Archive for June, 2005

Good Thing They Weren’t Intending to be Racist

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) — The Mexican government has issued a postage stamp depicting an exaggerated black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin, just weeks after remarks by President Vicente Fox angered U.S. blacks.

The series of five stamps released for general use Wednesday depicts a child character from a comic book started in the 1940s that is still published in Mexico. The boy, hapless but lovable, is drawn with exaggerated features, thick lips and wide-open eyes. His appearance, speech and mannerisms are the subject of kidding by white characters in the comic book.

Activists said the stamp was offensive, though officials denied it.

“One would hope the Mexican government would be a little more careful and avoid continually opening wounds,” said Sergio Penalosa, an activist in Mexico’s small black community on the southern Pacific coast. “But we’ve learned to expect anything from this government, just anything,” Penalosa said. In May, Fox riled many by saying that Mexican migrants take jobs in the United States that “not even blacks” want.

Carlos Caballero, assistant marketing director for the Mexican Postal Service, said the stamps are not offensive, nor were they intended to be. “This is a traditional character that reflects part of Mexico’s culture,” Caballero said. “His mischievous nature is part of that character.”

However, Penalosa said many Mexicans still assume all blacks are foreigners, despite the fact that at one point early in the Spanish colonial era, Africans outnumbered Spanish in Mexico.

The 6.50-peso (60 cent) stamps — depicting the character in five poses — was issued with the domestic market in mind, but Caballero noted it could be used in international postage as well. A total of 750,000 of the stamps will be issued.

Publisher Manelick De la Parra told the government news agency Notimex that the character would be sort of a goodwill ambassador on Mexican letters and postcards. “It seems nice if Memin can travel all over the world, spreading good news,” de la Parra said, calling him “so charming, so affectionate, so wonderful, generous and friendly.”

Oh those charming, affectionate, wonderful, generous, and friendly Negroes. They are such a happy bunch. I know that I’m certainly not offended. Why? Because Carlos Caballero said they weren’t offensive. Good thing he said so, there might have been some confusion.

Sure it’s a stereotype and we don’t want to encourage those kind of images and stereotypes. But while we’re so proud of ourselves and how far we’ve come as we wag our collective scolding finger at Mexico, a few things gave me pause. For example, on my way to work this morning, I counted no fewer than four lawn jockeys. But, whew!, they had been painted white. And though we once had Aunt Jemima looking like this:

(Note the resemblance to Memin Pinguin’s mom, or Mrs. Butterworth for that matter) in our age of continuing sensitivity, we’ve given her a perm. In fact, as I continue to go through our cabinets, I come across a box of Uncle Remus’, I mean, Uncle Ben’s rice.

Let’s see, a Pickaninny, a Mammy, a Tom and a couple Coons; throw in a big black angry Buck, we’d have the whole set of popular depictions of black people through the ages.

Good thing no one was trying to be offensive.

Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas Are Dicks

Please forgive my language, but it’s true.

You see, I’m a no name writer. I’m out here toiling away in relative anonymity. I see the accolades, respect, and fans these two loud mouths of the industry have, and I’m resentful. I see their message board personas and decide “I can do that, too.”

Except I’m real. I’m me. I’m not gonna be a kiss ass. I’m going to tell the truth. No bull shit here.

Yay for me!

So let me jump on the message boards where these guys used to frequent and attempt to hold court. “Look at me. I’ve arrived.” Now, I’m going to dish out my brand of wisdom and insight that I’ve accumulated in all the years that I’ve watched the writing game from the shadows. Wait a second, seasoned professionals seem to keep rising up to challenge me. They seem bent on correcting much of the stuff that comes spewing out of my keyboard. My literary heroes are … hacks. Either that or they’re afraid. Yes, that must be it, they’re afraid of Keene and Mamatas.

But I’m not.

They’re dicks.

I know. I’ll start an LiveJournal/Xanga/Message Board and engage in some truth-telling-cum-keyboard masturbation. Wait, no one seems to care. If only I say something outrageous, I mean, courageous enough. Maybe I’ll call up Keene and Mamatas as the over-rated whores that they are. Oh crap, I mean, good, they show up. As have their minions. Oh, yeah, they’re minions. People like Keene and Mamatas don’t have friends.

