Tag: Philosophy

A Great Speech: “Men Have Forgotten God” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.

Great Justice Starts in the Hearts of a Few (Pastor’s Corner)

Thomas Merton was a 20th century writer and Catholic mystic.


Great justice starts in hearts of the few


March 18, 2014

I’m extremely interested in the study of the human desire, over the ages, to have justice and of people seeking hope in what the ancient Egyptians called Ma’at (a balance between the powerful and powerless).

The 20th century writer and philosopher Thomas Merton cautions that “hope in man must not be naive.” He advocated non-violence. This concept seems so utopian that it could never be achieved within the context of human time, perhaps not even in the 100 (if we’re lucky) years we have to live on this earth.

His writing pushes readers to play with the concept of timelessness or eternity and what can be achieved by moving forward with “truth” — no matter what the immediate results prove. “Do not depend on the hope of results,” he argues. He says Christians are working on a timetable that is dependent on God and that we must suffer as Christ did, taking on the yoke of the savior, that yoke of evil.

Despite this, in the immediate context of our current world, I couldn’t help but think of how one goes about changing the politics of the world through non-violence — considering the current crisis in Ukraine, various conflicts in North Korea, flare-ups in Africa and even local violence I see on the news in Savannah and our Lowcountry each year.

There sometimes seems to be a stage that the powerful begin to stand on, and there becomes a distinct separation from the ordinary — a hedge away from regular people. If “the realism of non-violence must be made evident by humility and self-restraint, which clearly show frankness and open-mindedness and invite the adversary to serious and reasonable discussion,” then the stage has to be torn down, or everyone must be brought onto the stage so that listening, discussion and a middle ground can be found.

Should we use the threat of power and violence to raise us to that stage, and make peace then — and by those means?

Merton calls on us to say, “No!” We must not allow ourselves to take that stage, because that would make our ideal of non-violence a pharisaic ideal.

“The basis of pharisaism is division,” he states, and the basis of non-violence is the humbleness and oneness of the entire human race. The only real solution is to do the work of God in faith and have hope that through the generations, the kingdom of God will eventually come.

This is a timetable of patience, and is not dependent on immediate gratification. Though this is a hard ideal and the ways to live it out are diverse — from those who write in their home’s chambers, to the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. and those who non-violently struck the same chord for justice — there are endless battles that can be won on the level of ordinary streets.

Do we have the patience? How long will we wait until the earth is made new?

With each action we take and each word we say, with every moment we listen and by how we distribute and give of what we have in our possession, we push against walls that separate human from human, people from people and nation from nation.

A great hope is that all people will unite one day and accomplish great things. It always starts small in the hearts of a few.

What big things do you want to see accomplished? What steps can we take to make it so? How much patience will it take to bring about? And lastly, will we do what is necessary long enough to make it so?

I think we can make this happen.


Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

Read more by clicking HERE.

Beginning in Youth Ministry: Making a Proper Foundation, Planning, and Philosophy

Philosophy Definition

Building a Philosophy of Youth Ministry

Khufu’s pyramid in Egypt was a limestone masterpiece that originally stood 488 ft, towering on the skyline and impressing people with the weight of its magnificence.  A people do not undertake such a massive project without knowing a few things about how to build or without a guiding philosophy about what needs to be accomplished.  Obviously there needs to be a strong foundation for such a heavy structure.  As the tower of Pisa highlights, when you build on soft ground, eventually what you build will be in danger of falling over.  If the structure is too top-heavy, it will collapse under its own weight.  Not to mention that you have to have access to stone and the relationships and leadership and labor to pull off such a massive scale project.

So what makes us think that we can go into such an important construction project like Youth Ministry without having a strong foundation and a vision for its growth?  Many have walked in with the mantra “Fake it ‘til you make it,” though that’s hardly ever a formula for true success in ministry.  There has to be clear guidelines for your leadership, your team, your students and the destiny of your ministry.  Remember that you are building for eternity in the hearts of young people.  Their lives will continue on in an everlasting line, and the trajectory of your ministry will be a strong parallel in their spiritual growth.  Like a good football coach or architect, you have to have a game plan to execute.

