Archive for the 'Original Articles' Category

Brotherly loveA study was recently published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which concluded that individuals who display consistently unselfish behavior are often rejected by peer groups for exhibiting this behavior.  The basic conclusion was that the individual was seen as a “rule-breaker” (breaking from society’s norms), someone who made others in the peer group “look bad”, someone who made them feel uncomfortable (feeling like they “owed” the do-gooder something in return), or as someone with ulterior motives.

This might seem surprising or counter-intuitive, but consider:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Being Hated for the Right Reasons

So you see, Jesus, in the same conversation in which he gives the command that we should love each other, his next observation is that the world will hate us as a result, if we are acting like him.

Doing the right thing the wrong wayWe should not be surprised that we’re disliked by the world (and by other Christians) if we act like asses by showing up and preaching hate at gay pride parades, wielding our bullhorns to assault Spring Break partiers, or protesting at funerals of soldiers. The hate and dislike of our sanctimonious, ego-edifying grandstanding is rather understandable, and credits righteousness to nobody, ourselves included.

However, if we act like Christ and unselfishly serve, we should also not be surprised that the world will distrust our motives and reject us as ‘rule-breakers’. If we act consistently, though, Christ will be lifted up so that others will see him in the works he has given us to do.

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Over the past 20+ years, I have been blessed with a number of opportunities to lead/accompany worship in song – mostly (but not always) from behind a keyboard of some sort.  During that time, I’ve born witness to (and scars from) numerous “worship wars” dealing with style (primarily) and substance (on occasion).

Putting together a worshipful and effective musical worship service is not as simple as grabbing some songs from a hymnal/binder/web-page and running with it.  Lyrical content, style, instrumentation, flow and theme are some of the key elements that have to be considered in effectively leading corporate worship.

It is in this vein that I’m thinking about starting a new (likely infrequent) series: “Worship Music in Review”.  (If it flops, #1 might be the only edition.)

For this edition, I’d like to look at a currently popular song from Passion 2010, which is being incorporated into some churches’ worship services, Chris Tomlin’s “Our God”.  Before we go on, watch the embedded video (if you don’t know the song) and read the lyrics.

YouTube Preview Image

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I bought this book for my wife. I wasn’t sure if I would read it or not. I’m glad that I did. Ed Dobson is on the short list of preachers who’s sermon’s I’ll listen to over and over again. When he talks, or writes I want to listen.

This book has taken some serious criticism, from people who don’t like the style to the more vapid, aggressive fundamentalist. Of course, the criticisms are also leveled at the author
He’s criticized for being in an airport, for praying the rosary, and for listening to an iPod. He’s called a heretic and a cretin. Spawn of Satan was probably thrown out somewhere I’m sure. He voted for Obama!

God forbid a man trying to live like Jesus wrestles with his conscience and votes accordingly. It’s not important if I agree with Ed that voting for Obama is what Jesus would do. What matters is that it is evident in this book that Ed loves God and wants to serve Him. Ed wants to continue to love Jesus in the midst of a disease that would have caused most of us to shrivel up like a prune left on the dashboard of a locked car in the middle of August. Most of us would have quit and died.

Not Ed. He delved deeper into his faith. He pushed himself to explore what he believes and how it impacts his life.

This book is full of fantastic applications that Ed either learned or was reminded of through his journey over the course of this year. In one chapter Ed reminds the reader “Whenever I think that what I am doing qualifies me to be in a closer relationship with God, I am arrogant.”

In a world that seems to be divided along the very lines of who qualifies to be in a closer relationship with God, Ed has the guts to put it out there for everyone to see how he wrestles with his own relationship with God. I don’t really know Ed. He preachers at our church now and again and we had a stretch where he preached regularly. I wish that I did. I have the feeling that he’d be a fun guy to have a beer with and ponder the Scriptures with. I’m sure that I wouldn’t agree with him on everything but I’m also pretty sure that would be all right with him.
I’m sick of the battle between, “The way it always was, is the way it must be” and “What if we’ve gotten it wrong for the last 2,000 years.” What makes Ed’s book and teachings to poignant is his ability to value our heritage and to look at with a fresh perspective.
Buy this book, read it, you’ll enjoy it.

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On the trip with my son this summer, a circuit from Vegas to the California coast, up to Canada, and down the Cascades back to Vegas (4,300 miles total – on a rented car :) ), we had a good deal of time to talk and also time to catch up on a number of podcasts (since I’d stopped listening to sermon podcasts in March to try and go through the Bible).

