Things are brighter today. I did meet with a nurse to get a diet plan and nutritional information that I am to follow strictly for the remainder of my pregnancy. I also learned how to test myself using a lancet device and blood glucose meter, which was very, very simple and about as pain-free as modern technology can make these things. So I've got everything I need to manage for the next eleven or so weeks.

Thanks be to God for His protection and mercy, for doctors and glucose tests, lancets, meters and insurance coverage, cushy bottoms and (somewhat) soft landings.


Everything's going to be A.O.K.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Totem to Temple has a regular feature on his blog where he nominates an "anti-Christ of the week" at the end of each week. If I could, I'd recommend this guy for consideration.

How do you even begin to understand how rotten a guy has to be to do something like this?? I'm speechless. This is one mean and warped individual.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Like Saying We Asked For It

Michelle Malkin comes to the defense of my capital city by taking Sen. Rick Santorum to task for his ridiculous and ill-formed judgments regarding the origins of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Thank you Michelle.

It's Santorum's kind of logic that blames a rape on the victim's clothing and ignores the fact that the rapist was the one who committed the vicious criminal act. It is irresponsible and reprehensible. Hundreds if not more are suffering a severe crisis of faith, and blaming themselves for not having seen it, for not having done more to prevent it. To add to that this kind of blame, to even infer that Massachusetts children and families all brought this upon themselves because of their liberal leanings? Well you'd be hard pressed to find a more low-down, cheap political shot than that.

His comments say far more about him than they do about the people of Boston and its surrounding towns. I hope his own consituents consider that and remember it well come election time.

One would hope he apologizes to the hundreds of victims in the greater Boston area, and that right quickly. I pray to God he never has to know what it's like to endure the suffering and agony that so many parents, spouses, brothers, sisters and friends have while trying to help their loved ones cope and survive the long term effects of their abuse. But if he ever did, maybe he'd see the plight of these victims and their families in a whole new light.

Walk a mile in our shoes Senator Santorum, just one lousy, rotten, stinking mile.

Not Again...

So my blood glucose levels were marginally high - 139 to be exact.

Whoopie-ding, now I have to go for the three hour test. Bah.

As the nurse was explaining the test procedure to me, I asked politely if I could have a valium with my glucose drink this time. She misunderstood my meaning and thought I was worried about the results.

"Oh I'm not worried about the results," I said. "I'm worried that if I have to drink that stuff again, this time on an empty stomach, then sit around your office for three hours, I'll rip some nice, well-meaning person's face off." (Hey, just being honest here.)

She didn't seem amused. Oh well. Hey, I'm just trying to do these people a favor. After all, they're going to be stuck with me roaming around their office for three hours. Given how cranky and rotten I was yesterday, they may be wanting to shoot me with elephant tranquilizer darts by the end of hour number 1.

At least they won't be able to say I didn't warn them...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Beware of Glucose

I learned something somewhat important today. Apparently I am juuuuuust a bit sensitive to large amounts of glucose, as in within 15 minutes of consuming ten ounces of the icky bright orange stuff for my glucose screening test, I was ready to rip the face off of anyone who looked askance at me.

It was startling how fast my mood changed. It seemed to change mere minutes after I finished chugging the orange stuff down (which tastes like almost-but-not-quite-completely-flat orange soda). Poor Mr. F. I almost strangled him for asking me to repeat myself when he didn't quite catch something I said. (I tend to be soft-spoken, and it's not unusual for people to not quite hear what I say the first time). I found the sound of the radio so annoying that I wanted to bash it with a blunt object.

Driving to my OB appointment was a bit of a wild, white-knuckled affair. By then the glucose had really kicked in and I was jumpy, edgy and flighty all at once. Thankfully I managed to get to my appointment without incident. Mr. F was following behind, trying to keep up as I sped up through yellow lights and cut out into rotary traffic. Oh my.

When the doctor asked me how I was feeling, I said "very edgy", or something to that effect, and she smiled. Why didn't anyone warn me about this before? I guess it doesn't hit everyone the same way, but it isn't uncommon to feel jumpy, jittery or irritated after drinking the glucose. They took the blood sample & hopefully everything will be normal and I won't have to drink that awful stuff again. I could handle the taste of it just fine. The after effects I could really do without.

Contemplating My Navel

(Otherwise known as the obligatory belly button lint post.)

Elsewhere there is a continuing debate about blog aggregators and whether or not it is right and proper to aggregate blogs without the blogger's knowledge or consent. I believe that is the crux of the matter, but I'm not really following it.

