Dec 5, 2013

For those of us who hate reading the Bible

For those of you (us) who hate reading the Bible...

For those of you (us) who have secretly never been able to reconcile a violent god...

For people like you (me) who are tired of worshiping a so-called god who destroys cities

and kills the innocent

and orchestrates war

and floods the whole world

and tells a dad to kill his son on a mountaintop

There is--finally--a coherent, down-to-earth, as-close-to-conslusive-as-it-can-be source for what the Bible really is, what God (or god or GOD) is actually doing, and how the Bible communicates it.

It is here: Rob Bell's blog series What Is The Bible? 

I don't know why Bell is writing this as a blog, because it should be a book.  Maybe it will be some day.  (Or maybe there's no difference? Whoa...)  Either way, you can (should) read it now.

I promise, if you struggle with the violent god of the Bible, this will change your life.

And if you don't... carry on, nothing to see here.

Nov 15, 2013

Why People Go to Church and Why People Drink

I'll never forget something my pastor said during a sermon when I was just a little kid.  While pointing out the need for relevance, he explained that the church needs to be a welcoming place for people to come just as they are.  But, he argued, church wasn't fulfilling that role.  He was particularly disturbed that the culture at large finds more solace in going to a bar than going to church, using the popular sitcom "Cheers" as an illustration.  He quoted the show's theme:
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
"The church," he said, with index finger pointed horizontally, "should be the place where everybody knows your name.  Not a bar!" (Paraphrased.)

Ok, so he wanted the church to grow.  But I sense a little jealousy.  (Que the obligatory "seeker-service" of the 90's!)

This sermon stuck with me.  For some reason, the pastor's words have continued to brew in the back of my mind since I heard them in elementary school.

This memory was brought back to the forefront of my cortex recently, when I heard author/speaker Peter Rollins compare churches to bars.  He said there are 2 reasons people go to church, and 2 reasons people go to bars.  And they're the same 2 reasons.

First, people go to bars to escape life and forget their troubles.  The bar offers a place where real life is circumnavigated and worries are forgotten, albeit temporarily.  By ordering a few drinks, and then a few more, you can teleport into an alternate universe that requires no forethought other than bringing some cash and arranging a designated driver.  Much fun is had by all.  Good memories are made (and possibly forgotten), and the night is usually followed up with a Facebook post containing the word "epic" in a last-ditch effort to relive the past.

But of course, you're left with waking up the next day to real life once again.  The pain was never dealt with.  Life's worries were not relieved in the slightest.  So, one must do it all over again next weekend.

So it is, all too often, with church.  Doubt is suppressed and replaced with ignorant happiness: You come to church, you sing songs, you feel good, you leave.  But then the buzz wears off, and you have to do it all over again next week to get another hit.  The pain is never dealt with.  Ironically, if you want your church to grow in today's culture, this is actually the model to strive for.  And the vast majority of churches do.  It plays right into our consumerist narrative.

But there's a second reason people go to bars: To actually confront life and deal with their issues.  A table is filled with friends, a few points are ordered, and the longings of souls present are shared.  Life's circumstances are not suppressed, but brought out into the open.  Vulnerability is offered at a costly price by all present.  There may or may not be dancing, but there will definitely by dialoguing.  It's not a drink-fest, but there are drinks.  It's not a party, but it is therapeutic.

This is what Cheers represented.

For the church to point their finger at Borrowed Buck's is very naive.  Instead of condemning bars, perhaps the church should learn from them.

After all, at least barkeep's aren't pretending they have one foot in the Holy of Holies.

Sep 10, 2013

New Gregory Boyd Book: Benefit of the Doubt

One of my favorite authors and speakers Gregory Boyd just released a new book.  Judging by the title, I hope it's as good as Peter Rollins' Insurrection, which I reviewed here.

If nothing else, it's just good to see the word "doubt" on the cover of another book.  Certainty, satisfaction, and self-aggrandizing belief systems are definitely idols.

