Archive for May, 2005

Church Life as a Date

So the other night we had our first “launch team meeting” of the new church plant. [“Launch team” is one of those jargon terms that gets bandied about in church planting circles. It refers to the people that help you start the church. They used to be referred to as a “core group” but then, apparently, people would always refer to themselves as part of the “core group” even ten years later. Now they’re called a launch team since that supposedly takes away the implied status of “I’m more important. I’m part of the core group.”]

Anyway, the man who would be head pastor posed this little exercise: describe your church experience as a date.

Some of the responses:
-it was like an arranged marriage
-it was like going out for Ruth Crists but being stuck with Happy Meals.
-it was like going out with a beautiful girl only to find out that she was a vegetarian.

Mine went something like this: My church life has eerily mirrored my dating life: a series of aborted relationships in my efforts to find a lady that I can commit to and who is willing to put up with me. My first real relationship was with this really intelligent lady. The idea of a relationship was exciting and new, and she taught me a lot. It took me a long time to realize that she was all brains but had a cold heart.

I went on a series of one night stands that didn’t really go anywhere.

My next major relationship was with a lady who had what I needed at the time. She was bright, energetic, fun. However, in looking back on why it didn’t work, I think I outgrew her.

Most recently, I started a relationship with a lady whom I seem to have trouble committing to. I think it is because I see her going places that I can’t go and I want to go places she’s not willing to try.

And I’m trying to figure out a way to break up with her.

It was either this or a rant about my impending mid-life crisis. One of the ladies at our launch team meeting referred to me on her blog as one of “the two important pastor/leader/father type of guys” in her life. Well, if that isn’t enough to take the stroke right outta my game. That settles it. Should I ever find myself single again, I’m using the pick up line “Hey baby, got some father issues you want to work out with someone?”

As I informed her, my official title is “hot, older guy.” I’m getting stationary made.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) or just do so at my message board.


Remember the halcyon days of the Fall TV Season of 2003, when we had the battle of the “girls dealing with the universe” shows? Wonderfalls was great, but was cancelled after four episodes. Joan of Arcadia was very good, has found its legs, and is flourishing. And Tru Calling, which was mediocre on its best days, was mercifully cancelled after one season. These days we have House versus Medical Investigation competing for audience’s attentions with similar premises. The upshot? House wins.

Medical Investigation is a way station for actors and actresses whose shows were cancelled last season: Neal McDonough (Boomtown), Kelli Williams (The Practice), Christopher Gorham (Jake 2.0) and Anna Belknap (The Handler). Sticking closely to the CSI model of the procedural, the members of the mobile medical team from the National Institute of Health pursue disease outbreaks instead of murder scenes. The gimmicks that define the show include the blue tones that it is filmed in can be distracting, especially when one week their patients were turning blue; and the “brain blasts” (a la Jimmy Neutron) when Dr. Stephen Connor (McDonough) finally pieces together the case. However, the show is formulaic to the point of boredom: people get sick, staff looks for commonality among the patients, they run down a series of dead ends and bad leads, Dr. Connor has his brain blast, and a treatment is found. No twists, no turns, little character development; it’s like the constraints of their job limits what the writers can do with them. No amount of camera trick shots or special effect depictions of an illness will cover up a lackluster script; nor does a character’s earnestness equal an interesting character. You want better for the talented cast, but either this dour show needs to improve quickly or they need to fire their agents and put this snooze-fest behind them.

House on the other hand is everything that Medical Investigation is not. Witty, interesting, and filled with characters that, even if you don’t like, you want to watch. One of the things you learn when looking at a new show is to study its pedigree. House’s executive producers include Paul Attanasio (Homicide: Life on the Street, Gideon’s Crossing), creator David Shore (The Practice), and Bryan Singer (director of X-Men, X-2, and The Usual Suspects). Granted, pedigree doesn’t always equal greatness, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

In Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) we have a hero who is cavalier, cranky, and more than a bit of a jerk. “What would you want: a doctor who holds your hand while you die or who ignores you while you get better?” Brilliant, yet easily bored, the soap opera-loving doctor doesn’t like dealing with patients (he treats illnesses, patients make him miserable). He has to be power-played into working in his hospital’s clinic. He doesn’t believe that he’s always right, he just finds it “hard to operate on the opposite assumption”. Life’s too short and too painful, so he says what he thinks: “Humanity is overrated,” a question may seem rhetorical “when you can’t think of an answer,” “gorgeous women only go to medical school if they’re damaged,” and he tells a patient that his wife must be having an affair because he turned orange and she didn’t notice.

