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This has been sitting in my drafts for six months.

WEST MONROE (KNOE 8)-Technology is becoming more evident in the church. If church-goers don’t have cash or checks they can make donations through the use of their debit card. A West Monroe Church has installed what resembles an ATM, as a way of letting its congregation give back.

It’s a church staying up to date with what some fondly describe as an automated teller machine of a spiritual kind.

[A] church in West Monroe is giving members like [Mr. Giver] the option to use debit cards instead of cash by using a giving kiosk.

Church member, [Mr. Giver], says, “I like being able to pay my bills online, not having to write checks, so the ease of being able to use my debit or credit card is just more faster and convenient.”

The kiosk is a computer device that resembles the everyday ATM.

By simply typing in select information, [Giver] can enter how much he wishes to give, and to which ministry his money will go.

[…]

Don’t look to get any cash back, the giving kiosk doesn’t do that or charge a fee.

The church hopes it will allow people to enjoy swiping as a means of showing their faith.

120 churches across the country are currently using the kiosk machines.

Read the whole story here: Source: http://www.knoe.com/Global/story.asp?S=11270466

While I cannot find something outright objectionable about this, something about having a pay-as-you-go debit card swiping kiosk at your church doesn’t sit right with me.

Woe be unto me for criticizing anyone for giving (I’m terrible about it), but I’ve always thought that part of giving an offering is the idea of sacrifice, and sacrifice isn’t convenient. I know that there is a certain irony in this coming from a guy who has three blogs (albeit three blogs that aren’t well-maintained), but this seems symptomatic of the electronic disconnect more and more people appear to be experiencing;

I know that when I pay with cash, I always feel a bit more reluctant to part with my money than when I pay with a debit card, because debits are one computer exchanging a string of zeros and ones with another computer, whereas with cash you are physically parting with something — the sacrifice just doesn’t seem as strong when you can’t see it take place.

Anyway, food for thought.

This weekend, I lived out one of my longest-lived fears.

I got a flat on the I-20 bridge over the Ouachita River in Monroe.

This has been something that I’ve worried about since I started driving. If you use the I-20 corridor through Monroe, you might have an inkling why this is something that has crossed my mind a few times. The bridge across the Ouachita, though wider on the West Monroe side, narrows to two lanes with no shoulder for a long stretch of the freeway once in Monroe, large trucks bully you and locals try to speed around you. It’s not the kind of place you want to get a flat.

I heard the tire go, and after a moment’s debating whether or not I had actually heard it, I decided to cut across the three lanes of traffic and take the exit onto Fifth Street in West Monroe just to be safe and to be sure I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of interstate traffic with a flat. By the time I was able to pull into an empty gas station at the bottom of the ramp, my tire was dead.

Luckily, I had a full-size spare…but it was flat. I was next door to an auto repair shop — T.J.’s Auto Repair — so I walked over and asked the guy if I could borrow their air compressor for a minute. After he filled the tank, I carried it over and aired the spare.

That didn’t work out very well, because the reason the spare was flat was a big hole on the bottom side that I hadn’t seen. This presented a problem — I didn’t have a phone with me, and I had only three working tires. The problem with technology is you become a slave to it. If it had been a horse that had died, I could have just started walking. But you can’t leave a car behind…especially when your 5-year-old is sleeping in the backseat.

The guy at the shop (it turned out he was the T.J. of T.J.’s auto) let me use his phone to call the closest family members I had in the area, but they weren’t home. Finally, he told me to throw the tire in the back of the truck and he would take me to a tire shop to get a new one mounted.

After looking at a couple of tire places that were closed because it was after noon Saturday, he ended up driving me to Walmart’s tire center, where we were able to get a new tire mounted. His response to having to wait at Walmart was to say, “Oh well, I needed to get some stuff here anyway.”

All said and done, T.J. took me back to my car and I was able to get the new tire on it and get back on my way after he had left.

