Poor gospel communication…can we do better?

We’re studying the book “Just Walk Across the Room” in our church family right now, and I’m deeply conflicted about it.

The method of loving our neighbors is really really awesome in this book. Seriously, it’s similar to “friendship evangelism” but much much wiser because we’re not in friendships to look for opportunities to share the “plan of salvation”; we’re in relationships to love people, to honor and value their story and to simply care for them. When there are opportunities to share, we share wisely (and sometimes take risks), but we put a high premium on listening to others’ stories and looking how we can come alongside them in life. The primary question is “How can I love and serve this person?” rather than “How soon can I take this person down the Roman Road (which I think is a poor way of introducing Christianity anyways).”

This strikes me as a much healthier way of thinking about evangelism, but I’m conflicted because once you get past the method to the meat of the “good news” Christians have to offer their non-Christian friends, the book doesn’t offer much of substance.  I explained some of my misgivings in an email to the church folks a week ago that I’ll snip and paste in here;

“Where I experienced deep frustration with Hybels’ approach is the meat and potatoes of what we believe to be “God’s story” that we share with others when they ask us.  Hybels sets things up well, asking us to be prepared with a simple illustration or simple story to give people insight into the purposes of God. Now it was at this place in the book that I got extremely, extremely disappointed with Bill, and for two main reasons.

First, how people think about relationship with God, and

Second, how God has shown us his love and “salvation.”

Bill said, “Since the beginning of time, sensing vast distance between themselves and God, people have been consumed with the desire to somehow get over the chasm separating them from God…if they weren’t even living up to their own standards, and God was “other” than they were, then they figured God’s standards must be utterly impossible to reach…everyone seemed to agree that all people had to do to reach God was fly a little straighter, pray a little harder, become more religious, and perform more charitable deeds.”

Now I’m (Nathan) asking you to be honest, really honest right now, and look at your life and the people surrounding you, and ask one question: would you say the people surrounding you are consumed with a desire to be approved by God?  Think about this word consumed.  What does that convey to you? (willing to do anything to overcome the distance between, willing to go through any roadblock, elevating something to a place of highest importance).

I believe, instead, that many people I know really don’t care that much at all.  Where God’s commands are convenient, where his expectations are easy for them to follow, they follow. Where God demands something that will be harder, they disobey.  They don’t care. If you think that’s being consumed by a desire, striving to earn God’s good grace, I’m not sure you know what the word consumed really means. That sounds to me to be much more like laziness and spurts of caring, mostly defined by a selfish life.

So that’s how Bill sets up life, and here’s the answer he provides;

“The Bible says something remarkable about how to bridge the gap between God and man.  It says that God saw the chasm that separated immoral men and women like you and me from him.  He saw the infinite distance for what it really was…so, motivated by love, God took on the chasm-spanning responsibility himself.  He built a bridge that went the distance in order to reach sinful man.  He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for us- the cross that would serve as the ultimate bridge. So because of the bridge,..Christ found me with a hard hat on my head, trowel in my hand, and a heart fully prepared to work every day on my own construction project. I was 17 years old when I walked across that bridge, finally comprehending that I could take off my hard hat and let my trowel drop to the concrete floor.  God had built a bridge, and by faith, I could walk across that bridge.”

Here’s a visual representation of Bill’s drawing (that is ALL OVER the evangelical Christian culture from other sources too):

the_bridge

In this answer, I see a decent dose of truth, but I see two HUGE omissions:

1) Did anything happen before Jesus died on the cross, or is that where the story starts for us? and

2) Is it true that all we have to do is acknowledge what God has done, just walk across the bridge, and we’ll be with Him forever?

I’m suggesting to you right now that the Bible doesn’t give us a picture of people consumed with a desire to know God. The Bible gives us a picture of people consumed with a desire to do what they want, when they want, however they want.  I’m also suggesting that there’s no such “chasm” in the Bible.  Biblically, all human beings need to do is turn around, realize God’s been pursuing us all along, kneel before the one who made them, and rise to obey. God responds to this movement by grafting us into his holy people, a physical different nation in the world out of every tribe, tongue, and nation; a people obedient to him who will lead the way for the world out of darkness and into light.