As we were headed north, we caught up on about 6 months of Mars Hill Bible Church sermons – with a number of good discussions along the way (particularly in regards to the series on Jonah).  Then, in Seattle (as chance would have it), we switched to Mars Hill Church (Seattle), and caught up on most of the 2010 sermons (Driscoll’s a little long-winded, so we didn’t make it as far as we did with MHBC), which are all in Luke (and will probably still be in Luke for the next two years).

[Side note: A past PPP writer and I were discussing this a couple of weeks ago, and his comment - which made me laugh a little - was "I can't imagine either one of those churches would be all that pleased with your ultimate listening choices..."]

When we got home, Zan asked my son what he thought of the different churches’ teaching (she prefers Driscoll’s more blunt expositional style).  He said that, while he learned a good deal from both (and from my interludes, explaining what “systematic theology” is, and a two-hour-long foray through the history of the church from 33 A.D. to the present, with a modern focus on the Restoration Movement churches), he thought that MHBC’s challenged him to think and reconsider how to live, based on what he believed.   However, he also thought, though, that MHC did a better job of getting across the basics of what Christians believe. (Which then brought about a discussion about how you can’t really know the character of a church community unless you’re part of it, since a community worship/teaching time is only one hour out of the week.)

I will say, though, that – podcasts aside – 4300 miles of driving and 19 days of camping allow time for a lot of learning, a lot of laughing, and a lot of discussion.  And – in a big thank-you to the PPP community – I can honestly say that if I’d never started writing here and interacting with the other writers and commenters, I would have been so much incredibly poorer in both understanding what I believe, and in knowing how to talk about it.

Thank you all…

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Counting Stars Now AvailableIt’s no secret that I’m an Andrew Peterson junkie. Seven or eight years ago, he was scheduled to come play a small concert at our little in-the-middle-of-a-cornfield church, and – having become a bit burnt out on mediocre music with the label “Christian” slapped in front of it like “New!” on a stale bag of pretzels – I was going to skip it. A friend of mine from the church (and the guy who does our web hosting) suggested I might like it, and compared him to Rich Mullins. Unwittingly, he had just about put a nail in the coffin of my ever showing up, since pretty much no musician I’ve found in “Christian” music has had a favorable comparison to Rich.

And then I was asked to help promote the concert, and to play some of Peterson’s music on the piano in the weeks leading up to the concert. This meant I would have to listen to the CD and put some work into it, which – in turn – sold me enough that Peterson wasn’t the average CCM hack, that I broke down and bought tickets for the family to go to the concert. And while he wasn’t (yet) up to par musically with Rich, he had a great deal of talent and heart, and an authenticity absent from most performers.

The next year, he returned to our church, doing his first Christmas tour for Behold the Lamb of God, the True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. After that, my inner skeptic was stilled, and Peterson had pulled me into his artistic vision of the story of Christ – both within Christmas, and in every day life.

Peterson’s music and lyrics are not really comparable, in style or quality, within the Christian music sub-genre (or even outside it, for that matter) with anyone other than the dearly departed Mullins. If there is a key difference between the two, though, it is this – Where Rich had a haunted/pessimistic/cynical streak, seasoned with a wild but weary maturity of bachelorhood, Peterson has a more optimistic thread running through his music, most likely grounded in his family, as a husband and father. Apart from that, much of the instrumentation, flow and production are incredibly reminiscent of Rich’s later work (as he gained freedom from Word Records’ heavy-handed production) – similar, yet different enough to completely stand alone, in it’s own right.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Oops!  Wrong Tale…

While it was nice to have a long vacation, in some ways, it is always nice to be back home.  Another nice thing about taking a break is that it tends to recharge your batteries and help you see some new and old things in different lights.  And speaking of lights…

yep- it's VegasMy son Jordan and I were in Vegas last Saturday night, at the end of our 19-day journey, and we had the evening to do a walkabout up the LV Strip, just for the sheer spectacle (and to have a couple more conversations, along the lines of lesson at Caesarea Philippi).  So, with the temperature in the triple-digits and the humidity nonexistent (with the sun going down), we headed up the strip.

Early on, we passed a line of young latino men and women wearing signs advertising “LIVE GIRLS TO YOUR ROOM IN 20 MINUTES OR LESS”, clicking business cards together, trying to hand them out to all the folks passing them.  [We'd already discussed the importance of using the "Suzi rule" - my wife's long-time advice to me that when you walk around in a big city, you avoid making eye contact or answering folks on the sidewalk who are trying to get your attention.]

