April Thompson is one of the most beautiful women I know. This conclusion is drawn not from her looks, although she is very attractive. Rather, it is from how she is deeply and passionately in love with God, her husband, and their kids. That is a beauty no Sports Illustrated model, save one who possesses the same qualities, can ever hope to approach.
In-between sessions of her very full-time gig known as raising the rugrats, April is wont to pen assorted thoughts in her blog. Her most recent post nicely expresses a frustration oft voiced by creative Christians, that being how a segment of American Christianity instantly recoils in horror the moment an artist, in any given medium, attempts crossing over from the Christian marketplace into the big bad satanic secular cesspool:
As Christians, we have to be careful not to be mindless consumers of whatever is served in the name of entertainment. But you know what’s not good? Hiding in our little Christian or conservative ghettos, yelling nasty things at the world from the walls, and throwing stones at anyone who tries to take the message outside the gates. Ya know, like Jesus said to.
Mrs. Thompson continues the point by bringing it into the political realm. She mentions how many conservatives (she is unapologetically one) are so conditioned to a knee-jerk response and blanket condemnation of most everything pop culture-wise, completely hung up on an artist’s political bent regardless of whether it carries over into their art, they disassociate themselves from everything under the mantle of avoiding anything “unclean.” This takes the form of not supporting via buying a CD or download or movie ticket or what have you any individual not on their side of the political aisle, along with, when discussing said artists among those of like mind, participating in a top-this game of who can trash-talk them the most. Because, you know, that will win the culture war every time.
She’s too young to remember, but Steve Taylor brilliantly skewered this mindset some time ago:
So you need a new car Let your fingers take a walk Through the business guide For the born again flock
You’ll be keeping all your money In the kingdom now And you’ll only drink milk From a Christian cow
Don’t you go casting your bread To keep the heathen well-fed Line Christian pockets instead Avoid temptation
Guilty by association
Turn the radio on To a down-home drawl Hear a Brylcreem prophet With a message for y’all
Well I have found a new utensil In the devil’s toolbox And the heads are gonna roll If Jesus rocks
It’s all a worldly design God’s music should be divine Try buying records like mine Avoid temptation
Guilty by association
So you say it’s of the devil And we’ve got no choice ‘Cause you heard a revelation From the still small voice
If the Bible doesn’t back it Then it seems quite clear Perhaps it was the devil Who whispered in your ear
It’s a telethon Tuesday For the gospel club Send your money in now Or they’re gonna pull the plug
Just remember this fact When they plead and beg When the chicken squawks loudest Gonna lay a big egg
You could be smelling a crook You should be checking The Book But you, you’d rather listen than look The implication
Guilty by association
Life for the believer is neither a scenario of doing whatever one wishes (sorry, libertarians) or hiding in a reverse leper colony. It is a call to the reality of Christ and life in Christ. It is personal holiness combined with mandatory outreach to others. Jesus was not a drunkard, yet He drank and His first recorded miracle was at a wedding reception when He changed water into wine so as to keep the party going. He associated, without compromise, with society’s outcasts. He didn’t tow the religious progressive’s continually shifting line of relative morality, telling them everything was cool and they could continue on their merry way without repercussion. He loved them where they were at while calling on them to change first their heart, and from that change their life. He didn’t commend the adulteress whose life He saved from the crowd seeking to entrap Him by what He said should be done with her, knowing full well the penalty for her actions under Mosaic law was that she was to be executed by stoning. He didn’t condemn her either. He offered her life with the admonition to leave her life of sin.
There is a powerful witness in the polite destruction of clichés. Systematically execute them by living life among other people in a Godly manner. Contrary to some opinions, living a Godly life does not mean acting like you are God, nor does it mean shoving your faith down the throat of another, nor does it mean never speaking up for fear of “offending” someone. It means tearing down the false image of what constitutes a believer by being both the human being you were created as and the child of God you were created to be.
There are no magic formulas for this; no superdeeduper secret initiation rites, magic words or self-induced guilt trips about what you should or shouldn’t do to say the magic words in response to which God will give you a hundred blessings. There is honesty, with yourself, others and especially God.
There are stones in the road. You will trip and fall. You will fail. You will know hurt, frustration, despair, rejection, grief, and anger. But you will also know what it means to truly be alive.
To be alive is to live, with all of life’s joys and sorrows.
You cannot hide from life. You can live life.