So here is my illustration that I think captures the heart of the Bible’s “good news” for human life:

obedience-heart-of-bible1

It is my contention that human obedience to God is the heart of the Bible’s message of good news.  Period.  Not some assurance of afterlife or anything of this nature, but rather assurance of different goals, different lifestyle, and true joy that other goals and lifestyles can’t even sniff at.  And when we commit to this life, the God who made us gives us the opportunity to enjoy his fellowship and the fellowship of others for all time.

Why do I say this?  Well, this message of obedience holds true all the way through the Bible. Here’s some examples.

Genesis 2:15-17 “The LORD God took the Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die…(Adam and Eve disobey) by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 12:1-4 “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.

Exodus 19:3-8 The LORD speaking to Moses, “”This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Isaiah 1:13-20 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hid my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.

Matthew 7:24,26Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…but everyone who hears these words and do not put them into practice is like a foolish man.”

Matthew 16:24-27Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward everyone according to what they have done.

And maybe the most direct teaching on this in the New Testament;

Hebrews 10:26-31,36-39If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mind to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The LORD will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God…you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delat.’ And ‘ but my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Now, it’s important to note here that the author of Hebrews is not developing a picture of a God who is a cruel taskmaster; one who whips us when we fail and makes us feel like a pile of dirt all the time. What they’re saying is that if we know that something is sinful and we bluntly choose to do what we want, we have trampled the Son of God underfoot and insulted the Spirit of grace. Certainly God recognizes that we are imperfect people, that we struggle to know what is healthy and unhealthy, sinful and good, but that doesn’t negate that the commitment to obedience, courageous obedience, is at the heart of this passage AND at the heart of the Bible itself.

These verses, along with the rest of the Bible, show that God expects his people to seek transformation now, to strive with all they are to obey, and he expects them to do so if they want to be called his children. So if the answer we give to generally selfish, lazy people is one that only requires them to walk across a bridge that God made 2,000 years ago and doesn’t demand anything more from them, we’re simply not communicating God’s gospel to them. Period. This equally applies to Bill’s Do/Done illustration and the “Morality Ladder,” because they keep the same idea going.  My way of life does not matter according to these descriptions; the only thing that matters is what God has done.

We can do better.

How can I say this in a more positive way, now that I’ve offered my critique?  I’ll put it this way;  The Bible shows us a God who initiates everything by choosing to create and breathe life into what He has made. This good God gives human beings a simple way of life; obey what He, their Creator, commands and we will have joyful, purposeful life. So, if persons would suggest we should or can earn our favor with God through what we do, the answer is no. God simply told us how to live and we choose to obey or disobey that way of life. If we don’t want that way of life, then we confess we’re not God’s children; if we do, we are.

Now we have to be honest to say that obedience is a struggle because the world has been in rebellion for thousands upon thousands of years, but that doesn’t negate the deep Biblical truth that God commands and expects obedience.  When we commit to this, then God shows himself to be a graceful, merciful, and forgiving God.

Do you see the difference between this story and Bill’s?  In Bill’s, God did something two thousand years ago that just requires me saying “Yes” to, and my sins are forgiven and I can be in relationship with Him.  What I do is irrelevant.  In my story, God has been doing something for thousands of years; to convince his creation that obeying Him is the best thing we can do.  Jesus is the pinnacle of that story, the fullest expression of God’s love, and he showed us that love by his great teaching that we are to obey, his death to show his enemies the fullness of his love, and his resurrection that sets us free from the power of death. Our response to that great love, then, is to do what we’ve been created for; obey Him.  Why?  Because we were made for it. God’s in charge of the rest; forgiveness, mercy, grace, afterlife.  That’s in God’s hands.  We control what we can control by simply obeying Him.  Period.