Just past these peddlers, there was a man, probably in his mid-40’s, with a T-shirt that said (in big letters) “JESUS LOVES YOU”, and beneath it, in smaller print “and I do too…”  He also had a small stack of paper in his hands, though they were booklets which had on the cover “You don’t have to live like this“, along with a smaller logo and print identifying them as being from the Central Christian Church of Las Vegas.  I smiled at him, and gave him a small nod and wink, which he returned to me.  He actually stood out, somewhat, because he wasn’t trying to push his fliers into peoples’ hands, but he handed one to people who stopped by him and at least seemed to be paying attention.

child abuseA couple blocks later, we crossed the street to take a look at the fountains in front of the Bellagio.  Unfortunately, much of the corner was clogged, with people spilling out into the street, because there was a small entourage of street preachers with megaphones, hollering at folks (who did their best to walk around them, since they were blocking the way through what was probably the busiest intersection on the strip).  In addition to the bullhorn guys, they had four or five little kids with them, with “repent or perish” shirts on, shoving tracts into folks’ hands as they walked by (not all that differently from the guys in the “LIVE GIRLS” shirts).  The guys with the megaphones were doing a great job shouting the Roman Road at folks, along with all of the great $10 words like “propitiation”, “substitutionary atonement”, “salvation” and every other Christianese phrase that would do a Dutch Reformed heart proud.

I later thought it was funny that my son chose the caption for our photo (above) in Flickr: “Sometimes you wish folks would stop being on your side…”  It was sad, but true – and it didn’t require an 18-year-old to notice the stark difference between a Christlike witness and those just being “Jerks for Jesus”.

About four hours later on the way back down the strip, I noticed that the gentleman with the “You don’t have to live like this” fliers was having a discussion with two of the “LIVE GIRLS” guys, and none of them paid attention to us as we walked by (they were speaking in Spanish, so I don’t know what was being said).  In some way, I wondered if the “LIVE GIRLS” folks weren’t the actual audience to which the older gentleman was wanting to speak to, in the first place.

Teller Like it Is

And it’s not just Christians who notice this.

Penn & Teller, a comedy/magic duo somewhat famous for their dark humor (their Vegas ads proclaim “fewer audience injuries than last year…”) are also famous for being atheists, as well – and fairly vocal ones at that.  Even so, I recently read an interview (language warning) with the talking half of their act, Penn Gillette, who also narrates a Showtime program that “debunks” various religions and charlatans (except for Scientology, because the network won’t let them, and Islam, because they value their lives):

You do go after Christians, though … Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good ****ing Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.

And what’s funny is that he’s pretty much spot on when evaluating the Christian blogosphere, as well. Many are incredibly kind, and it’s just sad that there are a (very vocal) few of them who live in garages, and give themselves important-sounding titles (like “Pastor-Teacher”) and lie and speak eternal death threats against those who won’t follow the narrowly legalistic, eisegeted systematic theology they claim to follow. Which is probably where the saying comes from that it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch.

And it’s not just Vegas.

When I got home this weekend, I saw this story which pretty much mirrored what I saw out in Las Vegas – again a tale of two witnessing Christians, but in a different city.

Apparently, there was a “gay pride” event (let’s just call it a mini-Vegas) at which a guy was simply planning on handing out Bibles and talking to folks who were interested in speaking to him.  The organizers of the event sued him to prevent him from showing up, but the court threw out their suit.

So, this guy, his wife and son showed up

wearing yellow T-shirts printed with the words “Free Bibles.” They pulled rolling suitcases full of Bibles and attracted little attention, stopping only to hand out Bibles or to engage in conversation when asked. They encountered a few challengers and bemused glances from festival attendees familiar with the court case, but attracted little attention until a gaggle of television cameras began to follow them.

“We’re not interested in preaching, and we never were,” Johnson said. “We’re not here for all that stuff in the news. We’re the ones that meet and have honest conversations with people, and we have our own rules that we go by as far as conduct is concerned.”

Johnson said he believes that homosexuality is a sin, but he insisted that he is not forceful about his message.

Meanwhile, a Jerk for Jesus decided to show up, as well.

[He] attracted far more attention than the [Bible Guy] as he stood on a box with a sign that read “You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked,” preaching to a jeering crowd. [He] attracted shouts of disapproval and arguments from passersby. Eventually, Pride attendees stood in front of him with signs that read, “Standing on the Side of Love.”

