Q. I don’t feel comfortable telling my Muslim and non-Christian friends that they are going to hell. What is a gracious way to have interfaith dialogue with people who don’t follow Christ?
A. Issues of eternity are never easy to talk about, especially if we’re claiming to know any one person’s particular destination. You really can’t claim to know a person’s standing before God. That would make you God.
What you can do is articulate that your Scripture and faith tradition encourage people to find God through the person of Jesus, and that following Jesus has been the path that has connected you to God.
True dialogue, of course, requires that you listen to what someone else says and believes and do so without attempting to correct them or preempt them mid-statement. It is easier to discount anything anyone else might have to say than to do the hard work of actually listening, turning it over in your mind and heart, and then allowing your own faith understanding to be reappropriated in light of it. Fear of doing that might indicate less trust in your own faith, rather than more.
Interfaith dialogue is very important in our increasingly pluralistic world, and I think the first step in that dialogue for Christians is to listen before they witness to their own faith.
Q. I've got all these digital photos. How do I manage them if I’m not a computer whiz?
A. Digital photos are easy to share, back up, and edit. And you only need to print the ones you want. But, just like those film days, keeping all your photos organized can be a challenge.
First, you need to have good software. If you're a Mac user, you already know about iPhoto. You can skip to the end of this answer.
If you're a PC user like me, forget whatever came with your computer or camera. It's better to invest your learning curve in a leading tool. The one I use is Google's Picasa and it's free (also for Macs).
Another option is Adobe's Photoshop Elements. It's like Picasa but with a price tag. So why use it? The price is still cheap compared to the learning curve. So if your kid or your best friend is using it, don't let the sticker stop you from sponging off their expertise. Also, if you want to do video, Adobe has Premier Elements for that.
Whatever software you choose, it's critical that you back up your photos! Hard drives fail. Often.
These days, online backup is the way to go. All three of the tools I've mentioned can automatically back up your photos online. Google's service costs only five bucks a year for 20 GB (enough for 10,000+ photos). That's great peace of mind for five dollars. Plus it makes sharing photos a lot easier.
One final option to consider is going straight from camera to “cloud” (storing your photos on the web). For that, check out Flickr.com. The editing features aren't as robust as traditional software, but all the basics are there. And it doesn't tie you to a particular computer.
Q. I am deeply concerned about how our council has interpreted the Safe Church guidelines. Our church has many senior widows, and all of them have the same complaint: the minister never visits them in their home. If I wanted to talk to my pastor about a sensitive issue, I would not do this in a public place. Has my council taken these guidelines too literally?
A. The guideline says, “Acknowledge the risk of meeting alone in a congregant’s or counselee’s home. Ministerial personnel may choose to bring a spouse or another officebearer to such a meeting . . . ” (Acts of Synod 1995, p. 780). Even though it seems that your council has transformed this guideline into a rule, please note that this rule still allows a meeting in your home as long as another adult is in the house.
The church I most recently served also had many senior widows/widowers living at home or in care facilities. Sometimes my wife accompanied me on visits; most often I went alone. My ministry to our aged saints would not have been as easy or as effective had my council transformed this guideline into a rule. Synod adopted the guidelines to ensure safe and healthy ministry, not to decrease or impede ministry.
—George Vander Weit