Attention to process…

gandhi  

As I make the journey from idealistic-yet-not-willing-to-do-the-hard-work-to-be-change twenty-something to something more in touch with reality, I’m noticing something really big;

Change does not take place typically in one big-fell-swoop moment.  Change comes from consistent attention to both the big-picture and the details, with constant readjustment and moments of needing to take account of failures and successes.  In short, change is a relationship, just as being in relationship brings change. 

 My grandfather told me about two years ago, “Nate, ten years from now, people aren’t going to remember the words of your sermon or even what you preached about, but they will remember the times you came to visit, and times you cared enough to listen to them.”  Those were wise words I needed to hear at the time, because I had the naive view that pastors would be remembered for the way they presented themselves and how compelling their sermons were to those participating in worship with them.  And this is true, but my grandfather was calling me to an even deeper reality; they’ll remember you more because of how much you invest in relationship with them.  This is such a compelling thought, and has come back to me time and again since he said that; sometimes it is comforting to me, sometimes a bit challenging, sometimes shoves a metaphorical knife in my ribs in my failures, but always calls me beyond the temptation to think that as a pastor, I will be defined by what I do “up front” of our church family. 

 I thought about it yesterday when I had maybe the biggest challenge yet of me being a pastor.  A 17-year old young woman named Amy Caracofe was tragically killed in a car accident last Thursday, one that is the second of the year for Fort Defiance High School.  The other was senior Travis Williamson.  I was given a tremendous responsibility by the family to give the message at the memorial, which I wrestled with and wrestled with and wrestled with before I had to prepare something to say.  There were 600 people there seated all over the church; from the main sanctuary to side fellowship halls with only speakers to follow along with to people sitting in rows in the nursery with one small speaker to people sitting in the courtyard looking in the windows.  That certainly didn’t help my nervousness, but Amy’s mother was so encouraging with her eyes even in the midst of her deep sorrow, and I heard from many that they had prayed for the memorial service, with some going to the extent of fasting, and I sensed that I was being carried through this challenging time; along with a deep sense that God can work far above and beyond my words in that time.

 So, given that I’m writing this post in light of my grandfather’s wisdom, was my leadership during the memorial important?  Of course it was; people were there yesterday that needed to hear something that could help shape them (along with me) to live for what they’ve been created for.  They needed something that could hold the power to transcend the surface of the tragedy to go beyond.  That’s the power of spoken language in times of crisis like this memorial service.  

The above being said, is the message at the memorial the most important thing in the crisis and beyond?  With all my heart, I believe, “No“!  It will be the commitment to walking beside Doug and Angie (Amy’s parents), speaking when needed, and silently being with them when silence is needed.  Because almost anyone can come up with something to say (even something deeply compelling) at a time like the memorial, but the real challenge is whether I (others in my church family, and others surrounding the Caracofes) have the guts, the patience, the trust, and the room for Doug and Angie to show the wide range of emotions that will take place; all of this within the context of consistent relationship.  

For those reading this who have different roles in life, I believe that my grandfather’s wisdom applies across a spectrum of roles, though, far beyond “pastoring.”  It applies to coaching, dating and marital relationships, work relationships, friendships, public service roles, and a variety of others.  Effective leaders don’t have to be the ones “leading from the front,” but can be in the most obscure of roles, and through their attention to long-term vision and details can transform the relationships of those surrounding them; in more situations than not these persons can bring about positive change much more than the person who’s supposedly the one leading…the one everyone sees.

I guess I would like to say that I don’t ever want to be defined by Nate the “pastor.”  I could talk for hours about how unhealthy it is to take one spiritual gifting, yank it out of the context of the church family, make it a professional role, and impose persons on church families who supposedly “know what they’re doing” who don’t know the slightest thing about the unique personality of the group.  But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.  If you check out the link to the message (also above halfway down the post), you’ll find that I emphasize that every single one of us through the basic act of living influences our reality in ways we could never even conceive of.  Every thought, prayer, speech, and action that flows from our life out has a ripple effect out from our most immediate relationships and beyond, helping to shape the world in ways that benefit it or destroy it. A simple look at Genesis reminds us that we have been called to cherish the world the way God does in all its fullness and astonishing variety.  This sounds like business leadership gobbledy-gook, but I do believe it is true.  We are all connected in relationship with the rest of the world in obvious and deeply mysterious ways whether we’re intentional or not; I intend to do my best to maintain consistent attention to who I am in relationship with others.

