The LifeWay Rant… Uncensored!

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

The countdown to freedom is on… I only have four more days left as an employee of LifeWay Christian Stores. I think I’m keeping everything in perspective pretty well. I mean, the night that I found out that I was going to be able to give my two weeks notice the day, I only danced around the house for two or three hours (so much so that I accidentally ran smack into the doorframe.) Now, I only have to worry about one thing about LifeWay – exactly what I should include in my letter. The temptation is to simply say thank God that’s over and never finish my magnum opus against The Man (a.k.a. LifeWay). However, I think I almost have some kind of responsibility to look beyond myself and write this letter, maybe to improve LifeWay, maybe just to find out if they really care at all about a former employee (I love the way that sounds… former *sigh*). To help me keep focus, I’m watching Shaft and listening to Public Enemy. Fight the power! Even white kids like me have to fight The Man from time to time.

Just to get a little feedback, here’s what I have so far in my letter. Please leave some comments about what I can do to make it a little better. I know I’ll have to tone it down a little bit for it to be taken seriously, but here’s my unedited, uncut version. And now without further ado, I present…

The LifeWay Rant – Uncensored!

Dear sir or madam:

I recently quit my position as an employee at a LifeWay retail store after several months, and during that time, I have noticed several things about the chain that raise serious concerns. The first of these objections is over plus selling, the suggestion (read “pushing”) of particular products to all customers as they check out. At my store, this is talked about with utmost seriousness and almost worshipful reverence. We are repeatedly told that we should push the products selected by corporate to “every customer, every time.” We are constantly reminded that the money earned from selling these items goes to the cooperative program. We are frequently informed of the ministry that comes from one of these low-cost (and frequently low-quality) sales items. However, I believe that there are times when plus selling is, at best, morally suspicious or, at worst, just plain wrong. If an unchurched customer comes into the store grieving over the death of her only child, I will be there to minister to her. I will guide her to resources to help her deal with her loss, I will give her insights from the Bible, and I will pray with her. After all this, I absolutely REFUSE to pitch a Veggie Tales movie or a Bible cover to this person. To do so would be insensitive and irresponsible and possibly detrimental to the ministry we could have provided. The “every customer, every time” philosophy ignores the individual and his or her specific ministry needs. Despite these objections, plus selling no matter who the customer is or what they need is continually promoted in our store with a Pharisee-like rigidity. When I am on the sales floor, I am there to minister to the people in the store at the time. Some customers might genuinely benefit from our plus sell items, and to those I will suggest them; others neither need them, nor will they be forced upon them by me.

Additionally, I am disturbed to see that by mid-October, our store was already completely decorated for Christmas and much of our sales floor was filled with Christmas gift product. Christians are constantly noting that the secular world has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. We complain that our culture has over-commercialized the holiday and replaced the baby Jesus with Santa Claus and presents. At LifeWay, the baby Jesus is there in a variety of beautiful porcelain and stained glass gift items. We also have 344 small glass angels arranged in a Christmas tree shaped floor stack. We have two lighted Christmas trees, garland with bows, festive music, and even a special sales training meeting to prepare us for the Christmas rush – in October. Over-commercialized? Guilty! We have copied the world’s model for Christmas celebration, only we have justified all the gifts and decorations by taking on a cheap religious sentiment. I have heard the argument that we have to be ready this early because all the other stores have their Christmas product out and we don’t want to be left behind. Since when are we supposed to copy the world? Just because secular stores push secular Christmas with unrelenting eagerness doesn’t mean that we should do the same with a religious one. I am as festive and celebratory as anyone when it comes to Christmas – when the time is right. However, this year it seems that I won’t be able to celebrate very much of Christmas at all. With all our emphasis on Christmas and family for our customers, employs are forced by corporate into a schedule that forbids them from taking even one day off from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas day. Hypocritical? Guilty. I have been told that this is simply the way that retail works, but shouldn’t Christian retail be different?

