Thursday, April 23, 2009

#78 Miss California 2009, Carrie Prejean

Christian culture really likes this year's Miss California USA. In the interview round of the Miss USA pageant 2009, she was asked by Perez Hilton if she thinks gay marriage should be legal in all 50 states. She answered that it’s great Americans can choose that or “opposite marriage,” but that “in my country and in my family” marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Well, she came in first runner-up. She says that her answer cost her the Miss USA title and Christian culture seems to agree. It could even seem that she is being heralded in the right-wing media as a sort of martyr for her Christian beliefs.

It’s uncomfortable for Christian culture to entertain the idea that gay marriage might be anything other than flat-out wrong. They don’t seem to want to entertain the idea that maybe what could be more in line with Jesus’ teachings is being friends with gay people, seeking them out, and loving them well. People in Christian culture can’t seem to see themselves as being as sinful as they think gay people are.

Carrie Prejean has told the press, “I am praying for Perez Hilton.” Does she imagine that when that gets back to him and that when gay people read her quote that they are going to feel loved and validated? Does she imagine they will feel honored and humbled as precious people made in God’s image who deserve to be treated with dignity? Carrie also said in an interview, “'It's not about being politically correct. For me, it was being biblically correct.” This notion that her unchallenged beliefs are biblically correct is the same notion Christian culture clings to. But refusal to question what you are taught “in your family and in your country” and refusal to wrestle with Scripture or wrestle with God dooms all of us to repeat history as the Pharisees wrote it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

#77 Getting plugged in

"Get plugged in" is a phrase used by assorted pastoral staff to encourage church involvement. The youth pastor especially desires for you to get plugged in. He is the most frequent user of this phrase. Close behind him in rate of saying "get plugged in" are small-group leaders, singles pastors, the young adults leader, and the director of the parking ministry. (The parking ministry is a special phenomenon exclusive to very large churches and will be discussed further in a future post.)

The phrase "getting plugged in" is not used in relation to the senior adults ministry. It does not appeal to their demographic.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#76 Numbers

Not the book of Numbers, so much, but the number of people that your church attracts each week. Some churches crave big numbers as if they are a fledgling business. "Invite your friends!" "We're considering the exciting possiblities for this year." "We prayed that He would save 700 people. He did…Plus an additional 40! Totaling 740 lives changed for eternity." "We are praying and fasting for the same multiplication in seeing about 7000 people here this Sunday!" "God provided attendance exceedingly abundantly above our wildest dreams this Easter." (Whose wildest dreams? Oh, your wildest dreams, charismatic pastor man.)

Jesus never said anything about how many people you should cram into your church building. Jesus didn't tell us to set attendance goals. Jesus didn't tell us to pray that a church
(small c) will grow so big that it runs out of folding chairs and has to build a separate campus. However many people come to your church, fill out their attendance cards, and/or come forward at the altar call is completely, completely irrelevant to actual change in their lives and whether or not they actually experienced the person of Christ. Could the tiny church in a small town comprised mostly of elderly people be doing more to further God's kingdom in the ways they love their families and neighbors, than is the warehouse church with jumbotrons and a parking team? Could the megachurch's biggest impact be the way it strokes the egos of its pastors? Corporate America ties its identity to the number of clients it recruits. This is easy for church leadership to do as well.

Case in point from the Acts 29 church planting site:
If your value is in between 80 and 100, your church is making a spiritual impact, is growing rapidly and people are being ministered to in effective ways. Take leaps of faith regularly to stretch the body to its full potential . . . If your value is in between 20 and 39, your church is going to either close its doors or fight for survival. A Spirit-led vision to compassionately reach the lost for Christ needs to explode within the leadership and contagiously spread throughout the whole body.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

#75 The Passion of the Christ

Christian culture loves this movie. It is the only R-rated movie they heartily endorse.

