Monday, November 21, 2005

All Things Fun and Trivial

I was talking the other day with my three-year-old son about church, and for some reason I thought of a certain comment to add to the conversation. I paused. Could I really say it? "Would this even be orthodox?" I asked myself. "Yes," I thought, "and you should say it." So I let the words stumble out of my mouth.

"You know," I said, "Church isn't supposed to be fun."

There. I had said it. I asked myself How have we descended to the place that I even imagine for a moment that such a statement is heretical?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary (if you will pardon my being a bit pedantic here) defines "fun" as "1 : what provides amusement or enjoyment; specifically : playful often boisterous action or speech." They provide three other definitions, and, may I say, they do not get any closer to orthodoxy. Since when did this need for fun become the hallmark of everything we do? Perhaps the word has slipped in its meaning. If we want to express something as good, we say it was "fun." Weekends are fun. Weddings are fun. Worship is fun. A church event is coming up. We want people to come. "It'll be fun," we tell them.

I am thinking about writing the Westminster Catechism board to ask them if they would consider changing the first question.

Q1:"What is the chief end of man?"
A1: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to have fun with him forever."

God is to be enjoyed. But we are not to have fun with God. If fun is tied to amusement, how could we say that God is supposed to be fun? To "muse" is to think. Add the "a" on the front of "muse" and you negate it. Yep. To be "amused" is to "not think." So I am arguing that there is a difference between enjoyment and fun. In fact, most of the things in life I really enjoy are not fun. Enjoyment speaks of a full-orbed satisfaction and fulfillment. "Funness" speaks of triviality and banality.

And I think it is indicative of the culture of our churches that we place so high a prize on things being "fun." Not reverence, not holiness, but funness. We do not tremble before God, we hope he is fun. We want to have amused while dealing with things pertaining to him.

Or perhaps we have changed God. We are so lustful for amusements and entertainments that we want God to be fun too. We want God to be amusing. Too bad we cannot get around that rigid first and greatest commandment, with that thorny part in there about "the mind."

I acknowledge that in many respects this drive for all things fun and trivial is aimed at our children. We want them to think church is fun. But the children who eat happy meals their whole life will grow up to want Big Macs in adulthood. Does it make sense to build into our children the very church culture we will want to remove from them when they finally "grow up"? Does it surprise anyone that so many Christians today want to be entertained in church? I wonder where that idea came from. Probably from the fact that church was nothing but fun for the first eighteen years of their life.

22 Comments:

Blogger Don said...

Hi Ryan

We are creating "fun" junkies, and then we expect them to go cold turkey once they get out of the youth group. No wonder we lose kids at that point.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

11/21/2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Yeah, it is funny how that works.

11/21/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Scott Aniol said...

Our mutual friend Chuck Bumgardner made that point to me once upon a time. The next Sunday I required our children to sing out of the hymnal during chidlren's meetings.

11/21/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I have great regard for Chuck. He is very gifted and pious.

And that is quite the turn-around, Scott! I am impressed with your resolve in correcting this straightway.

That comment Mark made over at your site when you linked this post(thank you, by the way) was very funny. If only all three adventures were equally fictitious!

11/21/2005 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger filosofo said...

Ryan, I agree with your overall point, but I don't think the etymology of "amuse" helps you make it. In other words, a+muse means "to muse," not "not to think."

By the way, someone said the same thing on our favorite discussion forum a while back. Is this in a popular book?

11/21/2005 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Tozer said it. I think in The Pursuit of God, but perhaps in one of his remarks in On Worship and Entertainment.

You are probably right, at least in part. We should not be using church for amusement whether or not it means "the absent of thought," but because amusement often denotes triviliaty and frivolity, not reverence and worship.

Also, I should say, though not on the basis of the etymology of the word "amuse", that entertainment does often appeal in a "mindless" sort of way. At least, if we are to truly give ourselves over to it, we must view in a passive sense (at least to some degree).

11/21/2005 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Way to get burned on making up your own etymology. But muse does go back to Greek. Check muse on etymology.com.

