Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why i Still Sweep my Chimney on December 24th...

My wife and i have entered into a lot of discussion about the role of Santa this season. A lot of our friends don't like the idea of Santa. Some see it as taking away from the focus on Christ's birth, while others see it as playing into consumerism, and yet others simply don't like to lie to their kids about such issues.

Of all these reasons i grapple with the whole change of emphasis away from Jesus and toward Santa the most. Yet it is precisely because i want my kids to have a positive experience of Jesus that i continue to embrace the jolly Saint.

What i mean is this: Kids just don't appreciate or understand all of our value systems. i don't feel that i can expect my child to appreciate that while their friends get gifts at Christmas time, they don't, because it's about celebrating Jesus as our gift. i tend to think that in attempting to help my children gain a deeper appreciation for the true meaning of Christmas, they are going to begin associating Jesus with the Grinch who Stole Christmas, and my intentions will backfire in my face.

So we've talked about maybe doing gifts a day or even a week early, and making Christmas a day to focus on family and our spiritual beliefs and practices. Or maybe choosing a different day to focus on Christ's birth (like a day that wasn't originally a major pagan holiday celebrating the birth of Mithra).

At the same time, i think it's a ton of fun to see the kids get excited about Santa coming while they are sleeping, and anticipating the gifts he's left behind and the evidence that he's been there (the piece of cookie i left with a bite mark in it). i like fantasy, mystery, and wonder. i agree, it's too bad they had to pick such a beautiful religious holiday to stamp this over, but i think the idea in itself is a fun one.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

CNN Special

Hey, if you're able, check out the CNN special "After Jesus: The first Christians" on Sat & Sun 8pm or 11Pm eastern time, 5pm & 8pm pacific time.

After Jesus: The First Christians: The challenges, struggles and revolution that became Christianity. CNN Presents "After Jesus: The First Christians."

Here's a link to some online extras that go along with the documentary.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What the Hell Happened to Christianity?

Here's an article posted on CNN's website today...

By Jay Bakker and Marc Brown
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Jay Bakker, son of former Praise The Lord leaders Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner, is minister of Revolution Church and subject of a new documentary series, "One Punk Under God," on Sundance Channel. Marc Brown is a Revolution staff member.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity.

While the current state of Christianity might seem normal and business-as-usual to some, most see through the judgment and hypocrisy that has permeated the church for so long. People witness this and say to themselves, "Why would I want to be a part of that?" They are turned off by Christians and eventually, to Christianity altogether. We can't even count the number of times someone has given us a weird stare or completely brushed us off when they discover we work for a church.

So when did the focus of Christianity shift from the unconditional love and acceptance preached by Christ to the hate and condemnation spewed forth by certain groups today? Some say it was during the rise of Conservative Christianity in the early 1980s with political action groups like the Moral Majority. Others say it goes way back to the 300s, when Rome's Christian Emperor Constantine initiated a set of laws limiting the rights of Roman non-Christians. Regardless of the origin, one thing is crystal clear: It's not what Jesus stood for.

His parables and lessons were focused on love and forgiveness, a message of "come as you are, not as you should be." The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.

This brings us to the big issues of American Christianity: Abortion and gay marriage. These two highly debatable topics will not be going away anytime soon. Obviously, the discussion centers around whether they are right or wrong, but is the screaming really necessary? After years of witnessing the dark side of religion, Marc and I think not.

Christians should be able to look past their differences and agree to disagree. This allows people to discuss issues with respect for one another. Christians are called to love others just as they are, without an agenda. Only then will Christianity see a return to its roots: Loving God with all of your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.

The Apostle Paul describes this idea of love beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."

But don't take our word for it; look at what Jesus and his followers stood for in his time and what Christianity stands for today. Then come to your own conclusion.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Acting in Love

Jesus set up an unparalleled example of love and non- discrimination as he dined with some of the most unpopular people in Palestine. They ate at the same table, broke bread off the same loaf, laughed together, listened to each others stories, and got past their many differences.

i find it hard to dine and build community even with those who share my socio-economic status. Mostly due to our lack of motivation to get together and build relationships. i have community, but sometimes it feels so disjointed. i would like to see our worlds of fellowship, spirituality, and mission come together. As it stands, over here...i have fellowship. Over there...i have spirituality. And in that one place, that only has enough room for me to stand, i have service. What i mean is, i don't really serve along-side anyone in my community or spirituality groups. Service is something i do, when i go to work, when i volunteer for a ministry at church. There are others there, serving as i am, but i don't feel that sense of "doing it together". It's kinda like we're each doing it, and it happens to be at the same time. Hmmm.

Finally, the prospect of true dine with those whom are different from me. Maybe they're less educated, less socially appropriate, not real careful to maintain their hygiene, or are constantly needy and can't seem to "give" in a relationship.

