Thursday, December 9, 2010

cancel the 39 1/2- foot pole

Your brain is full of spiders,

You’ve got garlic in your soul,

Mr. Grinch

Merry Christmas.

Check out this website, courtesy of one of the usual suspects, First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Christians have really developed a subculture of whistleblowers in this country. As evidenced by the website, the gospel is secondary to comfort level.

Their bishop…er…pastor swears that this is a friendly forum where the “Merry Christmas” camp can label businesses that don’t show enough specifically Christmas cheer as being “grinches.”

He also suggests that the church is not responsible for the reviews, since they are submitted. Funny – it says FBC Dallas at the bottom of the page. Their pastor has been on national news to (rather unsuccessfully) explain the intended humor of the site. There’s even a review process each comment must go through before being posted. Claiming no responsibility is ridiculous.

By the way, I submitted FBC Dallas as being a very naughty grinch. My submission is yet to be posted.

At least two of the businesses named have fought back in the local media, the owners of one, a Mexican restaurant, actually responding by professing Christian faith and identifying several charity events they sponsor during the holiday…er…Christmas season.

But they’re still grinches because their employees were instructed to say “Happy Holidays.”

There is an accumulation of things that are wrong with this website, but here are a few that are obvious to me.

First, though the Bible is clear that Christians will be hated, despised and persecuted, it also exhorts Christians to respond with rejoicing, since, when we are despised, we are participating in Christ’s suffering.

In other words, we don’t need to hit back.

Second, Jesus never went about change by political means. To the contrary, he responded to hatred and insult with love, mercy, and grace, instead of a “power over” approach. He could have eliminated his opposition with a single breath, but he didn’t. His example shows us what true Kingdom work is about: a “power under” approach, where we respond to all with grace and love, reflecting the grace and love that we have been shown through Christ.

FBC may have intended it to be fun, but we all know about good intentions.

Third, God does not need us to defend Christmas. That is not Kingdom work. It actually portrays hearts of judgment, distrust, and vengeance. Compiling a list of establishments that offend our righteous indignation and publishing it for the world to see seems to me to be decidedly mean-spirited and sub-Christian. If we are offended, that is okay. If we are made to feel uncomfortable, that is okay. Neither is a hindrance to our faith. I cannot adequately express how grieving this action is to me.

Fourth, this is plain mean. It’s name-calling, pure and simple.

Fifth, other Baptist churches and other evangelical individuals, congregations, and denominations are associated by name with this attitude. Here is brief sample of the comments this story has received on the Dallas Morning News website:

“I just want to go on record as a Christian to say that I do not approve of this at all, and this type of disrespect for non-Christians in not to be tolerated.”

“I would shop at all of the stores on the naughty list. I doubt Jesus would concern himself with this trivial website, but instead be ministering to the homeless, sick and destitute.”

“If you are a Christian, celebrate what Jesus was really about...”

“Funny thing is, these people's heads would explode if one of these businesses dared wish them a happy Hanukkah or a happy Kwanzaa.”

"’Happy Holidays’ is an appropriate greeting, even for Christians, because there's more than one holiday in the Season. In the Christian calendar, we're now in Advent, awaiting the arrival of the Christ child. Christmas runs from December 25 for 12 days, ending on Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men to the manger.”

“Baptist? Dallas? That about says it all! These folks take themselves way too seriously. Look beyond your noses, people! God is a whole lot bigger than you think.”

I had a professor at Wheaton who said several years ago, “The Southern Baptists have lost their minds.”

Please forgive us.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

misfit

So here's the problem: I don't really like myself. At least I haven't for most of my life.

I've been working on it recently. It's really no way to live.

I think a big part of the problem was that I was raised with a very negative identity. I mean, I was loved and had my basic needs met and everything, but what I heard pretty much everywhere was everything I wasn't supposed to be and do.

"We don't talk that way." "Boys aren't supposed to be like that." "Christians shouldn't be acting that way."

Before long, I internalized that sort of negativity. What's worse, it became my idea of God's personality.

I went from being a bit of a social butterfly and one of the most outgoing kids in elementary school to being a reserved, angry, introspective adolescent, teenager, young adult. I was beaten down and defeated. It really wasn't pretty.

A negative identity breeds those things. Whatever I did, wherever I went, I couldn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I desperately wanted approval of family and peers. I became wrapped up within myself in a messy inward crisis.

My big sister called it one day when I was a kid. She told me, "Jonathan, you're so bitter." Of course, at the time, I was bitter toward her for saying it, but remembering this actually may have later helped me come to terms with it. I could remember and place that moment in the trajectory of my childhood that began with not ever feeling good enough, smart enough, well-behaved enough, and ended with a slide into deep depression, anxiety and introspection.

Introspection. Sounds pretty safe, reflective, like something one does with a cold one, a cigar, maybe some cool jazz or Pink Floyd or something. Not so.