His staff is made up of (his) hand picked experts form a kind of super hero team, with each member specializing in a different area and bringing a unique skill set. Omar Epps’ character, Dr. Taylor Foreman, brings street smarts, as well as his medical specialty, and another character is told that she brings, well, a pretty face. The characters have a reason for being and doing, motivations beyond robots doing so for the love of the job. In a lot of ways, this is a similar medical whodunnit type show that Medical Investigation is, investigating all manner of mysterious diseases, except that it does so against the backdrop of a hospital with all of its attendant politics and patients.

“Our bodies break down … it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it.”
“We’re to live with dignity, not die with it,” Dr. House snaps (almost all of his dialogue seems to be him snapping). Dr. House had an infarction in his thigh, and due to a mis-diagnosis, he ended up with a limp. His handicap reminds us of our own weakness. Along with these broken bodies we need to seek cures, seek doctors. Doctors aren’t here to help the healthy, but the sick. This mission statement is true of all of us: We are not sent to be served but to serve.

We have a love and fascination with our doctors. The medical drama is part of a longstanding tradition and one third of the trinity of television genres: medical shows, legal shows, and police shows. Right now, the steady-creaking-after-all-these-years ER and the wonderful sitcom Scrubs seem to be carrying on the tradition. House has smart dialogue, style, and a healthy dose of humor. Yes, its lead character has the bedside manner of a total cad, but it’s amazing how good a show can be when it has characters you want to watch.

Strange Bedfellows: Creation Science

Some people think that there’s a war between science and religion. This war is fought on various battlegrounds: stem cell research, creation vs. evolution, the Terry Schiavo mess. I was on a radio show once, back in my more fundamentalist days, put in a position to have to defend the seven day creation account. I made the usual arguments, God created the world with age, errors in scientific assumption. Though I stopped short of accepting one supporter’s assertion that fossils were posited by Satan and his minions in order to deceive mankind.

I was much younger, still working on my biology degree and trying to fit together in my mind how my scientific training could comfortably rest alongside my Biblical faith. How do you prove or disprove matters of faith? Why would you want to? Once you “prove” faith, it’s no longer faith, but fact.

There are thoughtful people out there who won’t participate in conversations about God because too many Christians apply the litmus test of evolution vs. literal six day creation on folks before they will let them in. The hubris of those in possession of this spiritual secret knowledge (latter day Gnostics in many ways) chase off serious spiritual seekers.

Again, I’ll point to the modern mindset that places the Bible as the foundation, ultimate authority (personal pope) of their beliefs. People, friends of the Bible, make claims then attempt to prop them up with evidence, proofs, and diagrams. This, by the way, despite the fact that the Bible never makes the claim of it being foundational (inspired and useful, yes; foundational, no.)

It’s just as bad, even worse, when science and religion get in bed together.

Think back to the halcyon days of the Medieval Church. The medieval worldview had the earth as the center of the universe and the heavens as a series of concentric circles radiating from it. Of course it’s natural for us to assume that we’re the center of reality. You see, the science of the age was so entwined with the religious beliefs that to argue against it (memo to Copernicus and Galileo) was tantamount to heresy.

It’s like we forget that science and religion have two different jobs to do. Jobs that can co-exist, but neither need to fight nor join forces. You want another more recent misguided example?

The modern creation science movement, the attempt to apply scientific principles and scrutiny to the Genesis creation account, has led to the founding of the Creation Museum. The Creation Museum is an outreach of Answers in Genesis, a non-profit ministry located near the Cincinnati International Airport, in northern Kentucky, USA. This 50,000 square foot facility will proclaim to the world that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice and in every area it touches on. Scheduled to open in 2007, this ““walk through history”” museum will be a wonderful alternative to the evolutionary natural history museums that are turning countless minds against the gospel of Christ and the authority of the Scripture.

