Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bridging the Generation Gap

Late night television has just embarked on a bold experiment.  The experiment boils down to a question.  Can a very old and storied television show, "The Tonight Show", which has older viewers (median age 67), a very storied history, and a tradition of legendary names (Johnny Carson, Jay Leno), begin to attract new younger viewers?  There are also two catches;  many of the younger audience don't even watch television (but rather read their newspaper online and catch their video on you tube), and many of the older viewers go to bed before the show even begins.  To carry out this experiment, NBC is putting all of it's hopes and dreams on one young man - Jimmy Fallon.

The "Tonight Show" is one of the most famous brands in television.  Beginning in the 1954 in New York City, the show has had luminary names connected with it; Jack Par, Johnny Carson, and Jay Leno.  Chevy Chase tried to take the show for a while and flopped.  Joan Rivers occasionally hosted the show when Johnny Carson was not there, and struggled.  Carson invented the medium of the show (monologue, interview behind a desk, and musical guests).  The show has had countless spinoffs.  The most famous example is CBS's competing show hosted by David Letterman - "The Late Show".  Many other replicas have been attempted but didn't make it; Arsenio Hall, and Conan O Brien, are just two that come to mind.

NBC seems to be banking on several specifics that they feel will help them win new viewers while at the same time hold onto older ones.  The specifics include:

1.  A Kinder Gentler Host; Jimmy Fallon is less of a snide, tough comedian than he is the sweet school boy who is just trying to give it a go.  In his first show a couple of Monday's ago, Jimmy said, "I just want to try to take the show for a while, and do the best job that I can."  Jimmy introduced himself on the first night of his show by saying, "I am 39, I live in New York, I am married and I have a brand new baby." (The crowd seemed to eat it up)

2.  Many Traditional Markers;  The show has returned to the same theater that Johnny Carson first began in.  The set of the show is very traditional, even cold in decoration.  The stage resembles more of a "Leave it to Beaver" set than a plush hotel room (Like Jay Leno's).

3.  Musical Features;  Jimmy Fallon sings a lot on the show.  He is actually quite talented.  Just a month ago, Jimmy did a Bruce Springstein impression that was almost totally dead on.  The guy has musical chops.  The idea is that music can bridge generational divides.  Jimmy also does a dance routine.

4.  Deep Respect for Elders;  Jimmy is regularly paying homage to the people who came before him.  This seems sincere from Jimmy, not a put on.

5.  A Very Self Effacing Style; Jimmy is always poking fun at himself.  He is almost always the butt of his own jokes.  One time recently, Jimmy said to musical legend, Paul McCartney, "I love you so much, you are so amazing."

So, why am I dedicating this entire blog post to the "Tonight Show"?  Simply because of this.  I believe that many of the challenges that face the "Tonight Show's" success also face the church today.  I must hasten to add that church is not a show, not even close!  However, the same tensions exist between the Tonight show and worship.  They exist between an older congregation who once had legends in preaching leading it (Lloyd Ogilvie, Earl Palmer, Bruce Larson), and a younger congregation who tend to read more "apps" on their I-Phones than they read church bulletins.

To be honest, I sometimes feel a bit like Jimmy Fallon when leading worship at First Pres, Colorado Springs.  On the one hand I know that I need to pay respect and homage to a great group who have come before me.  On the other I know that there is a younger group who are slipping through our hands even as we speak.  I try to offer musical selections - I sing, and play the piano, (which, in the same way also seems to bridge the generational divide).  I try to preserve traditional markers when they are appropriate (the robe on Sunday, the old hymns).  I try to offer a self-effacing style that is perhaps kinder and gentler than previous styles, but also winsome.  Hey, people even sometimes tell me that I look a little like Jimmy Fallon (compliment to me, not to Jimmy:-).

The church, as we know it, should never be the institution that puts it's finger in the wind and determines it's future based on the fads, styles and tastes that are popular at any given moment.  On the other hand, the church should also never be so disconnected from the styles of the world that it forgets where people are.  The church that neglects to "Meet People Where They Are" is definitely doomed to failure.  More importantly, as the church attempts to bridge the generational gaps that divide our culture today, healthy examples like the "Tonight Show", which have been around for more than 60 years, may just offer a few answers.

Go Jimmy!

All For Now,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Settle For Silver

It is only one week into the XXII Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and I am already almost at my fill.  There are only so many snowboarders, skiers, skaters, curlers, jumpers and emotional interviews that a person can take.  And the way that NBC is covering the XXII games is somewhat formulaically predictable.  They do a big interview backstory on whoever is about to win, and then that person wins.  Notice, they never do a backstory before the event of those who don't win.

There has been a larger life lesson, though, that I have learned this year in watching some of the world's greatest athletes.  The lesson is this.  Sometimes it's just better to;

Settle for Silver,

It's better to settle for Second,than to compete above your level for Gold, and lose out altogether.  This has happened at least twice that I have seen.  The first time, and most pronounced of the instances was in the half-pipe snowboarding competition with snowboarding phenomenon Shaun White.  In the finals, he fell right in the middle of the Rosa Kutor Extreme Park.  Let me repeat that.  Shaun fell!  Shaun never falls.  The snowboarder before him, and eventual Gold medal winner, Iowri Podladtchikov just knew a better trick than Shaun.  It was huge.  No one had ever done that before at the Olympic games.  And so, Shaun followed him and tried tricks that were above his ability level.  In a later interview he said, "I went for big tricks.  I could have played it safe, I guess, and try to get a decent score, but I wanted to win."  And so, instead of getting Silver, Shaun got nothing - fourth.  Sometimes it's just better to;

