Thursday, May 7, 2009

DC v Victoria's Secret v Miss USA

Read this this morning...

"I am a Christian, and I am a model," she said. "Models pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos."

Really? Do they?

Interesting dilemma.

To what extent can a Christian engage in and perpetuate a system that makes as its goal the cultivation of perpetual, unsatisfied human desire?

Note: I have nothing against bathing suits. Or even lingerie. But the marketing of that lingerie (and of women) is another topic altogether.

I'm sure she's a fine person, but could this be what Jethani is also getting at when we think about the kinds of "Christians" the church is producing?

Mindlessly agree to do ANYTHING that culture says they can/should?

That hesitate to question the "goodness" of something?

DC: Dinner Conversations v1.0

Over dinner last night, we began to talk about consumerism and well, "consuming."

How do we consume ethically as believers?

Ron Sider points the way forward when he says that one way to combat the consumeristic society that we dwell in is to avoid buying cheap disposable crap. So when you buy, buy carefully as an investment.

Jethani is not advocating some kind of socialistic divorce from capitalism (for any of you who haven't read The Divine Commodity). He is pushing against the throwaway, live-in-the-moment life that we have mindlessly cultivated as USAmericans. We don't question what we purchase, how we purchase, and we don't realize that the very act of purchasing can sometimes cement consumerism into our souls, eventually effecting the way we see God, friends, even family.

all of life.

We constantly need to fight against this in our lives. Separating ourselves from the more subtle aspects of our culture that we don't think about.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The DC - Slumber of the Imagination

"Learning to see the world as it truly is -- saturated with the presence and love of God -- should be the essence of Christian discipleship, or what many call spiritual formation. Unfortunately, most ministries and churches have focused their efforts at spiritual formation upon two areas -- knowledge and skills -- and have neglected the vital role of the imagination. This amounts to teaching deaf students how to read sheet music. Until their ability to hear sound is restored, their capacity and motivation to produce music will be severel limited." (page 25)

When teaching classes, I often would try to get those attending to imagine how the original audience would react to the Scriptures we read today. I don't think this exercise is difficult, because there aren't wrong responses. But as silence would most often fill the room, I came to the conclusion that people either didn't care, or they didn't know how to imagine. Supposing the later having a more grave impact for the Kingdom, if people have difficulty imagining God in the past, then is it no wonder that people don't have the capacity to imagine God in the present?

It is interesting how Skye Jethani envisions discipleship, "Learning to see the world as it truly is -- saturated with the presence and love of God." I don't believe he is advocating an emotive spirituality apart from diligent study, which some people may assume. Seeing God today necessitates that we know how God was seen in the past. But one who authentically follows Christ will trust with acute awareness in the presence and love of God more than the knowledge they hold. Perhaps if we inspire greater awareness of God already fully present, then people will take their knowledge more seriously.

Commodity v Conference

Was watching mega-church pastor talk about the systems in "your" church. Now on the whole, I am very interested in this -- I believe that systems do effect your ministry, and broken systems produce -- gulp -- broken people.

But in the middle of his talk, he made a point about house church/small church people which, seen through the light of the Jethani book, set me off. "People come to me a lot, and I really enjoy talking to them (I don't think you do), and they say, 'We need to get back to the first century church.' (snicker snicker, we ALL know what's coming next) And I say, well ... it's not the first century anymore... besides, the first century church was ILLEGAL."

Wow. Did he just go there? I don't know this guy personally, but I'm pretty sure he's not stupid.

Can he not see the analogy between the Roman Empire and the American/Consumer "Empire"?

I'd put it like this:

+ Perhaps, IF American Christianity was living out its true counter-cultural call, and IF "Consumerism" had legal/political power...

... Christianity in 21st Century USAmerica would be illegal as well.

In addition, his main points were that the systems in "your church" were not getting people into groups, or making "guests" (hate that word) feel welcomed in your building.

But when Jethani references Barna's survey work that indicates that American Christian do not differ statistically from non-believers in areas that we would all consider biblical, I wonder "Who the hell cares if people aren't in groups? IF THE GROUPS AREN'T TURNING PEOPLE INTO CHRIST-FOLLOWERS, IT DOESN'T MATTER."