If our primary goal, our only goal, is ministry, then why does LifeWay place such an emphasis on appearance and image? Would an associate be any less effective as a minister with tattooed arms or a pierced face? Can God’s word only be life changing when presented by clean-cut men and women in ironed button-down shirts and pressed khakis? LifeWay has become a bastion of conservatism in dress and appearance, and has effectively isolated those who do not fit that image. Conservatism of doctrine need not be linked with conservatism of appearance. I have seen applicants’ resumes be rejected because they didn’t wear a tie to drop off their application. At the same time, I rarely see teenagers in the store, especially those who would not fit into the mold that many Baptists believe we should all fit in. Though we stock CDs by artists like Disciple and Living Sacrifice (industrial heavy metal) and T-bone (West Coast rap), I believe that we would prefer that the people who would most benefit from this style of music not come into our store because it might upset the conservative older customers. God’s word is for all. Jesus’ appearance was never made to conform to a public perception of what a religious leader should be. He ate with tax collectors and conversed with prostitutes. He went into the streets, bringing His message of hope to those who could benefit from it most. LifeWay takes great care to uphold an image, but that image is one of church, not of Christ.

On the whole, what LifeWay says and what happens at the store level do not match. Is it about ministry or sales? Do we really believe that family should be a priority in our own lives even if it means that work becomes less important? Remember, Jesus himself spoke most harshly to those Pharisees who claimed one view but did not live it out in their lives. Having a corporate philosophy and goal of ministering to customers is admirable, but if it is not lived out, it is completely and utterly useless.

That’s it folks. Let me know what you think. Peace out, brothers. Don’t let The Man bring you down. Word.

Great Job, Stockboy

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

I’m not sure that I have anything very specific to write about tonight, but I feel like I shouldn’t leave this page alone for too long or it might die on me. I won’t be able to write any more long prolific posts during my lunch break because I am no longer allowed to bring my computer with me. My boss, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that all problems at LifeWay can somehow be traced back to me, and so now he wants to remove any possible “distractions.” It must be working though. *cough* I was told today that I was doing a “great job” after being told only two days ago that my performance was “mediocre at best.” (Yes, he actually told me that.) Oh well, hopefully something will work out in the very near future that will allow me to turn in the keys that I am “very privilaged to be holding” and walk out the door that I am “very privilaged to have a key to.” You better believe that letter I’m writing to LifeWay grows a little more each day.

On the plus side, I recieved a bootleg CD copy of the long out of print (and banned) Disney classic Song of the South today. I haven’t heard Uncle Remus’s stories about Brer Rabbit and the briar patch or the tar baby since I was a little boy. I’m really excited! Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah….

I guess that’s about it tonight. I better go get some rest so I can do another “great job” again tomorrow. (By the way, for those that don’t know, I work in the stockroom. The reason for my compliment for the big chief today was because I took a lot of boxes that were sitting on the floor, and I moved them to a shelf. I know this sounds like a huge feat that I should be very proud of, but, well… it’s not, and, well…. I’m not. I gotta be able to use my brain a little more each day or it may just turn into stockroom soup.) Time to go for now.

Backtracking

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

So that I’m not misunderstood, let me state plainly that I love the church. However, I do believe the church needs to come back to holiness worthy of Christ. For another perspective on this same issue, read this article about the controversy surrounding the release of Derek Webb’s first solo release She Must and Shall Go Free… http://www.cmcentral.com/features/229.html. Also, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of She Must and Shall Go Free. It’s words of warning are strong and even offensive to some, but lyrics speak nothing but truth. To read the lyrics go to http://www.derekwebb.net/songs/.

She Must and Shall Go Free

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

I’ve decided it’s high time that I stopped simply documenting the things that are going on in my life and started actually writing about something. This revelation occured for two reasons: 1) What’s happening on a day to day basis is usually not very interesting. 2) With no column, I have no place where I can force my opinions on others. There’s all the exposition you’re getting tonight. On with the show!

In my first post I mentioned that most Christians are ignorant of the most fundamental concepts of how the world works and that in many cases the church is at least partially responsible. I said that mostly for shock value because as we all know, good church kids never question what they are told or try to change the church. All the people who have been there for years have done a good job and it is not our place to shake things up. I say unto you… baloney. I have no doubt that there are many churches that are working in exactly the way that God has planned. I believe that in many churches, gifted people are using their gifts and talents to advance the kingdom of God and make His church into the bride He desires. However, I also believe that if we are not questioning the health of our churches and honestly measuring them against the standard set forth in the Bible, then we are not doing our jobs as members.

