Categotry Archives: Rantings

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The Christianization of Stuff

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Categories: food for thought, Rantings

I don’t know if it’s like this where you are, but Tulsa churches are notorious for having a bandwagon mentality; if one of them does something “cool”, other churches have to follow suit as quickly as possible. For example, a few years ago one of our mega-churches installed a merry-go-round in their children’s department (you read that right–a real merry-go-round like in the amusement parks). Now word is out that another mega-church is going to follow suit, and maybe one or two more.

Another example…now that the phrase “emergent church” is going mainstream, churches here are scrambling to form “emergent” services, and sometimes do emergent church plants to reach that “market.” Not that this is bad in itself, and some are doing it from pure motives. But the bandwagon mentality kind of ruins the whole idea for me.

One other bandwagon some of the churches are jumping on is the trend to open a gourmet coffee shop to “reach” people. I don’t mean the cappucino bars many churches now have in their lobbies (that is soooo late ’90s)…I mean an actual coffee shop, a separate facility, serving designer drinks to the public. The idea behind this is really a good one…the premise is to have an outlet to make contact with the outside world, and hopefully open up conversations that will help share Christ with people.

But I noticed as I was driving by one of these church-owned coffee houses the other day that it is apparently closed for business. There could be many reasons for this, but two possible reasons are suspect, in my opinion. One reason might be the Starbucks that opened a quarter mile away from them. But there is another reason that is worth considering…

…it might have been because it was too “Christian.”

This is the thing: even when we have a good idea to bridge the widening gap with outsiders…we have this compulsive need to “Christianize” everything we do. We have done this with just about everything from music to books to coffee shops. As I’ve shared in previous posts, we have turned the word “Christian” from a noun into an adjective. We applied the Christian label to our music, and now we have our own genre. We applied it to our books, and now we have a whole branch of the publishing industry. We love the Christian label because we think it represents Christ to the world, but mostly because it makes us Christians feel comfortable with it because we think it’s “safe”–untainted and undefiled.

And every time we Christianize something in this manner, the main patrons are…Christians. Outsiders generally become uncomfortable with it, and it just becomes one more thing, one more sterile environment that isolates Christians from the world around them.

The coffee shop thing is a great idea in general, but I think too many churches waste the effort by insisting that it come under their umbrella. The coffee shop I was speaking of is a separate building, but it’s obvious that it’s on the church campus, and that the main patrons are/were church members. They played Christian music inside. I think they even used funky Christian terminology to describe some of their drinks. That’s playing to the wrong crowd. Why does every business we put in the marketplace have to be a representative of Christendom? Why can’t we just enable people to be Christians in the marketplace, to form relationships, and share Christ in that way?

Take the coffee shop I’m hanging out at now. I’m fairly certain it is owned and run by Christians, just by their friendly attitudes and overhearing some conversations here and there. But Christianity isn’t advertised by the background music or banners on the walls. There is no indication that there is any funding by a local church (although there might be, I don’t know). And it’s in a regular storefront, not on a church campus. And because of this…everyone feels comfortable and welcome here. The coffee shop holds regular open mike nights for music and poetry, and the walls are plastered with art from local folks. People hang out here. It does good business despite the presence of Starbucks in town. And occasionally, a conversation breaks out about Jesus. I’ve heard it.

Is this a “Christian” business? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for certain: the word “Christian” here is more noun than adjective. “Christian” doesn’t describe the coffee, or the atmosphere, or the music. “Christian” describes the people who are involved in this shop. And because of that…I think there is a much greater chance of an outsider finding the real Jesus through relationships with these people.

When it comes down to it…the Christianization of our stuff is a bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? If the message is contained in our background music, or in our coffee drinks…there is less pressure for the message to be contained in our own lives. When we stop broadcasting Jesus with our stuff, we begin to bear more of the responsibility for being Jesus to the world around us.

It’s a bit messier, and it isn’t easy…but it’s real. And that’s what the world is looking for. “Christian” as a noun is much more effective than “Christian” as an adjective.