I'm contemplating my navel instead.

Well I am 28 weeks pregnant (that's seven months, yow) after all, and my navel isn't as dull and boring as it once was. There's a lot going on in that general vicinity these days.

For example, I never realized how visible all that "fetal activity" is from the outside. It's a rather strange thing to see one's belly shift from left to right, and ripple, or pulsate with repeated kicks and jabs. When the little one really gets going it almost reminds me of watching the foil bubble of a Jiffy Pop popcorn pan as it expands on the stove. (Anyone but me remember Jiffy Pop, the original precursor to microwave popcorn? Yeah, I know, I'm old!)

Interestingly enough (to me, maybe not you) my belly button hasn't popped out like a turkey timer yet. This may be due to the fact that my belly has always been somewhat comfortably upholstered. Which is my nice way of expressing my worry that my belly won't be as cute as other preggo bellies because it was somewhat pudgy to start off with. So my belly button is still decidedly "innie" which is okay with me, because I've never been particularly interested in being an "outie". I'm told there's still time for it to change and pop out, but secretly I'm kind of hoping it doesn't.

I'm so vain.

One good thing about having a pregnant navel is that navel hygeine is greatly simplified - there just isn't much room for lint to collect there. Not that I was ever in the habit of letting lint collect there. I tend to think that linty navels really ought to be avoided in general.

Don't you? I thought so.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


The report is in, the news is good. It doesn't look like cancer.

Yesterday I wrote about waiting for my Dad's CAT scan results. Preliminary results look good, they don't think it's anything to be too concerned about, but they're going to refer him to a second pulmonologist for a 2nd opinion, just to be sure. I like doctors who voluntarily do things like that.

In six months he'll go for another scan, just to make sure the nodules (I guess there was more than one) aren't growing or changing in any suspicious way. But they suspect they've been there for some time, perhaps ever since Dad worked in the mills as a young man.

All in all, very welcome news.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Knowing and yet not knowing

I know that I can't take credit for this, or kid myself into thinking that I've grown or matured. Tomorrow my father will find out whether or not a nodule in his lung looks cancerous or not, and I'm not worried.

When my mom first told me he was going for the chest X-ray, I knew they'd find something. I knew it like I know my name. Can't explain why, I just did. Is it God's way of going before me and preparing the way for what's to come?

Things like this have happened before. I knew when a friend was first diagnosed with aplastic anemia, when she was still healthy-looking, when the doctors said the prognosis was promising, before two failed bone marrow transplants, I knew she was going to die. Couldn't explain how I knew it, I just did. We had just over a year to laugh and cry and pray together. Then she went home.

The night my best friend's Dad died, I went to visit her. She and her mom and sister were keeping close by his bedside. We all knew he was going to die in a matter of weeks, maybe less. It was lung cancer. They'd sent him home with Hospice care so he could be where he was comfortable, amidst familiar faces and surroundings. She came out to the kitchen and we had a cup of tea. I knew when it was time for me to go; it was his time and he needed her there to say goodbye. I did not see her or hear from her that night, or the next day - which was my wedding day - but I knew. My family called me on my honeymoon to convey the news. When I later spoke to her myself, she said he'd died not long after I'd left that night. I told her I knew, and that's why I'd left when I did.

When prayers were said over this woman I don't know well, I stood by, a little to the side. I knew she was healed. Can't say how. I just did. It didn't surprise me then when she let go of that walker and ran around shouting. It wasn't a big revelation, there was no vision, no signs, nothing spooky or out of the ordinary. I just knew. I also knew at the same moment that she hadn't been healed of everything that afflicted her, but I did not say anything. She still had MS. I don't know why, and it was very difficult for her to accept that some time later when her doctors confirmed it. It was even harder for her to tell our church, which, as expected, didn't handle the news very gracefully. But she had indeed been touched by God, and He had healed her of a disability, much to the surprise and consternation of her doctors.

The knowing just happens that way. Usually it seems my part is to keep my mouth shut, seek God, and pray. So I do that. And wait.

My dad went to the doctor to get his X-ray results just before the 4th of July holiday weekend. That morning I made a point of stopping by mom & dad's to have a cup of tea with mom while she waited for him to come back from the appointment, because I knew that she was worried and shouldn't be waiting all alone. I didn't tell her what I knew though. Sure enough there was something, they specifically called it a nodule. The doctor ordered a CAT scan right away for the 5th. And so we're waiting for him to get the results tomorrow.