Behold the LJ drama.

Hmm, maybe all these people shouting me down and me having to defend myself isn’t how I want to spend my days. Then again, I do like the attention. Everyone knows who I am, even if it isn’t for my work.

Once a year or so, a writer like me pops up, all sturm und drang, rattling cages, declaring the old guard dead, even as they head the new revolution. I make a lot of noise for a year or so, then burn out or go away. Hopefully, I will re-think my career, my immaturity, (the fact that my message and talent get lost in the noise), and my poor choices. Maybe during that time away, I will hone my craft. Until then …

Nick Kaufmann is a dick, too.

Everyone’s a dick except me.

I’m right. I know everything all ready.

Yes, this is exactly how I want to make a name for myself.

I’m so brill.

The Dwelling Place – Another Value

Okay, we’ve added one more value to our list. It probably won’t be the last, but this should do us for awhile. I should probably do something by way of providing context.

You ever encounter religious folk that have the answer to everything? Some Christians tend to give the impression that if you were to chart one’s spiritual growth on a graph, that it should look like a steady rising line. Or that a spiritual life has to look a certain way within certain parameters.

Spirituality is important. Spiritual formation is important. Anything worth doing is spiritual formation and we believe that both happen through an encounter with Christ. However, we acknowledge that the process is messy (tying in with what it says in I John).

Some people will read this and think that we’re saying that everything’s okay, so we won’t bother confronting anybody about anything. They miss the point of what we’re saying. Our stance tries to assume a posture of humility. It’s about having a sense of grace, losing the arrogance.

Anyway, here it is:

Messy Spirituality
“He who thinks that he is finished, is finished. How true. Those who think that they have arrived, have lost their way. Those who think that they have reached their goal, have missed it. Those who think they are saints, are demons.” (Henri Nouwen)

Spirituality seems to be about the life of faith–what drives, motivates, and animates the life of believers and pulls them forward to deepen and perfect what has only begun in the present. It is the outworking of what a person does with what they believe. Christian spirituality is specifically concerned with a living encounter with the person of Christ, and then a living out of that interactive relationship in every moment of life. We believe that knowing God, not just knowing about Him, brings about the transformation of our existence and allows us to experience life in the full. The Dwelling Place exists to help spiritually form people into lovers of God and others, who then join in God’s redeeming love for all creation. We see everything we do as spiritual formation, helping each other to do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. But we also believe that spiritual growth is a messy process and that our flawed lives are the studio where God begins His great renovation. Spiritual formation is not a neat and tidy formula where we grasp perfection, but seems to be an uneven, incomplete, unfinished relationship with Christ that is always under construction. The Son of Man entered the ruins of our human existence and still found glory as He began the rebuilding process. We believe that He is still remaking us today as He calls us from where we are to become more than we ever imagined.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

As the Marlboro Man Goes, So Go We All …

The Leo Burnett advertising agency, which created the iconic macho cowboy, said a new study it conducted found that half the men in most parts of the world don’t know what is expected of them in society and three-quarters of them think images of men in advertising are out of touch with reality.

Most ads have lumped men into one of two groups — the soft, caring type known as “metrosexuals,” who are comfortable with facial peels and pink shirts, or the stereotypical “retrosexuals,” who remain oafishly addicted to beer and sports.

“As the world is drifting toward a more feminine perspective, many of the social constructs men have taken for granted are undergoing significant shifts or being outright dismantled,” said Tom Bernardin, chairman and chief executive of Leo Burnett Worldwide.

“It’s a confusing time, not just for men, but for marketers as well as they try to target and depict men meaningfully,” he said this week during a presentation in the south of France where the ad industry is gathered for its annual conference.

Leo Burnett’s survey of 2,000 men in 13 countries found that 60 percent see themselves as either power seekers who crave professional advancement or family men – termed by Burnett as patriarchs – who believe having children and being a father are the most important things. The other 40 percent defined themselves more readily in the metrosexual versus retrosexual debate.

“The last thing we want is to look back in 10 years and find that we have unwittingly created the same cliches that female advertising is riddled with,” Bernardin said.

You know who’s to blame for a lot of this? Women.