If others think you are crazy for doing so, so be it.
Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California and one of the leading figures in the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, passed away today after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86.
To try and explain the impact Chuck Smith had on contemporary American evangelical Christianity, a brief personal illustration. Back in the mid-1970s, in my neck of the woods (San Francisco Bay Area) the reverberations of the Jesus Movement were still being felt in youth culture. It was a heady time, teens and twentysomethings filled with intense love for Jesus and equally intense belief that His return to the earth would be soon and very soon. We’d sit on our bench, located perilously close to the jock bench, in our high school quadrangle with our guitars as we sang and strummed away on our little songs about a great big God. There were all the obligatory teenage angst moments, falling in and out of love at breakneck speed while occasionally musing about what we would do once we were set free from our high school protective cocoon. But we trusted Jesus would take care of that, and besides He would be coming back shortly so why get worked up over a future that would never come to pass?
Being San Francisco Bay Area people, naturally we loathed and looked down on all things Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular. However, we cut Orange County, south of L.A., a lot of slack. No, not because of Disneyland. It was the home of something we greatly envied, although we were careful to label it anything but envy as of course envy was a sin. This was semantics, though. It was envy.
We envied Orange County for being the home of Chuck Smith.
Where we were, Christian concerts were far and few between. There would be the occasional appearance by Barry McGuire at Mario Murillo’s monthly Night of Miracles rally in Oakland, but other than that there was precious little. There was no radio to which we could listen; the local stations were all AM dollar a holler junk. But where Chuck Smith was, there were concerts every Saturday night playing our music. There was a radio station, an FM radio station, playing our music. There was a church where we knew we’d all be welcome no matter our hair length or dress code. There was a place we knew that if we could only get there we would be blessed beyond words by being at the home base of everything we held dear in our unstoppable zeal. But, we couldn’t get there despite whispered conversations about how if we split the gas and had all the boys stay in one hotel room and all the girls in another with no visitations save with the door wide open, maybe we could borrow someone’s parents van and one day make a pilgrimage to Santa Ana so we could experience in person this magical place from whence came the records on the Maranatha! Music label we eagerly devoured.
Time passed, as it does. Jesus had other plans and didn’t come back before the 1980s set in, or any subsequent decade for that matter. Some of us walked away from the faith, disillusioned at the prospect of having to actually live out a normal life with a job and family and everything else that comes with these things. Some of us passed away. But some of us remained, our faith ofttimes battered, bruised and beaten down to the point of near abandonment. Yet we still believed, chuckling over our previous eschatological fixation and learning, as best we could, to be happy with what we had and learning to have faith in Christ alone, not in an image of Him being the ultimate get out of jail card.
This all said, the news of Chuck Smith’s passing is not an occasion for nostalgic musing about when we were young, alive, on fire and had all the answers. It is a moment to note all that he accomplished: the artists for whom he provided a platform; the multitude of Calvary Chapels now dotting the globe. His name does not have the recognition factor of other post-WWII American Christianity leaders such as Billy Graham or any given TV evangelist. But today, wherever there is a folk/rock guitar being played and song being sung, and wherever there is a ministry saying come as you are because Jesus loves you and so do we, Chuck Smith is there. And we are all the better for it.
God bless you, Pastor Chuck, now at home in your Father’s arms.
The truism says one should never discuss politics or religion with strangers. Excellent advice; it eliminates many flashpoints of contention before they have a chance to spark. However, sometimes both must be discussed as they are inexorably woven together. Such is the case with the present healthcare debate. The issue’s spiritual side seldom comes up in discussion. This is unfortunate, as understanding this brings much needed light to the matter.
Mention healthcare and certain images come to mind: doctors, hospitals, medicine, therapy; all working together to delay or at least make easier our transitioning toward the inevitable embrace of humanity’s one hundred percent mortality rate. Correspondingly, few things create more anger at God, however one defines Him including the definition of there being no God, than when we enter the unfortunate fellowship of those who have lost one or more loved ones to the grave. It is natural to curse at the vision of a disembodied and apparently disinterested God who exists in some undefined form as a rather uncaring being, and it is a small step from this to conclude there is nothing and no one out there hearing prayers, let alone answering them. It is another to consider Jesus at Golgotha, stripped, beaten, bloodied and dying an agonizing death by hanging on a cross. We often hear about “sharing in His suffering” and wonder, in the midst of our own suffering, what that is all about. It is no less accurate to remember that Jesus shares in our suffering. He was and is the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.