Not to just serve a meal to the homeless, but to truly befriend the homeless, and not in that condescending ministry focus "hey Henry, i am super happy to see you once a week and to do good things for you for an hour."

Can we overcome these obstacles, these differences? Can we eat with the leper, the homely woman, the selfish and arrogant, the pompous, the stinky? Can they play with our kids and enter into small talk with us? Can we share life together?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Emerging Hope

i have been completely challenged by the theology and praxis of the emerging church. For a long time i really didn't understand Christianity, it's purpose and direction, other than from an atonement perspective: Jesus atone's for my sins so that i might be saved (go to heaven). This felt strangly lacking.

It's no one's fault that i thought this way, and perhaps i just missed some of the other aspects of the faith due to my lack of attention. One aspect, being missional living; the other being relational living. This doesn't sum up the movement (which is still lacking a theology for the relational, though it is a big part of their "living). It only speaks to two areas that have both challenged me and given me something to work toward both personally and from a ministerial perspective (equipping others).

Scot McKnight posted a blog today that talked about two major aspects of emerging; what we are emerging into and what we are emerging from. We are emerging into how we think church should be in the future (adapting to cultural change) and we are emerging from where we've been (conservative evangelicalism, disunity of the Church, power structures of our past).

Many people are asking "what are the dangers of emerging?" While this is important, i hope just as many are asking "what are the positives of emerging?" One day "emerging" will simply be the mentality behind how the majority of Chrisians understand and live the Christian faith. i believe this will be highly relational and missional.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tapping into Consumerism

The "Red" campaign, backed by the likes of Bono, has launched and is in full force. You've likely seen the advertisements on television. American Express has come out with a new "Red" card, which stands in stark contrast to my own "Blue" card.

My blue card earns points which i can trade in for merchandise. i got myself a nice 1 gig memory card for my pocket PC and have been jamming to U2 ever since.

The Red card on the other hand donates one percent of your purchase dollars to help fight AIDS in Africa. Which to me seems like a much more noble cause. Upon learning of it i immediately tried to trade in my Blue card for a Red card. Unfortunately i would soon learn that the Red card is only being offered in the U.K. i haven't heard any news of if and when it will launch in the US, which is a huge consumer market.

The whole catch is to tap into the power of consumerism in order to start putting dollars toward world relief. Now there are some who don't like this idea and say it's just a ploy for AE to gain more customers among a demographic they usually don't appeal to. That may very well be true. Yet i still think it's a great idea, and i wish more companies would attempt this ploy rather than appealing to the whole "earn for yourself" deal. It at least gets people thinking and it taps into the culture in a way that is highly relevant. They don't have to dig into their pockets and make a decision to give, them simply have to charge, and when this holiday season is over and they forget about giving, they'll still be giving (even unintentionally), and perhaps that Red card will constantly remind them that there is a need greater than themselves out there.

And would it be such a bad thing if it became "trendy" to give?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Straw man Burns On!!!

(See previous post, "Dying is usually painful" first)

O.k., just when i thought it was safe to love the "straw man" i created, i recieved an e-mail informing me of the American Family Association's call to protest because a Muslim guy wants to take his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible (imagine). Click here if you dare: America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on.

Oh, and he's also the first Muslim elected to the united states congress. How'd we let that happen?

All right, i can't beat up my straw man anymore, so i'm going to go punch a pillow.

Dying is Usually Painful

i've been pondering the comments from the last post (Christ Follower), particularly Jeremy's, and considering whether perhaps we do set up a bit of a "straw man". A straw man is a ficticious character, with mostly exageratted attributes, that is suppose to reflect an actual argument or perspective (but doesn't do so accurately), with the aim to make a case that is easy to shoot down. Catch that?

Maybe i've made a bit of a straw man out of "fundamentalists" (Scot McKnight wrote a good post today about using this terminology). They're out there, no doubt (Jerry Falwell; Pat Robertson; all their loyal followers), but the average church goer really doesn't fall into these categories. So yeah, we can dislike the outspokenness of the "fundamentalists" but really i'm just not sure there are that many of them. Jeremy made mention of those who personally desire to "dress up" for church and the such, and i don't think anyone means to put people who are simply living by their own personal convictions in this category. We all have our own personal convictions, and if we have any sort of authenticity, we'll live by them. Though we won't necessarily feel the need to force others to live by them, and by-and-large i think this goes for most people.

We do need a change. We do need to be more active in living out our faith, and being culturally relevant, which the church at large has a difficult time doing (including me), but it doesn't mean they are trying to impede the faith. Though it is still very, very, very frustrating. But all things in love. i'll be preaching a sermon on that concept later this month. i do pretty good at it accept when it comes to the issue of the future of the Church and what i see getting in the way. So this is the area i need to apply love to. That both sucks and is good.