Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Church Gun Giveaway!

You have got to be kidding me. Here is a story about a church that was going to give away a gun at their weekend youth conference. I don’t care if you are a pacifist or a card carrying member of the NRA, this is just plain utterly ridiculous. You probably want to read the article so go ahead. If you feel like coming back I wrote some thing below about church, marketing, and youth.

Welcome back and thanks for returning. The problems with giving a semi-automatic weapon to a teenager is obvious. However, I realize this “raffle-prize” technique is all too common in the church. This is another extreme example but I actually heard one pastor say, “One of these days I am seriously going to give away money for people who come to church.”

Most churches don’t have giveaways or prizes for their church attendees. They rightly assume that adults don’t need a carrot dangled in front of them. (However, a lot of people will argue that the music, sermon, church building, worship format are all marketed).

But where this does happen is with the youth. I’ve had a couple of youth pastor jobs and worked last summer at a church camp. The goal in many scenarios was to come up with “activities” to bring the youth into the church/camp. For instance, we might go play paintball or have a movie night. And than when we have the kids all gathered together, when they least expect it, BAM!, we nail them with the Gospel!

This is the same logic that the youth pastor from the Oklahoma church used, “it’s a way of trying to encourage young people to attend the event.” The problem is that we don’t believe the Gospel is strong enough on it’s own. Look I’m all for activities. I love movies, paintball, scavenger hunts, game nights, eating pizza, and playing video games. Those things are part of life. They aren’t tactics we should use to lure kids into church.

Ross, claimed, “the conference isn’t all about guns, but rather about teens finding faith.” Well if that’s true than why didn’t they make a video advertising that giveaway?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gotham’s Dark Knight of the Soul

The Dark Knight returns us happily to the dark and brooding bachelor life of Bruce Wayne. It also envelopes us in Batman’s battle for the soul of Gotham. It is this battle, and not the villains’ schemes, that nearly defeats the Dark Knight. Bruce’s most trusted confidante, Alfred, calls him to endure. It is not about defeating the villains but enduring the battle. Gotham is skittish with fear and on the brink of self-destruction. The people of Gotham need only a gentle push into chaos and they will destroy each other.

This is the story behind both The Dark Knight and Batman Begins. Gotham isn’t just a setting for a story but a central character with a soul in the Batman epic. It’s a city on the verge of collapse because it is so corrupt. Batman’s battle is to shore up the corruption before it bursts upon the city unobstructed.

In Batman Begins, the Scarecrow is scheming to contaminate the already-corrupt minds of the people of Gotham. By polluting the water supply, he intends to draw out each person’s darkest fears and allow them in their hallucinations to kill each other and themselves to relieve those fears.

Batman not only has to stave off the Scarecrow’s schemes but Raj al-Ghoul appears on the scene with his own. To him, Gotham has become corrupt beyond rescue and so powerful that it will ruin the world, which follows after it. Raj al-Ghoul concludes that the only way to renew humanity is to remove its heart, Gotham. Batman still believes in Gotham though, and by his endurance, Gotham lives to see a new day.

In The Dark Knight, we descend again into this Gotham, corrupted inside and out and living in fear. The Joker is a sort of social scientist, recognizing these traits of fear and corruption in the people of Gotham and seeking to aggravate them so that they can run their full course and destroy each other. This is most evident with the ferry boat scenario. Yet, as Batman believes, so the criminal and the civilian aboard their boats prove: The people of Gotham, the heart of humanity, the hearts of people are not corrupt but, finally, good.

Still, against this we have Gotham’s amazingly good-looking District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Dent is the first ray of real hope “in decades” Batman says. The city calls him “the white knight.” He is “the dawn”—just before which the night is darkest. But just as Alfred had urged Bruce to endure the heart-aching battle, Dent needed someone to encourage him to persevere. But Dent’s hospital visitor was The Joker—who filled Dent’s mind with twisted logic, appealing to Dent’s vengeance-filled heart. Without Alfred’s words, Batman could have been ruined just as quickly (didn’t he too lose his Rachel Dawes?). Tough words from a trusted friend are worth more than a thousand praises.