If you ask the average church member why they believe what they believe I dare say most will either not have an answer or reply with a human source leading them to their beliefs. In rural East Tennessee most belief systems are determined by the way the church has always believed. If it was good enough for my great-grandpa, then its good enough for me. And the church often fosters this intuition-based belief system for fear of offending the members. Offended members are not as active in the choir, nor will they help the church meet its annual budget. Beyond that, many pastors in this area do not offend by challenging grandpa because they got their belief system from grandpa too! A friend of mine was taking a preaching class at Temple University in Chattanooga, and was preaching directly from an untranslated Greek Bible, providing literal translation himself as he taught. The professor stopped him and said that in that class King James was the only translation allowed. My friend explained that he wasn’t using a translation and proceeded with his message. He was asked to sit down and received a D in the class. When he asked the teacher why he felt that the KJV was the only Bible worth using, he replied that it was more accurate. My friend then asked if the professor was basing this claim on his own study of Greek and Hebrew and a detailed comparison with other translations. The professor replied that he knew that it was more accurate because that’s what he had been told his entire life. I would like to say that the professor saw how ludicris this reasoning was, but instead he stood by his assertion. If it’s good enough for grandpa… In these churches scholarship is outlawed as a sin. Why would you need to study when you already have all the answers? In the minds of these church members, theology and doctrine are just the devils tools used to deceive believers from the truth. Grandpa’s truth. But there is a second element in this blindfold on truth…

The church is supposed to stomp out sin and darkness, letting light flood into these strongholds. Unfortunately, in this respect, I think many churches do more harm than good. The church should be a place where broken-hearted people can stand confess their sins; then, stripped of pride and exposed before brothers and sisters in Christ, they can be lifted up and brought back into the fold. However, a streak of judgment runs though many churches and this causes sin to be hidden. Though all in the church sin, rather than confess they compensate by looking down on others in the church. “At least I’m not as bad as…” The tradegy is that this is exactly what the enemy desires for evil thrives in secrecy. Rather than destroy sin, many churches provide inadvertantly have created the ideal evironment for sin to slowly choke the life out of people needing freedom from their bondage.

These two elements, tradition and judgmental attitudes, keep many Christians in the dark about the basic truths of life. You don’t know where to turn for answers because according to what everyone else in the church says, everyone else in the church is where you go for answers to begin with. You can’t ask questions for fear of condemnation for not being more faithful. You feel guilty for asking questions in the first place, but you can’t even confess to this supposed sin because then you will be judged. You only option is to follow blindly and supress any question or conviction; in due time, you will become a good church member and all these questions will slowly disappear on their own. That’s how many churches keep their own members blind to the very truths of life, intentional or not.

This dark picture is not the picture of all churches. Hopefully, this kind of church is a small portion of a healthy, active body of believers. Maybe I am just in a an area where this is more widespread. I’m afraid, though, that I’m being overly optimistic if I say that that the church in America is not in dire need of real revival. We need to break done the walls of judgement and free ourselves from the bondage of tradition. We need to foster an environment of forgiveness and service, not one of judgement. We need to be a force, fighting the darkness in our culture before it swallows us whole. We need to be in the Bible, pouring over the truth of God’s revelation even if it’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow. No more hiding in the darkness! No more feel-good churches that cater to comfort! No more anti-intellectualism! No more closemindedness! No more being judge, jury, and executioner! If we are to be the bride of Christ, it’s time to clean ourselves up.

More to come….

Change on the Horizon?

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

(I intended to make this post last night, seeing as I wrote it yesterday, but sometimes you just don’t get the kind of copy and paste time that you need. C’est la vie.)

I’m back in the employee break room for another bowl of Bi-Lo chunky soup eaten out of a fine china bowl. Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of some very sad novel? It’s the type of story beginning that involves a very depressed man beaten down by society doing… something. No one ever said I had the thing written. I just like the line.

Actually today is not one that would fit into that particular novel, unless it was to add some kind of cruel irony to the story. It looks like freedom from LifeWay may be closer than I had originally hoped. (Today I was told that I needed to be careful because the khaki pants I wore yesterday weren’t khaki enough. Those dark pants won’t cut it at LifeWay.) The children’s minister at my church just resigned. I know that normally doesn’t sound like good news, but when you’re the underpaid youth minister; it has a glimmer of hope to it. You see, once I heard that the position was open, I spoke to the pastor about the idea of combining that position with my current one, making me the youth and children’s minister. He spoke to the personnel team and apparently some kind of meeting has been held to discuss this possibility. Last night at church I was asked how the meeting went so someone could see if I was “it” yet. I didn’t even know there was a meeting. Another person asked if I was leading the Wednesday night children’s program now. On top of this hearsay, the personnel director asked for an updated resume. Sounds promising to me. Hopefully, last night was the herald of some new chapter in a much less ironic story than the soup-and-china one.

