Saturday, April 24, 2010

First They Came ...

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.

- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Public displays of grace

I was watching a couple today and I'm fairly certain they were brand new. They were young and oblivious to anyone around them. The girl kept saying things that the guy didn't agree with, but he'd bite his tongue and smile, she'd giggle. And they'd kiss.

It was disgusting. I would've made gagging sounds if I thought I could've gained their attention.

But it also occurred to me this is not the worst presentation of what grace really looks like. I've been there before and I think most of you have, too, although some of you may have to scrape the recesses of your brain to remember what it was like to:

- Be so interested in what the other person has to say you're willing to let go of any point you might have

- Bite your tongue and resist your initial instinct to scream when someone else says something that crosses your opinions on the world

- Be willing to let someone get away with being a little rude in exchange for a warm smile or a quick kiss.

Hey, I've seen some great marriages out there, but eventually all this wears off in every relationship. At some point you have to stand your ground and draw a line. It's just human nature. Grace becomes a challenge, and it's why marriages can dissolve even 20, 30, 40 years down the line ... surrender gives in to self-preservation of some kind, usually of the emotional kind.

Obviously it requires God to fuel us up with grace to sustain it. It just never looks so ... graceful, and it never comes so easy, when you're early in a relationship.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Loneliness, transparency, and deep-fried locusts

I'm relatively certain if I could walk up to 100 random strangers, attach them to a fool-proof lie detector, and asked them what their No. 1 fear is, 99 of them would answer loneliness.

I say 99 and not 100 because there's always one guy, like me, who fears boredom more, but loneliness would still rate highly.

Fear of loneliness is what drives consumerism. We are buying things to be a part of a community. That's why we dress the same, have the same haircuts. It's also why misfits are so drawn to the opposite. They don't fit in here, so they create their own community where they do fit in and revel in their bitterness towards the yuppies.

I have a theory, and it's rather urbane, but I'm fairly certain fear of loneliness is the prison that ensures our loneliness, because we are willing to set the bar low for community -- like bare existence -- so not to risk embarrassment, faux pas, annoyance of the clan leaders or whatever that would risk total exclusion from community. We'd rather live in some pain, and some in considerable pain, than to possibly suffer emotional death from exclusion by daring to suggest (and attempt) something obviously better.

It's why I think people like Glenn Beck are terrified of churches that preach social justice, because transparency, graceful accountability, and real community are at the foundation of churches like that, and if people started to get real community in their churches, it probably would unravel the very core of our financial system. They would stop needing to buy stuff to feel like they're part of something greater.

I'm not rooting for financial collapse, by the way. I like having a job and I enjoy many aspects of our American excess, some of them without shame. Seriously, I cannot imagine a world without In-and-Out Burger. I'm just saying I understand that fear and I think, if Glenn Beck were honest, he'd admit he's willing to manipulate people and violate his own conscience to prevent such a thing from happening.

I've repeated this in my head so many times, I guess I just believe it to be true, though I can't be sure. This is how I see the world, like that Sting song "Message in Bottle," where he casts out his bottle from his lonely island hoping someone finds it, and he wakes up the next morning and finds 100 million bottles from 100 million people all in the same dire situation of despair.

I'd like to say Christians have an answer to this, but we don't. We don't do community very well. I take that back. We do community, we just like to keep it exclusive. And I don't say that in broad judgment from high atop my mountain top of moral superiority. I'm the chief offender, like Paul. I'm the worst of them all. So many times I've proclaimed Christ's love for the world, then alienated myself from sinners (and other Christians!), not because I feared their influence over me, but because the didn't share my world view.

I call it the Peter Syndrome, but that's another blog post. Let's just say Christians tend to read Galatians like they're the one holding the sword handle pointing it at hypocrites. I'm the Galatian. I'm the hypocrite. Paul was writing to me, the so-called grace-filled Christian. I deserve the sharp end of that sword.

I've looked in the Bible where Jesus criticized the world for behaving like the world. You'll just have to trust me. It's not there. You have to go all Gnostic to find that kind of lie.

Why do we do this? We have this great theology of original sin and being born into an immediate need for salvation. No human escapes this. But we go to church and interact with each other as if we stopped sinning the day we said the Sinner's Prayer and, to boot, God not only absolved us of our sin but he's put us in charge of making sure it's hard to walk in the door of the church and even harder to stay in the church.