Funny thing is, I don't know if it is in fact cancer. There's a good chance it might not be - at least fifty per cent, from what I've read. Though given his age and family history, it's just as likely that it is cancerous. But there's really no telling.

What I do know that that where the worry normally is, where it should be, there's this steadfast, immovable calm that I can't explain. It has all the hallmarks of the peace and grace of God, and I am so thankful for it.

It is whatever it is. And it's okay, because we are in God's hands.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7 (KJV)

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Colossians 3:15 (KJV)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Moment of Reflection

Seeing as blogs (well, this blog in particular) is silent, it makes little sense to pause for a moment of silence per se. Instead how about a moment of reflection to remember those who lost their lives this week in London and their loved ones.

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 2 Corinthians 1:2-4 (KJV)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

God Bless Great Britain

We're absolutely horrified and devastated to hear the news coming out of London this morning. Our dear friends and staunch allies, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Unlike the disoriented shock that followed 9/11, my immediate reaction to this morning's news was cold fury.

We must find the persons responsible and utterly crush them.

They will be defeated, and by all means available. They have succeeded only in strengthening our resolve to hunt them down and fight them to the very ends of the earth.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Speaking of Gadgets

Props to Steve Jobs. He may be a lot of things, and I've read and heard that he can be a real jerk to his employees and business partners. But for this he deserves some credit. It was a real decent thing for him to do.

Hi-Tech Fleecing of the Flock

Before I start on this rant I'm about to go off on, it is only fair that I disclose that for years I made my living working in high technology companies - usually software companies. The software was and still is my bread and butter, it's what puts a roof over my head. We're admittedly geeky people, Mr. F and I, and we love nifty gadgets or cool new technological innovations just as much (if not more than) the next person.

So you could maybe assume that we'd enthusiastically support the use of all sorts of hi-tech wing-ding gadgets in the church. You could assume that, but you'd be %100 wrong.

The Boston Globe just recently published this article about the growing use of technology in mega-churches. It primarily profiles a mega-church not too far from here in Lexington, Massachusetts (yes, that Lexington - where the shot heard 'round the world unofficially kicked off the American Revolution).

The article describes many of the technologies used by large churches across America these days - Microsoft® PowerPoint® slides and projectors for praise and worship lyrics, sophisticated audio equipment for recording and burning sermons to CDs, web servers for streaming sermons on the Internet, digital cameras and pagers in Children's church, etc.

I've seen where these things can be useful, and perhaps even concede where technology really does make things run more smoothly. I'm thinking of a certain mega-church located smack dab in the middle of a major metropolitan city, where security is a major concern and the pastoral staff has their hands full managing a service full of well over two thousand people at a time. Even though I believe the pastoral staff preaches in concert with the heart and spirit of God, and that they do everything with a humble, servantlike attitude, all the gadgets still make me a bit uncomfortable. I look around and see dollar signs on everything, and I can't help but wonder, did they really count the cost here? Will my offering go towards helping the actual ministries of the church, or will it just defray the costs of their Web hosting fee this month?

Anyway, so it comes as no surprise to me that there are churches out there throwing all sorts of money out the window on laptops, projectors, networks and software. I knew that already. What particularly caught my eye in the Globe article was this little tidbit about a Texas mega-church:

Fellowship Church, a congregation of 20,000 in Grapevine, Texas, spends 15 percent of its $30 million annual budget on technology. There were just 5,000 attendees in 1999 when church member Terry Storch quit his job as sales manager at an Internet company to take a full-time job at Fellowship. Back then, ''there was no technical infrastructure here," said Storch, ''There was no network."

Today, as Fellowship's chief technology officer, Storch manages 400 desktop computers, a cluster of 30 network servers, and 15 terabytes of networked data storage. While the church uses standard computer hardware, Storch wasn't satisfied with the church management software then available. So Fellowship invested $1 million to create Fellowship One, a program created especially for mega-churches. They even set up a business, Fellowship Technologies, to sell the software to other large churches.

(all emphasis mine)

Ok, now I've heard everything.

I've worked in software for ten years. I've taken on the role of product manager for at least one software product, which means I acted as the liason between the customer and the developers to communicate what a new product should be and what it's going to cost to build in terms of time and resources. Mr. F writes code for a living. So between us, we're well acquainted with nearly every aspect of the business. I'm not writing this as a technology outsider or casual home computer user who just blogs every now and then. I've also been a member of a church who dutifully participated in church elections and voted on bylaws and proposed projects. I have a clue about such things.