To quote comedian Tim Bedore “If you believe that humans rode dinosaurs, then what you’re saying is that you believe in the Flintstones.”

I’m not saying that there’s no room to be both spiritual and free-thinking scientific intellectual. I’d like to believe that I am. Both can co-exist quite nicely alongside each other. But the point of the Bible is not to be a scientific text, so we shouldn’t force that role onto it.

We live in a modern, rationalistic age. That is the model, the worldview, through which we view reality. However, every model is limited by the limitation of the human mind in the context of the age that he’s living in. Models come and go as our frames of reference change. Yet all models eventually reach a point of no room for new development. Where the act of adapting the model, the contortions of logic that we do to maintain that model, is more cumbersome than chucking that model and developing a new one. Paradigm shifts are hard. Letting go of that which we know, that which makes us comfortable, is difficult.

There are times when religious texts are in accord with science, times when they are not (such is the nature of mysteries and miracles). The fact is that while both science and religion attempt to help us navigate our way through reality, religion focuses on matters of the soul and betterment of the spirit. Not to provide proof texts.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) or just do so at my message board.

No Wicca For You

An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge’s unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to “non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals.”

The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.

Cale J. Bradford, chief judge of the Marion Superior Court, kept the unusual provision in the couple’s divorce decree last year over their fierce objections, court records show. The order does not define a mainstream religion.

“There is a discrepancy between Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones’ lifestyle and the belief system adhered to by the parochial school. . . . Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones display little insight into the confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages,” the bureau said in its report.

“This was done without either of us requesting it and at the judge’s whim,” said Jones.

Some people have preconceived notions about Wicca, which has some rituals involving nudity but mostly would be inoffensive to children, said Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The fact that the judge took it upon himself to make this intervention is scary enough. I know that I certainly don’t want a judge deciding for himself then coming along to tell me that my religion has fallen out of favor with him.

(And I know that I have my share of rituals involving nudity.)

Nor does the judge define what a mainstream religion is. Last time I checked, the Constitution guaranteed the freedom of religion. That doesn’t just go for Christians or religions we like.

Then there’s this whole notion about how much confusion divergent view points will cause their child. I know that I don’t buy that kids are worse off when they have to live with two seemingly contradictory ideas. These are called paradoxes and working through paradoxes are how we grow as human beings. Secondly, I’m not sure that the ideas are all that divergent.

As Wiccans, the boy’s parents believe in nature-based deities and engage in worship rituals that include guided meditation that Jones says improved his son’s concentration. Wicca “is an understanding that we’re all connected, and respecting that,” said Jones, who is a computer Web designer.

Yeah, that sounds kooky. Let’s burn them.

No, I’m not a universalist, nor am I advocating the worship of nature-based deities. What I am saying is that guided meditation sounds a lot like prayer. What I am saying is that understanding that all things are connected, that we lead lives of overlapping stories, and respecting that, isn’t exactly antithetical to a Christian position.

There is an aspect to Christianity that has gone long unattended, something that I’ll refer to as creation spirituality. Thoreau said that “with a keen awareness of the natural world one could find truth”. God has created all things and declared them “good” (even “very good”). We’ve abandoned the a sense of “creation spirituality” from our spiritual walks, so it’s little wonder why people return to older religions in an effort to reclaim it.

One of the lessons from the Genesis account of creation is that we were created to be stewards of creation. Yet, we’ve lost our connection with creation, continuing to develop new ways to either insulate ourselves from it or encroach our brand of civilization into it. Our souls are starved for God’s creation; being an environmentalist could be considered spiritual work (and I’ll continue to point out that Environmentalism wasn’t made into a moral issue in this past election).

All spiritual people should enjoy God’s creation, embracing it the way God intended for us. We need to recover the mystical part of spirituality, learning to exist in harmony with God, others, and creation.

AFA ends Disney boycott

The American Family Association, which led the charge against the Walt Disney conglomerate over moral values in the mid-1990s, is ending its Disney boycott.

“We feel after nine years of boycotting Disney we have made our point,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in an article in the ministry’s June 2005 newsletter.