Take a few moments and vision out the goals of your ministry and build a framework based on biblical principles for how you’re going to accomplish your goals.   I begin with a simple purpose statement (see Doug Fields, “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”), and ours is simply “Saint Andrew By-The-Sea’s youth ministry exists to create lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.”  It gets to the “Why” of what we are doing together.  Next, I dug into the scriptures, studied youth ministry a bit, and prayed through my passion to reach families and youth and discovered five principles that would guide our ministry.

A Short Youth Ministry Philosophy:

(1) Our ministry is Theological and Discipling in nature (Matthew 28:8-20). We need to encourage reflection on God’s work in the world (past, present, and future) and help students to live engulfed in God’s Word.  (2) We are a relational/incarnational presence in youth’s everyday lives (John 1:14).  (3) We are a family centered, equipping ministry (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16).  Parents are important to us, and by ministering to the whole family system, youth are better off and equipped to be strong and succeed in their faith journey.  (4) We are a life enabling and counseling as a community (John 13:34-35).  By connecting youth and families to one another, and by listening to the needs and concerns of all, we gain a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here and now.  (5) We are a team based ministry (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Love is spelled T-I-M-E, and it takes a lot of it to build a relationship with a student and more to walk with them in faith.  Because of this, it is impossible for one Youth Worker/Leader/Pastor to reach out to all the students deeply, and simultaneously.

So what does your youth ministry foundation look like?  It may look a bit different.  Take some time and seriously consider what heights can stand on the foundation of God’s glory.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Pastor’s Corner: Was God Born? The Concept of Eternity and a Great Mysterious God

Grasping God’s greatness is an adventure of the mind

Published Wednesday, September 26, 2012
A recent letter by a child to God asked, “God, how were you born?”That same question came up last night with a group of middle school students. I remember grappling with this thought myself; the notion of an ultimate creator being created is a natural one.We are all born into this world. None of us has ever not been born — unless you are an extremely unique creature. So far everyone I have met has had a birth date, and there have been witnesses, so no one has been able to claim otherwise in spite of the fact that we don’t remember our own moments of personal genesis.

The notion that God has no beginning and also no end is a mind twister. I remember having the concept of eternity explained to me in my early years this way: A dove holds a feather in her beak and is able to fly from one end of the known universe to the other end. In the middle of the universe, there is an iron ball the size of Jupiter. The dove grazes the iron ball with the feather each time it passes. On the day that the iron ball is completely worn down to nothing by the dove’s feather, that is the day that eternity has just begun.

That last part usually takes a moment to sink in. Understanding that God has no beginning or end, and is the Alpha and Omega of all things in our own universe, is hard to grasp. It takes a bit of appreciation of mystery, and yet the concept draws us in. Those who do good wish to have an eternity, in order to do the most to better mankind and the universe. The evil genius wants an eternity to destroy what the good people build.

The stories of the ancient gods, who were very human in their frailties, seem to be about their longing to go on epic adventures without the worry of one day dying. In wisdom literature, the book of Ecclesiastes says, “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, in a reply to the letter of the child I mentioned previously, tried to respond for God in his own words and simply said, “But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!” The response is quite charming and full of grace and love to a 6-year-old named Lulu.

Grasping the greatness, or “big-ness” of God is a great undertaking. This is an adventure of the mind and a journey of faith. The box we build to put God into continues to break, even as we learn what God has put in the box for us to see. That is why I love the Scriptures. That is why I love the continued action of faith in the lives of people who express the eternity of God by doing great and wondrous things.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

Exponential Growth of Technology is Owed to Growth in “More Good People”

Technology is amazing … but then again, so are people

Published Monday, August 22, 2011

The rise of technology and its integration into everyday life during my own lifetime has astounded me.

When I was born, the Internet did not exist. When I entered elementary school, I learned how to move a green pixelated turtle on a screen using complex computer code. Later I learned how to find my favorite video game magazine on the newly founded World Wide Web when I visited my dad at work. In middle school, I took computer study skills and learned how to manage life through typing and computations. By high school, I was using Adobe Photoshop for graphic design. Now, I study the Bible using tools that incorporate texts going back millennia, which have been digitized and placed within a program to do what the Library of Alexandria must have done ages ago.

