Saturday, April 30, 2011

WWJB Saturday: NFL Draft Edition

Photo credit: Christian Throwback Jersey

And since we're speaking of sports evangelism, I think you should really check out this 1987 article about the man who started the whole John 3:16 sign craze at football games. Be sure to click over to the update on the bottom. It's a fascinating, though disturbing, story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What is Christian Hospitality?

I have a friend whose mother married a fairly wealthy man and moved into a suburban (not so) mini mansion. The house is far more space than the two of them need. I assumed that the additional rooms would be used as guest rooms for the children and grandchildren. I was told that was a wrong assumption. Instead the rooms were converted for various uses such as office space, workout space, and a walk in closet. (Yes, an entire bedroom converted into a closet.) When family members come to town they get hotel rooms or stay elsewhere. However, she loves to throw lavish dinner parties. As a Christian, she claims that this is because she possesses the spiritual gift of hospitality.

I distinctly remember listening to my friend tell this story and thinking "I don't think that's what that means." How often are we guilty of trying to force terms to mean what we would prefer them to mean rather than confronting the reality of the sacrifice and humility they actually require of us?

On the flip side, I think of my late grandfather. By many modern measurements of Christian Culture, he would not have been viewed as a "good Christian." He was Catholic. (strike one) He didn't speak openly about faith or lead his family in prayer or Bible study. (strike two). He cussed frequently and he hated Republicans. (strike three) But after his death, there was one thing that struck me in some of the stories shared. I heard family members and friends talk about he attitude toward others. My grandparents never had a lot of money they lived in a small house, mostly built by my grandfather, in a tiny town. When I go back and visit, I'm baffled as to how they lived in such a small space with two adults and four children. But when they were reminiscing about my grandfather, they spoke of the fact that even though the house was small and the table was cramped, if someone was in need, there was always room for one more. If anyone needed a ride to church, they would figure it out. He may have had little, but he always had some to share.

Recently I've been reading about the early church (100-499). I'm struck by the core idea that Christianity is a way of life and not an adherence to a specific doctrine. The author speaks of hospitality as being the major practice of Christians at that time.

"We tend to equate hospitality with parties and social gatherings or gracious resorts and expensive restaurants. To us hospitality is an industry, not a practice, one that summons Martha Stewart to mind more quickly than Jesus Christ. But to ancient Christians hospitality was a virtue, part of the love of neighbor and fundamental to being a person of the way. While contemporary Christians tend to equate morality with sexual ethics, our ancestors defined morality as welcoming the stranger.

Unlike almost every other contested idea in early Christianity, including the nature of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, the unanimous witness of the ancient fathers and mothers was that hospitality was the primary Christian virtue."
(A People's History of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass)

I can't help but think of all the times in the Gospels when Jesus speaks of the importance of loving God and loving your neighbor in the same thought. It's as if the two ideas are irrevocably connected. You can't truly be achieving one without the other. (1 John 3 seems to suggest that this is indeed the case.)

So what is Christian/Biblical hospitality? Is it free gifts for visitors at our church services? Is it cookies and coffee in the lobby? Is it the art of throwing the perfect dinner party and always having your house in perfect shape for one? Or is it this idea that the love of God is deeply intertwined with the love of others? Is it found in the way we think of and treat those our society considers the "least of these"? Is it found when we hold our personal possessions loosely and put the well being of others above our own? Is it when we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice? Do we find the true meaning of hospitality in the moment when we realize that we are all woven into the same tapestry that tells the story of the love of God?