We shake our heads at how the world is going to hell in the hand basket. Our politicians? Pffft. They couldn't know Jesus. You can't know Jesus if you ever had the kind of megalomaniacal ambition to pursue high office. You're not just suspect. We've already written you off. And we voted for you.

Kids and their rap music. Men and their internet porn. Women and their Oprah worship.


It's all so ... messy. Christians don't like messy. We like tidy, even if it means sweeping some of that dirt under the refrigerator. Just, you know, don't ever move the refrigerator.

Jesus loves you, but, at best, we're withholding judgment until we can affirm your politics.

None of this is Christianity to me. It's American Christian culture, and I long ago started ditching it piece by piece. Most recently to go was politics, and I recently made this ridiculously bold statement to my great friend, Cristen, that I never want anyone to know me by my politics. I don't think she was impressed, but I'm trying to start a Christian revolution here, not win cheap points with my friends.

It sounds great when I say it. Shoot, it FEELS great. Liberating. I just don't know exactly how that plays out when I have to actually go vote and I haven't been paying attention because I'm boycotting the political process. Voting for Mickey Mouse again seems a little childish and irresponsible.

But it gets me back to where I'm most comfortable, and that's truly transparent. Not translucent -- I do want to be about something -- but transparent. I want to be about Jesus. I want to be about Jesus and the Gospel. I want to be about the ministry of Jesus. I want to walk so narrowly in Jesus' path that I am obscured from view and Jesus is all anyone can see.

This is a problem, though. I'm not real good at dealing with poverty and, truth be told, I'm not even sure I could eat a locust if it were breaded and deep fried and served with fancy ketchup. So I resolve to work. I make this concession. A man, in this political and cultural environment, should be gainfully employed. And he should have a car and maybe some land. And a wife who can home-school the children to keep them away from the dangers of *gasp* public school.

And you can see where Jesus is the one who actually starts to become obscured again. I'm still working on this, so bear with me. I mean, be inspired, but give me time to iron out all the details.

I've had this kind of worldview so long, I never realized how transparent I had let myself become until recently, when I started dating, and I realized being transparent from the beginning is so radical that it's off-putting. It's startling. It's frightening. It's not nearly the revolution I imagined it to be when I set out to let the world see me for all my flaws and all of God's perfection when I started this blog back in 2005.

I've been texting with my friend Becky, who is nuclear-charged full of the life of the Kingdom and shares my view of the world that transparency is the only way to sleep with a clean conscience at night. No lies. No deceptions. No worries about having to remember the lies and deceptions. No delusions. Total contentment that God is so in control that we don't even have to hide our sins or transgressions.

Like me, Becky is a bit frustrated with other Christians who don't see the benefit of this. I'm a bit older and she's somewhat new at this, so I don't want to crush her spirit, but being transparent is an open invitation to being alienated from the community. First, people will actually have the nerve to find good reasons not to like you. I hadn't considered this pitfall until I allowed people the liberty to tell me, without condemnation, what the problem was. Second, it challenges that whole community/consumer comfort zone by bringing attention to oneself, and public ostracization has been known to claim innocent victims who had simply stopped to gawk at someone so boldly, radically different.

I'm starting to figure out that transparency, by itself, is not Christ-like. It can be full of pride just like being sold out on consumerism can be. "Hey, look at me, I'm emotionally naked and not ashamed! You should feel totally comfortable around me! Look at all my flaws and celebrate my weaknesses with me! I'm a better Christian than those other Christians that shunned you!"

To my surprise, this approach is no more appealing to the world than fundamentalism.

I've been re-reading much of the New Testament since downloading the ESV onto my smartphone, because no Christian bohemian is complete without a smartphone and at least eight searchable translations. The forceful, elegant ESV does not beat around the bush with this Jesus fellow. He not only walked on water, he walked on air, and by that I mean the grace allowed him to literally walk above it all. My notes to date show Jesus:

- Never had to tell anyone he was transparent. He just was.
- Saved his anger for the self-righteous only when the self-righteous attacked him or took advantage of his people. He certainly didn't go looking for a fight and he was careful not to trip into one with a stray sarcastic parable.
- Always met those God was calling to him at their specific location, meeting their specific need, at the specific time of need, and wherever they were at emotionally. Even while he was hanging from the cross. (!!!!)
- Based his ministry on some pretty mundane stuff, namely holistic sacrifice and service to the lowest of the low. None of the apostles had iPods, which was alarming to me. I didn't notice that at first in the NIV.

