Wednesday, June 30, 2010

#167 Visual media

As the multi-campus "meta-church" structure gains popularity, visual media (as they call it) is necessary for HD sermon broadcasting when the pastor is teaching from, well, one of the multiple campuses. But videoscreens and jumbotrons are also necessary for the videos that are sure to be displayed.

A church video is often produced by the church's creative team who work closely with the worship leader. It will feature lots of smash-cuts and white flashes set to Christian music that sounds like Nickelback. (Although they want it to sound like Coldplay.) The purpose of a church video is usually to tell an inspirational story, introduce a sermon series, or to get you "pumped up" for worship.

The presence of the video screen tells you that this church Values Technology and wants to be Culturally Relevant. These same churches often encourage tweeting during church and have a church iPhone app. The nuances of these technological treats will be discussed further in a future post.

Monday, June 28, 2010

#166 The Sinner's Prayer

The sinner's prayer is an assortment of confessions that Christian culture deems necessary for salvation. Not to be confused with the Lord's Prayer, the Sinner's Prayer is not found in the Bible.

The sinner's prayer is Christian culture's litmus test for salvation. "Have you prayed the Sinner's Prayer?" is the ultimate question for those unsure of their eternal repository. If death is imminent, this is the type of prayer an evangelical would guide you through. In this sense it is like the Catholics' last rites, but an evangelical wouldn't cop to this. We've already discussed how they feel about Catholics (see here).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#165 Camping out on a verse

When the pastor is about to expound on a segment of scripture he likes to say he's going to camp out on it. "We're just going to camp out on 'predestined.'" or "Let's camp out for a minute on the term 'false witness.'" Camp out = this is going to take awhile.

The pastor learned a lot of fun trivia in seminary and now he's got a captive audience. If he has a doctoral degree and not just an MDiv he wants to impart to you the original language nuances and subtext. If he considers himself to be emergent or relevant he'll try to be edgy and entertaining about it. Their sermons are often the longest. One word can take up the whole thing. I once heard a pastor say he was going to camp out on the word "the."

Camp out can also be used interchangably with unpack, as in "We're going to unpack this verse." When you hear either of these, settle in, it's going to be a long haul.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#164 Reserved parking for the pastor

Pastors are known to get territorial in the parking lot. In most protestant church lots there is a sign reserving the primo space for the pastor. The assistant pastor and worship leader sometimes have their own spaces too, but the lead pastor's space is always closest to the building.

Even small churches have reserved pastor parking, but it is most commonly seen at megachurches. The more mega the church, the more likely there is a reserved sign. But churches so mega that they are multi-site don't need pastoral parking spaces at all their satellites where the pastor appears via videoscreen. His reserved space is at the lot from whence he preaches, and dollars to donuts it's occupied by something status-y which of course was bought with tithes. You will be hard-pressed to find a pastor of a large church who drives something unremarkable.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#163 Unattractive church secretaries

Some pastors make it a practice to hire staff they aren't attracted to in order to reduce temptation. This is an excellent tactic, as anyone who has gone to church for awhile can tell you at least one story about a church sex scandal. It's always the same: someone in church leadership showed the hot secretary his wiener, and that was that. Sometimes the cast of characters varies but it always plays out like this: once found out, the pastor puts on a great display of remorse and tears his garments, but it's curtains for him. His wife and kids are never the same and his career options are pretty much shot. He's run out of town or decides to leave out of disgrace and his family tries to patch their lives back together but it's a tough row to hoe. Now he's wishing he'd hired that sweet older lady with the mom jeans and neck moles.

Monday, June 14, 2010

#162 Grape juice in lieu of communion wine

Several strains of Christian culture are quite adverse to wine. Many Christian churches in north America use grape juice instead of wine for communion even though Jesus served wine at the Lord's supper. Within these churches, wine is absolutely not an option. If you even brought it into the church building many members would have a big problem with it and there would be some angry comment cards and that sort of thing. Never mind that Jesus drank wine; they are going to forge a narrower path than he.

If you ask, say, a Baptist about Jesus's drinking of wine they will tell you that the wine back then was a lot less concentrated, that Jesus drank wine because it was a safe way to preserve grape juice, or that it was necessary because the drinking water was unsafe. If you ask them about Jesus turning water into wine they will tell you there is no evidence that he drank any of that wine or that he told anyone to drink it. And that settles that. In fact, for many southern Baptist deacons and church staff, drinking any bit of alcohol is grounds for dismissal. They sign to it.

