Why I Care About the Islamic Center in NYC

Lately I’ve been posting a lot of links to articles about the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve decided to take a little break from doing that, not because my convictions have changed, but because I’m afraid that if I post too many people will quit reading the articles. In case you haven’t seen the links, let me state my position clearly (in a bold font): I am strongly in favor of allowing Muslims in the United States to build Islamic centers, mosques, and any other meeting spaces they want to have. Why? Why as a Christian would I support building structures that will be used for Muslim worship services? Why do I even care about this issue enough to keep posting links and arguing in the comments section?

1. I have always been very sensitive to oppression in any form.

It’s always been easy for me to identify with the the little guy who’s being bullied by the ones with the power. As a teenager, I read Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. and even though I was a white guy living in a predominately white small town in the South, I began to care about civil rights. I recently read about the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the Europeans and was horrified by the blood I see on my own hands. I hear about Christians in China and Indonesia having to hide for fear of being killed and I hurt along with them as members of the same body.

And now I see Muslims in the United States – not terrorists, not supporters of terror, but peaceful Muslims who simply want to live their lives and practice their religion – being told by potbellied rednecks on TV that “our laws don’t apply to you.” I see victims of the terrorists in New York (many Muslims died that day too and all were profoundly wounded by the attacks) being told that they sponsored the very terrorists that stole their family members away. I see politicians and pundits attempting to deny Muslims one of the fundamental rights that our country was founded on – the right to practice your religion without government interference. I don’t care if you agree with the Muslims or not, but to deny them basic civil rights goes against everything our country stands for. It’s oppression of a minority group in what is supposed to be the most freedom loving country on earth and it’s wrong.

2. I can’t stand it when I see people use lies and fear to manipulate people’s emotions.

Muslims have become the new boogeyman in America, the people it’s socially acceptable to hate, and politicians and commentators have been quick to use this collective hatred to rally their supporters. They do this by lying and stirring up fear. The very name “Ground Zero Mosque” is an example of this tactic. There’s no mosque and it’s not being built at Ground Zero. Heck, when I first heard about the project I was against it and I think any rational person would be against building a mosque (or any worship center) in the hole left behind when the WTC fell. (Incidentally, there is a plan is to build something in that hole – a mall. Go capitalism!) So why do the opponents of this building call it the Ground Zero Mosque? Because it stirs up an immediate visceral emotional response and stirs up people’s fears of an imminent Muslim invasion.

Fear is a powerful emotion and people know how to use it to get the desired results. The guy who tells his girlfriend that he’s going to leave if she doesn’t have sex with him is using fear. Church-sponsored “judgment houses” at Halloween attempt to scare  people into a relationship with Jesus. Tea Party leaders say our nation is being taken away from us by socialists, communists, Muslims, etc. and if we don’t do something about it the hammer and sickle will be flown at the White House, the Constitution will be replaced by Sharia law, and we’ll all be forced to have computer chips implanted inside of us to buy or sell goods. Combine fear with lies and you can pretty much convince people of anything. People who oppose building mosques across the country regularly accuse the builders of supporting terrorists (even if they’ve publicly denounced terrorism and worked to fight against it). Supporters of these projects are called un-American, deluded, naive, insensitive, and a host of other names.

As a Tennessean, I’m particularly embarrassed by false statements that have been made by politicians in the primary elections. Ron Ramsey declared Islam “a cult,” while Lou Ann Zelenik said that a proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro (the town I live in) would be a “terrorist training center.” I wasn’t aware that terrorist training centers had swimming pools and basketball courts. I guess even radicals need a little breaks from planning world domination. Thankfully both these politicians were voted down, but their statements still rile up their constituents and fuel the flames of fear against Muslims. If you have to resort to lies and manipulation to support your position, your position must be pretty shaky in the first place.

3. Most importantly, if we deny Muslims the right to practice their religion peacefully, we  act unlovingly  and drive people away from the Gospel.