In my quest to unpack all the burdensome, self-righteous Christian culture I had acquired in my 20s, I suppose I have packed a whole new bag of burdensome, self-righteous judgment of those who have somehow maintained a functional relationship with Christ while listening to the mind-dulling positive, encouraging tones of CCM and soul-robbing venom of talk radio.

I'm working on it, though. And I'm submitting it to Christ. That, I hope, is a transparency that leads to redemption. I'll even try locusts. Once. If I have to.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stick to your guns, die lonely

Michael Jones may be a very interesting man, but that doesn't make him good mating material.

All you really need to make a relationship work is to share a worldview. Anything else in common is a bonus.

While we're at it, none of my friends dare cast aspersions on Steely Dan. It's the music of nerds who are secretly making fun of everyone else. That's just charming, even though Donald Fagen increasingly looks like a vampire.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rejected Donald Miller titles

10. Red Like Afro-Cuban Salsa
9. Chartreuse Like Your Dad's Favorite Smoking Jacket
8. Green Like Toe Jam
7. Blue Like That Scary Thing In Your Refrigerator
6. Writing This Book Was Much Easier Than Getting A Real Job
5. Blurry and Gray Like My Theology
4. Too Hip For Your Church
3. Feel This Book
2. Suburbia Stole My Baby Away
1. Things You Think About But Are Terrified Someone Else In Your Church Might Find Out

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dating as a Christian adult

I'm going to go down an unusual path with this post, not because I think it's vital for the entire Christian community, but because it's something I'm going through. Perhaps there's someone else out there like me who can be helped by what I've learned.

My wife passed last April, and last January I felt emotionally available to the world for the first time. Grieving is a strange process, but I felt I got off light because my marriage was entirely built on our faith. I didn't have any lingering regrets, no concern about Jess' second life beyond this world. All I had to deal with was loss. Awful, yes, but much less challenging than some others I know.

But I'm 40 and weighed down with medical bills, out of shape, and just no longer looking at the best physical years of my life. I sacrificed much of my career momentum to make things work in my marriage. Again, no regrets, but it doesn't make life any easier.

I mention that last part only because I really didn't put enough thought into that part of things when I started to make myself available again on the dating field.

Being a widower is challenging enough. It's a unique kind of baggage to carry around. A lot of women don't want to have to compete with a ghost. My marriage ended at a strong point. I still love Jess, always will. There was no break in that love, and ... well, who wants to be Plan B?

The financial stuff, the career stuff, that plays a much bigger role now than I had considered. Women my age have become more practical. There are no stars in their eyes. They've been burned -- or perhaps just almost burned -- enough to know money is an important factor to consider. Not wealth, mind you. The women I'm attracted to are reasonable people. Just some financial stability. If home ownership isn't already on the list, it's something the man should be able to acquire. You know, like a grown-up.

And it's not like something I can toss out there in the first conversation. That's the heartbreaking part. I would love it if I could! Would save some time and perhaps some broken hearts. But it's a conversation that takes place much further down the road, when feelings have developed and you start pondering life together, if only in the most simple terms.

This is not to say I'm completely out there, without a budget, without income, just throwing money around like a sailor on three-day leave. No, I have decent income, I have a good budget, and I have a plan to get out of debt. Sooner rather than later. My debt is also explainable. But if you're a 30-something career woman with great credit and no financial drama, it's a major stumbling block. A marriage isn't just an emotional and spiritual union. It's a financial agreement. And 720 credit scores have to think very hard about mingling with lesser ones because long-term quality of life is at stake. Frankly, I don't blame anyone at my age who takes this into consideration.

What really strikes me as more challenging, though, is communication. You get a very different mix of singles at my age. Everyone's lived a life of some type and have developed very strong opinions about the world. As a by-product, it becomes much more difficult to establish a common language, a common understanding. Everyone my age seems to have learned how important communication is in a relationship; if they're not divorced, they know a lot of people who are, and everyone's taken some very good notes. But they've also developed their own ideas about what type of communication is needed and how it needs to be delivered, when really that needs to be more organic and adjusted to the person with whom you're pairing.

There's this rush to establish strong communication from the beginning. Everyone's trying to address their own issues. So many are in counseling for something or another, so talking to some people, you know you're also talking to their counselor (and in a few cases, the counselors are talking right back at you through them). Just finding a common language that doesn't include pop psychology terms and Christianese can consume all the time you spend together.