Don’t let ’em put a name on you…

 books

 There’s no categories, just long stories waiting to be heard.

 As I was casting my eye around my room this morning that looks like a federal disaster area  (thinking semi-seriously about cleaning it), my gaze happened to rest on a stack of books I have precariously sitting  on another stack perpendicular to it.  And as I looked at this stack, I noticed two big things;

1)  These books represent a nice survey of the things I care about (centrally defined by the lifestyle I claim as a disciple of Jesus), and

2)  I’m not a hypocrite (at least, not completely) when I say that I am neither liberal nor conservative (politically and theologically), pro nor anti-science,  sacred nor secular, along with other typecasts; and I hope to stay that way for a lifetime.

I’ll explain.  

First, I love the Bible, for many reasons.  One of those reasons is that it is so incredibly messy and beautiful.  It’s so honest in a way that at times is mystifying (sometimes I say, “I could never confess something like that to someone else because of a lifetime label slapped on me from that point forward).  

For example, the Bible presents a picture of a holy, righteous, and distinct God in need of nothing who for some odd reason repents at times, other times expresses some degree of angry confusion that his people don’t get the picture at other times.  Crazy, right?  This is not some hare-brained theological scheme of mine, it’s letting the Bible speak for itself. Among other things, this simple example shows me a basic principal about God (and by extension, the Bible);

You can’t lock this God down into any easy categories, and therefore his people shouldn’t allow themselves to be locked into easy categories.

 In other words, knowledge of the Bible and its impact on life won’t make me a well-adjusted white conservative Republican or a wild-eyed liberal Greenpeace member; though the Bible could be quoted for evidence that we should be one or the other (the conservative Republican one is just the more prevalent because it’s less of a challenge to the way things already are). So, in keeping with the above “principle,” I commit myself daily to the mantra, “You don’t know everything, let yourself be challenged, because you may find God speaking to you in surprising ways.” Which leads us to my precarious book-stack.

  First off, I should note that you can see my New York Giants hat on the right of the picture.  I didn’t mean for that to be included, but clearly God ordained for it to be included because it is objectively true that God is a Giants fan, which according to this website is defined by “something I believe AND it is actually true.” Using this objectively-true definition of objective truth, it is clear to me from my personal belief and the greater sense of truth I carry when I contemplate the possibility that, clearly, God is a Giants fan (*tongue planted firmly in cheek*) But I digress.

 On my bookstack, you’ll see a well-respected, wise champion of the evangelical church (Stott), a UVa professor (a Christfollower) acknowledging the deep sin (often driven by “Christians” in the South) of racism (The Last Days), a Chuck Colson-endorsed book on faith-based social initiatives (Rev. of Compassion), a brilliant book that *gasp* uses the f-bomb liberally (Moneyball), the most functional, weeping-inducing book on discipleship ever (Foster, in my objectively true opinion), a study on Psalms from an incredibly wise man and mentor-through-proxy-of-books (Where Your Treasure Is), a warning of the consequences of ignoring God’s earth he has given to take care of (Earth in the Balance), an excellent book, “Exiles,” by the clearly heretical Emerging Church crowd (in my objectively true opinion), an incredible little book by a white man with an afro (Yancey and “Church, why bother?”), a book, “Following in the Footsteps of Christ,” about the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century (called heretics and executed in droves by objectively true Reformed, Catholic, and Lutheran folk) that I claim as the stream of disciples I swim in, a great commentary, “The Story of Romans,” on one of my favorite (and most frustrating to grasp) books of the Bible, a Hymnbook I sometimes play piano out of (also co-published by two groups of those confounding heretic Anabaptists, the Brethren and Mennonites), and a book full of stories of persons who actually followed Jesus in the “impractical” and “not-really-meant-to-be-followed” admonition to love one’s enemies as yourself. A little eclectic brew, huh?