Just sayin’. 🙂

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My Rantings About the American Music Awards

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Categories: music, Rantings, whine-and-opine

Last night, I did something beneath me…

I watched a music awards show on TV.

It was the American Music Awards. (Okay, so nothing else was on. Sue me.)

Anyhow, just some opinions about some of the highlights of the night:
  • Kanye West, in typical uber-narcissistic fashion, preached about how he wanted to be the next Elvis, instead of thanking anyone for his award. He followed this up by turning in one of the most boring performances of the night. (He, no doubt, believed his performance to be flawless.)
  • Jonas Brothers showed a lot of stage presence but also demonstrated the weakness of their young voices in a live performance.
  • Coldplay, known for their great live shows, actually performed below their normal standard. (Oh, well, everyone has a bad night now and then.)
  • Beyonce shook a lot of booty and had several near misses in the “wardrobe malfunction” department, while singing a song about wedding rings, for probably the most flashy performance of the night. (no pun intended)
  • Old New Kids on the Block sang a medley of their greatest hits…no comment needed. 🙂
  • Alicia Keys’ performance was great–right up until the 2nd verse when Queen Latifah got up and began rapping about Barack Obama. Followed by…an opera singer?? The “superwoman” theme was cool and all, but…come on???
  • Some of the performances that sucked less than the others…Sarah McLachlan (surprise duet with Pink); Taylor Swift; The Fray; and Christina Aguilara, who opened the show with a medley (the only one of the young blonde divas that can actually sing).
The hands-down, show-stopping performance of the night? Annie Lennox. Singing alone with a piano, with no flashy set, no pyrotechnics, no sexy dancers. Brought down the house.

So…can anyone tell me why the one amazing performace in a 3-hour music awards show was by a woman in her 50s who topped the charts over 20 years ago?

No, this isn’t about musical style, and I’m not dating myself. I actually listen to some of my kid’s music, and like it. But when a 53-year-old woman with a piano can outclass production numbers that probably cost millions to produce…this is saying something. This is about performance, execution, and raw talent. Why don’t they make ’em like this anymore?

I don’t think it’s because we don’t have talented people these days, because we do. But something is getting lost in the translation.

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A Coffee Analogy (from Someone Who Doesn’t Drink Coffee)

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Categories: food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), Rantings

For someone who spends so much time in the local coffee hangout, it’s ironic that I don’t drink coffee. (Right now I’m savoring some hot apple-spice tea.)

I have a lot of friends who drink coffee, though. I have one friend who might as well be wearing a cologne called “Eau de Java.” The smell of coffee is all over him, all the time.

I have another friend, Dave, who looooves coffee. He perks up at the word “coffee” the same way my dog perks up at words like “treat” or “car ride.” I traveled with Dave years ago to Europe on a ministry trip. That’s when I learned how superior European coffee was, and how lame American coffee was. (This was B.S., of course–Before Starbucks.)

You see, Dave likes his coffee so thick and rich you can stand a spoon up in it. All through Europe he took Espresso breaks; he was totally in his element. Back then, anyhow, compared to European coffee, American coffee was like brown water. In some places, it still is, I guess. But I wouldn’t really know, because all coffee tastes awful to me. (I just know this kind of stuff by being friends with Dave.)

Anyhow…I was pondering this morning about something I heard David Kinnamon, president of the Barna Group, say during the Born Again Church Tour, which I met up with in Denver last month. (This is another “Dave”, not the one who loves coffee.) He was sharing some statistics about how many people claim to be Christians in America, compared with how few of those professing Christians actually live out of a Biblical worldview. I don’t remember exactly how he put this, but the gist was that the Christian faith as it is currently presented is far too easy, that we need a faith that requires more of its adherents.

This took some people back at first, because it almost sounded like a return to legalism and away from the message of grace. But The Wild One and I got it. He wasn’t talking about doctrine, but about commitment.

The early believers didn’t just believe by mental agreement with Christian doctrine (and by the way, the “sinner’s prayer” actually appears nowhere in the Bible). Their conversion was a life change, and a life commitment to follow Jesus–one that many paid for with their lives. They committed to it with every fiber of their being, challenging and encouraging one another to live out their faith in tangible ways. Holiness and social responsibility were serious to them, not as a means to earn salvation, but as an outflow of their commitment to Christ and His mission. It cost them something, and so it mattered.