I don't really have any great answers to these problems today, but I have resolved one thing: I'm still not going to wait to date. If I waited until I was where I think I needed to be, out of debt and a small bank roll of savings, it'd be two or more years before I left the house. I don't think that's healthy. And right now I'm thinking communication is either there and it's easy or perhaps I'm just not meeting the right people.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CDC's autism researcher a fraud, on the run

This was alarming to read.

I've been basing my own opinion of child vaccines on the strenuous assertions of safety by the CDC. This really knocked me for a loop.

The myth of the bullet proof Christian

A few years back I was stunned (and pleased) to hear a pastor and friend of mine admit from the pulpit he's not bullet proof.

He was discussing his own experiences with his heart and learned -- without falling thankfully -- that he can't throw himself into any situation and expect his strong faith to remain so strong.

This is a man that's been married for decades, loves his wife, and I've seen his walk. It's formidable. He loves the Lord.

But he knew if he put himself in the wrong position, he's just as capable of stumbling into sin as the people who come into his office to seek counsel on how to dig out of the hole of their own transgressions.

I was reminded of this as I watch countless Christians, young and old, explain why they want to be in full-time ministry as part of their audition tapes for the Great Addison Road Drummer Search on YouTube. I get the impression some of these well-intentioned people think by getting into that kind of ministry, somehow:

• Their ministry will increase more than anything they might do on the local level
• Their walk with the Lord will be stronger
• They will reap some perceived spiritual benefit
• They will be less inclined to fall into sin like those who live the mundane life of a non-rock star

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is going into any full-time ministry is an open invitation to daily challenges. A friend of mine used to call it "earning name recognition in hell," because being in full-time ministry is akin to putting a spiritual target on your back.

Just ask the members of Addison Road. The moment they went on the road last week challenges set in. And then again, but thankfully avoiding the ultimate tragedy.

And those were just physical challenges that could have led to faith erosion.

The history of visible, full-time ministry is replete with men and women with powerful ministries who fell into all kinds of sin, including philandery, sexual perversion, and divorce. Don't get me wrong here -- I'm not casting judgment on them. Not my job, not my heart.

I just think their stories should serve as a warning, because if there were ever any bullet-proof Christians, those people would be them. They served on the highest, most visible platforms and were reaching the most people.

But their stories of failure aren't the only ones. These things play out over and over again on the local level all the time, in all denominations. Experience suggests any position of authority in the Kingdom, big or small, makes every weakness that much more inviting to the enemy.

But there's no greater example of the myth of the bullet-proof faith than David. He was the King of Israel, God's chosen one, the man who wrote key passages in our Bible. How holy was he? Oh, he just sent his friend to the front lines to be killed so he could have his friend's wife.

The reality of joining a group like Addison Road is that first, it's a challenging job and you are in a touring rock band. All the temptations of indulgence in secular music are there in Christian Contemporary Music. It doesn't matter what you're singing about on stage. It's pretty common to simply become the performer on stage and a less-righteous person off it. There really is no difference.

But even more challenging is that you are constantly in the public, and it causes most people to withdraw emotionally because it can be dangerous if you allow yourself to get messy in front of the public. It can lead to one becoming less and less transparent in ALL their relationships, which seems to always lead to a fall.

Going into full-time ministry requires a deep understanding of your weaknesses, not just a recognition of your strengths. And it requires perhaps a doubled-up commitment to prayer and surrender, because the challenges are only that much greater when you put your faith out there on your shirt sleeve.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Surviving church as a single scorecard

I was tipped (thanks Obie Won) to Jonathon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like blog today and stumbled over a great post entitled Surviving Church as a Single Scorecard.

My favorites:

2. Your church has a singles ministry but it’s combined with the college ministry which creates opportunities for conversations like this:

Student: “My roommate bought a microwave for our dorm room. I love being a Freshman!”

Single: “My 401K is underperforming.” = +2 points

8. When people introduce you, they say, “This is Matt, my single friend.” = +2 points

15. Whenever married friends call you at noon on a Saturday, they start the conversation by saying, “Did I just wake you up?” = +3 points

17. You’ve secretly always wanted your own cat but are afraid that ownership of a single kitten will become some sort of gateway drug to becoming “the cat lady.” = – 2 points

28. Upon hearing that you went on a first date with someone, your single friends at church stop inviting you to the single events because “you’re in a relationship already.” = +2 points

Frankly, I can't believe I didn't write that post. It even SOUNDS like something I wrote when I read it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Around the Blogdom: Glenn Beck blogstorm

Glad to see I wasn't the only one to jump on this:

Michael Hidalgo, Lead Pastor at Denver Community Church, seems to share a perspective with me.