And, just to demonstrate the inherent legalism within both his preaching and his orthopraxy, the second man “brought a decibel meter to prove, he said, that he was acting within the law by not being disruptive.”  (… and they will know we are Christians by our decibel meters not pegging out loud enough to be called ‘disruptive’.)

As I thought of both cities and both types of Christians – the humble and the boorishly proud – I was reminded of one of Rich Mullins’ favorite quotes (paraphrased from Wilhelm Stekel)

An immature Christian wants to die nobly for a cause, but the mark of a mature Christian is that he wants to live humbly for one.

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Programming Note: June will likely be a very light month for new articles, as one writer is currently overseas and I will be tied up most of the month w/ my son’s graduation and a 19-day camping trip out west.

Over the past months, a number of the books/articles I’ve read have dovetailed into discussions of historical eugenics and/or abortion – or both.   Until this past year, I had not been very versed on the history of either, apart from 1) eugenics being discredited by Hitler’s application of it in searching for a “master race” of Aryans; and 2) abortion in the US, post- Roe v. Wade.  What I’ve found has been eye-opening (though probably not for those with a better grasp on early 20th Century history).

Eugenics

For those of you unfamiliar with eugenics, it is basically the selective and intentional breeding of humans – whether overtly (as with German race laws, selective sterilization, euthanasia) or passively (via social norming and marketing) – in order to improve the biological makeup of a community.

While overt support of eugenics is now considered anathema in polite society, it was the rage of the American progressive movement in the early 1900’s, along with many European countries in the same time period.   During this period of time, the progressive movement was enamored with the idea of nations being managed (for their own good) by scientific experts and gifted technocrats.  Diseases and social problems, they believed, could be “engineered out” of society within a couple of generations through biological means.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a progressive US Supreme Court justice, was a key proponent of eugenics, which he made clear in numerous writings, including the infamous Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld state-instituted, forced sterilization of the institutionalized and mentally disabled.  At the time, he wrote to a friend ” I … delivered an opinion upholding the constitutionality of a state law for sterilizing imbeciles the other day – and felt that I was getting near the first principle of real reform.”

Other key progressive figures in America and Europe – John Maynard Keynes (the founding stone of progressive economics), H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, Harold Laski, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson – were also vocal public supporters of eugenics.  Wilson, the year before becoming the President of the US, as governor of New Jersey supported and signed into law legislation to create in his state, the Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives, whose purpose was to determine for whom procreation would not be advisable.  A number of progressive church leaders, including Harry Emerson Fosdick, John A Ryan, and John Haynes Holmeswere also involved in selling eugenics to the public.  [It should be noted, though, that one of the most prominently outspoken critic of eugenics was the abashedly apolitical theologican G. K. Chesterton.  In fact, he endured a great deal of public scorn from progressive Christians and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for his writings against the practice of eugenics.]

During this time, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune helped to fund a program which informed some of Josef Mengele’s work, and led to the forced sterilization of 60,000 American children who were classified as “feebleminded” – poor whites, blacks, Eastern European Jews, Native Americans, and other “genetically inferior” individuals.  It should be noted that some of this work happened after the Nuremberg Trials, post-WWII. (For a full discussion on this, read War Against the Weak by historian Edwin Black.)

It should be noted that, while much of the Nazi eugenics movement was fueled by antisemitism and purely racist motives, not all of the American and European supporters of this progressive endeavor were driven by race.  Instead, race selection was more of a biproduct.  Many of the American eugenics supporters felt that it was for the public good that the poor, the weak, the “criminal class”, the disabled, and the “feeble minded” – all of which were disproportionately made up of minorities and poor southern whites – not be allowed to continue to breed.

Much of the progressive “public health movement” was grounded in eugenics and its infatuation with race, which was infamously on display with the Tuskegee Experiment, which was borne out of the best intentions (improvement of the health and well-being of African Americans), but implemented in reprehensible and underhanded fashion.

How does this carry on to today?

Jonah Goldberg, in Liberal Fascism, follows this eugenic thread and its ties to modern politics:

What is today called liberalism stands, domestically, on three legs: support for the welfare state, abortion, and identity politics.

Each of these three key “legs”, Goldberg traces from its roots in the eugenics movement.

The minimum wage laws, for example, were originally instituted in order to keep “unemployables” (the underclass targeted by eugenicists) from finding work.

It was [Sidney] Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination [...] Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a living wage.  Hence, if you raised the minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization.