This progression only took a few decades.

Some people react to the rapid changes in culture with fear, others accept it wholeheartedly and find their identity in the mobile devices and electrons. Most people, though, just wait until something becomes useful to them and then buy products that are easily explained and implemented. This is probably the reason the iPod and iPhone from Apple have been so successful and why other platforms are catching on to the importance of ease of use. You use your finger and have access to your contacts, can make a phone call, listen to music, watch a video, browse a website and level a shelf all using the same device. The buttons are easy to press, and things happen.

If it works in everyday life and business, then it’s a winner.

A friend of mine brought all this to my attention a few years ago, exclaiming that life has completely changed all because of technology. I thought about that for a bit and something occurred to me that really changed my thinking on the inanimate world of silicon.

In our world, what is the most changed factor in the growth of technology? Likely, the first response would be knowledge. Knowledge and ideas make advances possible, and the Internet spreads knowledge to the ends of the Earth.

But there is more.

The most important ingredient to progress and change in the world is not these inanimate things written down or placed in a plastic box with a screen.

In our world, the center of all our advances and growth has come from one thing and that is this: There are more people living on our planet now than have ever been. There are more people thinking about solutions to problems than have ever been. As minds are freed up to tackle issues, and brilliance is allowed to flow like water — the real ingredient to our advance as a species — more people do more good things.

Ideas flow as a river from the many centers of human thought. Without people, there would be no technology.

In the first book of the Bible, God makes two people and tells them to multiply and become rulers of all living things. In the first and second chapters of Genesis, humans are caretakers of the Earth and the resources within it. Later Abraham, the father of the Israelites, was promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashores (See Genesis 15-17). He took that as a blessing and held on to that promise.

As the Earth reaches 7 billion people, we have challenges concerning food distribution and our proper relation to the environment. Many face starvation across the globe.

The promise to Abraham inferred that they would be a light to the nations and a blessing to all the peoples of the Earth. If we have been given the blessing of more people and knowledge increases exponentially and our devices have become more and more entertaining, we have wasted our promise if we do not take our responsibility as a growing humanity to help solve the problems of homelessness, hunger, disease and lack of education.

The only real technology is more people, and the best way to make that a good thing is to make sure everyone has opportunities to contribute to the greater good.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

Read more: http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/08/22/1765526/technology-is-amazing-but-then.html#ixzz1W3N2iH5e

Tearing Down Our Crosses: Atheists Challenge Old US Culture Seeking Secular Future – A Secular Humanist Philosophical Interpretation of the First Amendment

There is a fight brewing in Utah that is about to spill out to the rest of the country by way of the Supreme Court.  In Utah, the state police have marked graves of police officers with a cross on the side of the road.  The crosses were put up with permission of family members and have been shown to be a reminder (a memorial) to those who have given up their lives.  The fight comes from an atheist organization that feels that the State Police putting up crosses is an affront to the establishment clause in the First Amendment which states that the state shall not endorse any religion over another.  The argument is quite simple and comes up quite frequently (especially around Christian holidays where reporters are looking for religious stories) and goes like this:  Crosses are a symbol of Christianity; there are many religions in our country including “No Religion”; putting up a Cross (and not any or every other symbol or non-symbol simultaneously) is an endorsement – like a commercial.  Because of this, Utah has been sued asking the crosses be removed and it is likely to go up to the Supreme Court because judges are finding that states do not have uniform laws to deal with such issues.  Each state has dealt with this issue differently, so a Federal Ruling may be necessary.