Jeffery Joseph at Turn Off Fox -- no surprise -- provides some strong historical background on the term "social justice" while proselytizing to Christians to, well, turn off Fox.

Dr. Richard Beck at Experimental Theology gets all Biblical and stuff.

Bill Cork at Advent Hope points out the other, misguided side who borrow the term "social justice," and reminds Beck of his own Mormon history of theocratic design. Ouch.

The folks at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good are passing the plate in hopes of raising money to counter-attack Beck.

Brian Kiley at Live Generously just decides to pray for Beck's salvation. What a radical.

Good ol' Scot McKnight of Jesus Screed goes New Testament on Beck's backside. Call the Overman Committee, I think we have ourselves a Nah-zee.

John Hummel at Between the Bits thinks Beck has revealed a Mormon's true heart. Meh. I'm not going there. I'll leave that stuff to this guy.

Still waiting to find a credible defense of Beck's statement. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting ...

Glenn Beck and social justice

Few people make my skin crawl like Glenn Beck. He is caustic, irrational, and constantly making statements that require a back pedal.

The other side of this is no one is more misquoted and taken out of context than Glenn Beck. He sets himself up for it by taking a scorched earth policy that leaves no charity for his opponents. So whenever I see someone quoting Glenn Beck to set up a tirade against his point of view, I'm always wondering what the rest of the quote was or what the context was. So I write this expecting (hoping) there's more to this quote than what is presented.

Jesuit priest and Huffington Post blogger Rev. James Martin quotes Beck as saying:

I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes.

 I don't know where to begin to attack this.

First, it's important to point out Beck is a Mormon and, like any one in a religious organization with an agenda to proselytize, would love nothing more than to convert everyone to his church. If I were in the same position, I wouldn't even hide my intentions.

As a Mormon, Beck should know better. His church excels at delivering social justice, or at least a reasonable proximity of it. By that, I mean Mormons are strong on charity and are probably the best example of a church that bends over backwards to assist the poor and sick. I have strong disagreements with Mormonism as a theology and faith practice, but I will give them that.

Beck's ridiculously paranoid world view can't see that, though. Everything's a conspiracy. And he misappropriates the term "social justice" because he's filtered everything through his political prism.

People, this is why it's dangerous to sell out to politics.

I would advise you to beware of churches that have no concept or theology of social justice. Not only is it the primary point of the OT prophets, the very fulfillment of social justice is found in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Social justice is the result of the ministry of Jesus in its purest form: the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and all are delivered from the wages of sin. Any Evangelical church that does not teach this is teaching a lesser Gospel, a faulty one.

Beck is not the first to co-opt the term social justice. Others have missed the point for different reasons, such as Jim Wallis and the Sojourners. Wallis has the right idea for the wrong reasons. For Wallis, social justice is the Gospel, and he just has it backwards. ANYONE can care for the poor. The Kingdom has not come if the unadulterated Gospel has not been preached.

The problem with Beck's point of view is the same problem that cripples the church: We've let the world invade our church, the world's fears invade our hearts, the world's limitations skew our hope and faith and understanding of serving a big, active God in this world.

The reality is Christianity and ANY political philosophy are incompatible because the Kingdom of God suffers from none of the imperfections in this world. As Christians, we are first citizens of the Kingdom of God, and citizens of our country second.  We are called to be servants of men, servants of the very people Beck condemns daily on his show. The very people Beck dismisses are the very people that need Jesus the most.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Religious confusion in Haiti

This was a heartbreaking read.

Some Voodooists in Haiti showed up to pray for the dead and were pelted by rocks by by-standers, their Voodoo religious instruments urinated on.

The incident was blamed on Evangelicals, but I'm going to consider that claim a little dubious for now considering the lengths the author went to explain the real tension in that country.

Tensions have been running high since the Jan. 12 earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless. More than 150 machete-wielding men attacked a World Food Program convoy Monday on the road between Haiti's second-largest city of Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince. There were no injuries but Chilean peacekeepers could not prevent the men from stealing the food, UN spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said.

Religious tension has also increased: Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves since the earthquake to feed the homeless, treat the injured and jockey for souls. Some Voodoo practitioners have said they've converted to Christianity for fear they will lose out on aid or a belief that the earthquake was a warning from God.

Everyone's selling something, I guess. Nothing's really free, not even charity.