This is something that is largely lost on western Christianity. Today, all most folks know is to pray the prayer, and they are in the club. With a few exceptions, our Christian culture requires little else of people but to go to church, volunteer here and there, follow some false spiritual benchmarks to measure their faith, and try to stay of trouble until the rapture happens (whenever your church thinks that’s going to happen). We have somehow lost that sense of deep commitment and passion.

It’s kind of like the difference between American coffee and European coffee. (See where the coffee analogy comes in?)

We understand (to some extent) that we cannot earn the free gift of God’s grace; but we have forgotten that the choice to be a true disciple is costly. And that’s why I think so much of our Christian culture is shallow–because we do not place any value on what does not cost us something.

We look back at the martyrs of our faith through history (past and present), and we honor them; but we do not realize that there is more to their martyrdom than just living in an environment that happens to be hostile to Christians….

These people have laid their lives down because theirs was a faith worth dying for.

I don’t know about you, but I am bored stiff with the mamby-pamby, watered-down versions of our faith. I want a faith that’s going to impact the world in some way. A faith that’s going to make other people stand up and take notice, for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. I don’t want a Christianity that amounts to warm, bitter black water. I want a faith rich enough and thick enough to stand a spoon up in it. I want a walk of faith that is strong enough to wake me up, and whose aroma will linger on me long after I’ve drunk.

I don’t dream of martyrdom, but I long for a faith that’s worth dying for. I want a faith that matters.

(Pardon me while I wipe the tears….)

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Why I Don’t Twitter (Yet)

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Categories: fun, Rantings, What the heck was THAT?

…or is it “Why I Don’t Tweet?” Twit? Whatever.

It seems more and more of my blogger comrades are selling out beginning to use Twitter in addition to all the other connectivity programs out there.

Little by little everyone starts to Twittle Twitter. (Dangit. Thought I had a rhyme going there.)

Well, I’m still holding out–for now. And here are some reasons why…

  1. I’m not technologically advanced enough for it to matter that much. For example, though my cell phone is Interweb-capable, I don’t use it for cost reasons, and because I don’t really need to. Twitter, from what I understand, works best when you can Tweet/Twit throughout the day. And though I carry my dinosaur laptop with me quite often, it isn’t really practical to stop, hook it all up (my battery is dead), open it up, start it up, to tell you what I’m doing at the moment. Almost every Tweet/Twit would read, “Jeff is booting up his laptop to send you a message.”
  2. I’m a little concerned about becoming even more addicted to tech. Most of us already walk around like so many cyborgs with Bluetooth earpieces in our ears. And once we start using a new technology, we tend to get addicted to it quickly. I have a feeling if I ever start Tweeting, I won’t be able to stop. 🙂
  3. I want to resist keeping up with the technological Joneses. I already feel about 2 years behind everyone. My cell phone isn’t flat and shiny with lots of buttons. It actually flips down. I started on MySpace a year ago because everyone who was anyone was on MySpace. By the time I figured MySpace out, everyone had gone over to Facebook. Once my Facebook page was up, everyone was Twittering. Crap. I can’t keep up. Although I have to admit it gets a little lonely back here, watching everyone’s technological backsides…I just don’t want to join the race. What purpose would it serve, except to be chic and cool? None, right now. I’d rather wait until I really “need” Twitter.
  4. There are times when, quite frankly, I don’t want everyone to know what I’m doing. The coolest Tweeters/Twitters/Twitterrerrs do it all throughout their day, at any given moment. If I’m going to Tweet, I want to do it right; so I’d feel pressured all the time to let you in on my every move. “Jeff is going to the bathroom.” ??? Sorry. That’s none of your freaking business. 🙂 In our day of “Big Brother”, we’re already losing our privacy fast. Why would I want to just hand it over voluntarily?
So…bottom line for now…I don’t really need Twitter right now, so I’m resisting.