We don’t need platitudes when the heartache comes and bitter goodbyes are said. We don’t need pie in the sky by and by when you die lollipop dreams in a cotton candy sky. We need someone who is going to be there no matter what. We need someone who will be there when life drops its hammer blows on us. We need someone who will be there when we are burying a loved one. We need someone who will be there when we don’t know where the next meal is coming from or how we are going to pay the bills. We need someone who will be there when door after door is getting slammed in our faces. We need someone who will be there when we are tired, discouraged, beaten-down and broken. We need someone to love us who will not go away; someone who will assure us that it will work out and not be lying when they say so.
Enter Jesus. Not the Jesus of sterilized paintings; not the Jesus of half-heard and even less accurate truths, legends and myths. No, this is the Jesus that stands beside those with a broken heart; with the crushed spirit. This is the Jesus that knows what they are going through, because He went through it Himself on this earth. This is the Jesus who knows what it is like to bury a parent, who knows what it is like to be forced to live on the fickle charity of others and be looked down upon for it. This is the Jesus who was called every name in the book for hanging out with the wrong crowd. This is the Jesus who lives, not in some vague theoretical form, but lives today and communicates with us today through not only the mystical, impossible to accurately define yet quite real and tangible divine intervention when His spirit moves and speaks to us but also when those who are moved by His spirit, no matter how shaky their faith may be, reach out in love to others. This is the Jesus who, when someone says they cannot believe He ever existed let alone exists today, responds with a sad smile and says, “I get that a lot.” This is the Jesus who, when His followers get the same line, tells them to love the people anyway. It’s how He rolls.
If faith means anything; if the call of Jesus to those who believe in Him to do as He instructed them to do means anything, it will permeate all aspects of life including thoughts on politics and political action. Narrowing this down to healthcare, It will make clear that neither the cynical snark of conservatism blaming the unfortunate for their own situation nor bleeding heart, financially irresponsible liberals demanding that the rich take care of the poor by funneling all their funds through the government works. Neither is a reflection of the words and work of Christ. The government is not God, no matter how desperately it plays the role of societal modifier. Lack of compassion for others, no matter how much one protests they give charitably as an individual, is not reflective of Jesus. Proposing and implementing genuine action is. Nothing else is. Nothing.
Our present healthcare system is greatly flawed, yet it need not be discarded in favor of socialized medicine which is Obamacare’s ultimate goal. There are simple, practical fixes available right now if both sides would lay down their rhetoric and embrace solutions fueled by federalism’s light, federalism being the straightforward premise that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and must be correspondingly obeyed.
The government should work with existing health insurance providers as a reinsurer covering costs for catastrophic and/or long term care that is beyond the insurance providers means. Illusions, delusions and outright fantasies about insurance providers sitting on unlimited wealth they could use to pay for all such situations are, quite simply, totally inaccurate. They could no more cover all such situations than property and casualty insurers could cover all property owners in the event of a cataclysmic natural event, such as the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated parts of Japan a few years back. Such situations require federal assistance. Yes, this means tax dollars being spent on healthcare. I’m thinking we are individually and collectively worth it. Tied into this reinsurance would be a mandate that no health insurance provider may cancel a policy, or turn away a potential policyholder, and still be eligible for reinsurance. The only exception to this would be if a physician, supported by a review board consisting entirely of fellow physicians, determines than an individual’s behavior is the root cause of their medical problems, at which time the physicians alone may determine if the individual is eligible for coverage.
Even as the government should work with existing health insurance providers to cover costs at the high end, so to speak, of payouts it should also work with them at the lower end. How? By providing financial assistance for the sole purpose of enabling insurance companies to offer affordable coverage to individuals who fall below a certain income level. Now, I can hear the grumbling about welfare, etc. Again, I’m thinking we are individually and collectively worth it. Also, there should be a carrot or the stick approach, that being if someone at any income level deliberately refuses to buy healthcare insurance they will bear one hundred percent of any and all costs they incur should they require medical attention. Try to weasel out of the bill? Hello, community service or jail time. I have no trouble with the government playing hardball when people try to soak the system, be it public or private.