By the same token, other strains of north American Christian culture have recently been busting out of alcoholic oppression and are feeling rather fancy with their freedom in Christ. They like talking about wine and knowing things about wine and discussing theology over glasses of wine. They feel more enlightened than those fundamentalists tethered to their old notions of Scripture. This type of Christian wants to make sure you know they are savvy and relevant in this manner and will often specify in their blog profile that they like good wine, not two-buck-Chuck.

Friday, June 11, 2010

#161 One-piece swimsuits

Christian summer camp is strenuously anti-flesh. They want as little as possible on display. Since they are basically running an evangelical kennel for high school horndogs, they must keep lusting at bay not only to please Jesus but to maintain some semblance of public order.

Every Christian camp enrollment form states "one-piece only for girls," usually in those exact words. Sometimes they even add "two-piece swimsuits" to the What Not To Bring List just for good measure. All bits must be covered by law but Christian camp adds an extra step and makes sure all female stomachs and backs are covered as well...covered by thin...wet...spandex, that is. The logic follows that this extra fabric cuts down on lusting and pleases God or something.

The one-piece swimsuit rule implies that boobage is better wrangled by a one-piece than a two-piece, but this is categorically false. Whilst laying out on one's fabric-covered back, side cleavage oozes into armpits more copiously in a one-piece than in a bikini. Christian camp does its darndest to keep lusting at bay, but gravity always wins.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

#160 Bible verse as Facebook status

When Facebook asks "What's on your mind?" the Christian's answer is often a verse. And just as often, dozens of people (presumably also Christians) click that they "like" it, no matter how obscure the reference. It begs the question, if their pastor or his wife made Ezekiel 23:20 their status, would everyone still be compelled to like it? Unfortunately we will probably never know.

People firmly enmeshed in churchiness "like" these statuses (stati?) with great consistency. Those less fervent (backslidden, perhaps) "like" them more selectively.

When a Christian or former Christian sees a friend's status verse and does not click that they "like" it they usually endure a pang of residual guilt typical of Christian culture aftershocks. Fortunately it only lasts a few seconds, which is more than I can say for most Christian culture residue.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#159 Screen printed dress shirts

When his Ed Hardy hoodie is just too casual, the discerning gentleman opts for a screen printed dress shirt.

This type of shirt is a favorite among posturing evangelicals and Las Vegas date rapists. It appears en masse on the Vegas strip and at Christian conferences that emphasize creativity and relevance.

The screen printed dress shirt is their uniform staple. The other components of the uniform are copious hair product and jeans that cost more than a therapy session.

The owner of the screen printed dress shirt doesn't just wear it, he "rocks" it. Whenever you spy this type of shirt you can be certain that individual owns a MacBook and clothing by Von Dutch.

Feelin' fancy at the church website photo shoot.

This guy's got at least three. Hat trick!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

#158 Censoring the comments

When you leave a comment at a Christian's blog there is a good chance it'll say "your comment will be visible after approval." It will not say "if your comment doesn't express overt agreement with the post or offer some sort of praise for the blogger, there is a slim chance your comment will see the light of day," but that's sometimes what they mean. Some bloggers let their comments post immediately but if the comment isn't particularly flattering or asks a pointed question, it stands a good chance of being deleted once the blogger (or his minions, if he's high on the food chain) sees it.

Within Christian culture they tend to only publish the comments that praise the blogger's godly character or say what a blessing he/she is to others. Pastors of mega- or multi-campus churches are a prime example. If their blog even allows commenting, try leaving them a neutral or inquisitive comment and see if it makes it past customs.

Here is a pop quiz. Which of the following is an actual, published blog comment and which is a comment that has been denied publication at a pastor's-or-random-Christian's blog? Pick A or B:
A. "You have been an inspiration to thousands and a blessing unto this world."
B. "I am curious as to why you don't make your salary public and why you drive such an expensive car."

A."You are our gift from God. Thank you for answering His call."
B."I've tried to set up a meeting with you but they keep telling me you don't meet with people personally."

A."I want to thank you for imparting your wisdom to myself as well as others. Your godliness is an inspiration."
B."You said you are accountable to a team of people, and I am curious who that team is accountable to."

A."In the eyes of God, few people upon this earth have ever spread the gospel with such conviction and sincerity."
B."I'm wondering if you're going to address the congregation about the domestic violence report that came from your household."
If you guessed the published comments were A's and the denied comments were B's, you get an A+.

Many Christian congregations aren't encouraged to approach the pastor if something he says or does seems sketchy or unbiblical. Within American Christian culture it's common for the pastor to be seen as infallible or an untouchable celebrity rather than a friend and companion in seeking God. This mentality comes in handy for deflecting any concerns about the pastor's actions or teaching. Surrounded only by positive feedback the pastoral staff's ego metastasizes and Jesus diminishes. You can certainly do this, but don't call it Christianity.