In a May 23 news release, Wildmon said boycotts are a “last resort” for the AFA. AFA, in launching its Disney boycott in 1996, criticized the entertainment conglomerate for what the AFA described as a decline in moral and family values from the days of founder Walt Disney. The American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., primarily focuses its energies on the influence of television and other media on families.

The boycott shifted into high gear nationwide when messengers to the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution, “On Moral Stewardship and the Disney Company,” in which Southern Baptists were urged to “take the stewardship of their time, money, and resources so seriously that they refrain from patronizing The Disney Company and any of its related entities.” The resolution criticized Disney for “increasingly promoting immoral ideologies such as homosexuality, infidelity, and adultery.”

Following the SBC’s 1997 action, Focus on the Family, the Assemblies of God, Concerned Women for America and other religious groups joined in the boycott.

“The intention of the resolution was never to put the Disney Company out of business, but to awaken and energize families to the fact that Disney and every other Hollywood studio has changed course over the past 20 years,” Land said.

The entertainment company is not out of the woods, Wildmon added, saying Disney is still on “probation” and that AFA will continue to monitor the company’’s productions. Wildmon also encouraged individuals to “continue boycotting if they believe that to be the right thing to do”

Whew! We sure taught those godless heathens! I say “we” not because I’m a Baptist or a member of AFA, but because, unfortunately, as a Christian, I’m sure I’ll get tarred by the same brush.

Um, did Disney even notice this boycott? And what exactly has changed over at Disney to signal the end to this boycott? Disney has distanced itself from Miramax, I guess you could say. Michael Eisner is leaving, which I don’t think is a rally cry of victory. More on point, the AFA may soon face its membership/relevance crumbling in light of the release of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

This is similar to what happened with “The Passion of the Christ” as a lot of church-goers had to do some soul searching over their conviction against going to see rated R movies (*sigh* you know, having to actually think maybe we ought to look at movies for their overall message rather than the individual elements that are used to tell a story. Then again, violence has always been a lot easier to get over for religious folks. But there better not be any cussing or boobies). In the case of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the AFA knows that its members are going to see this movie anyway. So better they have an out and everyone save face. Rest up for the next protest.

I’d celebrate the end of this boycott as a dawning of common sense if it didn’t feel so patently calculated. As my colleague over at Hollywood Jesus put it, this announcement shows the shallowness and convenience of much Christian activism. In the same way that “Christian” media outlets quickly scuttled their proud refusal to air ads for “R” rated movies when one they actually liked finally came along (last year’s The Passion of the Christ), the AFA is now dropping its boycott in part because Wildmon knows “there are a lot of evangelicals who are going to want to go and see” the Narnia film … Boycotts should always be a matter of personal conviction, pure and simple. All matters of principle should be highly personal … your boycott now has real meaning because sticking with it will actually cost you something. What good is boycotting something you don’t want in the first place?

After a while, doesn’t it get exhausting keeping up with the list of who we’re suppose to hate, I mean protest, I mean love the person not the sin? I know that during this protest fervor, my e-mail box was clogged with the latest round of who we’re supposed to be protesting for Jesus. Soap companies. Shoe companies. Movie studios. Theme parks.

Few noticed who we were protesting and why, only that we were protesting something. Once again, we were being defined by who we’re against (soap and gay people getting health care because Jesus preferred everyone dirty and sick), rather than who we were for.

Live your life by your personal convictions. Keep them personal, where they mean the most; done for the right motives and not to show the world what sort of principled person you are.

I, too, am a man of conviction: I’d kiss another man if it meant shorter lines at theme parks.

Bad Parents

Parenting is one of those sacred spheres wherein no one likes to cast any aspersions on another’s parenting style. For good reason: no one wants to have someone tell them how to raise their own kids. That’s part of the drama of Nanny 911 and Supernanny, favorite shows of my wife.

However, there are some truly bad parents out there. You know how I know? Because I’m also forced to watch a lot of children’s television shows during the day. Maybe forced isn’t the right word, but since I stay at home with my boys during the day– when I have to get some stuff done, lazy parent that I am (and thus in the perfect position to judge bad parents when I see them)–I let them watch a couple hours of television. Okay, sometimes they simply pester me to watch their favorite shows [and I engage in a little of the “Indulgo the Clown” brand of parenting].