A speaker from English L'Abri that I admire a lot calls introspection, "mental masturbation," which I think is really helpful. The mind gets all wrapped up in itself and its anxieties, becomes completely withdrawn, and the person finally comes to the place where they live inside themselves, never entering the world around them. The focus isn't where it needs to be. This creates tons of problems for us.

It's not supposed to be this way. Our existence is supposed to be positive, freeing, liberating, not uncomfortable and repressed.

And what's more, I have everything it takes. I'm not a misfit or shortchanged or anything. I was created with everything I need for the life I'm meant to live.

And that is live-giving for someone who doesn't like himself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

turtlenecks for everyone

We love to try to be the Holy Spirit. Especially for other people. It seems like it's some sort of civic duty for Americans or something. Or at least it's a guilty pleasure.

There were times when I was growing up when so many people were bossing me around that it completely drowned out the Spirit's voice in my life. And, sadly, that's the truth. It's hurtful. And it's judgmental.

There are a bunch of Christians, mostly male, who love to tell women how they should dress. If you're a father and the woman is a child and is your daughter, it's probably okay that you have some input, as long as you're not a jerk about it.

If the above situation doesn't apply to you, then hush.

Being homeschooled, there were always things like this going on. I even remember going to retreats where, and yes, this actually happened in the 90s, girls' swimming was first, mixed swimming next, and boys' swimming last, even though two-piece swimwear wasn't allowed. Thankfully, the term "mixed swimming" was preferred over the more baptistic "mixed bathing." That would have been an uncomfortable explanation.

Anyway, I have heard a lot of men complaining about this, even recently, and saying things like, no joke, "I should just paint the bottom half of my glasses black when I'm talking to a girl these days, so I can't see below her neck."

Or, you could just not look. That choice is on the table. The sanctifying work of the Spirit does give freedom from lust, just like every other struggle.

Check out the book of Romans. It's one of my favorite parts when Paul tells them, "hey, if your conscience lets you, eat a nice juicy steak." "If it says 'no,' then don't."

I know the Bible says to dress modestly. But there are a couple of issues with applying this here. First, we need to know exactly what the Bible is talking about. Second, it doesn't say "women who don't dress modestly should be sternly rebuked and judged by men."

Here's another issue. Where do we draw the line? What is the ratio of body to exposed skin that does us in? Last I checked, that's not in the Bible, either.

Let's face it, it's not our job to draw the line for other people, anyway.

See, this issue is one of Christian freedom. Just like drinking and TV-viewing and carnivorous eating. It's a matter of conscience.

The whole "women should cover themselves up so they don't cause men to stumble" argument has, at the very least, one major problem. Men should be able to control themselves. Don't shift responsibility here.

So, if people you come into contact with aren't covered up enough, don't look at them, don't hang out with them, whatever you need to do.

Just don't tell them they need to cover up.

Part of the problem is the whole "Every Man's Battle" phenomenon. Sex addiction is not every man's battle, nor is it "Every Woman's Battle" or "Every Young Man's Battle" or "Every Football Fan's Battle" or "Every Apricot Miniature Poodle's Battle."

But even if it is some guy's battle, that's his battle, not everyone else's.

And you might not want to go publicizing it if it is your battle.

Oh, and women can lust, too. Just thought I'd point it out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

like the fool I am and I'll always be

God's will is our favorite excuse. It's a more serious form of "the dog ate it."

At the end of the last school year, the PE coach at our school invited the music teachers out to the gym during a pizza party for some of the 4th graders. After the pizza was over, the coach asked what game they wanted to play. Of course, the boys in the group wanted to play "Dodge Ball," more commonly known today by its politically correct name, "Avoid the Ball."

The girls wanted to do a more civil activity, like jumping rope or hula-hoops, but if you know anything about 4th graders, nobody heard anything the girls were saying, because Dodge Ball was a possibility.

Of course, being the mature role-model I am, I wanted to play. But Dodge Ball is one of those activities that, unless I want to be on the news, isn't the best idea. Still not fair.

The way we use God's will looks a lot like adults throwing gym balls at 4th graders. There's really not much you can do if you're on the receiving end. It kinda shuts things down.

For example, the following conversation:

Ernie: I want to go to the Outback Steakhouse.
Bert: I don't want to go there, Ernie.
Ernie: Why not, Bert?
Bert: I want to go to the Olive Garden.
Ernie: Why do we always have to do what you want to do?
Bert: It's God's will, Ernie.
Ernie: Oh.

Not much for Ernie to say, huh? Maybe it's God's will they go to the Olive Garden, but my guess is that Bert is conveniently using God's will to support what he wants.

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I'm not a parent, but I think parents should chill out just a bit sometimes.

Of course, this is coming from a recovering homeschooler, so my opinion might not be entirely accurate, but I do what I can.

