Monday, November 29, 2010

#203 Using visual aids during sermons

Nothing gives your sermons that extra something quite like visual aids. They're the only kind of AIDS Christian culture openly embraces. Ha ha haaaaaa but seriously, folks. The pastor really wants to keep your attention. He reckons a visual aid will make his sermon that much more intriguing and applicable.

In non-denominational churches and many Baptist franchises you stand an excellent chance of getting a visual aid with your sermon. Visual aids during sermons will never be found in the mainline denominations or in Episcopal/Catholic churches. Those guys do not follow the evangelical trajectory and wouldn't even consider such cloying gadgetry.

Some common evangelical visual aids are vines (for a vine-and-branches sermon series) and a wall (for any number of biblical references to walls, literal or figurative). Pastors like to walk around and brandish the vines, or stand and sit on the walls. Then there's the prop bed for the have-married-sex-for-30-days sermon. They're making it interactive, y'all.

The sanctuary's screen is a lax version of a visual aid, but it's a visual aid nonetheless. It's mostly used to display the words to non-hymnal worship songs and count down the minutes till the sermon begins, New Year's Eve style. Lately they're being used to illustrate points and display audience-engaging images (engaging the audience being a priority in Christian culture), as well as just flat-out ask for money (see below). No beating around the bush here.

Then again, some energetic pastors forego gadgetry and just try to make their speaking as engaging as possible. Do veins popping out of your neck count as visual aids?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

#202 Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot is an exalted figure amongst evangelicals. They regard her with similar reverence that NASCAR fans regard Ricky Bobby. She is most widely known as the widow of Jim Elliot, the missionary who gave what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose. Her book Passion and Purity recounts their chastely tormented five-year courtship and became the de facto dating manual for Christian culture in the '80s and '90s. Subtitled "Learning To Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control," it is responsible for countless Christian breakups and no-kissing vows after its readers became "convicted" regarding dating.

Passion and Purity decries impatience, praises "biblical" gender roles, and shows Jim's love letters to Elisabeth which should be in a collection of their own, so raw and throaty is Jim's eloquent agony for Elisabeth, or at least for his idea of Elisabeth. Jim tells her he is waiting on God for the word to marry her, and she shares her own beautiful diary entries of the time which say she is "clogged with wishes" and "oozing ache." The table of contents is scandalous to the youth group mentality but it was somehow given a pass by her Christian editor, the chapters titled things like "Four Bare Legs In A Bed" and "Little Deaths" (which seems an unwitting and ironic allusion to le petit mort). Separated by school and the mission field, Jim wrote to her "I have you now unravished" and "Thunder of great Heaven! What gaping bliss that would be tonight!" which made yet-unravished teenage girls swoon and then vow to stay pure if it meant a man would someday write us letters like that.

An exigent theme of the book is Elisabeth's assertion that kissing is superfluous and kind of stupid, and that she "deplore(d)" seeing couples parking (this was in the 1950s). The youth group demographic ate this up, and it may have single-handedly ignited the "Waiting until the altar to kiss" phenomenon that we've been discussing with morbid fascination.

Elisabeth has said many times that the theme of the book is to bring all you do "under Christ's control." But Christian culture is looking for steps to follow in all scenarios, so frightened they are of their own humanity that they cannot see how it could ever earn God's approval. And so the taking of steps is in order. Elisabeth's example is simple and clear-cut and Christian culture took after it in earnest. They love agreeable bits of information served up on small plates.

Passion and Purity was also largely responsible for Christian culture's next de facto relationship manual I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which was written by a guy this time (a preacher's kid! represent) and is a most agreeable blueprint that explicitly defines "defective dating" and decries the worldly notion that love and romance are to be enjoyed "solely for recreation." This book joined Passion and Purity as The Other Manual for evangelical dating and even reintroduced the courtship model as allegedly biblical and a deterrent to heartbreak. (The increasingly popular courtship model as Christian culture's answer to dating will be discussed in a future post, and with great enthusiasm, I might add.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

#201 Dry weddings

The dry wedding is the standard sort of wedding in Christian culture. Sparkling cider is all you get. Dry weddings are mind-boggling to Anglicans, Catholics, mainline denominations and Europeans, but to the evangelicals that's just how it is.

Alcohol often isn't permitted on church grounds, especially in the Bible belt, so if your reception is in the fellowship hall then it's out of the question. But even off-site receptions for those in Christian culture serve no alcohol. The devout avoid being photographed while holding tea or cider lest it be mistaken for an adult beverage.

Many who now consider themselves Reformed were raised evangelical and for them drinking is newly permissible. At these weddings there is sure to be a showdown. The evangelical parents of the bride and groom might say they may have wine at the reception if they pay for it themselves, but this holds an unspoken message that there will be a relational price to pay if they defame their Christian reputation by serving wine.

Monday, November 8, 2010

#200 Ovation guitars

Worship leaders want to strum. To do this they need an acoustic guitar, but they're hard to mic without getting a lot of god-awful feedback. The solution? An Ovation, the tinny-sounding, plastic-backed guitar that needs to be plugged in to sound only halfway crappy.

Ovations have a signature tone that lends itself to the new country genre as well as contemporary Christian music. Ovations often have barbed wire or patriotic lore etched on them and a cutaway for bitchin' solos. Very Nashville. Now the worship leader can play campfire-style praise songs in the capacious worship arena, feedback-free. Problem solved!