The Davis-Bacon act, considered a bedrock law by modern unions, was established specifically to prevent poor blacks (who were not unionized) from “taking” jobs from whites (who tended to be unionized).  And on, and on.  He does note that even though these laws were established either partially or primarily for eugenic reasons, modern support for these laws does not necessarily come from the same source as the original motivation.

Obviously, the deliberate racist intent of many of these policies was not shared by subsequent generations of liberals.  But that didn’t erase the racial content of the policies themselves.  The Davis-Bacon Act still hurts low-wage blacks, for example.  FDR’s labor and agricultural policies threw millions of blacks out of work and off their land.  The great migration of African-Americans to northern cities was in no small part a result of the success of progressive policies.  Black leaders didn’t call the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, the “Negro Run Around” for nothing. [...]

Economically, as Thomas Sowell has cataloged, the biggest drop in black poverty took place during the two decades before the Great Society.  In the 1970’s, when the impact of the Great Society programs was fully realized, the trend of black economic improvement stopped almost entirely.

And then came Roe v. Wade.

From Eugenics to Abortion

As I noted above, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an early supporter of eugenics.  Even today, she is a highly-esteemed hero figure of the American left.  In reality, though, she was monstrously racist, and her primary support of abortion was for eugenic purposes – to eliminate blacks and other “undesirable” elements of society through their own self-selection.  It is not an accident that Planned Parenthood’s clinics, from the beginning, were primarily targeted to poor, urban communities.

From early in her public life, Sanger was a supporter of forced-sterilization laws, bans on the “unfit” from reproduction, and licensing of reproduction for those deemed “fit” to reproduce.  She pursued these policies on a number of fronts – from creation of the American Birth Control League to the philosophies behind the Zero Population Growth movement late in her life.  Early on, she wrote:

It now remains for the U.S. government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit.

Since the government was not moving fast enough for her, she took action to make this philosophical desire a reality.  It is not an accident that Planned Parenthood’s clinics, from the beginning, were primarily targeted to poor, urban communities, and that one of the “benefits” of this arrangement was the purpose of reducing crime by reducing the minority and poor-white population.  In 1939, Sanger launched the “Negro Project“, whose goals were ostensibly to introduce “responsible birth control” into the southern black population, but whose goals were essentially to eventually eliminate it.

But what about the results of Sanger’s work?

Today in America, more than 30% of abortions are performed on African-American women, even though the African-Americans only make up 12% of the population.  More than half of the black babies conceived in America are aborted.  This is higher than any other demographic group.

Read that again.

I first became aware of this, along with the eugenic component of abortion in America, when reading Freakonomics last fall.  In it, the authors describe the nationwide precipitous drop in the crime rate in the mid-1990’s, and the array of explanations given for it by various experts.  Using the rich economic and statistical data available on crime and demographics, they were able to definitively tie the steep drop in the crime rate to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Once again, Sanger’s work has borne the results she intended it to, whether or not her modern supporters ever had such expectations or intentions.

So What?

The church I grew up in is part of the Restoration Movement, whose purpose was to try and “restore” the church as it had been founded by Christ and his disciples, stripped of all of the later creeds and codes and systematic theologies – the “theological drift” of the ages.  In it, I grew to have a great appreciation for going back to the roots of a movement – not just the church – to see where the original trees grew, and the original intents of the founders.

As such, I’ve spent much of the past decade in my personal “enjoyment” reading learning about Hebrew Roots, the roots of modern science, the roots of America, and now, the roots of political thought.  As such, I’ve come to appreciate that even if the members of a movement today do not hold the exact views of its founders, they are inexorably shaped by them.

Not only are they shaped by them, but it takes an incredibly amount of will and purposeful patience from them to rip a movement from its roots and move it somewhere else – for good or ill.  As such, as I have studied the early 1900’s and the political & ethical movements borne from these decades, I’ve found that many of their aims have succeeded – for good or ill – and that many of their followers have no clue what they’ve bought into, or – like in the case of abortion and other progressive sacred cows – that they’ve become energetic imbibers of the fruit of a poisoned tree.

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I was going to save the video, below, for the Open Thread Friday this week, but as I’ve thought about it, and discussed it with a number of folks, I think it deserves a focused post of its own.

http://www.vimeo.com/11501569

Context, Context

Before any further discussion on the video, I think it’s important to have a little bit of context around it:

  1. The video was produced by the media staff at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, GA (where Andy Stanley is the senior pastor).
  2. The Sunday morning worship style being lampooned is the style used by NPCC.  They are making fun of themselves (not somebody else), while making a point.
  3. The video was specifically produced for last week’s Drive Conference, which North Point sponsors for church leaders and creative teams.