That’s right. I said it. Women. I’m not talking about some feminist agenda to emasculate males or break patterns in our patriarchal society. I’m talking about women we’d actually date. They’re the ones who dictate things. They are the ones who make lists of what they’d like their ideal men to be like, and willing sheep that a lot of us are, we try and conform to that list: modern, sensitive, caring, attentive. Though it didn’t take me too long, in that relationship laboratory we call high school, to figure out that sensitive guys made great friends.

On the other hand, we have what society has historically dictated as the prototypical male image, typified by the Marlboro Man: rugged, individualistic, remote, but tough. If not the Marlboro Man, the Eternal Frat Boy, the bad boy who the ladies looked past the sensitive guys in order to date. The Neanderthal.

So with these two poles pulling at your typical male, no wonder he has been reduced to either a state of confusion or a state of caricature.

Well, I refuse to be trapped by your definitions of maleness. I walk the line. I may even walk alone.

I don’t try too hard to be manly. Being a man shouldn’t be so hard. I don’t pound beer until I puke as an idea of having a good time. I don’t go to sports bars and engage in seeing how many chicken wings I can eat. I like sports, but sports are not my life. I also like the occasional art film. I’m man enough to admit that I enjoy the occasional me day: there’s nothing wrong with being pampered by a mani and a pedi.

I love spending time with my kids, talking to my kids, and raising my kids. In other words, I love being a father. I don’t leave all the housework or cooking to my wife. On rare occasions, I can talk about my feelings. I can at least feign that I’m not only paying attention but even actually interested in what my wife’s saying. Almost all of the time.

I don’t need tattoos, big guns, or bigger trucks to define me as a man. I am secure with myself.

Hmm, maybe I’m not as alone as I thought. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by the women in my life. Or I simply have no interest in conquering, hunting, or gathering or whatever the modern equivalents are. I don’t care how you define manhood. Real men don’t have to try.

Though you’ll never see me wearing pink.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

The HWA and Missionary Work

The HWA: We Take Care of Our Own

Okay, maybe I’ve read one too many Chris Claremont (over) written X-men comics, but I love the idea of “taking care of our own”. This is my “further reflections” post on our local branch of HWA, the Indiana Horror Writers, going to visit J.N. Williamson this past weekend. It got me to thinking about two things: 1) the role of the HWA and 2) the nature of missions work.

The HWA has always mattered more to me as a concept, an ideal, to get behind over what it does for me practically. I hear all of these arguments about the HWA (the IHW is the Indiana chapter of the HWA) and whether or not it is worth a writer’s time. I am a member of ASM, the American Society of Microbiology. I don’t hear a lot of arguments like “what can the ASM do for me?” “Is it worth my time?” It’s a resource. As an organization, the HWA can do things and fight battles that I can’t. And, like any other professional organization, I get out of it what I put into it. I don’t need it to network, I don’t need it to help me to the next step in my career, but I do need it to exist and I think a lot of writer’s benefit from its existence. The IHW is my public face of the HWA (not the message board). That’s when I truly get to interact with other horror writers and we get to share and learn from one another.

All that being said, part of what inspired me is the mission of the HWA: to be a benefit to other writers. Why else exist if you can’t help out other writers? The main thing that keeps me from a whole lot of activity within HWA is the fact that I don’t have a lot to add. I still consider myself fairly new, and though I’m serious about my craft and improving it, I don’t have a lot of experience worth contributing. So when the opportunity arose that I could actually contribute something, like visiting J.N. Williamson, I jumped at it.

I think it’s the same way in church. People fret about what “gifts” they have, and even once they figure out what it is they have to contribute, they often don’t find the opportunities to do so.

This gets me, quite conveniently, to my second point. Everything to me is ministry, or put another way, mission work. I rather like the idea of our “ministry” to J.N. Williamson being one that united Protestants, Catholics, and Wiccans. However, I was also thinking about missionary work in a broader sense, too. This week, I have several friends who are taking off for Mozambique and Kenya to do various short term missions projects.