I suppose I can cut a little slack for child rearing strictly in the animal community. Max and Ruby are rabbits, after all, but still you have an older sister watching her baby brother. Occasionally Grandma bunny pops on the scene. After a bout of my wife’s protests, I quit telling the boys my imaginary “back story” explaining the continued absence of their parents. Though I long for the Fatal Attraction edition where they both end up in pots.

But who would let their daughter–how old’s Dora the Explorer? Four?–run around the country side with a monkey? I mean, really. I’ve been to the zoo. Monkeys aren’t the cleanest of animals: they’re prone to flinging their own crap and masturbating as soon as a crowd has gathered. Well, at least the monkeys at our zoo here in Indianapolis.

Though hanging out with a monkey has got to be better than the disturbing trend of letting your kids run around with monsters. There’s Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. You want to know how bored I get when it’s on? I’ve been trying to count the spots on the Beast. I think that there are somewhere between 23 and 31 spots, depending on how angry he is. At least Dragon Tales has a catchy theme song, unlike Barney.

I console myself with the fact that it’s either them or Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. There can’t possibly be that many trailer park dwelling transvestites. I’m even starting to recognize some of the mothers returning to Maury to test guys to see who’s their baby’s daddy (which will happen when you’ve been on 13 times with no luck).

You’ll note that no bad television choices are my fault.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) or just do so at my message board.

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

Since it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that there were going to be a ton of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith reviews, I struggled with whether or not to bother writing one. But, hey, why not add another voice to the chorus? One of the great things about the reviews on Hollywood Jesus is that no two reviewers quite see things the same way on any given movie.

Previous entries into the most recent Star Wars trilogy, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, were Exhibits A and B in making the case that George Lucas was more master craftsman that effortless storyteller. The power of his productions have been in him submerging the viewer in his fully imagined galaxy. In Revenge of the Sith, the detail of his vision gave his dizzying city vistas and space battles an urgency in and of themselves. Ultimately, for all of the technical wizardry, it is the story, the space opera, that draws us into the movie. And this is the story that we all have been wanting to see: the tragic finale to how a good man finally gives in to the dark side.

This time around, the movie’s plot kept more to the things that made the original trilogy great. In Episodes I and II, the epic story of the hero, or in this case the descent of a hero, didn’t mesh well with the less than epic story of political drama and intrigue. Politics had plagued this most recent trilogy of movies, bogging the stories down to the point where an hour of C-SPAN held more drama. Not even serious politics since they are of the “don’t think too hard because they don’t make a lot of sense” varietyBthey seemed like exercises in pontification while waiting for the third movie to come out.

One certainly doesn’t stay up until 12:01 a.m. for the opening day in order to see the great acting or scintillating dialogue. Unfortunately, Hayden Christensen (as Anakin) lacks the gravitas needed to show the torment of his slow descent to the dark side (especially noticed when compared side-by-side to even one line reading by James Earl Jones). Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi) seems in tune with the spirit of his character, bringing a sense of whimsey to his character. Only Ian McDiarmid (as Emperor Palpatine) matches his performance, probably because he’s given some lively dialogue to work with. Even the best actors and actresses can only do so much with the stilted, joyless dialogue to deliver. Everyone else was nearly upstaged by R2D2 threatening to steal the show. Since everything about the movie had a knowing sense of consequence to it, the cast didn’t deliver dialogue, they made pronouncements.
All of which points back to the fact that it was the story, the visually stunning story, that counted. A story that abounds in spiritual implications.

“A prophecy misread could have been.” –Yoda.

One of the primary overarching themes of the movie could be described as a misunderstanding of religion. In a lot of ways, this is a journey of faith. Faith can be abused, misdirected, mistaught, even mis-believed; the faithful always fear the possibility that somehow they might depart (or be led astray) from sound doctrine. To paraphrase one sentiment in the movie, to understand mystery, you must understand all aspects of the force; not just the narrow dogmatic view of the Jedi. This makes the Jedi sound like some brand of spiritual fundamentalist. It is not bad to question your faith, some questioning is healthy; however, this critique is given by someone who sees themself as the polar opposite of the Jedi.