As Christian, my first response to any person should be one of love. That includes people I disagree with. To act differently is to directly disobey what Jesus called the greatest commandment: love God and love people. To quote Dr. David Gushee,  Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University:

For those mainly conservative Christians who are responding to this and other mosque projects with open expressions of anti-Muslim hatred, and open rejections of the principles of religious liberty from which Christians themselves daily benefit, shame on you! As a fellow Christian, I say that you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ, you directly disobey his command that we love our neighbors, and you drive the watching world even further away from any interest in the Gospel message!

As a Christian I benefit every day from the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. How can I deny others those same rights, even if I disagree with them? I truly believe that if we hope to win over the hearts of the Muslim people we must show love and understanding, and that means stopping the needless protests, the name-calling, and the generalizing that I see so much of. I hear pundits talking about remembering the feelings of the victims’ families, but we must also remember that on 9/11 many Muslims in that neighborhood also lost loved ones. Rather than acknowledging their pain and seeing that this center is part of their emotional healing, we instead lump them in with the very people who caused so much pain in the first place. We will only win people by showing love, not fighting.

If you’re interested, here are the links I’ve been posting about the issue:
The leader of proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero defends his plan
Controversy at Ground Zero
There Is Already a Mosque Less Than a Mile From Ground Zero
Why Building the Mosque is Good for America!
Islam has long history downtown
The Shameful Mosque Controversy
Olbermann: There Is No ‘Ground Zero Mosque’
“The Mosque at Ground Zero”

Unprofessional Christian

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done since I was in college. I’ve been going to church on Sunday without being paid for being there. I don’t have to go if I don’t want to. But I actually do want to be there. I even want to serve and I don’t want or expect any money for doing it.

I’ve gone amateur.

I’m not saying that the paycheck was the only reason I went to church when I was on staff, but when going to church is also going your job, it’s impossible not to occasionally have mixed motives. For example, when the average church member misses a church service, they are missed and prayed for. When one of the ministers on staff misses a Sunday, the same things happen, but they also use a vacation day or a sick day. They must refer to the employee handbook to see exactly how many absences are allowed without it affecting their pay. For a minister, missing a day at church is not only missing out on worship and fellowship, but it’s also a business decision that could affect their career.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that.

I realize that every paid job involves hours, absences, time sheets, and all that other administrative stuff, but this is church. Church should be different, right? But it gets even more complicated that. Not only is a minister’s church involvement affected by the job, but the minister’s own spiritual health can get mixed up in the pursuit of a paycheck.

According to a Barna poll, 70% of pastors admit that the only time they study the Word is when they’re preparing for a lesson. Even more, when a church member is struggling with sin, they can go to their Sunday School class or small group and pour out their hearts to get support and encouragement. However, when you’re on staff in a congregationally governed church, those small group members are not only your friends and companions, they’re also you’re employers. Most people only have one or maybe even two bosses to keep happy, but a minister has hundreds and they hold the power to hire and fire you. A minister who confesses their struggles to the church at large could be putting their job on the line (depending on how invincible a congregation wants their ministers to appear.)

So because they need to keep that job, many ministers hold it all inside, putting on a strong outward appearance to keep anyone from seeing their weakness. Then, because they have no one to turn to, the sin in their life is free to fester. Maybe that’s why 50% of pastors polled say they are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry, but they stay because they don’t have any other way to make a living. Sometimes, they keep their job by forfeiting their soul.

I hate talking about church using terms like “paycheck,” “employer,” and “professional.” The church is not a business, but it’s easy to forget that when church is your job. It’s easy to become a professional Christian. I’m definitely not opposed to paying ministers; they work extremely hard and deserve to be compensated. I admire the godly men who are able to serve on a church staff without letting the job (or the fear of losing it) take over their spiritual lives. I just personally am happy being an amateur for now.

If you’re interested in reading more about those statistics and the pressure that ministers face in their jobs, I strongly encourage you to read Mark Driscoll’s Death by Ministry series, compiled here in a handy PDF file.

Odd Man Out: God Bless the Weirdos

Main Entry: mis•fit, n. 1: something that fits badly 2: a person who is poorly adapted to a situation or environment. See also: outcast, outsider, oddball, weirdo, fish out of water, square peg

One of my earliest clear memories was when I was a little boy, probably around six years old, and one of my friends said to me, “You’re weird.”