In all my years at a Christian college, there was a lot of time spent debating theology and the idea that right thinking would lead to Christian living. Although I understand their logic, I'm beginning to question that notion. Have we spent so much time trying to think correctly that we neglect to act in the way we should? Are we more concerned with convincing others that we are right than behaving justly towards them? Have we stressed the importance of telling others about God over treating them as God would have us do so? I think of all the years I wasted worrying about having the right answers for people when I needed to learn how to love them. A lot of modern churches talk about their ties to the early church, but I sincerely hope that we see a trend of more and more churches moving back to the ancient practice of true Christian hospitality. Can you imagine  how beautiful that would be?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This is the Church: North Minneapolis Edition

I obviously write a lot here about what I don't like in American Evangelical Culture and what I wish it would be. But I never want to give the impression that I'm only here to complain and that Christians in the US never get it right. Although the loudest and most visible in American Christian Culture often do not seem to reflect much of the beauty and humility of the life of Christ, there are humble servants rarely widely recognized that are striving to be examples of his love. Today I came across an article that told of a touching example of one church doing just that in Minneapolis, MN.

North Minneapolis Congregation Turns Over Church to Victims of Sex Trade

These two quotes in particular really struck me as embodying the heart of Jesus Christ:

"We are trying to be the church, not look like the church...Even if you don't want to hear anything about Jesus, I'm going to love you anyhow."

"What about those colorful glass church windows? For the right price, they could be sold with the proceeds going to Northside Women's Space. As an elderly church leader told her, Galloway says, 'Jesus would rather be walking with those women than in those windows.'"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

WWJB Saturday: And on the Third Day He Served the Ham Edition

Found here

According to the description, this resurrection set would also make a great table decoration. Hmm...let's see...

Happy Easter!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Forcing People to Choose Between Trees and the Man Who Died Upon a Tree

Today I was reminded of a major reason why I felt as if I could not be a part of American Evangelical Culture and still seek to follow Jesus: culture wars. Oh how I hate culture wars! Why do we spend so much time obsessing over things that are barely (or not at all) mentioned in the Bible or in Christ's ministry? Why? It makes me completely understand why people don't like Christians.  American Evangelical Culture takes these completely minor issues and declare them at odds with a life of faith.

I was reminded of this today after seeing a number of Facebook posts declaring that tomorrow that person will spend "Earth Day" (quotations theirs) celebrating what Jesus did for us because "without Easter this EARTH has no hope." (emphasis theirs) I sadly predicted would happen earlier this week after noticing that the holidays fall on the same date this year. Really?!?? Really!?? We have to choose? Either you celebrate the sacrificial redemptive work of Jesus on the cross or you care about caring for our planet? You really want to declare that an either/or situation??? You really want to leave people with the impression that one comes at the expense of the other? Does that give us license to just trash this planet because all that matters is that we're going to Heaven? Where does this idea of stewardship and personal responsibility come in? What about the countless studies that show how pollutants and toxins we've put into our environment can negatively health, especially pregnant women and children? Does God not care about any of that? Is that excluded from the list of things we'll be held accountable for? More importantly, do you really want someone to feel unwelcome in your church over this??

For the record, I think it's a terrible reason to exclude people from your congregations or to question their faith. I think caring for the Earth is a completely Biblical concept and one that should be even more important to us as Christians. I have great respect for the Christian organizations that have taken up the mantle of encouraging people to actively engage in that work. Just because God created a world that would provide for life doesn't mean that he'll save us from the consequences of taking it for granted and indulging overconsumption with no regard to the consequences. And I seriously doubt he is asking us to choose between the two observances.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recapturing Wisdom

Recently I started reading "A People's History of Christianity" by Diana Butler Bass. So far I'm really enjoying it. I wanted to share the following quote that really resonated with me.

"It is upon the Great Command that we find common ground with ancient Christians, not because our world is like theirs or because they somehow knew how to be better Christians than we do. Many of them, to be sure, did not follow very well; they, like us, struggled, doubted, and failed to walk the way. Yet even in our shortcomings (or perhaps because of them), we stand with them in the way. Generative Christians, like them, seek a life organized around around love for God and neighbor. We recognize their longing for change. And in many quarters Christian communities are once again embracing the ancient insight that the faith is a spiritual pathway, a life built on transformative practices of love rather than doctrinal belief. We are, beyond mere romanticism, recapturing wisdom from ancient Christianity."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Terrible T-Shirt Tuesday: Pray the Gay Away Edition

Found here
It's not every day that I find a shirt that leaves me groaning at its message and needing to correct its grammar.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Trying to Scare the Hell Out of Everybody

Have you ever watched someone complete a task purely motivated by fear? There is something so disturbing about it. You see it with small children as they walk on egg shells trying to avoid punishment from their strict parents. You see it happen in movies where one follows the instructions of a bank robber or kidnapper. (In that instance, most viewers usually watch with the understanding that completing the demanded tasks are no guarantee of appeasing the criminal's anger.)