The 3rd Definition here is useful to your purposes also.

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=amuse

11/21/2005 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Funny.

Am I allowed to cite the OED here? Maybe I will look it up later tonight.

Listen, I thought I was safe with Tozer. I can be guilty, at times, of believing everything I read from him.

11/21/2005 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

The OED gives this (somewhat abridged) definition of amuse:

[a. OFr. amuse-r to cause to muse, to put into a stupid stare, f. d. to , here with causal force + muser to star stupidly. The simply MUSE was in earlier use, and in sense I, amuse is perhaps an Eng. Derivative, with A-pref. I intensive, or even ad. It. amusare. The word was not in reg. use bef. 1600, and was not used by Shakspere.

1. To muse intently, gaze in astonishment. Obs.

2. To cause to 'muse' or stare; to confound, distract, bewilder, puzzle. Obs.

3. To engage, arrest, or occupy the attention of. (Const. upon, with, about, to.) Obs.

4. To divert the attention of any one from the facts at issue; to beguile, delude, cheat, deceive. arch.

5. esp. in military tactics: to divert the attention of the enemy from one's real designs. arch.

6. a. To draw on from time to time, to keep in expectation' (J.); to entertain with expectations not to be fulfilled; to divert, in order to gain or waste time. arch.

b. To keep up for a purpose, detain. Obs.

7. a. To divert the attention of one from serious business by anything trifling, ludicrous, or entertaining; passing into b. To divert, please with anything light or cheerful; c. esp. (in mod. sense) To excite the risible faculty or tickle the fancy of. Const. To amuse one with an anecdote, by telling him a story; to amuse oneself with a puzzle with, by, or in sketching; to be amused with a toy or whimsical person, by a story told me, at an incident, the self-complacency of another.

8. To cause (time) to pass pleasantly, to entertain agreeably; to 'beguile' while away, enliven.

11/21/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Well, I picked up On Worship and Entertainment, and I turned right to the passage where Tozer makes this terrible and misleading statement I have now rejected outright:

"I date back to the time when the holiness people and the full gospel people and the Alliance people believed that the amusements ot he world were not for Christians. And so it was understood that when you got converted and got filled with the Spirit you gave up the world's amusements. Then there was a slow change and, in the name of fundamental Christianity, one by one we met those worldly amusements at the door and sprinkled them with holy water. And nobody is against them anymore. We now advertise them and they are part of our structure.

'Muse' means to think and 'amuse' means not to think. That little 'a' on there makes it negative. A fellow says, 'sometimes I sit on my front porch and think and other times I just sit on my front porch.' The man who sits on his front porch and thinks is musing, but the man just who sits on his front porch has to be amused. That is, he has to see something or hear something to keep him from collapsing. And so the devil has invented the amusements to keep us from collapsing."

A. W. Tozer, Tozer on Worship and Entertainment: Selected Exerpts. (Compiled by James L. Snyder. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1997), 151-152.

That, other than the etymological error, is good stuff.

11/21/2005 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

That's more like it.

11/21/2005 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Thanks Ryan,

I didn't actually read any of this, let alone muse on it, but looking at the words on the page without thinking about them was fun.

11/22/2005 07:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Funny, paleo. You are a fundamentalist, I can tell.

11/22/2005 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous toddlewismitchell said...

Good essay.

I infer from Weaver's essay on "The Spoiled-Child Psychology" that rescuing religion from subversion by fun-loving youth pastors is only one part of our job in this orgiastic country.

What else must we do to teach our children to discern true joy from counterfeit fun?

11/22/2005 11:52:00 PM  
Anonymous rjm2 said...

What about the role of amusement in the rest of our culture? Does our chief end being to glorify and enjoy God forever stop outside of ministry in the church. I often wonder how much we should be "amused" at all (e.g. television, sports, entertainment in general).

11/24/2005 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

It would probably be to your profit to question such activities, rjm2.

And don't be a stranger, sir.

11/24/2005 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark Swedberg said...

Ryan:

I thoroughly enjoyed the post--and I too had come across the misleading Tozer etymology.