There are lots of issues that surround this. (1) From the very beginnings, people coming to the Americas were primarily from countries with established Christian states.  Actually, this is one of the reasons the first amendment was installed in the first place – so that everyone could worship freely as their conscience saw fit.  In other words – the state would not persecute anyone who worshiped different from the majority.  But primarily, people were of Christian religious views (even if they tended towards Diesm, Catholicism, Protestant backgrounds, or minority Christian sects), even if people had nominal Christian views – Christ was still a uniter.  (2) Politically, in the past, the leaders of communities also tended to be pastor’s.  Especially in areas with heavy English influence such as New England, the Scientists and scholars were also pastors.  Schools were established to destroy ignorance of the Bible and to teach people to read so much so that in Massachusetts, they wanted to give Satan no foothold in the commonwealth.  Not only that, but Presidents not long after the Revolution would call Days of Repentance, Prayer, and Thanksgiving (which eventually became formalized in the 1900’s as official holidays).  Abraham Lincoln appealed to Christian scripture to make his points – Presidents were like Pastors of the whole country – oraters of God’s vision for the people of America.  It was obvious that despite the diversity of “religion” (or now we would say denomination) in America, we were primarily Christian.  The other major religion, Jewish folk, often practiced their religion, but adopted Christian forms to fit in for good or bad.  Read the life of Bob Dylan to see a bit of this.

Things are changing fast, however.  Like back in the days of colonization, when American sailors in Salem, MA made fortunes across the globe trading goods and intersecting with various faiths in other lands, well, now those lands have come to America.  Globalization, Intellectual vigor  and the nearly complete freedom of entertainment culture and idea has blown up the concept of Christian identity that at one time knit people under the moniker of “Manifest Destiny” or other historical slogans of religious feeling and origin.  Our world has come closer, which has caused a plurality of views to be considered by all at any time in any place.  The Melting Pot has become more of a Bowl of Salad where everything comes to co-exist (which is a popular bumper sticker on cars now).  So Christian identity has obviously been lost in the last two or three decades.

More and more people also have thrown off the auspices of Christian culture and have gone with their hypothesis that “There is no God” and so Secularism has been a boon for this growing group.  A world free of religious symbols or conversation is an atheist world.  If the religious are forced to keep their beliefs wrapped up when they enter a school, a government building, or any public place, the atheist feels safe and secure wrapped in a confident jacket of insularity.  The government appears to be endorsing no religion, but in fact it is endorsing “No Religion”, a philosophy that excludes the possibility of anything religious at all.  There are reasons for this of course.  Many who believe in no God are of the persuasion that Religion causes war.  That those of faith molest people and abuse people into submitting to unjust authority.  An undercurrent of this is a social justice of the ungodly accusing the “godly” who by self description have horribly sinned against humanity.  What God would allow those of their own faith to do evil against innocent children?  Or to cause the Crusades?  Or to cause constant strife and division in Jerusalem where the many faiths and nationalities from the old world duke things out in a near atomic scramble for power.  A world without religion to these ones is a prize – something that would keep people safe.

But they are wrong.  All those evils happen without religion at all.  It is plainly observed that atheist states in the modern eras have done as much evil to their own peoples (USSR under Stalin, North Korea under Kim Jong Il) as had been done under Kings and Queens of Christianity in the age of Christian states.  Evil is evil.  Blaming those of faith for all evil is just as simplistic as Hitler blaming the Jews for all the world’s problems.  It is simple, so by scientific standards, it seems solid. It is easily explained and easily enforced.

The heart of this matter is that people of Secular/Atheist philosophy wish to see religion wiped from the public sphere altogether.  I do not wish to be lumped with people like Bill O’Reilly who talk about the War on Christmas, or other sound bites. I merely wish to point out that Atheism is a type of faith.  A Faith in Nothing, or in Ourselves alone (Secular Humanism).  It is not an agenda-less nothing – it is a philosophy that seeks dominance in culture like any other.  The faiths of the world all compete in the realm of ideas and speak to their own causes, but the Atheist in America has found a way to use Law as leverage.  This is because we have a Justice System that protects the minority.  All people are given a voice when our system is at its best.

But a concern needs to be flagged, when a group of people (even a minority that is protected) puts its world view and faith in nothing at the heart of  our government and binds it by a law, there is an issue that needs to be debated and discussed.  I am actually very happy that this case is going to the Supreme Court for this reason.  This court is supposed to be full of wisdom and to consider the case very carefully and document how the came to their decision.