I have nothing against mission trips per se, but I think our emphasis of them has led to two things:

1) we’ve lost the idea that we’re all living mission trips. Our neighborhoods, our work place, our chance encounters, they are as much a valid mission work as any trip.
2) we forget, or at least lose a bit of the idea, that mission work is a process not an event. We “gear up” for mission trips. Look at what we do: stock supplies, raise funds, go to some faraway place, spend a week or two, come back transformed. For a month or so. (I wonder if this makes the trip more about “us” than about serving. There’s something so … self-congratulatory about mission trip reports. Then again, even my blog has an air of self-congratulation about it.) Mission work shapes us as much as it does the people we go to serve, but one time events aren’t nearly as impactful as a six month, year long, or lifetime dedicated to serving in the mission field that is your life.

Though, don’t get me wrong: both types of mission trips have their place. There’s so much work to be done, so few people willing to do it, I’m not about to crap on people who get out and do stuff. Whatever it is.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

A Chat with J.N. Williamson

Our local branch of the HWA, the Indiana Horror Writers, got wind that long time horror writer Jerry (J.N.) Williamson was in a nursing home and decided to make paying him regular visits a part of what we want to do. As we entered the Riverwalk Village, I was immediately reminded why I have set two horror short stories in a nursing home. A couple of us had either worked in a nursing home or had close relatives in a nursing home, so we kind of knew what we were getting into.

The posture that I tend to assume, without trying to sound like a suckass (probably not the best theological term), is that as someone relatively new to the genre, I pay attention to people who have been doing it longer than I have. Plus, I was raised to listen to and respect my elders. Granted, none of us had ever met Jerry Williamson before (um, nor was he expecting us), and I was only passingly familiar with some of his work. We didn’t know what to expect from him. We needn’t have worried.

He greeted us like we were family popping in for a visit. Since I wasn’t there to interview him, I won’t report things like this was one, but I will sum up some of our conversation.

How long have you been writing?
For about fifty years. I always loved to write, but it got easier once I got myself into a routine.

How did you get interested in horror?
Through a movie called The Omen. I thought that I could do a better job of creating a situation where a group of people would be threatened by something else.

He wanted to know who some of the people we enjoyed reading were. One of our members said Peter Straub, citing his novel Ghost Story.
Peter Straub is one of the best writers in the business. Ghost Story is one of the finest ghost novels ever written. (I mentioned a few names that I was currently into, to which Jerry responded, “don’t stick with those guys too long.”)

Which led into his doling out advice to us new, up-coming writers.
I don’t like writers who criticize other writers or make a name for themselves by ripping another to pieces. Though I’d done it in my time to people I couldn’t stand. And you’ve got to be knowledgeable about your field. I’m glad to see lady writers making it in horror writing. I love the different perspectives. You’re entitled to write whatever damn thing you feel like writing. There’s no reason to not try and be the best writer you can be.

Who are some of your favorite writers?
Robert R. McCammon. He does his homework thoroughly and has worked at becoming a better and better writer. And it shows. (Okay, one of our members mentioned that McCammon was sweet looking in his author’s photo, to which Jerry quipped that “he wears it well.”)

The great Charles Beaumont. Always prolific, he wrote for Twilight Zone. A darn shame about his passing. Richard Matheson. I never read anything by him that I didn’t like. He has a firm finger on the reader’s pulse. Fredric Brown. He wrote exciting novels and exciting short stories, and odd horror stories. He had so many ideas. Obviously, I’m a fan of the writers that I invited into my Masques anthologies. All are top notch pros who should be read more.

Then this was given to me as a homework assignment. I’m to go out, read the anthology and report back on what I thought of the writers and stories. After checking out the table of contents, I’ll probably end up picking up Masques 2 also. This really was turning into quite the lesson for me.

He then turned his attentions to some of his favorites in the industry.
Tracy Knight. Mort Castle is a friend of mine. He knows writing as well as anyone I’ve ever met. He knows it and respects it. He’s a jewel. If you pay attention to Mort, you will sell a story or know why you haven’t. Gary Braunbeck. If you write well, he’ll get behind you and push. I said about one of his novels that he’d written one of the finest novels that I’ve ever read in my fifty years. He’s one of the nicest guys that I’d ever met. (Then he commenced to tell tales on Gary. If you want to hear them, you have to go see Jerry). You have to read Castle and Braunbeck.