Lately I've been training my dog. I utilize (and am a huge fan of) positive reinforcement training. Rather than holler "NO!" at my pup every time he does something he shouldn't, positive reinforcement training focuses on rewarding him when he does what he should. The two pups in my house are both rescues. They were not treated as beloved pets and family members in the first stages of their lives. They came to us with a bit of baggage.  One in particular was extremely timid and fearful. He spent at least the first week he was with us hiding behind furniture and grumbling at us whenever we got too close. The amazing thing is that positive reinforcement training has helped give him more confidence and decrease his fear. If you catch him doing something wrong, and say "No!" in an angry tone, he will run away from you and hide for at least 10-15 minutes. Contrary to what some may believe, causing your dog to fear you doesn't make him learn to obey any more or more quickly. Time and time again I've seen the opposite. When a dog is encouraged and rewarded, he wants to obey. It is fun for him and helps him bond with his owner. Dogs who are only punished on the other hand, don't necessarily want to be very close to their owners. They tend to hang back in a corner and will often cower when their name is called. Although they may exhibit a level of loyalty towards their owners, the manner in which they regard them could not be described as affectionate.

One of the most disturbing trends I've seen in American Evangelical Culture is trying to scare the Hell out of people, quite literally. They are so focused on getting people "saved" that they seem to think little about what long term effects the manner in which they do so will have.

This whole issue came to mind again today when I saw this video:

WWJB Saturday: Lazy Evangelism Edition

Found here

From the product description (Please note that the choice of font is theirs and not mine):

Leave an impression of the Cross on your journey and you may lead another to Jesus!

Can you imagine how proud our Heavenly Father will be to look down at His beautiful creation and see Cross Impressions scattered on beaches around the world in remebrance of Jesus?

Our Brown Rhinestone - Women's Christian Cross Impression flip flops are much more than just neat flip flops.  They are truly a fashion and faith product that will help you proudly display your love for Jesus and perhaps even lead another to Him!

Yes, I'm sure that when God looks at creation, he doesn't care about our misuse of natural resources or the polluting of our waterways, He really just wants to make sure that there are miniature cross imprints all over the land.

Apart from that, this is a great example of what I refer to as "lazy evangelism." It's a tool that people can use to assure themselves that they are reaching out to others with Christ's love even while they are neglecting to build actual relationships with those people. Because it's a lot easier to dream that your flip flops are saving souls than it is to actually get involved with broken and dying people. Besides, Jesus is always pictured wearing sandals. I'm sure they were just like this. That's how he got so many followers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Language Barrier & Shameless Self Promotion

When I arrived at Conservative Christian College my freshman year, one thing was immediately clear. About 40% of the time I had no clue what these people were talking about. It was as if they had their own language. And because they had all been raised using it, they seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world did not understand such language. Their conversations were peppered with terms such as "quiet time," "four spiritual laws," "love on," "courtship," "stronghold," "PK," "MK," "slippery slope," "pressing in," etc. The only thing more embarrassing than not being able to understand what they were talking about would have been admitting that to them.

I almost wished that someone had provided me with an Evangelical to English dictionary. That's part of the reason I have a "Helpful Definitions" tab on this blog. I don't take for granted that people will understand these words and phrases. But as I considered all the terms I've heard over the years, I began to realize two things.
1. A single tab cannot contain them.
2. It was really fun to try to define them for people.

For those reasons, I started a second blog that is dedicated solely to the language of American Evangelical Culture. Feel free to check it out here:
Evangelical to English

I hope you have as much fun reading it as I have writing it. Let me know if there are any terms I need to be sure to post.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blessed or Privileged?