Dent’s quest for justice isn’t eliminated but corrupted. He twists justice by taking it into his own hands—not so unlike our hero—tracking down mob bosses and Commissioner Gordon’s own family to avenge the death of the one he loved. He’s convinced by The Joker that it wasn’t The Joker who killed her, even though he set the house of cards to fall that way.

And that is The Joker’s scheme throughout the movie: to create impossible scenarios and allow the corruption of the city—that is, the hearts of people—implode on itself. I wonder if The Joker looking for more people like himself—ugly and corrupt, destructive and heartless. And yet, the city is still standing by the end of the movie. Is this a testament to the good people of Gotham? Does it champion the virtue of endurance? Why does fear and corruption persist in Gotham? The Dark Knight offers its own conclusions, but don't let it decide for you.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blogroll Call

We’ve added some new links over on the right. These are friends and blogs I read and recommend. Check them out. I’ll mention or link to a recent favorite too.

The New Small Talk
Kim writes like she talks. She’s as funny on her blog as she is in real life. Her blog is like getting an extra scoop of ice cream. (On getting her hair cut and Walgreens)

50 Years Too Late
Make that 2 extra scoops. This is my source for old-movie culture. I can be knowledgeable about old movies without having to actually watch most of them. (To appeal to a broader audience: Old Movies + The Simpsons)

Goat Cabin
J. L. Schindler’s a raver. But you won’t get that unless you meet him in person. He’s much more subtle in print. I appreciate reading his writing, since mostly I hear him critique others’. He knows his books, so I try to absorb what I can. (On getting his hair cut … I don’t know! Also, The Male in the Mail)

Ask Chaka
I never knew linguistics could inform so much about the way we are. Matt’s a linguist at heart, but that’s all subtext (or pretext?) for his blog posts which are about all the other stuff. He recently analyzed pronunciation options for the word, chipotle.

Parisi Images
My friend Sarah is a passionate and amazing photographer. (From Seattle)

the Wolff pack
Bryan and Meggan are friends from college. I keep up with their lives out on the West Coast this way. They tell stories about being parents that remind me to be thankful I’m still a bachelor.

Brandenburg Ink
Ben and Toni are more friends from college. Their living in Philly, and I like to hear what life is like for someone (Ben) who reads all day.

Exchanging Hope
Paul’s a new friend from around campus here. He’s someone passionate about living among the poor and needy and someone whom I admire for such compassion and commitment. This guy is quality.

Blogs we read
Stuff White People Like
This website’s only been up for about 6 months but has been a white culture phenomenon. It’s now a book, and I imagine it will soon be made into a movie, much like “He Just Not That Into You.” I’m white for reasons #99, #105, #92, #81, #82, #70, #41, #35, #28-31, #23-25, #19, #21, and more.

NLT Blog
Maybe I’m just towing the party line, but I’m proud to work on the Bibles and reference books we publish. There are always aspects I cringe at, but I’m more impressed with the NLT today than when I started at Tyndale. (Plus, I share an office wall with one of the NLT bloggers.) I love a little controversy.

The Suburban Christian
I’m suburban. I’m Christian. This helps.

She Worships
I enjoy this young woman’s perspective on being a single woman and a Christian. It’s nice to know that single guys and ladies aren’t so far apart in their hopes and fears, problems and mistakes. Like me, she’s got a take on text messaging. And “The New Legalism.”

Strange Maps
I enjoy a little randomness like this. It’s a bit of useless trivia, but it humors my brain. Here’s how to get around heaven.