However, the more I ponder it, the more I think the situation is worse than you described. Why have churches brought fun into the children's department? The answer, in part, surely must be that our culture at large is addicted to fun. Everything, not just church, must be fun--even school. Churches think that, if they don't make church fun for our youth, they'll go elsewhere, and they're probably right. On the other hand, making church fun doesn't seem to be working either. So, what to do?

11/25/2005 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Thanks, Mark.

The problem is no doubt worse than I described. If we believe that church must be structured with the purpose of securing attendance in any way, we are nearly guaranteed to go wrong. Our responsibility before God is to seek to make (as much as any man "makes" anything spiritually) the assembly a place of teaching, edification, and worship. After that, we should be content to let the Lord add to our numbers. If he chooses not to do so, we will have the confidence that we have sought to please him, not by manipulating numbers by whatever means necessary, but by honoring the gospel and the Lord of the gospel.

11/25/2005 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous BenEckman said...

Ryan and Scott,
Did you ask Chuck if you could reference him? He and I have spent hours discussing this subject. You may paint a picture of him that he would rather explain himself.
Ben Eckman
Allen Park, MI
Chuck's brother-in-law
(I don't like bloggers who don't identify themselves)

12/01/2005 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Ben, I welcome you and hope you will stop by often. Now that you ask, I guess I did not check with Chuck before I expressed my regard for him and described him as pious and gifted.

He is always welcome to come and set the record straight with Scott's comments. I am sure that this little blip on the radar of a website will not tarnish his image in the least, even were Scott's comments a gross misrepresentation.

12/01/2005 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/01/2005 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Ryan,
It has been a long time since NBBC. I hope all is well with you and your family.
Let me clarify my lack of clarity. The issue is not whether Chuck is pious and gifted. We all know he loves the Lord and is gifted. The issue was you identified him with the position that you and Scott were taking. All I was asking is that you not identify him with your position and let him identify himself with his own beliefs. Whether they are the same or not.
Ben

12/04/2005 01:26:00 PM  

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Immoderate: All Things Fun and Trivial

Monday, November 21, 2005

All Things Fun and Trivial

I was talking the other day with my three-year-old son about church, and for some reason I thought of a certain comment to add to the conversation. I paused. Could I really say it? "Would this even be orthodox?" I asked myself. "Yes," I thought, "and you should say it." So I let the words stumble out of my mouth.

"You know," I said, "Church isn't supposed to be fun."

There. I had said it. I asked myself How have we descended to the place that I even imagine for a moment that such a statement is heretical?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary (if you will pardon my being a bit pedantic here) defines "fun" as "1 : what provides amusement or enjoyment; specifically : playful often boisterous action or speech." They provide three other definitions, and, may I say, they do not get any closer to orthodoxy. Since when did this need for fun become the hallmark of everything we do? Perhaps the word has slipped in its meaning. If we want to express something as good, we say it was "fun." Weekends are fun. Weddings are fun. Worship is fun. A church event is coming up. We want people to come. "It'll be fun," we tell them.

I am thinking about writing the Westminster Catechism board to ask them if they would consider changing the first question.

Q1:"What is the chief end of man?"
A1: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to have fun with him forever."

God is to be enjoyed. But we are not to have fun with God. If fun is tied to amusement, how could we say that God is supposed to be fun? To "muse" is to think. Add the "a" on the front of "muse" and you negate it. Yep. To be "amused" is to "not think." So I am arguing that there is a difference between enjoyment and fun. In fact, most of the things in life I really enjoy are not fun. Enjoyment speaks of a full-orbed satisfaction and fulfillment. "Funness" speaks of triviality and banality.

And I think it is indicative of the culture of our churches that we place so high a prize on things being "fun." Not reverence, not holiness, but funness. We do not tremble before God, we hope he is fun. We want to have amused while dealing with things pertaining to him.

Or perhaps we have changed God. We are so lustful for amusements and entertainments that we want God to be fun too. We want God to be amusing. Too bad we cannot get around that rigid first and greatest commandment, with that thorny part in there about "the mind."