So you'll pardon me for the following outburst:

This church spent A MILLION DOLLARS developing a stinking piece of software?? And now they're HAWKING IT TO OTHER CHURCHES? I'm sorry, this makes me hopping mad, and I'm disgusted beyond words. This is complete and utter vanity.

I used to think the worst most terrible thing in the world were the snake oil word-of-faith preachers and evangelists who promised financial blessing to people who sent them money for "prayer cloths" and other such garbage. I reserved my greatest disdain and disapproval for such types who shamelessly ripped off pensioners and unemployed or underemployed people of much needed cash.

But this is disturbing on so many more levels, it's hard to know where to start. In my mind's eye I can envision Jesus himself ripping out cables and pushing over towering racks of network and file servers.

First off, who was the jackal or jackals who convinced the church they needed said million-dollar church management software? In my time in the business I've seen far too many software sales executives talk customers into buying millions of dollars of features they don't need. It sickened me in the business world. It enrages me to think someone's doing it in the church world.

Who are the developers who undertook this project? Wonder how they're sleeping at night on mattresses stuffed full of church money?

Who are the complete rubes in the churches of America who are falling for this garbage and think they need it? This is fiscal irresponsibility at its absolute worst. We are supposed to be good stewards over all that God has given us. I completely, wholeheartedly, utterly fail to see how any church board could justify such an expenditure for "church management software". Whoever you people are, you were just sold a total bill of goods. Don't think you won't answer for it someday.

The apostle Paul employed himself as a tent maker so that he could support himself and not sponge off the church community. How on earth then can this Mr. Storch justify his position as full-time CTO of a church??? What, maybe he couldn't he cut it in the commercial business world? Did he decide instead to jump ship and be a big techie fish in a niave little church pond? Does he enjoy convincing his congregation to spend thousands of dollars on stuff that becomes instantly useless in the event of a power outage? (Which makes me wonder: do they cancel church when the network goes down???)

I can imagine the arguments that were used to justify this project. "Why give money to Oracle or Microsoft for database software? Wouldn't it be so much better to develop a highly-specialized database for recording membership lists, and then sell it to other churches? See, we'd be doing something for the church, not giving money to those big greedy corporations!" I cringe to think they went out and found a team of Christian developers - thereby assuring themselves that the whole thing will bless God's people all around.

What a crock. A total, complete, rotten stinking crock.

What is especially disturbing about this article was that it was published in the Business section of the Boston Globe. Not the Religion section, not the Living section. The Business section. So what that says to me is that a whole bunch of software executives in the Boston area (and you can't throw a rock without hitting two of them at once around here) are getting the brilliant idea that they should start targeting church and religious organizations as potential sales customers (if they haven't already). The article proves that there are churches that rival the size and influence of many private and public corporations, the traditional target customer base for enterprise class software. Moreover, unlike many public and private businesses, these churches have a steady supply of recurring revenue in the form of tithes and offerings. Doing business with such a rich institution would sure beat having to wrench money out of a venture-funded firm that's just about exhausted what's left of their last round of funding.

If I'm a software, networking, or hardware sales executive reading this article, I'm thinking to myself Holy Cash Cow! and before I even finish reading the last line I'm already jotting down a memo in my Palm Pilot to start looking up congregations in my sales district and to give them a friendly little courtesy call to see if I can help them with any of their technology needs.

Don't think it isn't happening. Don't think it for a minute.

I've said it before, I'll say it over and over and over again: I don't think this is what Jesus had in mind when He told us all to build His church. Why is this so hard for so many people to figure out? Shouldn't it be obvious?

Shouldn't it???

In Mark 6 we're told that Jesus instructed the apostles to go out and preach, and he specifically told them what to pack for their assignment:

And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:

But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats. Mark 6:7-9

This was the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ. This is how it began. A bunch of broke, hungry guys wearing sandals talking to people they encountered along the way about this Jesus and the kingdom of God. Nothing extra, nothing extravagant, nothing showy. It was these folks of whom it was said: "[they have] turned the world upside down."

But today we think we need networks and servers, databases, projectors, streaming video, podcasts and who knows what else.

God forgive us, and God help us.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Baby Christians and Decoys

Anyone who's made a decision to follow Christ can tell their own story about what it was like to be a "baby Christian". The days and weeks immediately following "conversion" or "rebirth" are marked by great joy, a sense of wonder, and tremendous zeal to tell others about what has just happened in one's life. In many ways it truly is akin to becoming sighted for the first time after a lifetime of blindness - and we are eager to share what we have learned with everyone we meet.