When I was growing up, I wasn't allowed to see movies in theaters, ever. Especially not PG-13 or...gulp...R. And that's not much of a stretch. From 14 to 17, I maybe saw 3 movies.

But, for all those years, I made a list of all the movies my friends talked about. The summer after I graduated from high school, I got to house sit for some folks for a couple of weeks. It took me about 15 minutes to get to the nearest Blockbuster store. I caught up on movies. It was like I could breathe. And all those things my cool friends were talking about, I suddenly understood.

It was life-giving.

Even worse, don't harp on your kids about their behavior all the time. Let them be themselves. From what I've experienced, one of two things will probably happen. Either the years of repression will catch up to them in the form of bitterness and depression, or they will jump off the diving board of rebellion whenever you can't hold them down anymore.

Even if it's something stupid, like...I don't know...putting a household chemical into their shampoo bottle to slowly and secretly lighten the color of their hair and accidentally turning it orange....which is something I never did....

Relax. You'll be happier and their hair will eventually go back to its original color.

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Why is it that we naturally assume extremely emotional people are more sincere? This most commonly happens when we see them engaging in some kind of interpretive dancing during the slow music at church.

No kidding, one time during some music at a Promise Keepers conference, I saw this dude actually take off and fly away...it was awesome...

Anyway, I know some phonies. Sometimes what we feel the strongest keeps us most calm.

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Anyway, in celebration of Independence Day, here are some lovely pulpit quotes.

"I believe God's hand is still on America (read: U.S.), but just His fingertips."

"Jesus died for our salvation, the American soldier dies for us today."

"We're about to be judged, big time. God's let America (read: U.S.) go even further than He did with Israel."

"Everything our leaders do needs to be engulped (sic) in prayer."

"God Bless the U.S.A. by Lee Greenwood fits this sermon perfectly."

It only gets better with time.

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If I were to preach on freedom, I think this would be a complementary text:

O, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best.
Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
Tis a haven sweet of rest.
O, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Tis a heaven of heavens to me.
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to thee.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

skin grafts

For those who, like is my early experience, are consumed with guilt over fighting their own battles with sin and trying (key word) to be good enough, polite enough, and pious enough, here are a couple of texts I have been thinking about.

They serve as a reminder for me that I live Christ's life, breathe his breath, walk his walk.

Saying to "let go" seems too trite in this case.

"Back off," maybe.

Oh well.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

- anon, 1700s

Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Christ ever with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ to my right side, Christ to my left side
Christ in his breadth, Christ in his length, Christ in depth
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me.

- attributed to St. Patrick

Sunday, May 30, 2010

alone

I am disconnected.

Sometimes sitting in church is the most disconnected place to be. It's a bunch of people talking about how to try harder and give our best efforts toward becoming like Jesus.

It's depressing. It's just not going to happen.

My prayers crash. My singing is off-pitch. My piano playing is frustrated. I'm just banging away, going through the motions.

I feel the paucity, the emptiness in my brain, my bones, my soul.

I have no hope of being like Christ this way. I'm just flailing, gasping, dragging.

This is not what "following" Christ is supposed to be.

But it's what we preach. We preach morals and beliefs. We preach being down on ourselves when we fall short.

If this is true, aren't we just agreeing with all those "liberals" who preach that Christianity is following Jesus good teachings?

"Worship" is cleverly devised as a way to feel something. But we have to wait to do it until we're in church. It makes us happy. It makes us feel connected to something.

There's no Christ in that. There's precious little of him to be found anywhere in the false religion we preach. And it sucks. It's no way to live.

It's not about mimicking the good things we see in Christ. It's about living his life. It's about tasting and seeing.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green.
The trees of nature, fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought.
I miss'd for all-but now I see-
'Tis found in Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil.
Here I will sit and rest awhile.
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive.
It keeps my dying faith alive,
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I turned twenty-one in prison doin' life without parole

Moms are better than dads.

That's what many evangelical churches believe. There's a church I know about that actually cancels the evening service on Mother's Day so that folks can spend time with their mothers.

But on Father's Day, they do what every one of the three God-fearing SBC churches left does: they have an evening service. It's what the Lord would have them do.

This is a problem for two reasons, I think.

First, mothers are not more important than fathers.

There. I said it.

Obviously children rely physically on their mothers in a significant way early on. But they are no less dispensable than fathers.

But I think most people, somewhere inside, believe they are.

Second, motherhood is not the highest calling of women.

There. I said that, too.

It's a high calling. It's a noble calling. But not everyone is called to it, and that doesn't make them second-class in any way.

Coming out of the homeschooling community, I know some people who turned from being driven, accomplished people to being barefoot and pregnant overnight. Not that it was wrong for them to have kids, but when that happened, they lost all drive to do anything else.

And that is not okay. That's not how we were meant to live, regardless of our plumbing.