Aug 9, 2013

Quit Calling Me An Artist

Everybody, please:  Quit calling me an artist.

Nothing I've ever done makes me any more an artist than you are.  Not even playing music.  Not even being skinny.

Rather, I believe that everybody is an artist. 

I'll say that again:  Everybody is an artist.

So what exactly is art?  I take my definition from guitarist Frank Zappa: "Art is creating something from nothing, and selling it."

Part 1: Creating something from nothing...

A painting, a song, a service, an invention, a job well done.  These are all concrete things and experiences that can be brought into existence that did not exist prior to a human being (artist) making it so.

Part 2: ...and selling it...

This part is crucial.  It MUST be sold, published, shared, offered for hire, or otherwise made public in order to make its creator vulnerable.  Without this step, it is nothing more than a hobby.

I would add a third component to Zappa's definition.

Part 3: ...because it gives you joy.

Creating art is hard work.  And if your art doesn't happen to be an in-demand product or service, it might be a total bust financially.  So it doesn't make much sense to create something you don't care about.

A plumber is an artist, provided she offers an honest service for a respectable price, and gets joy from doing it.  A secretary is an artist, provided he finds joy in welcoming people into the building that represents an organization he cares about.  A contractor is an artist, provided she completes projects in a timely matter, within an honest bid, and, above all, for the sense of joy it gives her.

Of course, the common thread in all of these examples is the word "joy".  As I've said before, your joy makes the world a better place.  And that better place didn't exist prior to you making it.

So please, stop calling me an artist.  And start calling yourself one.


Appendix A
Worship leaders: Please STOP calling yourselves artists.  It is condescending to those in your congregation.   Your job is to help others discover their art, not point out your own.

Apr 9, 2013

On Joy and Social Justice

The absolute BEST thing a person can do for this world is to live one's own life to its fullest potential.  This means loving others, but also knowing when to say "no" for the betterment of oneself.  When helping somebody else is wrought with obligation, nobody is being helped.  What good would it be to light another's candle if it only makes your own go out, or burn a little dimmer?

Never sacrifice your joy*.  The world needs people who are living a joyful life.  Making the world a better place isn't epitomized by serving at the soup kitchen or giving money to starving kids in Africa.  No, the best thing anybody can do for the world is live out their own joy, in their own life, everyday.

What does living out your joy mean?  For some, it could be the examples I used above--what we might call the usual suspects of serving others and working for social justice.  But there's so much emphasis on social justice in the church today, it has become scewed into more of a token gesture for many people.  If your Tuesday-night-service-activity is simply a "release valve"** to help you cope with the built up pressure of a day-to-day life full of slaving over a job you hate or making a living through shady business deals or working for a larger company with questionable ethical practices, the "good work" of "serving" is actually the very thing that perpetuates your erroneous lifestyle.  The presence of the release valve actually allows the bigger problem to persist.

Batman did a lot of token gestures, namely fighting crime.  But what did Bruce Wayne do by day?  He ran a greedy corporation and hoarded the money for himself--allegedly for the "good work" of keeping his crime-fighting operation going--all the while making himself richer and the poor of Gotham City poorer.  What Bruce Wayne failed to realize is that he was actually creating the very poverty that caused the crime that gave him something to fight.  Why was he so blind to all this?  Because fighting crime by night made him feel better.  He was unable to see (or neglected to acknowledge) that his daily life was causing it all.

Bruce Wayne lacked joy.  And his "token gestures" (e.g., service projects) kept him from seeing that.

Rob Bell put it nicely on Aaron Niequist's blog:
Your body is the medium, your essence the conduit, your flesh and blood the signal – the more clear and whole and healthy and thriving you are – from nutrition to sleep to brain waves to worry to bitterness to thriving marriages – the more you will radiate the kind of love and energy and presence and grace that people are needing. Who you are matters.