Third Way Faith
I read Shane Hipps’ book, called Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Gospel, Faith, and the Church. Terrible title. Great book. It enlightened my thinking about technology, worldview, and faith. It’s a very accessible book, and his opinions seem fair and even-handed to me. This is his blog. (On Church Advertising)

Ed Stetzer
I read an article of Ed Stetzer’s in a pastoral leadership magazine. The magazine promotes megachurches—which is a like a pill stuck in my throat. But he seemed to be one of the more thoughtful about megachurches and thought I’d give his opinion a fair hearing. I still haven’t heard a robust and biblical apologetic for megachurches, but I appreciate his perspectives. (On Multi-Site Churches)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Who are you Voting For?

New poll up to the right. Don't worry, I can't trace your answer to your computer. It's as secure as the voting booths and I promise no hanging chads.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What are you in the mood for?

I got tired of all the music that was in my car. I kept flipping through my CD case and none were matching my moods. So, I found a stash of old CDs and blew the dust off of them. Among them are some gems. I decided to list a few here under the category: “CDs that are (surprisingly) still good after 10 years.”

Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and in no particular order, just a list of a few CDs that you might not have expected to still be good.

Chicago Greatest Hits 1982-89
This album has a song for every season of romance. (That is, every season I’ve experienced at least. And while maybe it glorifies unrealistic ideals, it gives a naïve bachelor like me something to hope for.) Peter Cetera croons like no other. And I think “If She Would Have Been Faithful” taught me the meaning of paradox: “It’s a paradox/Full of contradictions/How I got from there to here/It defies a LOGICAL expluh-NATION!!!”

Newsboys Going Public
I recently mentioned my affinity for this album to Jon. While Take Me To Your Leader is primarily light and happy (even “Breakfast”), Going Public has a darker feel to it. Jon agreed but pointed out the irony that the CD’s, and probably the band’s, most popular song was titled, “Shine.”

Delirious Cutting Edge, CD 2
“When All Around Has Fallen” is a song enough to make this album worthwhile. And while this isn’t the polished Delirious that most of the U.S. knows, the unpolished musicality lends credence to authenticity and the focus toward building up followers of Jesus unifies the album.

Duncan Sheik Untitled
I first saw “Drunken Sheep,” as I’d heard it, open up for Jars of Clay. Considering the faith of the main act, my 6th grade opinion was that it was a clever mixed metaphor, but I think Sheik is Buddhist or eclectic at least. I actually took this album to a used CD store and sold it. At the time, his music seemed depressing and hopeless. A few years later, I needed to hear it again so I went and bought a new copy. I liked it more the second time. I've found this to be a trend in my musical growing-up. The quieter sounds on this album make the hopeful ones brighter, among them, “Reasons for Living.”

The Wallflowers Bringing Down the Horse
I got this album in Toronto the summer before my sophomore year of high school. The Wallflowers was a moderately popular band, fronted by Bob’s son, Jakob Dylan. While the album’s sound fluctuates, it manages to create a mood and makes use of great images that teach lessons: “This place is a whorehouse tonight/Where cheap lovers make expensive wives.”

Music has an unparalleled ability to influence moods and thoughts. More dire concerns have prevailed, but rock music used to be a point of contention and still is among many Christian parents. I think certainly that music has the power to shape us, to shift us to some of the highest highs and lowest lows.

Music has become for me an emotion manager. I often select CDs that will allow me to indulge my mood. Creed used to be my anger music. Fortunately I hardly listen to that them anymore, and not at all for that reason. The Juliana Theory captures a lonelier time in my life just after college. Coldplay captures soaring melodies of hope in love, life, and humanity, and Switchfoot does the same in stark relief to the despair of the human condition.

I haven’t decided if using music to indulge or shift my moods is a good thing. It could be a form of self-control, moving me out of darker brooding. Or maybe it’s only self-manipulation and dependency. Like almost anything, I think that it can be a good servant but a terrible master.

I was at Ignite Chicago last summer listening to Casting Crowns, another band that knows what they’re playing music for. I remember the lead singer saying this: “Music has the power to move and shape us, to motivate and enliven us. But faithfulness isn’t about living in those moments. Music creates an experience, but those moments don’t last. Even the best song grows stale.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Obama, McCain and Rick Warren

Adam alerted me to this story.