Our new little puppy has been providing Alanna and me endless entertainment. He’s tiny enough to fit in one hand, and he loves to bite and gnaw on anything you put in front of him. I was awakened this morning by the little guy chewing on the hair on the back of my head. Just gentle little tugs; he’s not big enough to do any real damage. Brownie, our other dog, thinks he’s a new chew toy that just happens to be made out of flesh instead of cotton. She bats him around and attempts to fit his entire head into her mouth. He responds by trying to nurse on her – I don’t think I’ve ever seen her jump so high. Oh, and he squeaks. Too small to have a real bark of any kind, he just squeaks. Eventually we’ll be able to get some sleep around the house again. 🙂

After work I plan to stop by Blockbuster on the way home to rent a Looney Tunes 2-DVD set. Maybe I won’t be sleeping tonight after all.

My Very First Blog Post Ever

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

There’s something very intimidating about making this first post. It seems like the very first one should be something incredibly profound that explains why I’ve decided to share my thoughts with the world. Either that, or this post should summarize who I am, what I believe, my goals in life, and my political affiliation. I’ve decided to resist the temptation to make a mega-post and simply get down to business.

I’m currently eating a very nutritious canned pasta and Cheetoes lunch in the employee breakroom at LifeWay Christian Store, my current place of imprisionment, I mean, employment. Really, I love this job except for when I’m here or thinking about being here. Speaking of work, I don’t plan to use this weblog primarily as a sounding board to decry all the faults of LifeWay, but from time to time, I will rant for a while about some aspect of this company that really bothers me. There are plenty of them, so I should have a ready supply of topics to write about for a while. I may even post the letter of complaint that I’m in the process of writing to corporate headquarters once I finish it. Since I’m still employed by LifeWay, I’m going to hold off on sending that. It’s definitely not the type of letter I want them reading while they still are signing my paychecks. More on that later…

On the upside, my wife Alanna and I just returned to Knoxville after a long weekend together in the Smoky Mountains. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night were spent in a little log cabin just outside of Pigeon Forge. I actually had the time to read an entire book while we were there (Three by Ted Deker, I’ll comment on it later too.) We didn’t even leave the cabin all day Sunday. It was wonderful. We sat around reading, played pool, watched a few movies, lounged in a hot tub and a huge Jacuzzi, and slept. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to be utterly non-productive and be completely unconcerned with what my schedule was for the day. That may have been why it was so hard for me to get up this morning. Plus, it was nice to get a little time with Alanna. We do a good job of making time for each other in the midst of our super-hectic schedules, but it’s still not nearly as much as we would like. This weekend was a nice refresher for us personally and as a couple.

Right now Alanna is on her way back from Louisville, KY where she just picked up a seven-week-old pug puppy that I named Oscar. Tonight should be fun J.

It’s so nice to be writing again, even if I’m not being published in a newspaper anywhere. I miss the newspaper terribly, but there are some advantages to doing this blog instead. In the newspaper, I had to have organized thoughts and worry about how things were going to come across. When you have an editor, you have to be concerned about not offending or criticizing the wrong person. Here, I can say anything I want. For example, most Christians are ignorant about the most fundamental truths of life and in many cases the church is one of the main causes of this ignorance. See? I wouldn’t say that in print. More on that comment later too… I’m leaving a lot of loose ends today, aren’t I?

Three by Ted Deker. This was an awesome book. I can’t say too much about it without giving something away, but it deals with the true nature of man and the war between good and evil. Is that vague enough? It’s the type of book that will keep you on the edge of your seat with the action, but unlike most action-packed novels you will keep mulling over the ideas presented in the book for days.

Well, my lunch break at LifeWay is wrapping up. More to come…

(By the way, now that this log has actually been posted, I’ve editted and re-editted the stupid thing about ten times. So much for not being worried about how profound this sounds.)