For now. 🙂

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De-Toxing

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Categories: church, Meanderings (look it up), Rantings

Toward the end of yesterday’s post, I inserted this remark:

“…sometimes our personal woundings complicate our emotions, and sometimes we have to unravel that in order to know whether a confrontation is from love or from wounding. And that part has to wait for another post. :)”

Wait no longer.

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Now that I’ve Calmed Down a Bit from My Last Post…

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Categories: Meanderings (look it up), Rantings, whine-and-opine

…I’ll turn the comments back on. (But mind your manners.) 🙂

As you can tell from my last post…I have a bit of a temper. It’s a lot more controlled than it used to be.

One of the defining character traits of my son The Director is his passionate distaste for injustice. Anytime he sees someone unfairly dealing with another, or bullying, or oppressing, or slander, or anything like that–he is fit to be tied. He gets as angry as he would if it were happening to him. He’s seen enough injustice dealt to his parents in ministry–seen leadership wrongfully treat us, seen people we loved and cared for turn around and abuse us, accuse us and slander us, while we remained silent, unable to defend ourselves without making things worse. And he’s experienced some of that injustice himself. He simply has no stomach for it.

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No More Passes

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Categories: politics? oh puh-leeze., Rantings, whine-and-opine

Mmmmmrrghfthfth….. ::biting my tongue:: ….

…mmmmmmmmI CAN’T HELP IT. Gotta talk about politics again.

Actually, my rant today is not so much about either presidential candidate as it is about the mainstream media in America–because, you see, the media is running a campaign of its own.

The mainstream media is aggressively trying to get Barack Obama elected the next President of the United States.

Now, I’ve commented about this fact on some other blogs–including some “across the pond”–and the response I’ve read is: “WHAT media bias?” Some have even suggested the media is biased in favor of McCain!

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Note to the Gasoline People–I Can Do the Math

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Categories: Rantings, What the heck was THAT?

Okay, so I realize that Oklahoma usually has the lowest gas prices in the nation, being oil country and all…so this is probably gonna sound to some of you readers like I’m being a crybaby here. But…what the hey…here goes.

Dear Gasoline People (I don’t know what else to call you),

I monitor the price of oil. The last time it was at $92 a barrel, we were paying $2.69 a gallon here in Tulsa.

Today, the price of oil is once again at $92 a barrel. And the price of gas? $3.69 a gallon.

So…where is that extra dollar per gallon going???? Hm??

And don’t give me that crap about Hurricane Ike. Even the oil traders know the damage to the oil industry wasn’t that bad…which is why the price of oil is down to $92 a barrel. Do you know something the oil traders don’t know?

Look, I’m not opposed to companies making profits, and I’m not the enemy of “big oil.” But I can do the math here. You’re not dropping the price of your gasoline in proportion to your costs…and someone’s benefiting from that, and I know it isn’t me. What do you think I am, dumb or something?

Well…price gouging is against the law…so how about you START LOWERING THE PRICE!? (And yes, I meant to yell.)

Love,

Elmer Sczhlapczkovsky

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Defending the Christian Label (or Traveling Light)

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Categories: church, food for thought, Rantings

Yesterday we went to a local retail hobby store, and there was a “now hiring” stand with lots of employment applications folded like brochures stuck in it. Out of curiosity, The Wild One picked one up.

The amount of red tape required just to get employed at this store was daunting. Drug/alcohol testing, background checks, aptitude tests (none of which I am opposed to, BTW)…but then there were literally two pages of fine print about an “arbitration agreement”, where anyone who wanted to be employed there must sign a binding agreement to resolves disputes through arbitration (read: you can’t sue us). NO ONE gets employed unless they sign the agreement. I know; it says so about four different times on the application.

Now, bear in mind that none of this is inherently wrong. But this wasn’t an application to work at a law firm, or a coal mine, or a nuclear power plant, or to be an astrophysicist, or to work at Area 51. This was for a retail store. I moonlight in retail; I deliver flowers. I didn’t need to fill out more than a couple of pages to apply, and I didn’t need to agree to arbitration. At one flower shop, I called and said, “You guys need any help?” And they called back and said, “Yep. Come on in.” That was it; no butt-covering, no positioning, no self-protection.