“This is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.” –Padmee

This idea of faith gets further complicated once it gets in bed with politics. The question that gets to crux of the matter is what if the Democracy they had been fighting for, the Republic, becomes the thing that they are fighting against? There are enough pointed parallels between the Empire and the state of the American government to choke Jar-Jar, but this does open the door for some valid examination. Religion and politics have two different raisons d’etre. When the two blur the lines between one another, it leads to a kind of imperial religion. Spirituality, one’s faith, should inform one’s politics, not the other way around. Politics is about power and power always lusts for more power, leading to Machiavellian (or his intergalactic counterpart) level scheming. When the two conjoin, the danger rests in keeping politics from co-opting the spirituality.

This story also touches on the reality that the characters live in a state of “spoiled creation”. In Anakin’s case, he was deceived by a lie. The Sith’s passions focused inward, thinking of the self; the Jedi were selfless, always thinking of others. However, good became a matter of point of view (the Jedi were liars and power-grubbers; the Sith possessors of secret knowledge) and truth was allowed to be misunderstood (read: ignored).

The path of darkness was paved with good intentions as a good end was attempted through evil means. “Fear is a path to the dark side.” Throw in hate and anger leading down toward an inevitable path of death and destruction and you have the symptoms that diagnose the dark side being the fallen state of man. Said another way, living in a state of broken creation means that we are being untrue to what we were created to be.

Hope for finding our way through this broken creation could be found in the power of discipleship. In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, you see what amounts to a tale of two masters. On the one hand, you have Darth Sidious, the dark master dangling temptations of power and salvation. On the other hand, you have Ben Kenobi, lifelong friend and mentor. And one cannot escape the powerful image of this being a story of a master betrayed by his disciple.

What we can’t escape is the power of learning in community. We’ve lost the idea of journeying with our teachers, that teaching and knowing have a relational component. The master-student relationship is an important one when it comes to the idea of “making disciples”. In a lot of ways, people have gotten away from what the picture of making a disciple looked like. Anakin made becoming a master a reward, a power position to be obtained, rather than the act of humbly serving others. It called for a teacher to walk alongside their disciples, live life with them. The master/teacher embodies, incarnates if you will, the teachings and faith is lived out in the context of a community. No, this is not a perfect way to do it: Jesus walked alongside his for three years and most of the time they didn=t seem to get the point.

“I feel lost … I’m not the Jedi I should be.” –Anakin Skywalker

Which leads to the last element of story that this movie is about, this being a telling of the story of a Judas, one who walks in discipleship then betrays his master and his teachings. A good man, for all intents and purposes, led down a dark path because of so
me internal discontent. Most of us have this feeling that something is missing, but we don’t know how to fix it. Also, whether we admit it or not, there is this longing to be more, to live lives of significance. We have this sense of lost-ness. This sense of incompleteness is necessary, as it hints of there being some greater story and purpose about life that we might be missing, one that should drive us to the Author of that Story. In our rush to plug that hole, we run the risk of filling it with the wrong thing. Anakin was lost, but he was found by Darth Sidious, then dubbed Darth Vader by him. And to be named is to be owned and defined. This led to a series of tragedies that eventuated in a wholesale slaughter of Jedi knights that echoed the persecution of the saints of the early church.

There is a lot to be explored in the themes of this movie. In short, this was the movie that everyone wanted to see, the one that took three tries to get right. A high action cinematic experience tinged with a sense of tragic grandeur, Revenge of the Sith brings the sprawling saga we’ve come to love full circle.

Like you really needed a reason to see it.

Emergent Convention 2005 Report

So I just got back from the Emergent Convention 2005 in Nashville, TN. Nothing like venturing into country will billboards reading “Hell is real” and “3600 children were lost to abortion today” for religious dialogue. I will say that I spent the first half of the convention plagued by an intestinal bug. Nashville, that I know of, has no “don’t drink the water” type advisories; but I should know better that to eat the clam sauce at hole in the wall restaurants.