My opinion, (though I say so very humbly but very honestly) is that those of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bhuddist, Pagan, Atheist or otherwise – should be able to speak of and openly show their faith in public. That their ideas, ideals and reasons for living in America are as much a part of governance as any other group.  Even if they work or exist within the Government structures.  Even leaders who speak to the public and make decisions for our nation.  I believe that all people should be allowed to be open about what they believe in a free marketplace of ideas, religions and worldviews.  To restrict religion from the open entirely is a reaction of fear.  Fear that we cannot bottle religious passions or come to terms with a plurality of world views.  It is basically giving up.  I cannot do that.

While I do not believe that Government should favor any particular strand of worldview as an entity, the Government is an extension of the people it governs and has a right to express symbols that the people revere – not as a symbol of dominance, but as a show of solidarity.  Especially in areas involved in life or death and mourning.  In Arlington National Cemetery, there are Graves with crosses, Stars of Davids as well as Crescents.  I suppose someone’s family could ask for no symbol at all.  But I believe that the government has the right to work with the people and to interact with their world views.  So long as the government does not actively restrain any type of faith, but interacts with them all on an equal footing (an example of the negative here would be the Government not allowing the family of a Muslim State Officer who has passed to place a small white Crescent shaped memorial on the side of the road while allowing Crosses to be placed).

In our nation’s infancy, political leaders were allowed to appeal to God. I believe that if our country elected an atheist to the high office, that that person should be allowed not to appeal to God as they please.  But for a secular philosophy to keep others from doing so, I think that is wrong and should not be done.  For those who do believe in God, we cannot separate our whole selves from the process of faith that informs everything that we do.  God cannot be left in a closet before we enter schools or give a speech.  God is a part of all of it.  I hope that those who believe in No God can come to respect and entertain their ideas in the open rather than backhanding those of faith by removing the mark of our presence in service to our country through the force of misunderstood or overreaching laws.

Two Greeks: A Conversation on Ultimate Freedom

An ancient conversation between Anthropos and Bios, two friends who like to have conversations over a good meal.

ANTHROPOS:  This lamb is wonderful.

BIOS: I’m so glad you like it.

ANTHROPOS: Yes, now you were saying – something about your life.

BIOS: Of course, I was wondering about how you live yours.  What is your philosophy of life.

ANTHROPOS: I try to live as best I can.  I try not to hurt other people as much as possible, I enjoy myself.  I believe in ultimate freedom.

BIOS: What do you mean by ultimate freedom?

ANTHROPOS: Ultimate Freedom, of course.  I feel that everyone has a right to be exactly as they wish to be.  We are all made a certain way and no other person has the right to impose any sort of unchosen life on us.

BIOS: So each person is a free agent, of sovereign will, who should be whatever they wish to be.

ANTHROPOS: Exactly – the destiny of the individual belongs to the individual.  We are who we are.

BIOS: I see.  I have a nephew who is now 6 years old.  Would you allow me to apply your wonderful idea to his life?

ANTHROPOS: Certainly.  How odd though.

BIOS: Indulge me like with your wonderful lamb.

ANTHROPOS: Of course. (Laughs)

BIOS: My nephew is a wonderful child.  He just began being tutored and has shown a great desire to learn.  His curiosity for machinery and anything that moves such as elephants and horses, well, they fascinate him.

ANTHROPOS: He should be encouraged to become an engineer!

BIOS: Of course he should.  But then there are times when he becomes quite impossible.  His mood can change even while playing with him when he suddenly becomes a grump.  He will no longer play, he will no longer answer questions, and his attitude towards his mother becomes rude and antagonistic.

ANTHROPOS: Well, a quick pat on the…

BIOS: (interrupting) But – you did say that humans should have Ultimate Freedom. No?

ANTHROPOS: It seems a bit silly when applied to a child.

BIOS: Then perhaps you could add an amendment to this, giving room for the wily nature of childhood.

ANTHROPOS: Yes, children are different than older people.