Barak Obma and John McCain are taking their roadshows to Saddleback Church for their Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion. If you aren’t familiar with Saddleback it is a 22,000 plus megachurch in California lead by Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life).

I have mixed emotions.

Part of me wants to call out Saddleback for becoming a platform or for the government. I believe the church needs to engage the realm of governmental politics. After all this is the very world we are called by the church. Yet, has Saddleback sold out their allegiance to Christ by providing and promoting these two candidates? Why do these two men have to come and speak at the church of all places? We are called to engage the government but is this too far?

The other part of me recognizes that this Fall, John McCain or Barak Obama will be the president of the United States. A majority of people in the United States and those tuning in to the activity at Saddleback are going to vote for one of these two men. A lot of people are undecided and it is important that they make educated choices. What better way to be educated than by having the two men come and speak at the church? Moreover, it is for a good cause and it is bringing awareness to the way people can engage through their civic duty.

No conclusions. Just things to think about.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tailgate meets Garage Sale

The dream for Tailgate meets Garage Sale started over a year ago. I, and most of my friends, don't have garages of our own (if they do, I burden them with storing my motorcycle there), but I've got plenty of stuff that I would sell if I had a place to sell it. My Grand Prix's trunk is my garage these days. I store extra oil, tools, straps, rollerblades, gas cans, and more in there.

The idea for selling out of my trunk sounded a little ghetto and sketchy. I don't do well with people walking or driving by staring and wondering about my mental capacity. But I figured, "If I get a lot of people to do it together, it'll seem normal." Or at least, we won't notice the passersby staring. Crowds of people can make almost anything seem normal (except for this one time at the Taste of Chicago...).

The idea of giving part of the proceeds to Feed My Starving Children? I don't know how that idea came up. I don't remember it being my idea, but I'm glad for whoever came up with it. That really became the motivating force behind making the Tail happen. Tailgate meets Garage Sale became about more than making money, hanging out with friends, or getting rid of stuff. It's no longer buyers here and sellers there but people joining together to help neighbors in our global community. It's a bunch of strangers getting together and having something in common. It's a force for good.

And with all these people, this little dream is now bigger than me. That's a dream worth having.

(P.S. If you'd like to get in on the action, throw some stuff in your trunk, drive over to Evangelical Free Church of Naperville tomorrow, and join the party.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Did that just happen?

Something I have wondered for a long time is how do you measure faith? Jesus describes faith in terms of a mustard seed (Matt 17:20 and Luke 17:6) which leads me to think of faith in terms of attainment. I figure it's good to have faith the size of a mustard seed but faith the size of a squash or bean seed is so much more effective and powerful. I don't have any conclusions but I'm pretty sure that is wrong.

Here is how this plays out in real life for me. On Saturday night I went to the Pittsburgh Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals game while on my visits in the East. It was my g-parents family reuinion and all the family got together to go see the hapless Pirates. Our family is really close and the one thing we can all agree on is the Pirates are bad and that we love the Pirates. Despite their patehtic play for the last 15 years we follow them and remain optimistic every year.

This night was no different. At the 8th inning the Pirates were losing 10-4. (They were being outhit as of the 5th inning 17-2!) Then it started to rain. Then the fans started to leave. But my family and I saw an opportunity for fun. The Pittsburgh Steelers are famous for the Terrible Towel that gets waved during the football games. Well at this particular game they were giving away free beach towels. So we began to wave around our beach towels and just start cheering like the Pirates were in the World Series.

Surprise, surprise they put up 2 runs in that inning and all the sudden the score was 10-6. But the comeback ended and we started to gather up our stuff and head to a place shiedled from the rain and close to an exit.

The bottom of the 9th comes around and we are still jovially waving our towels. And it happened. I got this weird feeling after a lead off single that a comback could be in store. The single was folowed by a walk. Than a homerun. 10-9. Than a single. Than a double. Than an infield force out 10-10! Extra innings.