(Okay, he admitted that he, Tracy, Mort, and Gary form a bit of a mutual admiration society, but that didn’t make his feelings any less genuine.) At this point, I gave him a copy of From the Borderlands, and raved about Gary A. Braunbeck’s “Rami Temporalis.” I originally worried about the type being too small, but he immediately started to peruse it, almost forgetting that we were still there.

We asked if there was anything we could bring him on our next visit. He said whatever the new Koontz was.
Dean Koontz is my favorite “any old time of year” kind of writer. The Bad Place. Absolutely wonderful. The kind of book that makes you want to give up writing. He’s the modern champion suspense writer.

There are some people you just get a vibe about. With Jerry, I just got this feeling that his intentions are good and honorable. He’s blunt, surprisingly spry, and a gentle man. We want to make it part of our “mission” as IHW to visit him at least once a month.

Though next time, I’ve got to remember to bring a lighter.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

My Writing Process Part II: Silly Superstitions

I guess I ought to make a confession: I’m working on a novella-cum-novel right now. I have a bet with a would be publisher about whether or not I can reign in my usual brand of literary indulgence enough to start-to-finish a short novel in two months. My need to procrastinate has given me plenty of time to think about how I go about writing. (My need to distract myself probably explains all of my blogging excess also). I’m probably over analyzing this or more likely this has put me in a more thoughtful mood about my writing.

I never realized how superstitious I was until I stepped back and saw all of my little rituals that I do while writing. I’m not talking about that mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder that makes me line up my pens a certain way, keep my desktop accouterments arranged in a particular array, or me lining up my books by topic and size. Or maybe I am, who knows, it’s not like I’m a doctor. No, I’m talking specifically about my ‘good luck’ rituals.

1. Pen choice. I noticed that which ever pen I’m using when words start pouring out of me is the pen that I keep writing with. As soon as I hit a mental wall, I discard that pen and default back to one of my red ink Pentel RSVP (fine) pens. I’d like to concede that I’m a walking cliche such that I’d write in red ink because I’m a horror writer, so I write in ‘blood’. More on point, it’s because I’m a writer used to getting his reports handed back to him bathed in red ink from teacher comments and this is my way of accepting those childhood scars. (I’m kidding about the scars, all you well-intentioned–I suppose–teachers who think that switching to purple will be less traumatic. All that means is that my boys will grow up to write in purple ink.)

2. Notepad choice. I only write on colored notepads. No, this isn’t some race-related rebellion against The Man’s brainwashing of us by making us write on white paper. If that were the case, I’d have no problem writing in black ink all the time and sullying up as many white sheets as I could. No, this goes back to my fear of the blank page. Have you ever noticed how intimidating a blank white piece of paper is? So stark. The way the light bounces back from it is like a glare. I don’t get that with colored pads. I write on sky blue or gray pads (yellow pads glare a little, but they’ll do in a pinch). They’re just so much more soothing. Sure, they cost a little more, but I’m a writer: I’m rolling in cash.

Yeah, anyway, I consider it a cost of my art.

Wait a minute, I find white pages intimidating? Maybe The Man’s getting to me after all.

3. Project toting. I also carry around my latest project with me at all times. Until I get my latest chapter or story entered onto the computer, it stays with me. Literally. (Once they’re on the computer, I back up all my stories, non-fiction, and blogs onto a disk and store the disk away from my house. This way, my computer could crash, my house could burn down, but I’d still have my stories. All our fire drills include me grabbing my backpack with my latest project. After the kids, but before the cat.)

So I tote around my stories either on a clipboard, in a folder, or in my backpack. Everywhere I go. If we go to church, it takes up a pew space. If we go out to eat, it gets its own seat. In the car, it gets buckled in between the kids.

Okay, maybe now I’ve crossed that line from cute eccentricities into full blown pathology.

Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

Cross-Cultural Lessons

I guess I was serving in my inter-racial confessor mode the other day when “the man who would be head pastor” of our church plant was relaying to me a story from his childhood. He had asked a black kid to spend the night over at his house and then relayed this to his folks. A well-intentioned, though rather … provincial in terms of their exposure to other races, they asked the innocent question “would we need to cook something else?” Like I said, a well-intentioned question as they wanted their guest to feel as comfortable as possible, not that it stopped “the man who would be head pastor” from making fun of them. Like, what? You’re going to learn to cook chitlins or something before he came over?