BIOS: Why is that?

ANTHROPOS: Well, they are still developing.  Becoming…people.

BIOS: So they are exempt from the Ultimate Freedom principle.

ANTHROPOS: Children would have to be.  But I hate to make that concession.  Romantically I want to believe that we are all born to be who we are born to be.  It feels wrong to say otherwise.

BIOS: But being true to our nature, there is a time of molding that occurs. When we look at a child, even physically, we see that we are not born complete into adulthood.  Muscles have to grow, bones have to lengthen, vocal chords have to be tried for a time and the brain itself becomes larger.  Certainly, there is a time of growth and molding.  We are not completely born to be what we are meant to be physically.

ANTHROPOS: That is true.

BIOS: And consider the education we give our children.  They do not automatically know how to do math.  Nor can they automatically read.  And only in the nurture of adults guiding them do we learn what they are good and not good in proficiency at.  Even then we have to tell them their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to shore up and work on the weak points and to encourage them in their strengths for the purposes of self esteem.

ANTHROPOS: You are right.  Up until a point, we are growing.

BIOS: And – we are not completely free.  Imagine a child wandering wherever they would like.  How often have you seen a child nearly hit by a wild horse in the broadways of our metropolis.  If our caretakers did not enforce a simple rule, to hold an adult’s hand when standing near the streets, our news would often be much more tragic.

ANTHROPOS: Of course it would.  I do see your point Bios.  Children need rules and guidance to grow correctly.  So I would like to amend my original statement.  It was too broad.

BIOS: I see.  So if I may, you would like to say something like, “If one has completely become an adult, they deserve Ultimate Freedom to be whatever and however they choose to be.”

ANTHROPOS: If, they do not harm another!

BIOS: Yes! I remember you bringing that up earlier.  But like the child who needs guidance from an adult hand, isn’t that also a rule? I appreciate your desire to simplify the entire lawcode to one simple phrase, but imagine how complicated that one phrase can become.  “Don’t harm another” becomes, once violated, “Do not hit your spouse in anger,” and “Do not burn your neighbor’s house down.”

ANTHROPOS: But if no one did any wrong, there would not need to be any law at all!

BIOS: But do people do wrong to one another?

ANTHROPOS: Yes they do, but it is not necessary.

BIOS: No evil is.  It just exists when we do it.  And laws are made as we violate what we did not previously know would harm another.

ANTHROPOS: Bios, I am stirred so much that I don’t know what to think right now.  I only know that I wish to hold onto this ideal.

BIOS: Ultimate Freedom! I too desire this ideal my friend.  I wish what is wrong is not to be done.  But so long as people do wrong to others, there will be laws and the desire to make things right again.

ANTHROPOS: Justice in other words.

BIOS: Yes.  Justice, or the seeking to make things right again.  A balancing.

ANTHROPOS: True, we are always in need of better Justice.

BIOS: Let us leave it there there, and continue to enjoy this lamb while it is still warm.

ANTHROPOS: (Laughs) It really isn’t as good as you have praised it.

BIOS: But is is better than nothing at all, and I am hungry.

ANTHROPOS: Then let us eat.

On The Responsibility of Media and Entertainment

Hollywood,the big three networks ABC, CBS, and NBC alongside major newspapers have lost their grip on the stories that entertain and build our identities.  There have always been alternatives like Cable or popular magazines, but the internet has brought about new content providers ranging from College Humor sites, Netflix online distribution, Apple’s iOS itunes/app store, to The Huffington Post (which has so much web traffic and readership that it competes with The New York Times).  With so many newcomers and infinite possibilities, any sort of content you wish to get is likely available – legal or not.

Why is this important?  Plato once noted that whoever tells the stories controls the world.  One reason the United States is such a dominating force in the world is because we have been good story tellers.  We don’t just act out for justice and the America way – we tell the story and it gets picked up and told over and over again.  Whether people around the world like the influence of America or not, our stories are everywhere.  The world box office is a testament to American film telling stories.  Those in media realize how much influence they have and monetize it. When America worked to rebuild Europe, in order to fight the communist threat, The Voice of America was established to tell the story of America working with Europe, not against it.  It seems that story was somewhat successful and we tend to work together with Europe.