Yet everything–everything–about this retail store’s application was designed to cover the company’s @$$. It was all about self-protection, like every potential applicant was poised to screw them over or something.

This is the part of the rant where I tell you that this is a Christian company–a large retail chain owned by a nationally known Christian businessman. They play instrumental hymns on the store soundtrack and are closed on Sundays. This businessman also recently made news when he effectively “rescued” a major Christian university in our town that had been rocked with scandal; he did this by donating millions of dollars and offering to reorganize the board.

The whole thing reminds me of someone else I know, who at one time attended a local mega-church. She asked someone about volunteering in the church in some capacity; she was handed an application to volunteer, requiring all kinds of information, including submitting to a background check. I’m surprised they didn’t draw blood right there on the spot.

Now, in some ways–and to be merciful–I can understand why this particular mega-church was so cautious. They had recently suffered scandal when one of the teachers in their school was found to be a pedophile and went to prison, and they were getting sued by multiple families for it. So obviously they wanted to be very careful about who was helping out.

Believe it or not, I can also understand why a Christian business wants to protect itself–because it seems like when you call yourself a Christian and you own a facility that’s open to the public, there are always some folks who want to hold you to a higher standard than the rest of the world, or who might sue you just because they figure you’re a Christian and won’t fight back.

But I guess for me, this begs the question: Is this need for self-protection just a by-product of our culture…or is it that we’ve created too much that needs protecting? Could it be that the very institutions we have built in the name of promoting the gospel–whether it be church organizations or businesses–are now getting in our own way?

Is it really our job to set up church buildings and label our businesses “Christian” and then set up huge amounts of red tape to make sure the wrong people don’t cause us damage? Is our number one priority in the world to make sure we don’t get hurt or stolen from? Or is it to engage the world with the love of Christ? It’s as if we are extending one hand to the world while using the other hand to block any punches we might receive. Can the world really take that love seriously if we are in such a defensive posture?

When Jesus sent out His disciples, He said He was sending them as sheep in the midst of wolves, and that they should be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves. Then He did something interesting: He told them not to carry extra clothes or money bags. Now, I’m not about to interpret that as a policy of poverty, as some have done; but I do think there’s an interesting principle here to uncover. Why would Jesus tell them that? I can think of two possible reasons. One is so that they would be inter-dependent with the communities that they were going to–that they would have to engage people and allow their needs to be met that way. The other possible reason, and the one I’m chewing on right now…is that by traveling light, they wouldn’t have anything to protect. They would be free to be “sheep among wolves” without worrying about what they had to lose.

I think that’s the opposite of what we have in our world today. Creating massive institutions and labeling them “Christian” has given us huge amounts to lose. We’re so busy trying to avoid exploitation that we cannot be nearly as effective. These institutions are essentially fortresses that we have built. Do these fortresses really keep us “safe”–or have they just become something we must defend? When you really think about it–which is protecting which?

I cannot help but think that this is just another way in which we’ve missed the point. I can’t help but think there must be a better way to engage our world. I can’t help but think that the church, while using buildings from time to time, was never meant to be contained in them. And I’m certainly not opposed to Christians owning and running successful businesses; but I can’t help but wonder if affixing the Christian label (instead of just being Christians) is doing us more harm than good.

Maybe we should take a cue from the disciples. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe we could learn how to stop worrying about how we might get hurt by the wolves. Maybe we would worry less if we learned how to travel light.
(Photo by Ben Earwicker.)

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A Long-Awaited Review of "Pagan Christianity"

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Categories: books, church, Rantings

Okay, so it’s so long awaited that probably most of my current readers do not even know that I was planning to review this book at all. 🙂

A few months ago I posted this entry, alluding to a book that was ticking me off. I withheld the name but promised I’d give it a full review when I was done with it. But I guess I was not so subtle about it, because my commentors immediately guessed it was Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. Yesterday, when I read this post on bob.blog, it reminded me that I hadn’t actually given the book its fair due. This book has generated so much talk that now there are folks even poking fun at it. I submit the following video as evidence of this.

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