Will my daughter ever hold a textbook?

Junia turned 5 months old today.  She’ll be heading to school in five years or so.  

Amazon also released their Kindle Fire today.  Along with this, the price of the original Kindle is now $79, a little more than half of what I paid for one back in January.  As someone who thoroughly enjoys my Kindle, I would love to upgrade to the Kindle Fire but that probably will not happen for a few years.

With e-readers from the Kindle to the Nook to the iPad taking over the market, I have to wonder, will my daughter ever hold a textbook?  By the time she is in school, will books be relegated to museums?  Maybe not in the next five years, but what about when she enters college in 18 years?  

I doubt it.  E-readers are taking over.

Tony Jones has a timeline, a prophecy you could say, from Tech Crunch:

2013 – EBook sales surpass all other book sales, even used books. EMagazines begin cutting into paper magazine sales.
2014 – Publishers begin “subsidized” e-reader trials. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers will attempt to create hardware lockins for their wares. They will fail.
2015 – The death of the Mom and Pops. Smaller book stores will use the real estate to sell coffee and Wi-Fi. Collectable bookstores will still exist in the margins.
2016 – Lifestyle magazines as well as most popular Conde Nast titles will go tablet-only.
2018 – The last Barnes & Noble store converts to a cafe and digital access point.
2019 – B&N and Amazon’s publishing arms – including self-pub – will dwarf all other publishing.
2019 – The great culling of the publishers. Smaller houses may survive but not many of them. The giants like Random House and Penguin will calve their smaller houses into e-only ventures. The last of the “publisher subsidized” tablet devices will falter.
2020 – Nearly every middle school to college student will have an e-reader. Textbooks will slowly disappear.
2023 – Epaper will make ereaders as thin as a few sheets of paper.
2025 – The transition is complete even in most of the developing world. The book is, at best, an artifact and at worst a nuisance. Book collections won’t disappear – hold-outs will exist and a subset of readers will still print books – but generally all publishing will exist digitally.


Goodbye books.  I am sure some people will be sad about this.  I think it is great for two reasons.  First, we moved last year and our friends had to lug box after box of our books up three flights of stairs.  Let’s just say we may have less help next time we move.  Second, it is fantastic to have Aquinas’ entire Summa, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Dante’s Inferno and pretty much any other book with me wherever I go.


On Campus At Penn State Berks

Christian Student Fellowship at University Park runs a concession stand at each home Penn State football game.  CSF Berks helps out at 1-2 games per year.  This past weekend was our game for this year.

We headed up Friday night, arriving late.  Actually, me saying we arrived late betrays that I am old.  As we drove into town around ten pm the streets were filled with college students.  For college students, ten is early.  I stayed with one of my former students from Berks, now a senior at University Park.  After giving me a quick tour of his room he went out…and came back at 3 AM!  The only reason I know 3 AM even exists is because I have a 5 month old baby!  It goes without saying that when he got back I was asleep.

Visiting University Park each year is good because I get to see students, like the one I just mentioned, who spent their first two years at Berks and are finishing up at University Park.  It is nice to connect with them, to see how they are doing, how they have adjusted to the big campus (we estimated you could fit about ten Penn State Berks campuses inside University Park…at least).

It is also good for Penn State Berks students to be able to visit University Park.  For some of them, this is their first visit to the campus where they will be attending next year.  At first glance they cannot conceive how they will adjust to such a huge place.  All I have to do is point to the juniors and seniors who once were starry-eyed at visiting UP and say, “you’ll be fine“.

Working the concession stand is always a lot of fun but very stressful.  I often break out my old-man routine, telling the students I have been working the stand since they were in elementary school...in those days it snowed for every game…and Penn State won every game…and we had to walk up hill both ways to the stadium.  You get the idea, I lay it on quite thick.   This sounds good until the side of the popcorn machine falls off, dispensing a pile of popcorn at my feet.  Then I look like an idiot.  At any rate, arriving at the stadium around 9 AM and being there till almost 4 makes for a long day in the concession business.

Penn State gives CSF 13% of the profits.  We were trying to figure out how they came up with such a random number. My guess is they calculated how much they’d have to pay people minimum wage to work the stand and went about 1 percent lower than that to get us to volunteer.  But we are not complaining!  CSF makes about $1,000 per game which funds all kinds of aspects of our ministry from cookouts to helping to pay for spring break.

After the game the students from Berks, joined by some from UP, walked around for a while.  I acted like a dorky tour guide, pointing out all the things that were different from when I was in school (yes, I am that guy).   We ended our day at the Creamery as some students had their first taste of Penn State Creamery Ice Cream.  I brought home two gallons to enjoy in the weeks ahead!