NOTE: For the record, in case you’re interested in having me over for dinner, I’m black, but I’m not “chitlins” black. My grandmother traumatized me early in life. One time when she was cleaning those nasty things (the house reeked of them), she turned and chased me. I can still picture those wrinkled, greasy hands.


Anyway, in my continuing role as cross-cultural ambassador, I have learned to prepare dishes suitable for white people’s palates. This was no easy task. My wife attended an event called “Taste of College Park Church”, wherein the ladies of College Park Church, a mostly white congregation, prepared dishes and traded recipes. [This is one of those sexist church events where no men are allowed, despite the fact that I’m the cook in the household.] My wife picked up a book of these collected recipes, went through and tasted the various dishes, and highlighted the appropriate recipes.

I poured over that book, experimenting with some of those recipes and one thing immediately jumped out at me: white people love casseroles. Apparently there’s no collection of ingredients that can’t be improved by adding cream of (insert flavor of choice) soup.

While I have no problems making fun of some of the vagaries of black cuisine, the other issue that triggered this all-over-the-place rant was when my wife informed me that she was craving a fried bologna sandwich. Since when is fried bologna a valid meal option? Granted, I’m a bit of a food snob and consider minced garlic and cilantro vital to most of my recipes. So I called up my authority on such matters, my redneck friend who lives to educate me on all things hill-jack. [Come on, like most of you DON’T have that one friend of a different ethnic persuasion that you trot out to prove you’re not racist? I at least have the decency to put him in most of my stories and kill him off (he gets a kick out of that).] He broke it down for me, the importance of the culinary value of Spam, Slim Jims, Hamburger Helper, and carny food.

You see, I’m all about broadening my cultural horizons. We tend to forget that cross-cultural doesn’t just mean crossing the black-white boundary, but includes class distinctions. I’d daresay that we have a bigger class problem in this country than race problem. Let’s face it: a middle class white family probably has more in common with a middle class black family than a lower class white family. This is probably the closest I will come to having a point this blog.

All this is part and parcel of life in an interracial marriage. Why just yesterday, my children and I shared a bit of cross-cultural dialogue. My eldest child (4) informed me that only brown men like having no hair (I was shaving my head at the time). My wife taught me about the importance and proper application of sunscreen. (Oddly this hadn’t popped up in my side of the family, except once in Jamaica. I’d been walking along the beach, mocking white folks for trying to get dark, my wife dutifully ignoring me. That evening, I thought I was dying. Flakes of skin tumbled from my head. My wife, enjoying the irony, pointed out that this was a phenomena commonly referred to as peeling. I’d been sunburnt.)

I’m sure that I’ll get another lesson in some of the strange things you people do when I finally get around to learning what “product” is and what this has to do with your hair. In the mean time, I exposed my children to ghetto air conditioning: Flavor-Ice and the Slip ‘N Slide.

I Pledge Allegiance

I love swearing allegiance to nebulous concepts as much as the next guy. In light of this we hear that

Indiana’s legislative leaders say they are confident a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration would pass easily here.

“It goes as quickly as sharp skates on smooth ice,” Senate President Pro Tempore Robert D. Garton, R-Columbus, predicted. “I don’t think there’s much question.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, was just as sure, saying: “The vast majority of members of the General Assembly are patriots at heart.”

In fact, he said, “we’d like to be one of the first” states to approve the amendment.

Garton said he thinks the amendment would pass in Indiana no matter which party is in charge of the legislature.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said.

Indiana already is on record in support of protecting the flag from those who would burn or otherwise harm it as a form of protest.

So we have that on one hand and on the other we have a young Star Trek fan suspended for a day for doing his own Pledge of Allegiance: to the United Federation of Planets. This is from his mother’s blog:

So she told me what he did. And as she told me, I started to laugh. I didn’t laugh a little, either, but I belly-laughed and grabbed my stomach. My son stood with his class this morning, put small right hand over heart, faced the American flag, and recited his own personal pledge of allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Federation of Planets, and to the galaxy for which it stands, one universe, under everybody, with liberty and justice for all species.