The Passion of the Christ received support and endorsement from Billy Graham, James Dobson, Mission America Coalition, Salvation Army, Promise Keepers, National Association of Evangelicals, Campus Crusade, Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Rick Warren, Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Max Lucado, Young Life, Tim LaHaye, Chuck Colson, Lee Strobel, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mothers of Preschoolers, aka MOPS. (The idea that preschoolers may have watched this movie should make anyone in their right mind want to hurl.)

Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 stars, and said "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen."

The film opens with Jesus being tempted in Gethsemane before his arrest. With the focus placed on Jesus's torture and death over a 3 day period and virtually no depiction of his 33 year-long sinless insurgent upheaval, we have to wonder if this is basically a snuff film.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

#74 Challenging

Pastors like to say "I challenge you to," followed by a verb. The verb is often "invite." The direct object is often "someone." This time of year, the indirect object is often "Easter service." However, many pastoral challenges culminate in witnessing or the memorization of Scripture. This can put you in the running to receive an iPod.

And for teens, a special "xtreme" challenge, in grungey font to attract their attention in ways Helvetica cannot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

#73 Twitter

Churches are excited about Twitter. It’s what the kids are doing these days, so many churches have launched campaigns encouraging people to tweet during services. This might be the new version of being allowed to pass notes during class, except your device carries more status. iPhone? Niiiice! Basic Nokia piece of crap that was free with your plan? Pfft. (Coffee consumption whilst tweeting scores you extra relevance points.)

96% of blog entries written by a pastor (or his tenebrous cousin, the creative pastor) on the subject of Twittering follows this trajectory:

“I know Twitter isn’t for everybody.”

“I’ll admit it, there are some things even I don’t like about Twitter.”

“In my church, I have seen life-altering small groups formed and forged through Twitter.”

“I have seen teams of people mobilized to do volunteer service like nothing else in the past through Twitter.”

If someone in the church should have a non-Christian friend (not too likely, but just in case) and that friend should follow them on Twitter, guess what. That person has to read every little thing his church friend writes. But this will only be positive advertising if the person following him thinks that the church tweeter is actually nice, smart, or even better, cool. If Church Tweeter isn’t viewed highly and people are just following your tweets because they want to know where traffic jams are, this might not work out too well for your church numbers.

But all of this begs the question, if you’ve finally found some quiet for the first time during the weekend, do you really want your phone to go off and tell you that Pastor Mark sure is on fire today? And if you’re having a soul experience at church, do you really want to be typing into your phone about it? Can you have a soul experience from reading other people’s tweets about their soul experiences? Are we trying to keep ourselves occupied to distract ourselves from the stillness that could hold something scary? Maybe not, but it’s worth asking.

'There are quiet places also in the mind', he said meditatively. 'But we build bandstands and factories on them. Deliberately — to put a stop to the quietness. ... All the thoughts, all the preoccupations in my head — round and round, continually, What's it for? What's it all for? To put an end to the quiet, to break it up and disperse it, to pretend at any cost that it isn't there. Ah, but it is; it is there, in spite of everything, at the back of everything. Lying awake at night — not restlessly, but serenely, waiting for sleep — the quiet re-establishes itself, piece by piece; all the broken bits ... It re-establishes itself, an inward quiet, like the outward quiet of grass and trees. It fills one, it grows — a crystal quiet, a growing, expanding crystal. It grows, it becomes more perfect; it is beautiful and terrifying ... For one's alone in the crystal, and there's no support from the outside, there is nothing external and important, nothing external and trivial to pull oneself up by or stand on ... There is nothing to laugh at or feel enthusiast about. But the quiet grows and grows. Beautifully and unbearably. And at last you are conscious of something approaching; it is almost a faint sound of footsteps. Something inexpressively lovely and wonderful advances through the crystal, nearer, nearer. And, oh, inexpressively terrifying. For if it were to touch you, if it were to seize you and engulf you, you'd die; all the regular, habitual daily part of you would die .... one would have to begin living arduously in the quiet, arduously in some strange, unheard of manner.' – Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay

"Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything." – Psalm 46:10, translated from the original Hebrew [it was Hebrew, right?] by Eugene Peterson