I confess I know absolutely nothing about being a missionary, other than it is a job one takes knowing the only gratitude is the spiritual kind. It's a great way to live a life of poverty and danger. You only have to read the New Testament to understand that. No one can lower the esteem I have for anyone who chooses that path.

That said, I wonder sometimes what our Evangelical missionaries really are selling. I don't mean that in a cynical way. Just in a curious way, especially when I read stories like this. Do missionaries challenge people to weigh the costs of taking up the Cross? Or is it the more wholesale "Sinner's prayer and a biscuit" sales pitch?

Living in Haiti must look very much like Hell on Earth, and serving there as a missionary all the same. I pray for those people who are having to make difficult decisions with food and health care with such a short supply and so much need. Surely we say, "Give it all away," but do we give our conversions first dibs on the stuff? I would guess so. I would guess that's the pecking order, because I can't imagine any other way to manage such a finite supply with so many in need. And I would guess that's why we have people living in fear of anything that might cut off their very survival.

As much as Haiti has shown the best side of us -- so willing to jump into the mess and lend a very gracious hand -- it has also shown the very worst of us. I  need only to reach back a few weeks and point to an over-zealous Christian who used it as an opportunity to get around international laws.

No doubt, so many of us saw this as an opportunity to deliver the Gospel to a people where it had been culturally resisted, and I say, "Amen" to that. What I pray for though is that the desperate and urgent needs of these people are first met and that Evangelical missionaries are able to set themselves apart from the other competing missionaries as people who understand that. And perhaps Evangelicals worldwide should up the ante by providing so much aid and care than it exceeds the need. I know if my neighbor needs a loaf of bread, all he needs is to ask me. I'm not going to require him to sit through a 10-minute sermon and convert right there. My charity is just the opening salvo in a relationship I intend to continue. But first, the bread.

Haiti is devastated. This earthquake disaster is much worse than, say, Katrina, because there is no federal government to step in -- early or late -- to assist and provide order. Anarchy is the likely the rule, not the exception. It's going to take years to rebuild what little they had. So our commitment to Haiti as believers must be full-time, full-term, lest we look like just another group with something to sell.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Vineyard and politics

Politics is rarely the place I like to reside, especially on a Sunday morning. Politics are unholy to me. Pursuit of serious political power for Christians, IMO, is like Israel begging God for a king: Are we certain we want what we're asking for?

I stay away from answering those questions, but I had to perk up when I heard about Jane Norton, Republic primary candidate for one of Colorado's U.S. Senate seats against incumbent Michael Bennett.

Aside from the press packaging and comparisons to Sarah Palin, Norton appears to be a run-of-the-mill Republican who has adopted (seemingly) every party plank from start to finish. What made me curious is Norton is also a member of the Smoky Hill Vineyard in Centennial, Colo.

I'm not aware of any current Vineyard members in U.S. Congress. There could be one but I've not heard of it. Conceivably, if elected (and there is some doubt she will win the primary, much less the election), she would become the most politically powerful Vineyard member I know of. Only Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers and former Colorado football coach, might've had more political influence.

I'm not really in favor of this because it causes the Vineyard to answer political questions I don't think our organization is really meant to answer. For example, here's how Linda Hirshman portrayed Norton and our organization:

Like Palin, Norton actively participates in a Pentacostal house of worship; she belongs to the Smoky Hill Vineyard Church. The pastor, Greg Thompson, says “of course” the church “is pro-life” and “believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.” The Vineyard movement has produced much writing and speaking against abortions and in favor of loving homosexuals so strongly that they'll abandon their sexual "attractions."
Have we? I was not aware of that.

One of the things that made me feel comfortable with the Vineyard was what I perceived to be an apolitical stance, unlike a certain denomination that likes to make headlines each year by trudging into the political arena with bold statements. I could never tolerate that. Politics tend to skew the Gospel message. I want an unadulterated Gospel message, one that does not require you to adopt a political view to assure salvation.

So it's surprising to me that (a) a pastor would be allowed to speak on politics for the entire movement and (b) the Vineyard has been positively identified with a political position.

I'm vaguely aware that Anaheim Vineyard was home to many pro-life rallies in the 80s, but to my knowledge that relationship is no longer there. I'm fully aware of the Vineyard's relationship to ex-gay organizations like Exodus International, part of a practice I find somewhat dubious and possibly harmful. But I don't want to get off point here. That's ministry. What the blogger above mentioned is akin to a political arm of my church affiliation, and that's discouraging if true.