We arrived back at Berks late.  On Sunday I actually had a church visit to an EC church in Lawn, PA.  It is always a blessing to be able to share what campus ministry is, especially to a group of people who seem clueless about it.  By the time I got home from church I was quite tired, so I napped with my daughter, not a bad way to end a tiring and fun weekend:

Recent Reads

This semester our theme for Thursday nights is “God Questions?”  We are looking at questions people on campus have about God, religion, the Bible and so on.  Last night we discussed the Bible and slavery.  Modern-day slavery, human trafficking, is an issue that more and more Christians are learning about and taking steps to end.  Yet if you read arguments against the Bible, one common point they bring up is that in the Bible God allows slavery.  So if we are opposing slavery, how do we deal with scripture?  My answer was basically, recognize progressive revelation (or as William Webb calls it, the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic).

Along those lines, next week we are going to discuss gender issues.  Does God favor men?  Is God a man?  Can women be pastors?  I read two articles about this issue; here they are: Complementarian Gymnastics and Complementarians are Selective Too.

The week after that we are going to discuss homosexuality.  That was the issue that led to the most questions.  This past week I noticed some interesting posts on this subject: A Student’s Insight to Approaching GLBT students and Ask a Gay Christian.

A few other articles that caught my eye recently:

David Brooks’ article “It Feels Right” is a must-read for people who work with college students (And I think I’ll have to pick up the book Lost in Transition by Christian Smith pretty soon).

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: “I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

Roger Olsen argues that hell is not part of the gospel.  He still believes in hell as a revealed truth from scripture, akin to the Trinity.  Olsen fears people will pile on, so he explicitly encourages the reader to read the whole post.:

So why believe in and teach the reality of hell if it isn’t part of the gospel?  Well, for the same reason we believe in and teach the Trinity–it’s either part of revelation or (as in the case of the Trinity) a necessary implication of what is revealed.  But there are many things revealed in Scripture that are NOT “the gospel”–unless you are going to claim that everything revealed is part of “the gospel” which would then mean that the apostle’s sermons in Acts were incomplete presentations of the gospel.

Here are 10 myths many religious people believe about atheists.  When engaging with atheists this is a list we should keep in mind, because throwing out certain mantras can lead to the end of the conversation.  While these myths are “debunked” in the article, I think some are actually true if presented better.  For example, many atheists are very moral people who live decent lives filled with meaning.  The question is whether atheism as a view of the world gives reason for morality and meaning.  Personally I believe that if there is no god than any morality or meaning we have is just created and thus life, ultimately, is meaningless.  You can choose to live morally, as your culture defines it.  But if you choose otherwise there is no reason anyone can give for you to change your mind.

Great article on why evangelical conservatives should support Mitt Romney.

Finally, I loved this list of 50 rules for Dads of Daughters.

Listening to the Saints – Classic Fiction (and Vocation)

I spent a large portion of this summer reading a few of the works by one of the greatest novelists of all time: Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For the first time I read Crime and Punishment, then I reread The Brothers Karamazov. I also read Notes from the Underground, one of his less well-known works.  Dostoyevsky’s books are thick and thought-provoking. They are not page-turners, instead they are filled with long psychological speeches examining the human condition.

Recently I decided to give Dante’s Divine Comedy a try. This is considered one of the great works of western literature. I have had great difficulty reading it, mostly because epic poetry is so unfamiliar to us today (I also think I have an older translation). But through this trouble the beauty of Dante’s work, taking the reader on a journey through hell, purgatory and paradise (I have not begun Paradise yet), has been clear.

Last winter I decided to re-read Tolkien: first The Silmarillion, then The Hobbit and finally The Lord of the Rings. Like any truly good books, Tolkien is more enjoyable each time I read him.

All these writers have one thing in common: a Christian faith. They share this with other great writers of fiction throughout history.  What strikes me is that they are just considered great literature. You do not find Dostoyevsky or Tolkien in the “Christian fiction” section of a bookstore (Remember bookstores?). They did not set out to write “Christian” books. Instead they just wrote great literature.

In Andy Crouch’s excellent book Culturemaking: Rediscovering Our Creative Calling he lists four ways that evangelical Christians have interacted with culture:

*Condemning Culture

*Critiquing Culture

*Copying Culture

*Consuming Culture


While there may be a time and a place for each of these, what they have in common is that each is in some way merely a reaction to culture. Crouch argues, beginning with Genesis 1-2 (that is all the farther I am in the book!) that God’s people, created in God’s image, should be creators and cultivators of culture. (By the way, if you don’t want to read the book but want a good summary, check out Bob Robinson’s posts on the book, here is the first one.)