Media is an influence in all our lives and we all respond in different ways.  Though many feel that the stories they view, read and listen to do not affect them, this is often not the case.  Think about how often the language of a good book, or a quote from a movie comes back to you in a similar circumstance.  Or that line from your favorite song, resonating as you drive home, unable to be dislodged from your memory.  You are influenced.  Each person picks and chooses what they take in as well as how they react to  the stories that make them up.  Some are in acceptance and consume as much as they  can, some are not aware and are passive consumers, and some are resistant and react against culture.

But on the opposite end (not the end user of media but the producer) is the Soup.  The Soup is what Walt Mueller describes (paraphrased) as the mass of culture that we all swim though each day.  We are constantly translating messages and our brain files them where it needs them to be.  Those who make our culture and tell our stories are responsible for this Soup.  Some sips we seek out because we see a program we like or a trailer interested us in a movie.  Or a video game looked appealing on the shelf so we picked it up and experienced the journey of that story as the main character.  But the story itself was told by someone else.  It may be a choose your own adventure, but ultimately all the choices were written for us, which means that we don’t choose the overall matrix which we all experience culture within.  It just exists.  Like the movie Matrix, someone prepared it for us.

Over time, the law of diminishing returns has forced culture producers to move further and further into shocking territory.  Shows like Skins and pornographic horror and breaking away from societal norms to produce shock and awe entertainment have become the norm in this Soup.  At the one end, we have to be responsible for what we consume.  But the producers would be irresponsible if they thought that they had no responsibility at all themselves.

Certainly, good societies thrive on good stories.  Heroic tales of good and evil place us in the cosmos and help us form our moral selves.  Epic adventure films tend to be based on helping someone or something survive and our instincts are at  play as we care about others and seek justice in the best circumstances.  In fantasy we wish for how things were in the past golden ages, in sci fi we wish for a better future and in religious stories we find ourselves caught up in the Creator’s hands, loved and able to be restored as good after doing wrong. Inspirational programming such as The Biggest Loser, Extreme Home Makeover, and Undercover CEO all bring out good things.

But more and more, stories seem to be more about ignoring the good and just having a good time.  As if everyone is a Monad (a ball) bouncing off everyone else.  And they are just trying to entertain themselves until they die and it is “All Good” so long as no one else gets hurt.  Entertainment sometimes crosses lines where we are entertained at others expense.  Even if the characters are fictional, torture movies grip us in fear and we try to laugh afterwards as if nothing happens.  But we just saw torture of a human being.  Over time, the Soup of stories can be strewn with nothing but stories of being lazy, doing wrong to others, laughing at others expense, extreme sexuality or intense violence, death and destruction.  Eventually this affects a person, and their worldview becomes tainted by it.

There are obviously good stories as well as stories that make us worse for watching.  Then there are neutral little stories that inhabit our being and fill in the cracks with silly nonsense and joking around.  But as the entertainment complex grows, as producers of entertainment proliferate, I hope that there is thought to the whole that the individuals are creating.  Is what you produce mostly Good?  Do we even know what Good is anymore?  And how do we all project a great story to the world by the multitudes added up to make One Big Story.  When we look back on what we tell and consume today, is our story even worth telling?

What stories are most important to you? If you are a producer of media, how can you be responsible in producing your content?

Despite What We See, Humans Are Capable of Great Hospitality

Humans are capable of great good

Published Monday, January 10, 2011


The irony of American culture is that while we try to practice the art of hospitality, we are confronted by many stories of the opposite.

Murders, shootings, burglaries and other injustices are reported so that we are aware of what’s happening and can remain safe, but hearing about these occurrences also confirms something in our souls: Something isn’t right with us if there is always such bad news.

Then there are the stories that hit closer to home — that we don’t talk about in polite company, that are only whispered on the side. Our stomachs churn when we hear them, and our eyes squint because the mind and heart are not made to take these things in.

This is nothing new.