Settle for Silver

Another memorable example of competitors playing above their ability level and coming up short were Olympic pairs skaters Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany.  They were expected to be on the platform with the two other Russian competitors.; at least Bronze.  Instead, they tried to throw too big, jump too high, spin too fast, and they too fell, many times.  They came in fourth in one competition.  They should have;

Settled for Silver

Several years ago a book came out in the business world which had profound implications for the philosophy of business.  The book was called, Positioning.  The basic premise of the book is that everyone always tries to capture the top spot in business.  The most classic examples include Pepsi and Coke, both of whom are always competing for the top spot in the the Cola Wars.  Other examples include McDonalds and Burger King, Miller and Bud, Apple and Microsoft.  Billions of dollars are spent every single year to have the top spot, to be king of the hill.  However, the book goes on to show that there is a lot of money to be made in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth (etc) spots.  Too much energy and resources are expended trying to be #1.  Sometimes it is just better to;

Settle for Silver

The disciples were always arguing about who would win Gold.  They fought over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Usually, in the midst of these verbal skirmishes, Jesus is on the sidelines just listening.  Sometimes Jesus would intervene and interupt.  Jesus would sometimes say; (paraphrased) "You don't understand.  The kingdom of heaven does not work that way.  You do not know what you are asking.  There are others greater than you, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses, who will sit on those seats.  But there really aren't those seats anyway.  There is no podium platform.  And if there were, I would take Gold.  I would take God, not because of my own glory, but because of my own humility, and sacrifice.  Become like me, and put yourself last.  The last shall become first."

In his own way, Jesus was telling the disciples to;
Settle for Silver

All For Now,

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Old Man and the Baby

Last night I was awoken by the sound of my 17 month old crying.  She would simply not go to sleep.  Star had already been up three times to calm Sheena down.  Now it was my turn.  It was 2:30AM, after a day of preaching four sermons.  As I rocked my daughter, her sucking down a soy milk bottle, me sucking down my lack of sleep, I said to myself, "I'm just getting too old for this stuff!"  I mumbled to my heart, "Why does a 41 year old man have a tiny brand new baby?"  "Brand new babies are the purview of 20 and 30 year olds, not 40 year olds!" (Clearly I am not my most optimistic or cheery self in the middle of the night...)

But then a thought occurred to me.  What would it be like to rock a brand new baby if you were not 41, but if you were 100?  The Bible tells us that Abraham was the father of a brand new baby (Isaac) at the age of 100.  Suddenly, the image of a kind old wrinkled man, weathered from the ravages of time, and rough, wild, desert living - juxtaposed with a tiny brand new baby with perfect, soft-skin entered my mind.  Abraham must have even wondered what to do with such a living creature, resting in his arms.  At first, having a baby when he was 99, and then 100, was a cosmic joke, a preternatural punchline, a salvific stand-up comedy routine.  But then, when little Isaac woke up in the middle of the night needing to be fed, and crying for hours on end, it must not have been that funny anymore.  "I'm just getting too old for this stuff!" Abraham would have had a right to say.

One of Earnest Hemmingway's greatest pieces of writing was, "The Old Man And the Sea."  If you have read the short story, you know it is about a lone aging man, in a small row boat, in the middle of the ocean.  The book is about how one person battled the natural elements of creation, and worked with them, to survive by himself in the middle of the sea.  It must have felt to Abraham like he was up against something akin to an ocean, and ocean of promise and youth and neo-natal beauty, as he was holding Isaac.

And forget about Abraham!?!?  How male-centric of me not to also think of Sarah.  Sarah who was 90, and must have been well beyond the start of menopause (although we don't know that for sure) as she nurtured a brand new baby, must have been dumbfounded.  The first time Sarah began to nurse (and it was the first time, this was Sarah's first baby in her life), as she brought the baby close to her wrinkled but beautiful breasts, it must have seemed like such a foreign, out of body experience.  For Sarah too, the laughter must have turned into a question mark which resided in her soul, to be answered fully only when she arrived in heaven, some 20 or 30 years later.  "Why would God bring me a baby?"  "What is this about?"  "I'm just getting too old for this stuff!"

There is an order and rhythm to the universe.  Famers plant in the Spring and harvest in the Fall.  Babies are born, and old people die.  Young men have visions, and old men dream dreams.  When this rhythm gets upset, it throws off our natural human circadian order.  Several years ago, my grandma, who is now 94, lost her oldest son, who was only in his 60's, to cancer.  For grandma, it was a double whammy of grief and shock.  To have a family member die of cancer, a family member who was otherwise so healthy (never smoked, never drank much, always healthy), was a shock.  But then, what was worse, was the strange "out of ordered-ness" about the loss.  "It's just not supposed to be this way," she said.  "Mothers are not supposed to lose sons to death."  "I am the one who is supposed to go first." "I'm just getting too old for this stuff!"

God's continual promise to us is that He will, every now and then, upset the natural, eternal, elemental order of the universe.  He did it with Sarah and Abraham, giving them a baby in their nanogenarian twighlight years.  God did it with Elizabeth and Zechariah in bringing them a baby named John.  Mostly He did it by bringing another baby into the world, who would be God.

But that is another story, altogether, of an even greater and older Father (Yahweh) holding an even more precious brand new baby (Jesus Christ), in his eternal arms.

All For Now,