There is a tremendously important message here for Christian college students: you do not need to be a pastor or missionary to do holy work. In whatever field you study, you can be a creator and cultivator of culture. Speaking specifically to the arts, how great would it be if the best books were written by Christians? (Of course, there are profound Christian themes in the Harry Potter series and the author is a member of the Church of England). How great would it be if the best films were made by Christian directors, screenwriters and producers? Or if the best music (okay, we have U2) was made by Christians?

But this goes beyond just the arts.  People in all fields from business to food service, education to engineering, are creating and cultivating culture.  One of my goals as a pastor working with college students is that all students understand God has called them to a vocation.  My hope is they do not see a divide between this call and the “spiritual” stuff they do on Sunday mornings.

On Campus at Penn State Berks – Picking Up Trash for Jesus

Last evening the CSF students performed their first service project of the semester.  CSF’s Tuesday night meetings rotate between social nights (when I usually dominate at Settlers of Catan), service projects (such as last evening, which we’ll get to in a minute) or other special, random events.

For our first service evening of the year we decided to walk up and down the halls in the dorms, knocking on doors, and asking students if they would like us to take their trash out.  Apparently students hate doing this and often put it off way too long.  The primary reason is probably that the dumpsters are about a mile away from the dorms!  So when we were thinking of practical ways to reach out to the student body on campus, taking out their trash seemed like a great idea.

We broke into groups and went opposite directions.  I ended up with three other guys.  In retrospect, we probably should have had a more gender-integrated group as I am pretty sure we freaked out some female students.  There was one girl who was walking back to her room as we knocked on her door!  Imagine being a female college student, coming to your dorm, and four guys are standing right there waiting for you.  Creepy!  But once we explained we were from Christian Student Fellowship and would like to take out her trash, everything was okay.

It was quite fun to see the reaction of students.  Many who had trash told us that we did not need to do this for them.  Our response was that we did not have to, but we wanted to.  Other students seemed apologetic as they had just taken their trash out earlier in the day.  A few students were excited to see us, as they had desired to get involved in CSF but had not gotten around to finding us yet.

It was also encouraging to see the Christian students tackle this ministry with excitement.  I was a bit nervous that this was something 2-3 students thought was a good idea, and the rest were just reluctantly going along with it.  But it seemed all the students had a blast.  They WANTED their peers’ trash!  In the name of Jesus!

To me, this is what ministry is all about: getting outside of our comfort zones and serving those closest to us in practical ways.  In performing deeds we then have the opportunity to speak truth.  Jesus was always performing great acts like healing people and feeding multitudes and then from this speaking truth about spiritual things.  I doubt the two can be separated.  Or to put it another way, you cannot talk the talk without walking the walk.

Finally, I saw a hilarious saying written on one of the white boards in the dorms: “When life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic” . I am still laughing about that one!

Recent Reads

Another year has begun on campus and new freshman everywhere are acclimating to life away from home.  I enjoyed this “Open Letter to College Freshman” and I think every Christian college student would do well to read it.  Here is a snippet from the end:


Plunge deeply into the life of the mind, and savor the beauty and the rhythms and richness of the scholarly life.  Immerse yourself in friendship and fellowship and commit to learn from one another.  Enjoy the sports contests and the public lectures and study abroad.  Explore all the idiosyncrasies of your school and community, the traditions and hidden treasures.  And learn how to love and be loved by a significant other.  You will change majors and change jobs and change careers many times before your professional life is through.  That’s fine.  And you will go through your romantic ups and downs.  That’s fine too.

Just make sure you major in the majors and minor in the minors.  Remember your first love, remember who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, seek him, and the rest will work itself out.  ”Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4).  ”In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).  Whether your college years bring you hardship and misfortune or flourishing and joy, or more likely both, seek God through it all.  Probably the most important thing I learned in my college years came when I broke my neck in a gymnastics accident, and I learned in truth that nothing could separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).  God’s gracious communion is the one thing needful.  No matter what else might be taken from you, if you have that, then you have enough and more than enough.  The goods of the world will come and go.  Yet the peace and the joy of your fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will endure forever.

Live for that fellowship, live in it, and live out of it.  In the end, the rest are details.