Systems matter, don't get me wrong. I believe that systems can be baptized for the glory of God, but as usual, a well-meaning pastor is championing fixing something that may not be working. Maybe like a cassette tape factory that is investing in repairing its magnets and tape spools when people are already moving beyond CDs...

What is going to produce Christ-followers? The disciplines, one-on-one mentoring, spiritual "parents", close community...

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Divine Commodity - Introduction

"...the book seeks to energize an alternative vision of faith...we've lost the ability to think an alternative thought. As a result, the imagination has become the critical battleground between the kingdom of God and consumerism, and before we can hope to live differently we must have our minds released from consumerism's grip and captivated again by Christ. As Thomas Kelly contends, before we can live in full obedience to God we must be given a flaming vision of such an existence. This burning image come to us through our intuitive faculties, 'Holy is imagination, the gateway of Reality into our hearts.'" (page 13)

I happen upon this book based on a recommendation of a friend. As I began reading, I have multiple feelings ranging from "Amen!," to "is this guy in my head," to "this asshole has been reading my journal." Here's the thing...the contents of this book are not new to me; in fact they have stewed in my soul for years. However, in my cowardice, and more pointedly lethargy, I have failed to put my personal views out to the greater public to be critiqued and criticized. So the content, while being familiar to me, is only familiar to me (and a few others). Skye Jethani, the author of this book, has put himself out there to be digested, and I might add, done so quiet creatively and masterfully. We, the local church, are incapable of thinking new. So while we try to draw from inspiration from within our withering religious sects, our souls are emaciated.

So I wonder, can people today be a part of a community who aims to authentically follow Christ in character and action? Can we commit to prayer, study and the disciplines? Will our diligence in these endeavors be enough to create this vision of Christ and His Kingdom within us? I hate to damper any momentum, but I highly doubt it. Not because I don't think that we are good people; and not because I don't believe we are desirous of such a vision. But I know that this vision requires a sacrifice and an obedience that I have often talk about, but have never entered. I doubt this vision is capable because I doubt myself, and quite frankly I doubt you too.

But once again I will say "yes" once again, I will aim to capture this vision, and even believe in the accountability of community. However, in the back of my mind, when it starts to get hard, I expect it will fail.

This book is good because it gives language to this vision, but does not embody it. No book can do this, they only can make suggestions. It takes flesh and blood, hope and fear, to embody this kind of vision. And yes I am game to create biblical community version 157 if you are...but I wonder if cowards like us are capable.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Modern Worship Thoughts

A friend of mine in seminary recently asked for my thoughts on "modern worship music." He was wondering about the theological richness (or poverty) of the lyrics, and also whether any of the songs that are "hot" right now would endure. I thought it would be fun to post my response... here it is...


Hey man…. Sorry it’s been so long, but you know how it is (or at least how the excuses go). I’ll try to be as thorough and concise as possible. Whether you remember it or not, with me there are seldom “simple” questions: there are usually telling implications for our paradigms, and these questions are no different. Here are some thoughts:

• Unfortunately, I think there are very few songs with “theological weight”. Even more unfortunately, I don’t think that this is the fault of modern songwriters; it’s the fault of the church. I believe that the church (with a few notable exceptions) has lost its ability to talk about its theology in any sort of understandable—much less compelling—way. Particularly on Sundays, we have downplayed (or eliminated) discussions of the Resurrection, or the Prophetic tradition that we are a part of, in favor of three-point sermons on how to be a better husband (along with an appeal to personal salvation thrown in).

By and large our songwriters, then, are just “going with the flow,” and tossing out appropriately inspirational songs for the culture they serve. There are glimpses of hope: “In Christ Alone” (Stewart Townend) and the re-working of hymns (such as “Jesus Paid It All) have endured for a few years now; they are both “creedal” statements about the life of Christ.

• Relatedly, insofar as the modern church has incarnated itself into USAmerican culture, I believe we’ll have to accept the fact that our music will be increasingly ephemeral and transient. Why? Because our culture is. To approach it from a musical perspective first, how much music is being created now that is enduring and lasting? People still listen to Led Zeppelin; ACDC just released a huge record (and it can’t be just aging rockers—like me—that are buying these records!); in contrast, who is making records today that will be listened to in five years, much less 30 or 40? John Mayer? Mute Math? Wilco? Coldplay? U2? The list is perilously short.