“Mrs. Jaworski. This isn’t humorous. The Pledge is an extremely important and patriotic moment each morning in the classroom. I am ashamed of your son’s behavior, and I hope you are, too.”

I wanted to say, Hey Lady, it’s a big universe. Why should we pledge allegiance to a mixed-up country? Why shouldn’t my son embrace the potential of stardust? But I stood, extended my hand, apologized for my laughter, slung my purse over my shoulder, opened her door to find my son, 8, red-eyed sitting on the wooden bench bordering the World Map wall.

I’m sitting here, working on computer things, and Mr. 8 sits in the living room. He has to write the “real” pledge of allegiance fifty times before he can return to school. But first he’s watching Star Trek. Damn straight.

Go team!

Friendship Evangelism

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep. ” Phil Cooper (Danny DeVito) from The Big Kahuna

The topic of friendship evangelism has popped up a couple of times lately. In one context, it was because a Christian lady decided that she wanted to pursue a relationship with a non-Christian guy and hopefully he would become a Christian in the process. A lot of times we accept a profession of faith as “good enough” simply to mark this item off our dating check list. If your faith is the most central part of your life, you want to have this in common with whoever you choose to have a romantic relationship with. Which means you have some difficult things to figure out if they came to know Christ through such “dating evangelism.” Part of you may be wondering if they made a profession just to be with you. [Heck, I’m a guy. I’d have claimed a love for worshiping the Norse pantheon if it meant getting close to someone. You know, back in my less “spiritually enlightened” days.]

The second context that the topic crept into conversation came when we were discussing the nature of how we go about doing ministry work. If all life is our mission field, we should be about developing intentional relationships. Doesn’t this sound exactly like a form of “friendship evangelism”?

I have friends. I’ve had dates (a lot less now that I’m married, but you know what I mean). I don’t believe in friendships with agendas. First and foremost, the friendships need to be authentic, in an of themselves, for the sake of themselves. The instant you insert an agenda, this can prostitute the friendship and by default invalidate the evangelism.

Is there a big difference between intentional relationships and friendship evangelism or is it a fine, semantic line. I would submit that it’s about the heart. With friendship evangelism, too often I’ve seen people pretend (well, “pretend” is too strong a word) to be someone’s friend in order to proselytize. Evangelism has become salesmanship such that conversations aren’t genuine but merely witnessing opportunities as we look for an opening to make our pitch. In this “relationship”, God becomes product and we keep notches in out spiritual belt of how many people we’ve saved. A salvation sales chart.

Apparently we’ve missed or forgotten the point that people don’t like salesmen for a reason: They seem fake, oozing smarm, or at least possess a disingenuousness that is smelled a mile away. It’s like we try to love someone for their potential, as if they’re not okay or worth loving now, as they are. Partly I think we believe that if we change the way people think then it will change the way that people act. The sad reality is that there is too much evidence to the contrary.

The first step in proselytizing, for me, is shutting up. I like to listen to people and see where they are. This goes against a lot of what we’re taught. By going in, spiritual guns blazing, whipping out our ragged copy of the “Four Spiritual Laws” or running through the “Romans Road”, we fail to see God already at work in people’s lives. We like to prove man’s sinful dilemma using verses, as if everyone buys the authority of the Bible. Being silent solves this other dilemma. We live in a biblically illiterate culture. And even if people are biblically schooled, that still doesn’t guarantee that they hold it as any sort of authority. We need to try to be living Bibles for people. They need to see it lived out in our lives and we need to be Christ in theirs. If not, we’re wasting perfectly good oxygen.

The mission of the church is to be a blessing to the world. Church doesn’t exist for the benefit of its members, but to equip its members to benefit the world. It’s about community, a place of belonging. It’s about spirituality, pursuing holiness and communal relationships. It’s about being missional, being apostolic, sent into the world. Friendship/dating evangelism objectifies people, reducing them to objects to obtain for God. The difference between friendship evangelism and intentional friendship is the difference between manipulative vs. genuine relationships. Intentional friendships is about sharing life with people without an end strategy, not looking for an opening to make a pitch. It’s about loving people for who they are, where they are, and how they are. Be a genuine human being and care for other people genuinely. Sheesh.

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.