Of course in the 11th the Pirates gave up the lead and now were losing 10-11. But you had this feeling they were going to win. This belief, this mustard seed size of faith they would win. Bottom of the 11th. A lead of single. Than Jason Michaels steps up and cranks a homerun over the fence and the 15,000 fans left went crazy.

We all lost our voices. We stayed up late in the night re-telling the story over and over again. I guess I had a small amount of faith and I don't know if it is comparable to what Jesus is talking about. But I wanted to tell that story. And I want to let you know that as much as I believe in the Pirates comeback ability I believe more in Jesus' comeback ability.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"He placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left."

I saw this photo in a recent Newsweek:

And it made me think of some similar pictures I've seen:

It seems Bill's a bit more popular than Jesus though.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Things that could be on

On Getting Off Your Computer:

For all our efficient mass communication of the gospel, nothing changes a life like a real relationship.

Having the means of reaching the masses--for instance, through podcasting--is a good thing. Yet, nothing matches the potency of life-on-life discipleship. In this respect, social networking and blogs can be effective tools to intimately connect with a small, natural network of relationships.

On Getting Perspective:

I can always use a little perspective like this:

There is no virtue in being the cool, high-tech church, or in being the low-tech, minimalistic church.

On Spilling Your Guts:

Blogging as therapy. You won't see this from me anytime soon. I've argued that blogging about friends isn't generally a good idea. Plus, I'm vulnerable about as often as a one-armed man signals a lane change. Oh sure, it happens. But when it does everyone behind him gets annoyed because he forgets to turn his blinker off.

On Being Young:

A study by the Journal of Consumer Research to be released next month, titled "Tightwads and Spendthrifts," finds that people ages 18 to 40 are most likely to say they're spending beyond their comfort range.

from “A Penny Saved Is a Penny Spent” in Newsweek.

It's surprising that 18- to 30-year-olds, the most pro-life demographic in a generation, are the same voting bloc from which Barack Obama, the most antilife presidential candidate ever, draws his most ardent supporters.

from “The Audacity of Death” in WSJ.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Middle Earth, Victorian times, and more recent developments

In the past I’ve written on text messaging and, separately, on the tyranny of happiness. More recently, I’ve run across other articles about both and wanted to share them with you.

Text Messaging

The Economist had two good articles on text messaging. The first describes how text messaging is, in the opinions of some, decimating the French language. The second is a rebuttal by a reader who has done research on text messaging, arguing that “Rebuses such as C for “see” and U for “you” were common in Victorian times.”

Anything interesting can be boring if your work hard enough. Here’s a research study on adolescent text messaging, otherwise known as “socially interactive technologies” or “SITs.” The research concluded that “adolescents in the study were not creating more ties using SITs, nor were they necessarily creating weaker SIT-based ties; that there was little overlap between SIT-facilitated and offline social networks; and that socially-isolated adolescents were less likely than other adolescents to use SITs.”

Here’s another article about a text-messaging researcher. One paragraph reads:

The findings have been counterintuitive. “Contrary to existing perceptions, there’s a developing logic to texting,” Shuter says. Young people will use texting for short, quick messages — such as “Where r u?” — instead of more personal conversations.

This trend is encouraging to me because, in my text messaging post, I advocated for informational, not conversational, text messaging as being the healthiest use of this technology for relationships.

Finally, much like the lolcat Bible (warning: explicit content), there is now an SMS Bible (i.e., a text-messaging Bible). The Bible’s famous opening line, sounds more like a bad rap album title: “In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth.” (more here.)

One concern for me about this arises from the previous text-messaging research. If it’s primarily used for informational purposes, will the SMS Bible simply be recieved as a transmission of information? Of course, the Bible has always been in danger of being received as such.


There are plenty of books out there trying to make you happy. Heck, we publish some of them. But there are a few that are expressly interested in studying happiness. Perhaps, for you, this is more evidence that anything interesting can be boring if you try hard enough. Another book in this vein is The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of Extremes by Lou Marinoff.