The race to nominate a competitor for Barack Obama in the 2012 election is now in full swing.  I did not watch the Republican debate the other night, but in reading a little bit about it one thing caught my attention.  Apparently Governor Perry commented (boasted?) about the number of executions in Texas (234) while he has been running things there.  I agree with this blogger: “Applauding Executions May be American, but it is Not Christian.”  Here is part of that post:

I guess this incident wouldn’t bother me so much if the Christian faith was not being so interwoven into the GOP primary race with a particular set of Christian values taking such a prominent place in today’s political discourse. But it is, and some of us need to keep telling a different story of faith. Revenge, payback and ultimate justice may work for the movies and it may indeed fall right in line with “American” triumphalism, but these are not Christian values. In fact, in the Romans passage above and in others, ultimate judgment lies with God and we must do all that we can to avoid giving into the emotionally and physically violent ways of the world.  What makes this all the more difficult is that we are not merely called to avoid revenge and repaying evil with evil, but we are challenged to go even further and show compassion and care for those who we believe do not even deserve it . . . our enemies.

I recall during the last election many Christians believed that it was wrong to vote for Obama due to his record on abortion.  Voting for any candidate who has a record of supporting the killing of innocent unborn babies in the name of choice was simply un-Christian.

I cannot help but ask why it is okay to vote for candidates who have strong records supporting killing in other regards, such as executions.  We can say there is a difference because those on death row are not innocent in the way that babies are.  But the scary thing is that as more evidence comes to light, many on death row, and sadly many already executed, appear to be innocent.  There is one well-document case of a man executed under Perry’s watch in Texas who almost certainly was innocent (you can read the disturbing story here).  If it is un-Christian to vote for one candidate who has a record of supporting abortion, is it not un-Christian to support another candidate who has a record of supporting executions?

This is partly why I am disillusioned with politics.  It ends up being a choice between the lesser of two evils.  I dread the election getting closer as inevitably some Christians will talk and act like the Christian thing to do is to support one candidate while others will say the same thing about the other candidate.  All the while it seems to me that as far as religion is used by the candidates, it is just another manipulation for them to get votes.

Thankfully, Jesus Christ is still on the throne.  Maybe I need to reread this book.

I plan to read this article today, a friend recommended it a while back: How America Criminalized Poverty.

Have a nice day.

On Campus at Penn State Berks – God Questions?

This semester at CSF our theme for Thursday nights is going to be “God Questions?”  Rather than me just thinking of the questions I have been trying to get questions from students on campus.  When we handed out the care packages we gave students the opportunity to write questions down on a poster.  The same poster made an appearance at Club Rush, when all the campus clubs have a chance to recruit.  After those two events we had about two questions.

Sometimes ideas work, sometimes they do not.

The next plan was to create a survey for students to hand to the kids in their dorms, or students with them in class.  This survey contains various questions about different things CSF does, so it is also an effort for CSF to learn how to serve the campus better.

(I should mention, we also have a form on our website to submit questions: http://www.csfberks.org/weekly-meetings/thursday-night-gathering.html)

Last night I asked the students who attend CSF Tuesday activities (we do different things each week – social nights, service projects) to fill out the survey.  I am happy to now have a series of questions from college students on all sorts of issues.  Like I said, these questions will provide the week-to-week topics for our Thursday night gatherings.

So listed below is a series of the sorts of questions a group of Christian college students on a secular campus are asking.  There is one big theme which is rather obvious:

Does God heal all wounds that affect us both emotionally as mentally? If so, how long does this usually take to happen?

How do you become a better Christian? I pray and read the Bible but still don’t feel close to God. CSF helps but what can I do outside of CSF?

Are our lives determined by fate or choice.

Is Jesus really white?

If the Bible says being gay is wrong, why did God make people gay?

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

Does God send gay people to hell?

Is masturbating a sin (without use of sexual contact)?

Is it possible for God to make a mistake?

Are the events in Revelation literal and will happen exactly like that or is it symbolic and metaphorical?

I know Christians are against gays but what if you don’t like either girls or guys?

What is Catholicism all about?

What do Mormons believe about Jesus?

Can we look at homosexuality – our attitude toward it and how to minister to gay people effectively?

Slavery – why does the Bible seem to be okay with it? Is it just indentured servitude? How would we answer a non-Christian who thinks God approves of slavery based on what is written in the Bible?

How do we know for sure if our religion is right and others aren’t?

If you are trying to get someone from another religion to go to your church and they ask you to go to their church what do you say?  

Why was it Mary that was chosen to birth Jesus?

It seems that questions about homosexuality are the most prevalent.  Again, this is a small sample, but I imagine that if you were to poll Christian students on secular campuses across the nation you would find the same thing.

I was somewhat surprised there were no questions about creation, evolution, faith and science and so on.  In my talks with students it seems that this is less of an issue here.  I could make guesses why, but I won’t today.

I look forward to getting more surveys from students on campus.  And I am very excited to begin preparing teachings on these subjects.  Though I have to admit, some of these topics make me extremely nervous…