I’m not going to try and define what the Emergent Church movement is, but I have a pretty good idea of how it is perceived. A bunch of what amounts to Christian hippies; New Agers cloaked in Jesus. Self-stylized, post-modern, deconstructionists who hold to no absolute truths, no moral core, and don’t value Scripture. I doubt that anything I have to say would change anyone’s mind who believes such things. And it’s not like I’m completely down with everything they do and say either. But I enjoy the dialogue. I do know that I’m in the process of re-thinking, or at least thinking through, how church is done and how I view the Bible, and making the Gospel relevant for a rapidly changing culture. So any resources that can stir my imagination, I will greedily consume.

I’m still troubled by the monochrome nature of the audience. If they are engaged in something that’s supposed to impact the world, they can’t keep looking like they are only having this conversation among young, intellectual, white folks. However, this is a problem facing the segregationist mentality of the American church as a whole, not just this conference. Plus, I know that they are pulling together global ministries to guarantee that the audience (and speakers) will look radically different in only a year or two.

I was also glad to see that they were done emphasizing the cosmetic changes. “Ooh, look at us, we’re so edgy. We have services in the dark, lit only by candles.” “Let’s ride our bicycles for Jesus as a form of meditative prayer.” “Let’s have the DJ spin an ‘I love Jesus’ re-mix for 11 minutes.” I’m all for creativity, but sometimes I got the feeling that they were doing “new” things simply for the sake of being creative, without any real purpose or meaning.

Most of this movement is a reaction to a church that has reduced much of what we call spiritual living to a series of business models, formulas, charts, graphs, and self-help prescriptions propped up with Bible verses and God talk to give them authority. That’s where I see the church at now, stuck in this “rational”(and odd word to associate negatively with religion which often doesn’t have enough rationality), “systematic”/reductionist for easy consumption mentality.

I like asking questions, especially questions that challenged my faith and the intellectual boxes that people liked to pre-package God in. What drew me to them was the fact that they were comfortable asking questions, even doubting some of the sacred cows of religion. Not simply criticism for the sake of criticism, either. I’m all about trying to rehabilitate the Christian tradition in the lives of people who have dismissed it. For example, I know many spiritual people who can’t get behind Christianity simply because the self-proclaimed “gate-keepers of the religion” bar entry with their list of test questions. “Unless you hold to the seven day creation account, you can’t call yourself a Christian. You obviously don’t value the inerrancy of God’s Word.” When church gets in bed with politics or tries to do the job of science, neither of which is the purpose of religion, many thinking people say “pass.”

We, and I’m definitely including myself in this, risk a certain kind of hubris in thinking that we’ve got it right. Such thoughts should drive us to a deeper humility as we realize how little we do get it. Also, I am working on my judgmental attitude that I tend to have toward “religious” folks. I’m sure that I’ll be working through some of this in my blog over the year (mixed in with other stuff. I couldn’t take writing a theology only blog.)

But, hey, I got to hang out with Brian McLaren. And he remembered who I was. And I also found out the answer to the long unaddressed mystery of how many long island ice teas does it take for me to try an evangelize a bush. The answer is known to me, but shall remain a mystery for you.

*And I’m no longer announcing when I’m going to be away on these type of retreats. Some of the women on my message board took it as an opportunity to “re-decorate”, starting too many “Bridget Jones’ Diary” inspired threads.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) or just do so at my message board.


“Live your life at the point of impact.”

“You think you know who you are. You have no idea.”

“Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.”

Those are the tag lines to what may be the most powerful, if not the best, movie of the year. And they sum up the movie quite nicely. This is a movie dependent on word of mouth. The only thing that I knew about it was that a friends’ parents saw it, they convinced him to see it, and he convinced me to see it. I knew of the director and co-writer, Paul Haggis (writer of Million Dollar Baby) and I simply love Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve), so I trusted in the pedigree of the movie.

“We miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just to feel something.”

This movie examines the taboo subject of race and race relations; how we see each other and how that impacts how we act, react, and live with one another. It opens with a car crash, a fender bender, that has a Hispanic woman trading insults based on racial stereotypes with an Asian woman over their driving habits. A Middle Eastern father and daughter are insulted as potential terrorists when they try to purchase a hand gun. Two young black males feel slighted at their service at a restaurant, evidence of racial discrimination, though at the hands of a black waitress. Because she, too, thought in stereotypes about young black males. A white couple are the victims of a carjacking. A black couple the victims of a particularly nasty DWB (driving while Black). A Hispanic man is shunned while doing his job because he looks like a criminal with his shaved head and tattoos.