I said thank you.

I still like being weird. You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I still don’t always fit in very well. I never really have. That doesn’t really bother me 99% of the time. I like being different, charting my own course, marching to the beat of a different drum, [insert cliché about being different here]. In high school, the land of the cliques, I was much happier floating around on the fringes of a bunch of different groups without ever landing in any one of them. Drama, chorus, yearbook… not exactly a recipe for coolness, but I loved it.

The only time this “otherness” bothers me is when I come to church. In my last post, I talked about how people with political views that aren’t GOP have trouble finding their place in many churches, but you don’t have to be a socialist to not fit in in church. I have been in Sunday morning services where I feel like a band geek in a room full of jocks and cheerleaders. I don’t dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music, read the same authors, or watch the same movies. I couldn’t care less about sports but the sermon is filled with football analogies. I’m quiet a lot of the time, not working the crowd shaking hands and filling up the air with small talk. During handshaking time, friends seek each other out and say they’re glad to see each other while I shake hands with the pastor. After church, everybody goes out for lunch together while I head home.

I want to be part of the family but sometimes I feel like the black sheep.

And I know there are other people just like me. They visit a church and before the organist has finished playing the prelude they already know that they don’t fit in. They’re (let’s just say “we,” not “they,” cause I’m part of this group too) the artists, the poets, the creative types who think out of the box, and we just can’t seem to find our place among other Christians. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love Jesus madly. We do. And it really doesn’t even mean that we don’t love the church. We do, but often we feel like the church doesn’t love us back. We feel like a kid who has just been told he’s not cool enough to sit at the lunch table with the popular kids. Church is about the only place where I really do want to fit in, but that just doesn’t happen very often.

Out of context or not, I like the Bible verses that say that Christians are “peculiar people” and “aliens” (thanks, KJV!) That resonates with me. I Iove the others out there like me. Jesus said that all could come to him, not just the ones who have managed to navigate the complicated social waters of the church. Who did Jesus spent most of his time with? Outcasts. Loners. Losers. The people shunned by society and rejected by the church.

So God bless the weirdos, the freaks, the non-conformists, the band geeks and yearbook nerds, the kids in all black and dark eyeliner, the hippie girls who wear organic cotton skirts and don’t shave their legs or under their arms, the indie music snobs…

God bless the kids who would rather be on stage in a costume than on a court in a uniform, the guys who know fashion and the girls who fix cars, the artists whose work will never be sold in the front of a Christian bookstore…

God bless the guys who can’t stand to wear a suit on Sundays, the church members who don’t vote Republican but don’t put bumper stickers on their car for fear of being branded a heretic, the A/V guys who hang out in the back of the sanctuary and run the soundboard…

God bless the sinners and the Samaritans, the unclean and the lepers, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the “peculiar people,” and the “aliens.”

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

What’s So Great About Capitalism?

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Acts 2:44-45

I’m not a politician. I’m not even a political person. Truth be told, laughing at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is about the extent of my political involvement on a normal day. So as I bring this question up, I approach it as one seeking answers, not one arguing for a position. If you want to pick a fight about economic policy, you’re not going to get it from me. Feel free to fight amongst yourselves in the comments.

So here’s the question: I constantly hear church goers complain about the president and one of the major complaints I hear is that he is a “socialist.” They spit that last word out like it tastes bad. To hear them talk, with Obama in charge we’re just a few steps away from being Russia under Stalin. I overheard a conversation a few weeks back where both sides reminisced about the good old days where everyone knew who the bad guys were (communists and socialists.) The fact of the matter is that Obama’s no socialist and he’s not about to turn our country into a socialist nation, but even if he was, would that really make him a “bad guy”? Can we really frame this argument in moral terms so that socialism equals evil and capitalism equals good? And even more interesting for me, why is capitalism thought to be the automatic moral preference for Christians? Is a belief in capitalism inherently the more “Christian” or moral position?