Kudos

First off, I’d like to applaud NPCC for 1) being able to laugh at themselves; 2) for being aware of the dangers of church-as-entertainment; and 3) for making this video available, since it has a message that should be heard, but also because it could be misused by their armchair critics who can roll out their favorite whipping boys w/ this video and use it as a misguided indictment on style, rather than a message that could have been produced for any “worship style” used by American churches.

Style vs. Substance

I think that quite often, the critics within the church – across the spectrum of styles – like to play off of a style-versus-substance meme, creating a competition where none need exist.  As I noted above, this video could have been produced to skewer ANY Sunday morning worship style – be it hymns-hymnals-and-pews, Contempervent (I love that term), high church, or incense-and-icons.  One can have substance in any “style”, but when it becomes a show or a rote pattern – tradition for the sake of tradition – it has strayed from the path.

I believe that all forms of artistice creativity can be used for the glory of God in worship: painting, music, dance, drama, sculpture, writing.

One danger is making it the focus of worship rather than a method of worship.  This is just as true of well-done interpretive dance as it is of skillful oratory.

Another danger is making it a distraction from worship rather than an enabler of worship, which is why if something cannot reach a certain level of artistic quality, it might be best not to insert it within corporate worship settings.

Sidebar on Giving

Next, one of the tangential points they bring up is around tithing.  I’ve always found it interesting that the basic message you hear in the church is “what you give is between you and God”, but you know that your giving is being tracked – by law – by the church, for the purposes of tax reporting.  So, the question becomes – what is being done with the tracked giving data?

I know some churches who make it common knowledge that the church treasurer shares NONE of the individual giving data with the leaders of the church.  That way, there is no danger of “playing favorites”, based upon someone’s giving history.  On the flip side, though, it also has a lesser degree of community accountability.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know of churches (and a larger number of non-Christian religious groups) who ask for your pay-stubs and/or W-2’s, in order to make sure that each family is giving its 10%.  To me, this degree of accountability seems to go against the “free-will” nature of giving, and the heart of giving, itself.

Most of the churches I’m familiar with, though, have no spoken policy on who – leadership-wise – knows the details of individual giving, and how those details are used.  In some ways, this ambiguity can be good, but can also be cynically viewed (as elicited in the video).

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From the Apostle Paul, to the church in Colossae:

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

And the church in Galatia:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

And the church in Corinth:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

In short – if we, as Christians, happen to believe that Paul had something important on the issue of races and classes, then we ought to recognize that its core is this: In Christ, there is no discrimination between races, classes, sexes or nationalities in the salvation they have received.

In this respect, it is love that ought to lead Christians to both respect and love all men, as loved by God, created in His image, and paid for by Jesus’ blood, if only they will recognize him as Lord.

Unfortunately, as he is wont to do, Satan takes something that God has made good – a love and respect for all men – and has taken that grain of truth and twisted it into a false view of “tolerance”, and then inflicted it upon the people of the world. Even though I’ve not paid incredibly close attention to the news this past week or so, I’ve heard (or been sent) a number of stories that all seem to have this tension as a common thread between them.

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Not Babylon - but fit my moodSo I just finished the Psalms on my Through-the-Bible-in-90-(Commute)-Days journey.  One of the last psalms in this book is Psalm 137 – a hauntingly beautiful Psalm that has been worked into modern songs and art.  It is set during the Babylonian captivity, and speaks to the sorrow of a people oppressed, persecuted and removed from their homeland:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

This is one of those passages in the Bible that reminds you that following God is not always about being blessed and putting the best face on grief. Sometimes it is just too painful and immediate to deal with sorry as joy. I know I have felt that way before.

What is interesting to me is how the modern “borrowings” of this Psalm stop where I have stopped above, or before, and pretend that the ending of the Psalm was never written:

Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

In a way it is sad when we neuter Scripture – be is Psalm or prose – to remove the sting it might contain.

There are times where we curse and do not bless. There are times when we do not love our enemies. There are times where it is our burning desire that God would see them repaid and – at least figuratively – their infants “dashed against the rocks”. And it is sad when I repress these true feelings, pretending they do not exist, rather than dealing with them – both in anger and later (hopefully) in regret.

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