I acknowledge that in many respects this drive for all things fun and trivial is aimed at our children. We want them to think church is fun. But the children who eat happy meals their whole life will grow up to want Big Macs in adulthood. Does it make sense to build into our children the very church culture we will want to remove from them when they finally "grow up"? Does it surprise anyone that so many Christians today want to be entertained in church? I wonder where that idea came from. Probably from the fact that church was nothing but fun for the first eighteen years of their life.

22 Comments:

Blogger Don said...

Hi Ryan

We are creating "fun" junkies, and then we expect them to go cold turkey once they get out of the youth group. No wonder we lose kids at that point.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

11/21/2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Yeah, it is funny how that works.

11/21/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Scott Aniol said...

Our mutual friend Chuck Bumgardner made that point to me once upon a time. The next Sunday I required our children to sing out of the hymnal during chidlren's meetings.

11/21/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I have great regard for Chuck. He is very gifted and pious.

And that is quite the turn-around, Scott! I am impressed with your resolve in correcting this straightway.

That comment Mark made over at your site when you linked this post(thank you, by the way) was very funny. If only all three adventures were equally fictitious!

11/21/2005 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger filosofo said...

Ryan, I agree with your overall point, but I don't think the etymology of "amuse" helps you make it. In other words, a+muse means "to muse," not "not to think."

By the way, someone said the same thing on our favorite discussion forum a while back. Is this in a popular book?

11/21/2005 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Tozer said it. I think in The Pursuit of God, but perhaps in one of his remarks in On Worship and Entertainment.

You are probably right, at least in part. We should not be using church for amusement whether or not it means "the absent of thought," but because amusement often denotes triviliaty and frivolity, not reverence and worship.

Also, I should say, though not on the basis of the etymology of the word "amuse", that entertainment does often appeal in a "mindless" sort of way. At least, if we are to truly give ourselves over to it, we must view in a passive sense (at least to some degree).

11/21/2005 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Way to get burned on making up your own etymology. But muse does go back to Greek. Check muse on etymology.com.

The 3rd Definition here is useful to your purposes also.

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=amuse

11/21/2005 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Funny.

Am I allowed to cite the OED here? Maybe I will look it up later tonight.

Listen, I thought I was safe with Tozer. I can be guilty, at times, of believing everything I read from him.

11/21/2005 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

The OED gives this (somewhat abridged) definition of amuse:

[a. OFr. amuse-r to cause to muse, to put into a stupid stare, f. d. to , here with causal force + muser to star stupidly. The simply MUSE was in earlier use, and in sense I, amuse is perhaps an Eng. Derivative, with A-pref. I intensive, or even ad. It. amusare. The word was not in reg. use bef. 1600, and was not used by Shakspere.

1. To muse intently, gaze in astonishment. Obs.

2. To cause to 'muse' or stare; to confound, distract, bewilder, puzzle. Obs.

3. To engage, arrest, or occupy the attention of. (Const. upon, with, about, to.) Obs.

4. To divert the attention of any one from the facts at issue; to beguile, delude, cheat, deceive. arch.

5. esp. in military tactics: to divert the attention of the enemy from one's real designs. arch.

6. a. To draw on from time to time, to keep in expectation' (J.); to entertain with expectations not to be fulfilled; to divert, in order to gain or waste time. arch.

b. To keep up for a purpose, detain. Obs.

7. a. To divert the attention of one from serious business by anything trifling, ludicrous, or entertaining; passing into b. To divert, please with anything light or cheerful; c. esp. (in mod. sense) To excite the risible faculty or tickle the fancy of. Const. To amuse one with an anecdote, by telling him a story; to amuse oneself with a puzzle with, by, or in sketching; to be amused with a toy or whimsical person, by a story told me, at an incident, the self-complacency of another.