Socialism seems to only be a dirty word in America. On the other side of the pond, many politicians proudly wear the title of “socialist” and run for office under socialist parties. They make no secret of their disdain for the free market. I know there are socialists in America, but as far as I know, most of them have to avoid that label is they want to get elected.

Jesus commands the church to care for the poor and says that the things we do to help the least among us are done unto him as well (Matthew 25:34-45). Jesus’ half brother James even says that taking care of widows and orphans is the mark of true religion (James 1:27). The early church shared everything they had, selling their possessions and distributing the money to those who had needs (Acts 2:44-45). Caring for the poor, helping those unable to help themselves, the redistribution of wealth… that sounds a lot like the things that socialists talk about. I realize that many Christians will respond that these verses deal with the actions and responsibilities of believers and churches, not governments. However, couldn’t a Christian be in favor of any work that supports the poor, both within the church and the government?

When people talk about not wanting to take their “hard earned money” and give it away to others, I hear argument like the one I found on this blog: “Capitalism rewards hard work, creativity, service, and (not so good) cunning.” The line of thinking seems to be that capitalism is great because it rewards hard work and creativity. It’s great because it encourages people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and make a living. Does capitalism hurt anybody? Only “the foolish, the lazy, the poor, the sick, and the ungifted.” In other words, if you don’t have money, it’s because you’re lazy or stupid and you did it to yourself. You made your bed, now sleep in it and don’t expect any help from anyone else. This is the Christian view? Not to mention the fact that in the desire to gain capital, people and businesses frequently use and exploit the “least of these” in order to get the most labor for the least money.

Socialism may have some major problems with the way it works out in real life implementation, but is capitalism really any better or more moral? Both fall under some shady gray area in some respects. I guess my problem isn’t with either view as much as it is with the idea that there is only one official “Christian” view on economic policy that all Jesus followers must hold. I have the feeling that even in the church this argument has more to do with party affiliations (and everyone knows real Christians are Republicans) than with biblical reasoning.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible doesn’t endorse any particular economic policy, political party, or even a system of government (How many leaders in the Bible became leaders by gaining a majority of the electoral votes?) Shouldn’t two Christians with different political views feel free to express those views without being seen as heretical or even “evil?” Isn’t it possible for churches to refrain from demonizing any minority views? People who hold these views often are afraid to speak up for fear of how the congregation will react.

Isn’t the church supposed to be more about freedom than fear?

Blogging, Self-Censoring, and Youth Ministry

Holy cow! Is Jody really posting a new blog? Yes, yes I am.

Inspired by my amazing wife’s new blog, I think I’m going to give this thing another shot. You see, I used to post fairly regularly but somewhere along the way something changed. My early blog posts were passionate manifestos about life and the church. I confessed to sins and struggles while challenging traditions and taboos for what a youth minister could write about publicly (a few examples here, here, here, here, and oh my goodness here.) What changed? Did I mellow out a little as I got older? Did I realize I was going nuts over stuff that didn’t really matter? Did I just get less cocky? Some, but that’s not the main reason my blog cooled down and eventually died.

I started going to a church where church members know how to use the internet.

At my last church, where the average member could tell you personal stories about WWI, I could post my thoughts and feelings in relative anonymity. Heck, I taught the pastor how to use email. No matter what I posted (“Sex is good!” “Obama might not be the devil!” “The church does stupid stuff sometimes!”), I didn’t have to worry about any repercussions. But once people in my church could actually read what I was writing, I got timid.

You see, as a youth minister, I’ve never really felt what you might call “job security.” From what I’ve seen and heard, youth ministers are apparently very fireable. I would hate for a blog post to be the reason I’m flipping burgers to feed my family. However…

I don’t think faking it is the right way to be a minister. I don’t think the way to do church is for me to simply be silent when I feel like I’m in the minority. I don’t feel like I can live up to my calling without be authentic.

So I’m going to start posting again, this time with freedom. I know people will read it and will probably disagree with me at times, but I pray that where we have differences, grace will abound. I preach about being the person that God designed you to be and not letting other people’s opinions be the main governing factor in your life… I think it’s time I lived up to that as well.