This beautiful little mess of life on my desk gives me guidance when I come to things such as a little nugget I found on Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind’s blog (who also happens to have a button on his blog that associates him with that clearly heretical organization Emergent Village); it’s Mike Huckabee, the evangelical “born-again” Christian from the South, talking in clear conservative terms about the death penalty.

 

Huckabee’s response sounds very practical until you read the words of Jesus on the matter.  It seems Jesus faced this very same conundrum.  I wonder how he responded?

I guess the natural outgrowth of this self-introspective, light-hearted-yet-honest post will be the greater challenge of those I interact with to represent Christ in all of his astonishing fullness.  I welcome that challenge, as well as the inevitable failures that will come.  Oh, surprising and mighty and graceful and merciful and holy God…help me!  🙂  

Stations on the Road to Freedom

One of the most beautiful and stirring calls to grasp life in the face of suffering and death; because suffering, which will come to faithful followers of Jesus, and death, which comes to us all, are only transitory and temporary.  We are (or probably more accurately, can be) free!!!!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer; July 21, 1944

Discipline

 If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all
discipline of soul and senses
, so that your passions
and your limbs might not lead you confusedly hither and yon.
Chaste be your spirit and body, subject to your own will,
and obedient to seek out the goal that they have been given.
No one discovers the secret of freedom but through self-control

 Action

 Dare to do what is just, not what fancy may call for;
Lose not time with what may be, but boldly grasp what is real.
The world of thought is escape; freedom only comes through action.
Step out beyond anxious waiting and into the storm of events,
carried only by God’s command and by your own faith;
then will freedom exultantly cry out to welcome your spirit.

Suffering

Wondrous transformation! Your strong and active hands
are tied now. Powerless, alone, you see the end of your action.
Still, you take a deep breath and lay your struggle for justice,
quietly and in faith, into a mightier hand
.
Just for one blissful moment, you tasted the sweetness of freedom,
then you handed it over to God, that he might make it whole.

Death

Come now, highest moment on the road to freedom eternal,
Death, put down the ponderous chains and demolish the walls
of our mortal bodies, the walls of our blinded souls,
that we might finally see what mortals have kept us from seeing.
Freedom, how long we have sought you through discipline, action, and suffering.
Dying, now we behold your face in the countenance of God.  

A Black Friday reflection…

cobalt Just a couple thoughts to offer today.  I’ve had a chance to think in the last year or so about this “freedom” Americans often claim our army is fighting for.  I hear it everywhere in our society as a phrase to clobber both naive pacifists and traitorous liberals with different ideas about how Iraq should have been handled.  As I’ve wrestled with what this is all about, I’ve done my best to keep my ears peeled eyes open for others working through this same issue.  I happened to come upon an interview online of one of my mentors-through-proxy (Internet and books substituting for face to face interaction) Stanley Hauerwas that shocked me. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but as time has passed, it’s making more sense to me.  Check it out;

“In his reflections on Sept. 11, Hauerwas uses the term ‘American imperialism’ matter-of-factly. He’s not afraid to humanize those who flew jets into buildings on Sept. 11, and to point out what he calls ‘the loneliness of the American people,’ a loneliness he says is tied to their pursuit of happiness.’On Sept. 11, Americans were confronted by people ready to die as an expression of their profound moral commitments,  Hauerwas said in his Silk Hope talk earlier this year. ‘Their willingness to die stands in stark contrast to a politics that asks of its members in response to Sept. 11 to shop.’  

‘Americans are, for the most part, good, decent and hardworking people, but so were the people that supported the Nazis.’  Hauerwas said he worries about ‘how goodness can become deeply corrupted by its innocence….most of the time innocence is deeply immoral because it is such a lie not to acknowledge that we live in a very complex world that we benefit from, and we don’t have to acknowledge the havoc our benefits depend upon.’  