Back to Norton ...

It's neither here nor there to me if she wins, and it won't have any impact that I can foresee on the Vineyard. But it did make me think what it would be like to be in that church, having someone I'm in fellowship with basically define who I am politically. Not on purpose, but that's how the media would work. I think that would be a great challenge for me and I confess, if it become a bright focus, I would face a difficult decision on how much I would want to be a part of that church.

One of my heroes, Greg Boyd, wrote an outstanding book called Myth of a Christian Nation. Before any of my Calvinist friends jump on me here, I'm still (still!) not endorsing Open Theism. But Boyd made so many strong points in favor of the Gospel I am happy to recommend that book to anyone who wants to understand my apolitical point of view.

Boyd aptly sums up the entire book in a few quotes:

The picture I get of God's kingdom is of people—tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen—following Jesus. If we understood that our one job is to replicate the outrageous humility of Calvary, I think we'd begin to see the world in a different way. Instead of other people being our enemies, we would see them as the very people we are called to serve .... You have to put down the Cross to pick up the Sword.

 And that's the challenge I face when I see my own kind entering the field of politics. Not only do I have no interest in the sword, I don't want anyone to perceive me as carrying the sword. I don't want any mixed messages concerning what I'm about.

Worst worship song ever?

I've come across a lot of awful worship songs in my life, but this might just be the winner.

If most international bloggers were honest ...

You know it today as Wayoutbackistan, the expansive and traverse domain that is home to a gazillion years of forgettable history and that glowing metropolis Hardohearing, gong capital of the world. But just 25 years ago it was a war-torn land known more for piracy and white-slave trade.

I mean, it's still known for piracy and white-slave trade, but the original pirates and slave traders made a lot of money and expanded into other more dangerous and lucrative businesses, like international banking. And gong making.

The root cause of that bloody civil war remains today, where the light-skinned entrenched warlords of the Booyah clan enjoy the fruits of the land while the outcast darker Doh! clan feed on the scraps. Actually, I can't personally tell a skin tone difference, but it makes for a much more dramatic narrative if I add that element.

The Booyahs haven't always been in power. The two clans were relatively in check for hundreds of years until the CIA tipped the scales by giving guns and strategic training to the Booyahs. I don't actually know that for certain, but, c'mon, it's a small country not far from the former Communist Russia run with a heavy-handed government. What are the odds I'm wrong? My stepfather's grandfather was member of the Doh! clan and I'm going to major in foreign language when I graduate from high school in three years, so you'll just have to trust me on that. I know better.

Wayoutbackistan grew from the original Doh! clans. We can trace the Doh! heritage as far back as 800 B.C., when the expanding Roman empire deemed the land too pointless to raid and the people too stupid and burdensome to bring into the fold of their culture. Roman historian Handcrampius wrote of the dull Doh! culture, leading to the first known Latin use of "persona non grata." That saying is emblazoned on the Wayoutbackistan coat of arms today in hopes that modern historians might someday find Wayoutbackistan more historically important.

Doh! clans attempted to be ranchers, but they found it much easier to raid cattle and farms of other nations. Their attempts to become farmers led to their own discovery of opium, which they used to feed the cattle.

And it was that simple, innocent way for almost 1,000 years until the Booyahs -- the military arm of the Doh! clan -- split from the Doh! clan because they grew tired of the Doh! clan leaders' constant whining and horrible body odor.

The Booyah and Doh! clans waged war against each other until the final blow, during the Battle of Armstain, in 1984. The Booyah clan rolled over the opposing armies in a massive fleet of tanks forged together by best Chinese pot metal money could buy, and the Doh! clan's tactic of throwing their bodies under the tanks to slow them down proved futile.

I wrote this because I want you to care about Wayoutbackistan the way I do: It gives me a special identity, a special cause, because without it I would just be another nerd writing about the latest Apple product. I tried that before and I couldn't get anyone to comment on my blog.

My hope is this blog leads to a better understanding of these wonderful people and someday, I might have a girlfriend.

Reports: S. Korean Internet addicts let baby starve

Reports: S. Korean Internet addicts let baby starve

The writer did a great job here understating the irony. Yes, this is the world we live in.

When did Jesus say he was coming back?

*checks watch*

*taps foot impatiently*

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Christian singles mess

What a great way for me to get back into the swing of things by replying to a post from my old friend Dan at Cerulean Sanctum, who is a modern day John the Baptist. By that I mean he has long hair, eats strange things, and doesn't shower often.