Do you can remember in Sunday school when you were shocked to find that the Bible doesn’t just record the good stories but also the ones that are terrible, if not horrifying?

I remember my friends asking our teacher about the stories of rape, murder, prostitution and incest in the Bible, wondering why they were in there because the Bible was supposed to be a tablet of morals like the Ten Commandments. We didn’t yet realize that even God’s people weren’t perfect, and that darkness and injustice in the hearts of people might be the biggest reason Christ’s sacrifice was seen as a game-changer.

In one event at the end of the regular life of Jesus, people saw that evil has consequences and that God cares more about justice than we realize.

This Christmas season, Bluffton felt the pains of inhospitality in our own community when a shooting in a local neighborhood left a father dead in the street on Christmas Eve. This story is now whispered among us, and increases the irony we feel — a family has lost someone they love, and at a time of celebration and a time to remember hope. Once again, we are forced to deal with the ugly side of humanity.

Collectively, it seems that we are losing the art of Gastfreundschaft, a concept first discussed by the brilliant writer Henry Nouwen as “friendship for the guest.” His words on hospitality echo in my mind: “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.”

It is a positive philosophy of welcoming others, and it is a choice to let others in, and to experience them for who they are. But if we all close ourselves off, more and more atrocities will occur.

Reaching out and caring about those who are alien to us is a primary way to reclaim who we are as human beings. Believe it or not, we are made to do good, and can accomplish great things together.

Remember the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis? His brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt, and when they later asked for forgiveness, realizing the slave had become a king, he responded, “‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.nesis 50:19)

While Joseph could have retaliated and continued the cycle of evil, he turned events around and made a hospitable space. That kind of justice puts a stop to cycles of evil and frustration. It is the way the irony we live within, with God’s help, could disappear.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

Music as Memory Markers (Identity Guide Posts)

Image Source: http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~mcslab/about-research.php

Many who study human development know that as humans, we all struggle at some time or another with the identity question, “Who am I?” and how we answer that depends on a few factors.  (1) Our family background and how we fit into it relationally, (2) our nature, or natural giftings, (3) the stories, wisdom, and even quips people say that we latch onto, and many others.  One component I would would like to focus on, however, I didn’t even mention, and that is Music How does Music help us orient our identity in the world?

We all have those songs or sounds that bring up old memories.  An easy example is remembering when you started dating.  You heard in movie that couples tend to have favorite songs, so you decided on a song that would mark the relationship.  You listened to it over and over because it was the first song on the mix tape in your car.  It filled the sonic spaces of your life.  And then you broke up.  Suddenly all you listen to is “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” (jk).

What was your song?  If you never dated, think of another powerful time in your life – like your first finals at college.  What songs were playing when you crammed? Or your first road trip?  What songs played in the car as you traveled 1,000 miles.

Now – 5 years later or more, you hear the song on the radio and a flood of memories and emotions come back.  Your face is flush from remembering good and bad times.  Kisses, questions, hugs, laughs, the smell your old car, everything.  It all comes back, but why does it?

It seems that music, being a powerful artform, which can fill spaces and affect our emotions – also acts as a place holder for memories.  Memory means stories, and stories mean identity construction and processing, and so music is intimately intertwined with who we are as people.

What was going on in your life 10 years ago/5 years ago?  Don’t remember, what about when you listened to these songs:

Watch this video if you are at least 25 years old:

Watch this video if you are less than 25 years old:

If you don’t relate to either, watch this:

Regardless of the song that you related to – what were the exact moments going on in your life when you first heard these songs?  Is it easier now that you have listened to some of the music from back in the day?  I bet for most of you it was.

Music is a powerful force in all of our lives. I’ve written a whole paper back in my college years on how music is like a Drapery, or Art that you place on the empty spaces around you.  Silence is the wall, Music is the Painting that colors our existence which we use to guide us as we navigate life.  Sometimes the messages of music help guide us, sometimes the music itself is a journey that helps us get through tough times, sometimes we just want to run over the notes and fly beyond into the ether.

Conversation – Tell me your favorite song and one powerful memory associated with it.