While those who loathe the United States are willing to die as an expression of their hatred, Hauerwas said U.S. citizens have no comparable moral conviction on which to base their lives.  “A people who have been bred to shop then can quickly become some of the most violent people in the world,” Hauerwas said, “exactly because they’re dying to have something worth dying for. 

 

Before you get too upset (like I initially did), read the quote five or six times, then take a couple hours (or months) the chew on it from time to time.  I’ve come to see it as deeply insightful over time.  The question he raises is relevant; what does “freedom” represent in America, and at what cost is that American freedom perpetuated?  

Example after example in the last few months has proven to me Stanley’s suggestion that “freedom” in our society directly translates to “shopping.”  If it does not, what is the comparable conviction Americans have to bring that they’re willing to fight for?  The right to vote?  Maybe so, but check out the percentages of folks that exercise that right when the time rolls around.  Right to freedom of religious expression?  How many American folks are really, I mean really, deeply invested with the whole of their lives in the religion (often Christian) they claim? Precious few.

So what IS the mark of American (and by extension, Western) society that takes up most of our attention, time, energy, thoughts and dreams?

I’d suggest it’s cash money, the jobs it takes to get more, the marketing that competes for us to exercise our right to buy their stuff, and the sheer amount of stuff we can buy with that cash.    

Our “holidays” of Christmas and Easter are perfect examples of this.  If those who claimed to be Christian truly deeply valued and respected the two most holy celebrations of their year, they would be up in arms about the mockery our secular society has turned them into. Heck, witches and black-magic practicioners should be pissed at how secularism has changed the height of their year (Halloween) into an avalanche of candy and cute little costumes.  In short, consumerism has taken every day holy and sacred to competing traditions, subverted them, and marketed them under completely different pretenses and seeking different ends.  So now we have Santa Claus (the original Saint Nicholas has to be rolling over in his grave), The Easter Bunny, Thanksgiving football and excess amounts of turkey and stuffing, and Valentine’s Day (a boon for the diamond and Hallmark card industries) as examples.  More examples exist, and they all reveal the central value our society upholds; money, what it takes to get it, and (for marketers) more and more innovative ways to convince consumers they need to spend it on YOUR product. 

Which brings us to Black Friday, the official holiday of the hallowed First Day of Christmas Shopping, the most profitable day of the year for businesses and the height of capitalism.  The day where we consumers camp out at our Best Buys and Kohls and JCPenneys and shopping malls so that at midnight or 4 am or 6 am (whoever opens first) we may spend our money on things we don’t need.  But we have the right to!  

Nobody tells me where I can or can’t spend my money, not no A-rabs or dem Chi-nese or nobody!  

And THIS, my friends, is why Stanley Hauerwas is so spot-on in his diagnosis of our society.  We have nothing to fight for in our society but a vague notion of freedom in need of definition.  And the definition has come to mean the right to shop.  We claim freedom of choice, yet our naivete about our individual capability to make good choices as if we weren’t slaves to marketers reveals not only that we aren’t free, but that we’re overconsumed and cynical and bored.  The system keeps us entertained but unfulfilled, and we are shocked by the possibility that someone would give up that right and fight to recover another vision of what life is to be about.  It’s a clashing of civilizations, the dominant one secular (NOT Christian) and competing visions daring to suggest their commitment is more life-giving and worthy of sacrifice. 

This is a series of unfinished and slightly incoherent thoughts, I’m sure, but Black Friday in all its glory shoved me back to the place inside me Hauerwas twisted into a mess with his comment.  I’d encourage you to wrestle with it.

 In closing, I’ll leave you with one of the most prophetic bands I know of around these days, “The Cobalt Season”, and some of the lyrics from their deeply honest lament/hopeful song “Like Jesus“;   

 

And friends, Romans, countrymen

Won’t you lend me your ears?

This Holy American Empire

Gotta tell you it’s crumblin’ down

To the ground

 

’Cause everything’s for granted

And nothing is for sure

So let’s grab a Starbucks baby

And let’s spend a little more

 

Forget about the dreams we had

Just work and sleep until we’re dead

Are we blind to what’s ahead?