Who you are matters, and what you do everyday in your mundane, daily life matters.  THAT is where joy begins.  This world is broken, but sacrificing your own joy will not help it one bit.

Imagine a world where everybody did what they loved.

*Don't confuse the word "joy" with "happiness".  Happiness is circumstantial, joy is not.
**The "release valve" analogy is courtesy of Peter Rollins.

Jan 24, 2013

Insurrection: The Almost-Final Installment

I should have written the final installment of my review of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection 11 months ago.  I know what it will look like--Long ago I wrote it in my head and scribbled notes on paper.  But I'm scared to finally write it here.  There's only one way to honestly apply this book in my life, and publishing it is apparently something I'm not prepared to do.  Hopefully it will find its way to these pages soon.

Sep 10, 2012

Hymns and the Anti-Genre

Last Sunday at Hillcrest I decided to use all hymns for the music portion of our worship service, at the suggestion of an elderly lady in our congregation.  I was happy to oblige, not just because it was a great idea, but because I was thrilled that somebody actually had an idea/suggestion/input regarding their worship service.  (In over a year of doing this, this is the first time anybody has suggested anything.)

In short, it was really good.  The songs were more-or-less traditional arrangements with an acoustic guitar, piano, bass, and a female lead vocalist.  People were singing (which is a pretty big deal here at Hillcrest!), clapping, and smiling.  I had fun playing the music, as well as preparing it during the week.

This whole experience got me thinking, What exactly is a hymn, anyway?  Why is it that we can automatically differentiate a song as being either hymn or not a hymn?  And why does EVERYBODY have an opinion regarding hymns?

According to Wikipedia the definition of the word "hymn" can vary depending on the time period and/or religion one is referring to.  But when I boil it down, I would define a hymn as basically any liturgical music written before the 1960's.  Before this time, what we know as "hymns" was all that existed as far as liturgical music goes.  With the rise of rock 'n roll in the 50's people started writing their own music, and in the case of the Jesus Movement of the 60's, their own liturgical music.

As a gross generalization, people (especially Americans) are afraid of change.  This was the first strike against non-hymns: People simply weren't used to them.  Silly?  Yes.  But this fear still lingers in people alive today who were raised in that time period.

During the 1960's new "praise choruses" were introduced via the Jesus Movement, which borrowed tones and stylistic cues from the supposedly devil-inspired rock 'n roll music.  This was the second strike against non-hymns, albeit a subjective one.

The last strike against non-hymns, however, is a legitimate one: At the time of their inception, the lyrics were largely shallow, offering little more than a feel-good experience of happy praise.

Although they may have been flawed in their infancy, I feel that post-hymn* music has come a long way since the 60's, both in style and lyrical depth.  There's no reason to dismiss all non-hymns as being shallow anymore.  There are definitely specific songs that are worthy of such criticism, but as a generalization it just doesn't apply anymore.

At the same time, many hymns are very appropriate to use today, and in fact would be sorely missed by myself and others if they were disregarded simply because of their difference to modern music.  In fact, most hymns, when you strip them down to their most basic chords and rhythms, are ripe for rearranging and bringing to new life.  (Just because the old lady playing the organ at your Grandma's church doesn't know how to make Just As I Am sound good doesn't mean that the song itself isn't good!)

For worship leaders, there's a lot of music to pick from these days, but there is simply no way to please everybody.  So quit trying.  Choose songs that are appropriate for your congregation and your situation.  If you like the lyrics of a certain hymn, but don't know how to make it sound good, there are plenty of artists out there who will let you copy them--I do it all the time!  Or, if you think a certain song is shallow and lacking lyrical substance, simply don't use it.  But don't say that such-and-such style is all bad, or such-and-such time period is irrelevant.

In short, look for your anti-genre.  Strive for lyrics that are honest and a sound that transcends style, rather than caters to one.

*See what I did there?  I made myself look smart buy putting the prefix "post-" onto something church-related.  Boom roasted.