8. To cause (time) to pass pleasantly, to entertain agreeably; to 'beguile' while away, enliven.

11/21/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Well, I picked up On Worship and Entertainment, and I turned right to the passage where Tozer makes this terrible and misleading statement I have now rejected outright:

"I date back to the time when the holiness people and the full gospel people and the Alliance people believed that the amusements ot he world were not for Christians. And so it was understood that when you got converted and got filled with the Spirit you gave up the world's amusements. Then there was a slow change and, in the name of fundamental Christianity, one by one we met those worldly amusements at the door and sprinkled them with holy water. And nobody is against them anymore. We now advertise them and they are part of our structure.

'Muse' means to think and 'amuse' means not to think. That little 'a' on there makes it negative. A fellow says, 'sometimes I sit on my front porch and think and other times I just sit on my front porch.' The man who sits on his front porch and thinks is musing, but the man just who sits on his front porch has to be amused. That is, he has to see something or hear something to keep him from collapsing. And so the devil has invented the amusements to keep us from collapsing."

A. W. Tozer, Tozer on Worship and Entertainment: Selected Exerpts. (Compiled by James L. Snyder. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1997), 151-152.

That, other than the etymological error, is good stuff.

11/21/2005 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

That's more like it.

11/21/2005 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Thanks Ryan,

I didn't actually read any of this, let alone muse on it, but looking at the words on the page without thinking about them was fun.

11/22/2005 07:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Funny, paleo. You are a fundamentalist, I can tell.

11/22/2005 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous toddlewismitchell said...

Good essay.

I infer from Weaver's essay on "The Spoiled-Child Psychology" that rescuing religion from subversion by fun-loving youth pastors is only one part of our job in this orgiastic country.

What else must we do to teach our children to discern true joy from counterfeit fun?

11/22/2005 11:52:00 PM  
Anonymous rjm2 said...

What about the role of amusement in the rest of our culture? Does our chief end being to glorify and enjoy God forever stop outside of ministry in the church. I often wonder how much we should be "amused" at all (e.g. television, sports, entertainment in general).

11/24/2005 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

It would probably be to your profit to question such activities, rjm2.

And don't be a stranger, sir.

11/24/2005 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark Swedberg said...

Ryan:

I thoroughly enjoyed the post--and I too had come across the misleading Tozer etymology.

However, the more I ponder it, the more I think the situation is worse than you described. Why have churches brought fun into the children's department? The answer, in part, surely must be that our culture at large is addicted to fun. Everything, not just church, must be fun--even school. Churches think that, if they don't make church fun for our youth, they'll go elsewhere, and they're probably right. On the other hand, making church fun doesn't seem to be working either. So, what to do?

11/25/2005 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Thanks, Mark.

The problem is no doubt worse than I described. If we believe that church must be structured with the purpose of securing attendance in any way, we are nearly guaranteed to go wrong. Our responsibility before God is to seek to make (as much as any man "makes" anything spiritually) the assembly a place of teaching, edification, and worship. After that, we should be content to let the Lord add to our numbers. If he chooses not to do so, we will have the confidence that we have sought to please him, not by manipulating numbers by whatever means necessary, but by honoring the gospel and the Lord of the gospel.

11/25/2005 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous BenEckman said...

Ryan and Scott,
Did you ask Chuck if you could reference him? He and I have spent hours discussing this subject. You may paint a picture of him that he would rather explain himself.
Ben Eckman
Allen Park, MI
Chuck's brother-in-law
(I don't like bloggers who don't identify themselves)

12/01/2005 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Ben, I welcome you and hope you will stop by often. Now that you ask, I guess I did not check with Chuck before I expressed my regard for him and described him as pious and gifted.

He is always welcome to come and set the record straight with Scott's comments. I am sure that this little blip on the radar of a website will not tarnish his image in the least, even were Scott's comments a gross misrepresentation.

12/01/2005 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/01/2005 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Ryan,
It has been a long time since NBBC. I hope all is well with you and your family.
Let me clarify my lack of clarity. The issue is not whether Chuck is pious and gifted. We all know he loves the Lord and is gifted. The issue was you identified him with the position that you and Scott were taking. All I was asking is that you not identify him with your position and let him identify himself with his own beliefs. Whether they are the same or not.
Ben

12/04/2005 01:26:00 PM  

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