 

Oh Lord, how long?

 

When memory’s for granted

Nothing is for sure

And history goes round and round

As we long for something more

 

We lie and wait for better days

With hope and fear and joy and dread

Or just ambivalence to what’s ahead?

 

 

SI = Baseball journalistic hegemony

verducci

I laughed at loud this morning when I read an article by the above-pictured Tom Verducci in my Sports Illustrated magazine (who knows why I still keep the subscription when I can read it online) about the Boston Red Sox championship.

SI journalists are SO TALENTED and well-read and able-to-make-analogies-from-any-walk-of-life incredible, and that makes their stories so rich and (I’m not overstating this); life-giving. The power of good journalism is the ability to draw the reader out of their life into the world of the story the journalist is trying to convey, and that almost cannot take place in the ten-second soundbites of our modern newspapers and magazines; unless the publication makes a commitment to an extended story. Whereas SI is kind of schizophrenic with this because the magazine is chock-full of little snippets to pander to our felt-needs, they seem to carry a significant commitment to articles long enough to develop a story that pulls the reader into its world. They did this for me with their Randy Shannon article a bit ago, they did it with the at-the-time mystifying-yet-awesome National Geographic-like article on great white sharks in the Farallon Islands (I found out later, the book was written by a former SI Women editor…classic case of throwing a friend a bone), and they did it with this simple article. And by they, I mean Tom Verducci.

Here’s some CLASSIC quotes from the article;

“The world championship is all of it: the commitment to player development, the obsessive devotion to detail, the fluorescent-bathed nerds who break down statistics and video as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the small army of scouts, the bad dudes — yes, especially the bad dudes — who wear the Boston uniform and strip the will from their opponents one grueling at bat after another. The entire thing is a giant Jenga game; remove any one of the interlaced blocks and the whole damn tower might topple.”

“The Red Sox expected to win? Talk about putting a Bucky Bleepin’ Dent in conventional wisdom. These are not your father’s Red Sox.”

This one’s great;
“But its most amazing achievement is this: It has supplanted the Calvinistic, multigenerational dread of Red Sox fans with the sunshine of optimists. Boston, which once made a gruesome art of losing, now almost always wins the Big One.”

“When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, church bells rang out across New England and people rushed under a full moon to the gravestones of their deceased loved ones to pass word of the championship. The Nation enjoyed one big cathartic cry. Funeral parlors braced for a boom in business, the now-I-can-die-in-peace crowd suddenly mortally tranquil. This championship carried a lightness of being, a baggage-free, hedonistic escape. Behold the sated, if spoiled, Red Sox fan, a species not seen on the planet since Babe Ruth wore the Sox uniform in 1918, the last time Boston won a world title so close to a previous one.”

“Ellsbury batted .438 in the World Series, and in Game 3 he joined Joe Garagiola (1946) and Fred Lindstrom (1924) as the only rookies to get four hits in a World Series game. He and Pedroia, a 2004 second-round draft pick, combined to reach base 16 times in the four games. They are emblematic not only of a generation of Red Sox players that knows nothing about an 86-year curse, but one that also treats hitting as a kind of a martial art, employing a wicked combination of Zen-like patience and blunt-force trauma.

This is journalism as art, folks, even if some journalists at times fall flat on their face in trying to be too pithy (*cough* Gennaro Filice *cough* example quote in first paragraph in article here). And art is what our mechanistic, utility-driven, sound-bite society needs. Spaces to take a breath (or lose our breath) in encountering beauty and depth. Don’t give up, SI. And thank you, Tom, for helping me take a breath from the humdrum with your gift.

Peter King words of wisdom…

Leave it to a sportswriter to provide one of the most insightful political comments I’ve seen in a while…

“There’s a fairly significant decision coming in this country in 2008. We in New Jersey and New Mexico and New London and New Wherever have one simple request as you mull over the candidacies of a black man, a white woman and many white men in the coming presidential debate: Treat them as candidates, not black candidates or female candidates or white candidates.”