Dan responded to a Facebook post from fellow blogger Tim Challies about the "problem" with Christian singles today. Tim wrote:

One of the biggest problems in the church today is the failure of young adult men to value and pursue marriage.

First, I'm impressed that Tim can even spot single men in the church. They're the most ignored people in any given congregation. Dan aptly responded by pointing out that, hey, let's not leave the blame with the guys.

It was almost always the woman who broke things off in a relationship. I knew a lot of single Christian guys, and they were typically the dumpee, not the dumper. These were good guys, too. They WANTED to get married. It’s just that their girlfriends didn’t—at least not to them. So just who is putting off marriage here?

I've been a singles minister and spent possibly thousands of hours talking to single men and women online since 1996. By virtue of my own singleness, it has been the center of my personal ministry as an adult. Now, as a widow after seven years of blissful marriage, I'm getting a grasp on the complete awkward nature of being a single person at the beginning of middle age.

Are my credentials set? Good. Let me lay one on y'all:

I've never actually met a mature Christian single who didn't want to get married, didn't constantly dwell on feelings of inadequacy of being a single Christian, didn't abhor the isolation that comes with being a single Christian in virtually every congregation, didn't dread every moment when certain married Christians would come by and pass judgment -- usually passively and even unwittingly -- by NOT inviting the single people to their couples gatherings.

I don't know where Tim goes to church, but it seems to be in another universe than the one I live in. Even the immature Christians have a great burden to get married to another Christian because they are told over and over and over again by Christian culture (and often times by their own church, by way of agenda, if not outright from the pulpit) they are incomplete Christians until they are married.

No, Tim, I'm sorry. You have it wrong.

One of the biggest problems in the church today is the failure of the church to teach singles how to live a life of purposeful singleness

I agree with Dan, as well, about younger Christians -- often females -- who keep impossible checklists for the kind of mate they're looking for. And, yep, that list shrinks as life goes on.

What I feel I need to add to Dan's post is that we have ruined an entire generation of young Christians with programs designed to produce the type of behavior we prefer but fail to deliver grown-up hearts sealed with Christ. We have seemed much more concerned with tertiary issues like abstinence and not concerned enough with primary issues like teaching young people to become servants of the kingdom of God.

What's worse is we promise these kids things we can never deliver, like that perfect prince or perfect princess they're supposed to be saving their virginity for. We DEIFY marriage for them at an early age, turning it into something to be worshiped, and possibly something actually unattainable. It puts them on a mission for that person they can't live without, instead of looking for that person they can live with.

I have met good women who have gone through life terrified of men, not because they've had bad experiences with them, but because they've been so committed to the cause they took up as teenagers, they have almost no relational experience with them. I have met good men so discouraged by the constant rejection in pursuit of the thing they've been taught to pursue, they have all but lost hope and given up.

But none of them suffer from a low value of marriage. None of them have spent a day celebrating their singleness. Not in this culture. Not under the constant barrage of Focus on the Family and weekly Sunday sermons on family, marriage, raising children, etc.

And that, my friend, is a major problem.

Sneaking in the backdoor

I doubt anyone's watching, but I thought I'd post an update here just to see if I can catch a blogging groove again. Jason Coker said some awfully nice things about me so I'm riding a little ego boost here.

For those that have ever read this blog, you know my wife, Jess, had been the inspiration for much of my writing. It is with great heaviness that I let those of you who don't know that she passed away last April. If you care to know more, feel free to hit me up on Facebook ( and you can go through the mounds of inches of "blogging" I did there. I don't wish to rehash that anymore. I'm in a very different place in my life, even though the news may be fresh to you here.

I've attempted several different blogs since shutting this one down in April 2006, thinking I had fulfilled whatever purpose I had in mind for this blog. All never really got past a few posts because I unintentionally abandoned the community I had built with this blog. Writing for the sake of writing has never been my thing. I missed the interaction.

I also think Jess' ailments, incredible life challenges, career instability, and ultimately her death robbed me of my passion for God blogging. It wasn't that I didn't have things to share. I just had no inspiration to share them.

Lately, I've been feeling like things have come full circle. I'm itching to write again. About all kinds of things. And I probably do need an outlet for them -- but I also need interaction, vindication, opposing views, justification, correction. I need to put my ideas out there and be challenged by all of you.

So ... hopefully my message in a bottle finds your tiny little island on the internet and we can exchange some notes.