Yesterday I came across an interesting article in the April issue of The Lutheran that raised a question I've been pondering since. It's a question that I believe is important for all of us to consider.

Because the online article is only available to subscribers, below I've included the passages that caught my eye.


A distant voice of alarm called out as I read the snazzy postcard I received in the mail from a local church. "Come and See Our Newly Renovated Community Center!" it read. A glamorous picture of the remodeled and expanded building glossed the center of the card. The closing line read: "God has richly blessed us!"

The large congregation was in a middle-class area. Undoubtedly, their economic affluence had helped make the building project a reality during these difficult economic times.

I studied the card for a moment and set it aside, but hours later that voice persisted. "What is it?" I thought.

Another voice came to mind. It was that of my friend, Rubi, a social worker and member of a Lutheran congregation. "We are blessed!" I could hear her say, "We have a strong community, beautiful children and the sun is shining on us today!"

Her church is of modest means. No doubt the congregation that sent the postcard is blessed, but is their new building a sign of God's blessing? What about churches in more modest neighborhoods? Are less wealthy congregations somehow less blessed?

Sometimes we say "we are so blessed" when we mean "we are so privileged." I know, as I sit and type on my fancy computer that this is a tricky ethical conversation. I'm not out to critique the gap between the rich and poor at this moment. I'm not suggesting we hand over all our material possessions. I'm suggesting we think about the difference between the privileges and blessing in our lives. It's a question of not only semantics but theology.

Maybe, in the face of our social addiction to materialism, it's become normal to confuse our blessings with our privileges. The prosperity gospel is all around us. Famous "pop" church leaders preach that material success is an indication of God's favor or blessing. Cultural messages teach us to idolize material things like fancy cars, nice clothes, sexualized bodies, and expensive homes. Suddenly a big, beautiful home or an elaborate vacation becomes a "blessing."

But the opportunity to own material things like a brand-new car, a gym membership, or an expensive suit is ours as a result of our economic privilege.

In the U.S., whites have been historically privileged over people of other ethnicities. All over the world, corporations are privileged over individual farmers or factory workers. Throughout the centuries, society has privileged certain characteristics over others. Privilege is a result of social construction. It's born of systems such as slavery, colonization, and patriarchal societies that honor certain kinds of work. Privilege is not divine providence.

...When we equate God's blessing with material things, it can give rise to an attitude that we are an "exceptional" country that is somehow more blessed and "better" than the rest of the world because we are materially privileged. We may think our technology is the best, our ideas are the best, our views about religion, our way of get the idea. But perhaps we aren't necessarily exceptional-just privileged.

Jesus reminds us in John 10:10 that he came so we might have "abundant life." What does that mean to us? Do our material goods compose "abundant life?" What blessings make your life abundant?

The line between a privilege and a blessing isn't always clear. Sometimes there is tension. For example, is a glass of clean drinking water a blessing or a privilege? Is the peaceful neighborhood where I live a blessing or a privilege? Is my first-rate education a blessing or a privilege? Is my local, excellent hospital emergency room a blessing or a privilege?

*Credit: Lindsay Mack, former ELCA missionary; The Lutheran April 2011 - emphasis mine


Are will guilty of speaking of our privileges as "blessings?" Does it matter what term we use? (I think it does.) Are we really correctly representing to the world what it is to be blessed when we put vanity plates reading "HISWILL" on our Lexus or tell them that God "gave us"  our new laptop/iphone/car/big house/etc?

I wish more Christians would seriously consider this question.

Terrible T-Shirt Tuesday: Wait, What? Edition

Found here

Sometimes I see "evangelism tools" that are destined to be completely ineffective, not because their message isn't true, but rather because it's presented in such a confusing manner that it would take longer to explain it to people than they probably care to listen. I think this is one of those cases.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

WWJB Saturday: Hey Mr. Tambourine Man Edition

Found here
Because when it comes to proving your enthusiasm for your faith, merely bringing your own tambourine to church isn't enough.