As Anthony (Ludacris) proclaims, “This is America.”

Portraying lives connected by seeming coincidence, the movie feels like Magnolia or Short Cuts (though mercifully shorter), but shares its theme of interconnected relationships and stories. The movie points to two things: reality is relationships and we live lives of overlapping stories. If this movie is about anything, it is about how prejudice keeps us from seeing the people around us as they are, with characters speaking without the benefit of political correctness obscuring how they are feeling.

At some point, we, as a people, “lost our frame of reference.” We live in a multi-cultural world, whether we want to call it a melting pot, tossed salad, or whatever new paradigm we choose to live under. We don’t often get the humiliation of going through life always being treated as a suspect, guilty until proven innocent. We don’t often get the humiliation of casual victimization. We don’t often get how our reactions to those constant humiliations fuel our anger and further hatred. Where even what should have been a binding moment of shared commonality can instead have tragic consequences.

That our fallen-ness, our lost frame of reference, has led to broken relationships and a downward spiral of anger, fear, eventuating in death. Like Jean (Sandra Bullock) says “I wake up every morning like this. Angry all the time and I don’t know why.” And race only seems to be an excuse for that anger. So how do you fight an attitude, a thought, a prejudice? You certainly can’t pass laws against them, because these are crimes of the heart and mind. Do you expend the energy and emotion fighting every instance of prejudice or do you pick and choose your battles, sacrificing bits of your dignity along the way? Or do you get caught up in the downward spiral of destruction?

For the most part, they are good people (except, arguably the car-jackers). Angry, full of resentments, scared, trying to do the right thing or at least muddle through their series of moral compromises. I spoke to a cop about the problem of prejudice between cops and people of color. He told me that the only way to counter the under current of racism was for police officers to develop more relationships outside of their own race. The problem was that they saw the worst of people of all races, and like Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon), it changes them. It skews their perspective, because if that is their prevailing experience with that race, it bleeds into the fabric of their overall attitude. And they already have positive, balancing, relationships with members of their own race.

Who did this? We did. Graham’s drug addicted mother echoes the words of Christ when she says “I asked you to find your brother, but you were too busy.” We have to have some hard conversations and build what may be some uncomfortable bridges. Like the black tv director, we may have to tell our own kind when they shame the rest of us. Like the Persian store owner, we may find our angels in the strangest of places under the strangest of circumstances. Like Jean, we may find our best friends right under our noses. Like the rookie cop, we may learn things about ourselves and what we’re capable of, and that may frighten and scar us. Like Anthony, we may mature and progress. We all are victims of racism and guilty of racism, but we don’t have to be defined by it.

At once funny, moving, angry, and absorbing, this movie is something to be experienced, shared, and talked about. I hope that it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Hotel Rwanda, a great movie that essentially falls between the cracks because people aren’t comfortable with the subject matter and the implicit call to action.

Off to See Brian

Well, today I’m off to the Emergent Convention. It’s a pastor’s convention with an emphasis on a postmodern take on things, exploring what it means to do church in a changing culture. Because, frankly, it’s important to study a culture if you are going to make the gospel at all relevant to it. And, as evidenced by even a casual look at churches these days, there is something about the gospel not being effectively communicated or connecting with people.

This year’s theme is an examination of humanity, church, scripture, and truth. Relax, it’s okay to question your faith to see if it’s working for you.

My big hope is that I’m able to see and hear Brian McLaren. His book, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, has been instrumental in me re-examining and re-connecting with my faith. So, I’m hoping to hang with him again, pick his brain over his latest book The Last Word and the Word after That : A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity. Before they string him up as a heretic.

Oh, and I’m hoping to maybe pitch a non-fiction project or two while I’m down there. Above all, I hope to come back as jazzed as I did last year. Get back in time to hit the ground running and get to the serious part of planting a church.

This is a long winded way of saying I’ll be off-board/off-Internet/incommunicado for the next week. You know, in case you’re wondering and find yourself missing me.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) or just do so at my message board.