Classic Column Sunday: Hide Your Cheeseburgers! Here Come The Fat Police!

I thought that for a little change of pace on Sunday nights, I would start posting some of my old columns. I wrote a weekly column for the Expositor (Sparta’s local paper) called “Adolescent Attitudes” when I was a senior in high school and during my early years of college. I had a ton of fun with it, and I still have a lot of affection for these old pieces. I’m not sure that anyone can really call any of these “classics,” but since it’s my blog I can do whatever I want. If you read these columns the first time, you can relive the experience. If you’re a first time reader, well, I was an odd young man.

I’m not sure about all the legal stuff with copyright, so I’ll just clarify that I was the original author and these columns were originally published in the Sparta Expositor.

Here’s a little news item from the world of really, really stupid people. In an article in the Addictive Behaviors journal, Yale professor Kelly Brownell has recommended that a special tax be placed on fatty foods and that advertisements for these foods should be restricted. The advertising restrictions would include close examination of advertisements for non-food products to see if they promote unhealthy role models. Additionally, if Brownell’s proposal was to become policy, activities that promote good health would receive government subsidies, and those who participated in these behaviors would receive tax breaks.

This is the most terrifying thing I have ever heard.

First off, I would like to note that for the first time ever in this column, I’m actually doing a little bit of research before writing. Normally, I just write whatever the Column Fairy gives to me as I sleep (She’s been a bit lazy lately), but this time I actually looked up some articles on the internet and verified that I knew what I was talking about. I’m pretty proud of myself. But that’s enough patting myself on the back, on with the stupidity.

The reason why this worries me is because I don’t know if I like the idea of the government taking care of me and keeping me from getting fat. I firmly believe that the founding fathers, when writing the Constitution, had the intention of building a country where people can grow as many chins as they like without fear. This “we’re from the government and we’re here to help” type of policy seems to me to be like a the guy who comes up to you when you’re working out and tries to get you to work out more. I’m perfectly happy going about my life with a certain level of physical activity and a high quantity of junk food. I don’t need the government to tell me I should work out more; I already know that. However, if I choose to reduce my fat intake, I’d like it to be for the reasons everyone else does it – to impress other people and look pretty.

In modern society, people really don’t need to be extremely physically fit. What do most people do on a day-to-day basis that requires them to be in good shape? In ancient times you had to be fit to outrun the animals that were lurking around trying to eat them. That’s motivation! The only thing we need exercise for is so that we can do the exercises. We exercise with weights so that we can lift the weights. After lifting the weights, what do we earn? The right to lift more weights!

Proponents of this “fat tax” compare fatty foods to cigarettes because they say that both are harmful and are marketed knowing the harm they will cause. They call this food tax a “sin tax.” Let me now confess that as a college student, I am apparently the chief of sinners. I don’t know of a single food I eat that is not harmful to me in some way. I have become intimately acquainted with McDonald’s this past year, and everyone knows that eating at Mickey D’s is shining example of healthy living. I can’t help it though! At fifty cents a burger, it’s impossible for a poor boy to overlook. I drink coffee by the bucket, and I’m sure that if they can attack fat, soon caffeine will be somewhere among their targets… and that, my friends, is when they will have gone too far.

Picture this scene if you will. It’s the year 2130. Shiny, happy beautiful people with great bodies are walking down the street smiling perfectly white smiles. They are festively dressed in perfectly fitting clothes (It’s much easier to design clothes for the thin.) in honor of a national holiday. It’s Anorexia Day! Those who have been able to reject not only fatty foods, but all foods, are regarded as heroes. Plus, they get incredible government benefits for taking up this cause. In the midst of this, two men – obviously up to no-good – are talking on the street corner. One hands the other a large sum of money in exchange for a indiscreet brown paper bag. The receiver of this parcel, we’ll call him Winston, glances around nervously and then runs to the shelter of his home. As he unwraps his prize, the smell of beef and cheese float into his nostrils. A cheeseburger! The most beautiful cheeseburger in the world! As his teeth close on this miracle, a knock sounds from the door. The door is flung open – the Fat Police! Winston is knocked to ground as he tries to run and the beautiful meat patty falls to onto the ground, ruined. The five-second rule is not enough.