I agree in principle with King’s comments, because it’s almost suffocating to live in this politically correct society sometimes.

I think it’s downright lazy to vote for Hillary solely because she’s a woman, and downright lazy to vote for Obama solely because he’s black. With that being said, I don’t think that flavor of downright lazy is any worse than voting for a candidate as a Christian solely because they’re “pro-life” or “anti-gay marriage,” as if those are the only moral issues on the table to figure out if a candidate is “really” Christian or not. I hate abortion (because I believe I’m called to value all life from conception to death), but I just may vote for a candidate who’s pro-choice but much more consistent with my beliefs across the board: how the gospel’s deep respect for life touches on the environment, the poor, war, marriage, etc.

As a result of that thinking, I’m a pretty big fan of Sen. Brownback from Kansas, who’s a social conservative (with significant reasons to back up his positions; most Republicans use abortion, etc as election ploys and pay no attention to the issue in their job), is committed to reformation of the twisted aspects of government, and is opposed to the war in Iraq (though this is more likely a one-time thing). I think the guy’s got his ducks in a row in a way that George W. couldn’t even sniff at. I like Obama, even though I’m not a big fan of his social liberalism; I think he’s a breath of fresh air.

p.s. Let’s not forget Michael Jesus Archangel and Rev. Edward Allen Buck…legitimate candidates in my book. *cough cough*

With the warning of single-issue laziness being said, I certainly would LIKE to see a woman in the presidential office some time in America, and I would especially like to see a black person in office…given the social struggle they’ve had to undergo for equality in America (which is supposedly the land of the free but only granted equality under the law for blacks and other full-citizen minorities in 1964). So, while their gender or ethnicity might be a contributing factor among a host of other contributing factors for why I vote for them, I won’t vote for them solely b/c they’re a woman or a minority. You could apply this thinking to suggest to me that abortion is a more important issue among a host of important issues for you, and I’d be ok with that, but I’d want a conversation on why you think so. There are philosophical reasons behind being pro-life that apply equally to the death penalty, poverty, the environment, and war, but people don’t often consider those because their churches aren’t equipping them to be more educated voters, they’re telling them how to vote. And that’s dead wrong, both on the parts of church leadership and those who sit there and do exactly what they tell them without stopping to consider why in the world a responsible Christian should only care about two issues.

So I may vote for Obama, I may vote for Brownback, I may vote for McCain, and I may vote for Al Gore (if he runs). I know I won’t vote for Hillary (well, I should qualify that; if it ended up being Hillary vs. Giuliani or Gingrich, I’ll have to reconsider a bit), because she’s just as flip-floppy as John Kerry was in ’04, though I voted for him because the alternative was George Bush (who I’m not sure has ever allowed himself to try to connect the dots between his views on social conservatism [which I like] and how that intersects with big business, the environment, and the demand placed on his life by Christ to love his enemies).

In addition to all this, I need to revisit the discomfort I felt after voting for John Kerry; precisely because I felt the choice in 2004 was between bleh and double bleh. There are very legitimate third (or fourth or fifth) party candidates out there who I think more completely reflect my beliefs than the two political machines we call Democrat and Republican that often churn out candidates that I really don’t care for (but feel compelled to choose between because any other vote is a “wasted” vote in our winner-take-all presidential elections). Is it socially irresponsible for me to vote for a candidate I know doesn’t have a chance in hell of being elected, or is it the most socially responsible thing I can do to vote for that candidate, because I’m being true to the big picture of what I believe and subverting the system that demands I choose between two “legitimate” candidates? Is that a wasted vote or a maximized vote?

If all of this sounds like gobbledy-gook to you when you’re reading it, it may be because it IS gobbledy-gook (I certainly allow for that ever-present possibility), or it may be because you haven’t had enough time to grasp the big-picture reasons that drive me to think about politics, the state, and social issues in a certain way. It really boils down to two words for me as to my central concerns: primarily, Jesus. secondarily, church…somewhere way down the priority list, society. This commitment plays out in my thoughts often, and I’ll leave it at that for now.