More research on happiness shows that Denmark is the McDonald’s of the world’s countries. That makes Zimbabwe similar to eating dog food. The US, meanwhile, is just behind Middle Earth, making it akin to a bean patch.

But, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. While US exports pale in comparison to our imports, we’re still exporting a lot of cash in the way charitable contributions: $306 bn in 2007, up 1% over 2006 (adj. for inflation). That makes me happy.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The American church

I don't write many posts like this but this one has just been stirring. If you didn't notice the church in America is changing. If I can generalize there seems to be two camps.

The first is the institutional or traditional churches that you can find in droves all across the landscape. The Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, churches with a paid staff and weekly worship services on Sundays.

The second is emerging/Emergent/missional/organic/house churches. I know these aren't all the same but I'm going to lump them all together. A lot of these churches have denominational roots but they aren't traditional because they meet in third spaces, houses, don't have paid "professional" pastors, are organized around outreach, etc.

So for me, and a lot of peers in Seminary or preparing to enter the ministry, we are faced with this question among several. What type of church should I work in? I am drawn to the second group and there is a lot of buzz around this camp. A good deal of my education is from these leaders and I read/write/study in their stream. But I do not believe, as some say, that the institutional church is irrelevant and needs to go. Recently I have had people tell me to not even consider working in a church like this.

Look I agree that there are abuses of power, failures in leadership, weak discipleship, and monotonous worship services in the traditional churches. I think a lot of ways these churches operate needs to change. But using a cliche, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

No one can tell me that every institutional church needs to all the sudden take the form of a emerging/Emergent church. Actually I can't think of anything that would be worse. We need to remember context, context, context.

A lot of emerging/Emergent churches have their shape because of their location. For example, in the city you can have a church that meets in a coffee shop and does a lot of social outreach to the homeless. The church uses the coffee shop space to house worship services, art showings, poetry, concerts. There are so many people, and so many diverse people in the city it thrives. The space is also used to house the homeless, give out free food, and provide counseling for a lot of people who can't afford it.

However, in the suburbs, (it is still possible but more difficult) that church might be redundant because of location. The way the suburbs are spread out means that homeless people might not be able to access a coffee shop as easily. Moreover, there might not be as many homeless people around them to necessitate such a strong ministry focus. In the burbs a lot of people maybe aren't looking for a "3rd place" to gather ever evening that does social activities. The pace of their life and the space of their personal living quarters means that they don't want to drive out every night or have other commitments.

What both churches need to do is to look at the needs in their neighborhood/context/location and be faithful. I do think that a lot of things about the traditional church need to change. I would agree that in the future more and more tradional churches are going to take the shape of emerging/Emergent churches. They will become more de-centralized in leadership and denominations will not hold as much authority as they once did. They will need to change their worship styles, formats, and meeting forms as people care less and less about institutions and more about customizing their own lives.

However, that does not mean they do not have a purpose and place. I see no reason why these churches cannot remain and change. I think the emerging/Emergent cohort often looks down on the traditional churches with disdain. It tends to be a more liberal group and this unfortunately reeks of elitism and snobbery. Instead of chastising the traditional church we should dialogue and working along side with them.

There are not two camps. Rather there is one church. This church in America takes different shapes and we need to learn from each other and consider the wideness of God.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Some conversation topics

The photo isn't relevant to the post but it just funny. (But kind of creepy) If you want to avoid putting your foot in your mouth here are some things to talk about. I don't endorse all of these statistics since something like 70% percent of statistics are made up (I just made that up). So feel free to Google if you want verification.

75% of Pandas are left handed

Over 80% of men flush the urinal before they are finished

Irish people average 6 cups of tea a day. The most in the world.

The Marsh I work at holds enough water to fill 3,000 Olympic size swimming pools.

People eat more on July 4th than on Thanksgiving.

And remember, I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!