Fight for freedom. Go get a burger, some fries, fried chicken, ice cream, a candy bar, a plate of nachos, a burrito, a pizza, a medium-rare steak, a plate of enchiladas, a roast beef sandwich, or even just plate of fried eggs and country ham. Make the founding fathers proud.

Panic (and Rage) at the Pump

Today was an interesting day to buy gas in Middle Tennessee. Many motorists discovered that their favorite fossil fuel was simply unavailable at many of the gas stations across the state. Those who did find stations with a supply often had to wait as long as two hours for a chance to fill up. What happened? How are we suddenly without gasoline? (As a DJ I heard on the radio said, “When did the United States become a third world country?”)

A number of factors led to the “shortage.” You’ll see why I use quotation marks around that word in a moment. It’s true that Hurricane Ike did damage some of the Texas refineries that supply Middle Tennessee gas stations with their fuel. The pipeline that we get our gas from was operating at about 25% of it’s normal capacity so there was definitely less gas than usual coming our way. Along with that, though, one of the chief causes of the problem was panicked motorists who had heard rumors that we were about to be out of fuel and sucked up the fuel supply at almost double the rate of usual sales. Prices soared, tempers flared, and “panic buying” ruled the day.

I’ll admit that I was among the buyers waiting for gas, but not for two hours, just for two cars in front of me. The station I stopped at had set a twenty-five dollar cap on how much gas one person could buy at a time, possibly to keep their doors open for longer, possibly to make sure that everyone was able to get at least a little gas. The guy in front of me in line was obviously not aware of this fact as he attempted to fill up his SUV. When the pump stopped, he stormed into the gas station and began to yell at the cashiers. I couldn’t hear his words from inside my car, but I could see the anger on his face. He made threatening gestures, threw his hands in the air, turned red, and after about five minutes of screaming (probably about the same amount time that he had spent waiting), he stomped out to his car at drove off. What causes people to act like this over a few gallons of gasoline? Are we so dependent on “stuff” that when it’s taken away, or at least not given to us in the amount that we want, we fly off the handle?

What can we learn from a day like today? First, when rumors run rampant, things can get sticky. Thankfully this time, it was no real problem. Yeah, today a lot of the pumps had plastic bags covering them, but officials say the pipeline should be back at full capacity into next week. We definitely don’t need to take everything we hear at face value and react, but that doesn’t seem to be the biggest issue of the day. All the anger and rage over having what is “rightfully ours” taken away seems to me to be the bigger problem. I understand that for a lot of people that gas was necessary, but most of us could probably stand to conserve fuel more than we do and could definitely get by on less. I also understand that the inconvenience of having to wait for hours at the pump can make drivers get frustrated, but that’s no excuse to blow up. What I don’t understand at all is why having to share with others during what looks like a potential crisis would cause a presumably normal person to have a meltdown.

I think the real source of the problem is not a gas shortage, but an overage of getting what we want too much of the time. Materialism and a sense of entitlement convince us that we “need” many things that we simply want. As Americans, most of us expect that if we have the money, we should be able to buy whatever we want, whenever we want it. When we’re not able to get something we “need,” or even worse, when we have to share with others in need, well… that’s just un-American. But maybe it’s something that Christians need to think seriously about. What are we seeking first: the kingdom of heaven or the American dream?

All the stuff we’ve been given doesn’t really belong to us in the first place and it’s all temporary anyway, so maybe we need to loosen up about it. I seem to remember a very wise man saying something about not serving two masters. Stuff isn’t bad in itself, but how we react to it can be bad. Do we seek after and hoard our stuff or do we see a chance to share? And entitlement? Just what makes us think we deserve any of the stuff we have? Let’s keep stuff in it’s proper place and thank God for the things we do have. Just something to think about next time you’re filling up.

