Thursday, March 31, 2011

Drive By Evangelism...Literally

Today as I was driving home, I was stopped at a stoplight behind a truck with vanity plates that read "GODRULZ." Although I found the owner's public display of faith far more classy than the approach many others have taken with their vehicles, it brought one major question to my mind.

"Why?"

I mean, besides the owner's obvious enthusiasm for his/her faith, what do they think this will accomplish? Do they think some lost soul will be stopped behind them at a stoplight and suddenly think "Huh. You know, maybe God does rule."? Is it some needed reminder of God's sovereignty as they head out for their morning commute? How many people just look at it bewildered thinking "Go drools?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just Be Honest

I've had a melancholy sort of week. It was a state of mind that led to a lot of reflection and looking back over the years. I was thinking of my time in American Evangelical Culture, the people I met there, the ones I'm still in contact with, the bridges I burned with others, those who burned the bridges in my direction, churches I visited, churches I attended, churches I left, etc. I have two bad habits when I spend a lot of time in thought. I overanalyze simple things and simplify complex ones. As I continued to reflect, I tried to think of the one piece of advice I would give to people/churches/organizations that exist within that culture. Could I boil it down to one thing?

At first I assumed that it would be something about treating others with love and compassion. But there are plenty of people in that culture who do behave with love. And when it comes to those who don't, they usually claim that they are. So that wouldn't really work. I let all the faces, places, and experiences I had in that world flip through my mind's eye one by one. As I did, the emotions of those experiences, good and bad, rushed back. It became a more personal challenge now. It wasn't just about the advice that I would give to the culture in general. What advice would I give if I had the chance to give it to those I had personally encountered?

Just be honest.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Terrible T-Shirt Tuesday: Misconstruing Art Edition

Found here   For even more fun, read the customer reviews

How is this awkward? Let me count the ways.

1. Having an old man's face directly on your left boob. It's like one of those paintings where the eyes seem to follow you around the room. I don't want my boob doing that. Awkward.

2. An old man leering at a younger woman while holding a pitchfork. It's like the beginning of a low budget horror movie. Awkward.

3. The fact that the top of the porch behind them reads "Still Legal in Most States" Um...in what state is marriage not legal? Unless your gay or polygamous, I don't think that's an issue. I know of no one state that is seeking to outlaw heterosexual marriage. Misleading and confusing claim. Awkward.

4. Unintentionally endorsing incest. Whoever thought that Grant Wood's "American Gothic" was the perfect picture of traditional marriage, obviously hasn't studied much art. A quick study (or half assed google search for that matter) would have quickly informed them that "American Gothic" is a painting of a farmer and his unmarried daughter. The real life individuals who posed for the painting were the artist's dentist and his sister. Making these two an example of marriage would be incest, something that in fact is not still legal in most states. Awkward.

5. Taking something completely out of context to try to push your own agenda. Extremely awkward.


Friday, March 25, 2011

The Emotional Appeal

Did he really just say what I thought he said? I couldn't believe my ears. Here I was sitting in chapel at my Conservative Christian College. It was a Friday "praise chapel" which was all praise and worship rather than a speaker. The student who was leading the worship that day was talking about how easy it can be to go through the motions. He said "I'm sure we all know of the worship format of 2:3:2. Two slow songs to draw everyone in, three upbeat songs to pump them up, and two slower emotional songs to prepare them for the message." My ears perked up immediately. No, I didn't know that. I had no clue that there was a recognized formula for achieving the proper emotional response to your message. As much as I understand the need for leaders to be intentional about structuring a worship service, I couldn't help but feel a little manipulated. (Joel Wentz wrote a great article for Relevant about this very issue that I would highly recommend you read.)

During my time as an American Evangelical, I spent a few years within the more charismatic circles of the movement. A number of my close friends and roommates were involved with such movements, so it started when I began tagging along with them to various events. But there were two very distinct moments that opened my eyes to the issue of emotional manipulation within the church. I'd like to share those stories with you.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Confession

This year, I'm making a point to attend the Wednesday Lenten prayer services. I don't know if prayer service is the right term, but it's probably the closest. These aren't prayer services in the way most Evangelicals would think of the term. They have a format closer to a regular church service and contain a scripture reading, music, and brief sermon. But their overall focus is to drive you towards prayer and contemplation, providing a period of silence for both. Last night's service was a service of darkness and light, with a candle procession. It was beautiful. But what has stuck with me most was the focus of the sermon the pastor gave.

As I've mentioned, Lent is a season that focuses on forgiveness. It is a time when we seek to forgive and learn what it means to be forgiven. During last night's sermon, the pastor (who is the youth pastor) told the story of a youth camping trip in which one young boy fell behind during the canoe portage as he struggled under the weight of the pack he was carrying. The pastor went back to find him and offered help. The stubborn young man gritted his teeth and stated "I can do it." As he slowly walked with the boy, the pastor asked "What will it take for you to let me help you? What do you have to prove?" He said that at that point he realized that this wasn't just about the pack. It was about all the struggles in this boy's life. It was about being the smallest, being bullied, being overlooked, etc. It was about all the burdens that he carried from the difficulties in his life. The pastor used this as a springboard to exhort the congregation to consider what burdens they are refusing to let go of, even when they are too much to bear.