I'm fascinated with a phenomenon that seems to occur in many Christians' early stages, one that has potentially a potentially devastating impact on one's walk and witness, not to mention one's close personal relationships. It is the phenomenon of the well-placed decoy.

It's happened again, to someone I know, and I saw it coming from the beginning. It happened to me, It's happened to other Christians I know. Today I'm wondering what it is that makes this such a ready trap and why more of us don't recognize it for what it is. And why doesn't the church talk more about it?

The decoy is the one person you will meet, usually very soon after your own conversion, who is the only one who has any interest in hearing what you have to say about Jesus. Your family isn't interested, and they think you've gone off your nut. Your friends are weirded out by all your God talk and wish you would just can it. But out of the ether, suddenly there's this new person who waltzes into your life - usually in some sorry state or another - who can't get enough of everything you have to say. After so much rejection and negative reaction from everyone else in your life, this person seems heaven-sent. God MUST want you to share His love with this person, right?

This individual becomes a sort of pet project for you. You spend more time with him or her. You go out of your way to do Christian things to help this poor downtrodden soul in his or her plight. You pat yourself on the back and start counting the days until they too see the light and come to Christ because of your bold witness to them and your kind, Christlike, loving deeds.

In the meantime, something interesting happens. You begin avoiding your family and friends who criticize or question your faith. You spend more time with your pet mission project, a fact that is lost on nobody in your immediate circle of friends and family. All the while, you find yourself becoming more entangled with your mission project person's life and trials. You fret about his or her lost job, failed relationship or family problems. You spend hours praying with them and for them, and still more hours counseling and cajoling them to turn to God. You invest more and more of yourself, believing this is what God would have you to do.

Much to your consternation, it begins to appear that your pet's problems are going from bad to worse, and you can't understand it. Why isn't God helping him/her? Perhaps the person has told you they are seeking God, that they ARE praying, but in the meantime s/he is also making some pretty bad decisions and doing things s/he ought not, despite your countless hours of counseling and good advice. Your days and nights are spent fretting over your pet project, and you begin to wonder why God would put this person in your life and then seemingly not answer your prayers for him or her.

Almost nothing good ever comes of the relationship. All you get out of it is a clinging vine who brings you turmoil, trouble and heartache - and guess what, they never get "saved". Even if they do eventually confess Christ, their actions almost never back up their confession - they remained unchanged, unrepentant and continue to bring upheaval and confusion everywhere they go.

If this has happened to you, you my friend have a decoy, a bona fide tar baby expertly designed to trip you up, weaken your faith, and often put a wedge between you and those closest to you. If you're lucky, you'll only fall for it once, and it won't take you long to figure out what's going on. If you're dense like me, it'll take getting burned a few times before you begin to spot such person a mile way.

Someone close to me is still all tangled up with her tar baby. It's hurt her relationships with her family, who are, as a result, not very enamored with the changes that have happened in her life since she became a Christian. It's a terrible shame because they need her right now more than her tar baby decoy does, but she doesn't see it. She can't see how the many manifold distractions created by the decoy are keeping her entangled and missing many rich opportunities to minister to and share God's love with her own flesh and blood.

Sadly it's a classic textbook case. But for the moment there seems to be no way to tell her what's really going on, that's she's expending all this energy barking up the wrong tree.

God will work it out in time, yes, and she will learn the truth eventually. Still, it hurts sometimes to see someone else make the same mistakes you've already made. I just hope she snaps out of it quicker than I ever did.

Word of the Week: Blogstipation

blog•sti•pation (blŏg'stə-pā'shən) n.
  1. Difficult, incomplete, or infrequent evacuation of thoughts from the mind to the blog.
  2. Obstruction; stultification.

OK, I've been suffering from a severe, chronic case of blogstipation lately. It isn't that I don't have anything to write about, it's that I've had TOO MUCH to write about, as in too many different and varied issues weighing on my mind. Too much has been going on, life has been happening all over the place, filling my head with many undigested thoughts and impressions. As a result, when I sit down to blog, absolutely nothing comes out. And if I strain, well, it just gets a bit uncomfortable and self-defeating.

If I were better about jotting down just a little amount here and there when a thought pops into my mind, perhaps I wouldn't find myself in this bound up mental state. I must make it a priority to practice better mental hygeine. What else is writer's block if it isn't a constipation, a stultification of the mind?

I will attempt to squeeze out a little post today. Just a little one. Then maybe a little one tomorrow. Then hopefully things will get back to a more, ahem, regular state. ;)