A Few Thoughts on Postmodernism

One of the buzzwords in evangelical circles today is “postmodernism.” Should the church be postmodern? How do we deal with postmodernity. The problem we run into when we start talking about terms like “postmodern” is that there’s no general consensus about what the term really means. So when people ask, “Should the church be postmodern?” I think our first response should be to ask “In what way?”

Should the church embrace relativism? No, absolutely not. But not all postmoderns do this either. Often this can mean simply bringing the message to people where they’re at and speaking to their experience. For example, first presenting God as “Father” to someone who longs to have a relationship with their own father. Does this approach deny absolutes? No, but it doesn’t ignore the fact that experience does affect our perception.

There’s no denying that there is a danger in taking this too far. We absolutely have to make sure our doctrine is sound. At the same time though, the church can’t just cover its ears or dig in its heels over methods if those methods aren’t reaching people. Post moderns favor discussion over being taught. The popularity of the blogosphere and message boards speaks to the desire for that approach. (Assuming, of course, that those who are discussing are doing so respectfully with a longing to learn.) Post moderns make a big deal out of community and creative approaches to worship. I think these are also good things.

The church needs to make sure not to tie itself to any philosophical system whether it’s post modernity or modernity. Modernity has plenty of problems too, including the idea that everything can be categorized, codified, and understood in its entirety. This is a pretty arrogant concept. For all its faults, post modernity does admit that there are a lot of things that we don’t know and that is okay.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the issue. (This is kind of long though. Maybe it was five cents worth.) We shouldn’t be gung ho postmodern, but at the same time, we need to stop being so gung ho about modern approaches. Let’s be clear on the essentials of doctrine, but let go of methods that aren’t speaking to those who need to hear.

Blurring the Lines

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that several Christian bookstores prominently display and sell this picture?

My problem with this has nothing to do with Bush’s politics or personal convictions. I’m sure he’s a nice man. The problem I have is that this particular painting is that it is blatant propaganda for the GOP. Both parties have propaganda, but the Democrats’ propaganda doesn’t carry Christian bookstores’ seal of approval. This painting is being sold in a store whose sole concern should be the kingdom of God. These bookstores also carry books written by Republican politicians George Bush Sr. and Newt Gingrich. You can also buy biographies of Dubya, his dad, and Condoleezza Rice. Since when did being Christian automatically mean being Republican?

I’m not trying to argue against or in favor of the Republicans at the moment. What I’m bothered by is the way that Christianity has become synonymous with a political party. It’s no accident either. In order to gain votes from Christians, the Religious Right has sought to Christianize political parties and policies which they support (i.e. the Republicans) and to demonize political entities which they oppose (i.e., anybody else).When people are told that they are voting “Christian” by voting for Republican Party candidates, it is being insinuated that they are voting anti-Christian by voting for any other candidate.

There are a lot of good Christian politicians who love Jesus and seek to follow his guidance when making political decisions… and they’re Democrats. You shouldn’t be shocked. Former President Jimmy Carter immediately comes to mind. He was outspokenly Christian, even teaching Sunday School in a Southern Baptist Church while President. Believe it or not, many Democrats are not the left-wing liberals that the Republicans have painted them to be. I personally know Tennessee State House Representative Charles Curtiss and can vouch for him when it comes to standing up for his Christian convictions. Many Democrats vote against the party’s official position on values issues while voting with them on more fundamental issues like the economy. (When I say “fundamental” I’m not implying that the economy is more important than values. However, in reality, the basic differences between the parties are their economic views, not values.)

Not all Republicans care about Christian values. Some do, some don’t. The Republican positions are not necessarily Christian positions. Some are, some aren’t. When you’re looking for a candidate who stands for your values, look at the specific person, not just the party. If Christians can’t recognize the difference, then the rest of the world won’t either, leaving the door open for statements made by Pat Robertson and other Republican politicians to be taken as the “Christian” view. Christian bookstores, when it comes to politics, don’t put on blinders and just stock items that make you part of the GOP propaganda machine. The Republicans often make statements that God is on their side, but, as I’ve said before, Jesus was not a politician… and he certainly wasn’t a Republican. And neither am I.

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.