I’m tempted to make a cheap spiritual lesson of this (with him being a good Christian and me being “the least of these”) because of T.J.’s willingness to give up an hour and a half of his afternoon (I’m pretty sure he was leaving for lunch when I initially asked him about the air compressor) for a stranger who looks like he just got dragged out of a Russian monastery, but I’ll resist that urge. I appreciate that the man never did anything more than look discreetly at his watch when the tire-mounting seemed to drag on a little long, and he never seemed bothered by the fact that my 5-year-old seemed to be getting more and more antsy the longer we waited.

But I will say this: if you’re ever in the Monroe area and need some diagnostic work done on your car, or if your vehicle air-conditioner needs to be fixed, go to T.J.’s. He’s a good guy.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees the resemblance.


In western culture — by this I mean the first-world Americas and Europe — we have a tendency to be reductionist, pragmatic and thoroughly modern. There’s a reason Hemingway’s books are considered the classic literature of the 20th century, after all.

But this tendency also tends to bleed over into our faiths, and I’m not just talking about dry mainline Protestantism from the 1920s on. Aside from St. Faustina’s visions, present-day American Catholics don’t really have much of a devotion to mystical things, and even Pentecostals are more concerned with material miracles like faith healing and financial blessings.

The fact is, however, that for most of Church history the sort of things that modern man doesn’t like to think about — apparitions of saints, myrrh crying icons, miracle-working relics and the like — were not only accepted but kind of expected. Not expected to happen every day, the way Pentecostals expect miraculous things to happen, but expected in the a way that acknowledged that occasionally, these things happen.

Protestantism started shedding much of this belief very quickly during the Reformation in the name of getting rid of superstition. Cromwell destroyed the shrine to Our Lady of Waslingham, and Calvin whitewashed churches. But curiously, it did not shed the beliefs about evil apparitions as quickly as it did the belief in wonder-working material things – hence, supposed witches could be burned for funny looking birthmarks but reliquaries in monasteries had to be smashed.

Popular Catholicism in America is starting to veer in the same direction, because Americans have bought the lie that everything has to be both rational and naturalistic. But I’m not here to try to dissuade anyone from the idea that devotion to the Holy Child of Prague is anything other than otherworldly.

To be sure, many of the old beliefs and devotions of the patristic and middle ages can be attributed to superstition (the evil eye, anyone?), but I’m less and less inclined to think that some of those miracles based on what we think are goofy devotions weren’t true and also that they suddenly stopped happening circa 1917 (or at the death of the Apostles, if you’re a dry old Protestant fogey).

I know of one woman who — as an early teen with no prior religious training — claims she converted to Christianity after having a vision of Jesus and Mary. And if she is as serious about the Christian faith as she represents herself, she’s no flake. And if The Voice of the Martyrs (a Protestant publication) is telling the truth, that kind of story is not unheard of in traditionally non-Christian countries.

One group that doesn’t seem prone to the tendency to discount stories of miracles are converts to Orthodoxy. That’s not as much due to piousness, in my estimation, as it is to wanting to be un-Western in their convert fervor, though. I’m not saying it doesn’t eventually become genuine, but wait five years and we’ll have this conversation again.

In the interest of fairness, there does seem to be a renewed interest in this sort of thing among Catholic converts (despite the howls of their Orthodox counterparts that Guadalupe isn’t legitimate), but it’s usually among the kind of convert who becomes a capital-T traditionalist, or at least really likes the Latin mass.

In all of this, there is a truth that needs to be remembered — miraculous happenings and shrines are only as good as their purpose, which is to point our eyes to Christ. If they detract from Christ, your devotion endangers your soul.

As for me, if I knew where the miracle-working bones of Elijah were, I’d at least go have a look, and I’d probably make a few other stops along the way.

But I’m still very cautious about this sort of thing, moreso about stories of visions than miracle-working items. And that’s not the American in me.

From One Hundred & Twenty Wise Sayings 
from The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church:

For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the 
stumblings of sinners by force…it is necessary to make a man 
better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority 
granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we 
know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are 
kept from evil, not by force, but by choice. 
–St. John Chrysostom

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