It really made me think. As with anyone who has been hurt by the church, there are definitely areas in which I struggle to forgive. It's been beneficial to focus on those this Lenten season. (It's one reason I don't give anything up for Lent. I know that I would use the act of giving up sugar or TV to feel as though I was observing the season while I was actually avoiding the difficult act of forgiving those who've hurt me.) But as I started to think about what the larger burdens I carry from my painful exodus from Evangelicalism, I realized that there was one I haven't been acknowledging.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Terrible T-Shirt Tuesday: In Case They Don't Notice the Ring Edition

Found at Christianbook.com

This shirt completely reminds me of that person who begins every sentence with "My wife..." or "My husband..." If you spend enough time in American Evangelical Culture, you'll soon realize that there's at least one at every house warming party or Bible study you attend. It also reminded me of this post from Stuff Christian Culture Likes. 

Reading Too Much Into The Weather

Many of you may have seen a video of a girl who appears to be praising God's goodness for the devastation in Japan. I'm not going to repost it here for two reasons. 1. It's everywhere online these days. 2. I have good reason to believe that it is simply a melodramatic satire. But I believe we should find the fact that many people believe it to be genuine (I wasn't certain at first myself) to be troubling. Why would people so quickly believe something so absurd and callous?

I would be willing to argue that it is easier for some to believe that Christians might respond in such a manner because they have indeed seen them behave in such a manner in the past, in both minor and major instances.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday


As I've mentioned before, I like the liturgical calendar and the idea that there are various seasons of the church in which we focus on different areas of our faith life. Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that kicks off the liturgical season of Lent. After attending my church's midday Ash Wednesday service today, I realized that the manner in which many observe Lent is extremely disconnected from the purpose of the season.

Although most Evangebapticostal churches do not observe a liturgical calendar, most people I met in American Evangelical Culture do observe Lent. However, they do so in a manner that in my opinion is separate from the liturgical roots of the season. And even though I knew many who observed Lent, I met few that observed Ash Wednesday, which I find to be a essential part of Lent. It's the day that sets the entire tone for the season.

I'm sure we all know of people who give something up for Lent. Or perhaps we give something up ourselves. I've had many Evangelical friends who have given up TV, smoking, coffee, sweets, or (in recent years) Facebook for Lent. This is a practice that many in traditional liturgical traditions observe as well. (As evidenced in the Catholic practice of eating no meat on Fridays, which is the reason so many restaurants are heavily marketing fish sandwiches this time of year.) The difference I find in this practice and the liturgical tradition lies in the reason I hear people give for doing so. In American Evangelical Culture, the most common reasons I've heard given for giving something up are to spend more time with God and in prayer. These are not unworthy goals, but how is this different than any other period of fasting one might partake in?

In my liturgical Lutheran church, the pastor reminded us today that Lent is about humility, reflection, and repentance. The choice to give something up isn't merely about having more time to pray. It is an act of penitence and remorse. It is a time of year in which we remember how fragile and confess how sinful we are. The ashes that are imposed are a symbol of that fragility and a declaration of repentance. (In what I find to be a fitting metaphor, the ashes are made from the palms used in the observance of the Sunday of the Passion-aka Palm Sunday. If you'd like to read more about why ashes are used, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a pretty good explanation of the process here.)  But most importantly, Lent is a season in which we seek to truly learn what it means to forgive and be forgiven. If we give up our morning coffee or other indulgence, but neglect to learn the art of forgiveness, I don't think we can claim that we are truly observing Lent.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

WWJB Saturday: The Lord is My Lighted Keyboard Edition

Found at Just Add Power

For the record, I think that a lighted keyboard for running the worship slides and whatnot when the house lights are off is a great and very useful idea. What I don't understand is the constant need for all of our objects to be overt spiritual reminders. This item is designed to be used in church. Is there really an epidemic of zombie-like Evangelical tech people who find themselves in a dark room watching a praise  band with no idea what's going on or why they are there until they happen to look down and spot a glowing cross?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Problem of Healing

*Forgive my delay in posting. I've been otherwise occupied with a slew of freelance work and home improvement projects. Although I missed Tuesday, this post uses a terrible t-shirt to illustrate its point. I hope that this hits home with some of you, because it was/is a very defining part of my exodus from Evangelicalism and I can only assume that of many others.*





From C28 Christian Stores

One of the most common sources of emotional pain I hear from people who left American Evangelical Culture centers around failed healings. If you were raised Catholic, Lutheran, or in some other liturgical tradition, you've probably never had someone from your church attempt to heal you. Certainly, illness or injury would have been the focus of prayers, but in many Evangebapticostal arenas, it takes on a much more hands on approach. In those circles it is not uncommon for people to not merely pray for you to be healed, but to attempt to be the instrument through which God divinely delivers such healing.

This is a very popular activity in Pentecostal circles. Since God is sovereign over an injury or illness, they simply lay hands on the afflicted and pray to cast such a problem out. So far, so good, right? But what if this doesn't result in healing? Once the intended effects aren't realized, everyone has to scramble to explain why it didn't work and that's where the real problem begins. Too many people, when there are healings are not realized, are told they must not have had enough faith or that perhaps they haven't properly repented of some sin. In doing so, those who initially sought to heal them have now inflicted emotional/spiritual wounds in addition to the physical/mental ones they were already experiencing.