For better or worse, the USAmerican church has partnered up with pop-culture. “Hey,” we say, “Listen to Hillsong—those tunes ROCK!” True, but if you understand Coldplay and a few other modern musical reference points, you’ll understand that Hillsong is no different than Vineyard or delirious was, 8 – 10 years ago.

Mostly, the white evangelical church rides rock and roll all the way to redemption, but because of this, the cycle of relevancy is going to continue to get shorter. Most (if not all?) of our culture is one of “planned obsolescence.” The church must continue naviate the tension between incarnation and eternity, particularly in its musical expression. I’m not sure there is a tangible answer, except to acknowledge where the difficulties lie, or continue to find opportunities to reject pop culture where it can. (This is a much deeper topic than I can describe here, obviously, but I hope you can see where I’m going).

• As I see it, it’s easy to find songs about God in creation, about the “supremacy of God” (Piper/passion theology). It’s easy to find stories about anything that’s popular in Christendom today. What’s missing are compelling, creative songs about, say, seasons of the church’s calendar:

o In Advent, I still rely on hymns that are re-worked
o There are few, if any, songs for lent, and even less for Good Friday

• To do something succinct for you, here’s a list of white rock songs that have endured in my catalog for more than, say, a year or two:

o “Jesus Paid It All” (Passion)
o “Revolutionary Love” (Crowder; one of the few songs out there about the revolutionary nature of the communal, out-reaching love we are called to)
o “Wholly Yours” (Crowder; a great song about discipleship, and the concept of redemptive time: whatever we bring to God can be changed and redeemed, whatever we hold back oftentimes can not; also “Everything Glorious”)
o “Forever” (Tomlin; for all my beef with Tomlin, this song based on Psalm 136 is one of the best representations of God’s faithfulness)
o “You Never Let Go” (Redman; one of the few white worship songs that talks about being on your last nerve)
o “Invitacion Fountain” (Vineyard; this song has consistently hit that “I’m broken and I need healing” vibe)

• Here’s a list of songs that I feel have theological weight, but I have no idea how long they’ll be around (not sure they’re even popular now)
o “God Will Lift Up Your Head” (re-worked by Jars of Clay, from Redemption Songs)
o “Nothing But the Blood” (re-worked by Jars, from Redemption Songs)

• Obviously, there is still a severe lack of songs in the white church about justice, “hanging on” and waiting for God to save you, God’s love for the poor (see Isaiah 58)

• I wish this list could be more exhaustive (or encouraging?), but I think the white evangelical (“emergent”?) church is in an awkward time. Many congregations are happy to sing the 5 songs that they need to be encouraged and feel good about themselves and their faith—and there may not be anything wrong with that—but there are other people, and other occasions, that are highlighting and exposing the shallow nature of the pop/rock medium.

Why are there so few “inspiring” songs about the things that seem to be central to the prophets, to Jesus, to Paul: mission, justice, living in unity and humility with each other. It’s tempting to blame the song-writers, but maybe the problem is more subtle and more difficult than that. So much of scripture, as I read it, contains a call to “smallness” and death to ourselves. Can our “inspiring”, “Viva la Vida” takeoffs communicate that smallness?

As I read scripture currently, Paul and Christ seem to reject “the triumphant statement” in favor of service and foot-washing. Should the white evangelical church seek to find new worship methods that push people towards that, rather than more and more triumphant, “exciting” songs.

Maybe the worship medium is, in itself, creating a challenge for the church. Questions like this one could, if the church allows it, drive the church towards new and vital forms of worship, but only if they allow it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's Happened to Wonder?

I can tell you...

Wonder has been mistaken for glam, for ever-increasing budgets and light shows.

The wonder of the smallness of life has been subsumed with the 50 inch plasmas, hyper-reality, and multi-tasking screen culture.

The wonder of peace and silence; the pregnant God-reality of a moment has been washed away by overly triumphant, ticketed celebrations and a parade of charades.

... I think that's what happened to wonder.

We killed it.