Physicians alone should make all health care choices, not health insurance companies and certainly not the government. A network of local overview boards, members consisting entirely of either active or retired physicians, should be available for appeal should a patient believe their primary care physician is not properly tending to their needs by not providing a particular service.
An investigative committee, made up of current and retired physicians, health insurance professionals and medical supply professionals plus pharmaceutical professionals should be commissioned to investigate the entire world, head to toe (no pun intended) of healthcare. This committee will make recommendations to the industry on how it can best reduce the cost of healthcare without compromising existing care or thwarting potential future care possibilities.
None of these ideas require two thousand plus page bills, increased government bureaucracy or further infringement on individual rights and liberties. There are simple, common sense solutions. They treat others the way we ourselves wish to be treated, not with contempt or tyranny but with straightforward, practical compassion and assistance where needed. We all need help. We all go through dark valleys. We could all use a hand. Let’s offer one to one another.
Rather like the Man laying a nail-scarred hand on our shoulder as He says, “Yes, I do know what you’re going through. Let Me help.”
It is impossible to take a look at current events without believing that the world is rapidly spinning off its axis. The hideous insanity of today’s obscenity in London, where two subhumans hacked an innocent soldier to death in the name of their false prophet, should serve as a warning sign to all that madness has descended on the earth to a level seldom seen before in man’s sordid history. Here in our own land, the madness of a completely out of control, arrogant and contemptuous government spying on its own citizens, hassling innocents in the name of political correctness and generally acting like a pathetic schoolyard bully should also serve as a red flag to anyone who has taken the red pill. We live in insane times.
It is lamentable that in times like these, so many who should know better are consumed with trivial pursuits that mean nothing and bring nothing to the table save yet another round of self-aggrandizing, self-promoting vainglory. One side provokes the other, the other responds in like kind, the trolls on both sides of the bridge hurl their bile and all the while nothing is accomplished. It is a game played by both sides, one in which there are no winners except those who through it garner yet another round of shoe leather fellatio from their adoring followers. The goal ought to be never becoming what we profess to oppose. Indeed, this is being accomplished. Unfortunately, the accomplishment is being even worse than what we profess to oppose.
We have seen nature’s fury these past few days; something which ought to humble us all and bring into full perspective that which truly matters. Instead, after momentary tongue-clucking and self-promoting charity exercises it’s back to business as usual, with left and right berating each other while playing to an adoring crowd within their respective echo chambers. There is much talk about changing the culture, breaking out of the aforementioned echo chamber and not applying litmus tests to one another in order to determine who is and is not on our side. Why, then, is there such an overwhelming amount of playing to the crowd, reciting the same tired lines and doing nothing that genuinely reaches out to others with a message of anything except endless reruns of what everyone else is currently saying?
We wear Scripture tattoos on our arms, but do we bear the wounds of Christ on our bodies? Do we see the world in terms of right and wrong based on political preference and not as a collection of individuals who, like ourselves, are in desperate need of a loving Savior? Do we truly know that Jesus died for everyone? Do we even care?
Are we coming to grips with the reality of how Christ calls us not to a life of luxury and adoration, but rather sacrifice and service to all? Do we understand and put into action simple gestures such as actually helping one another in the menial tasks of life as well as what we perceive to be great and glorious? Many aspire to stand beneath a spire, preaching from the pulpit where they dispense pearls of wisdom, grace and truth to a mesmerized congregation. Very few are equally eager to clean the church restroom.
It is time to reevaluate thinking; to re-examine priorities and put into action the principles and goals we assign to conservatism. For those of us who believe, it is time to begin boldly proclaiming the Word of God along with analysis of political events, philosophies and personalities. It is time to put into action the principles of Christ’s love, reaching out to all with genuine compassion, care and concern regardless of whether doing so earns us brownie points in the eyes of others or advances our career. It is time to lift up and support those who are dedicating their lives to sharing the Good News without regard to whether this pads our resume or garners a greater following. It is not the separation of church and state we should vigorously oppose. Rather, it is the separation of church and statements we make through our lives, words and deeds when we preach politics but fail to preach the Prince of Peace and practice what He has instructed us to do. We eagerly recoil in public horror at the abomination that is Gosnell. Are we equally eager to publicly share the Gospel?
Confront evil with full force, yet with the unshakable belief that Christ’s power can overcome even the hardest hearts. We need to strive toward being a consistent witness, not fearfully hiding our faith and bringing it out for public consideration only when it seems to be the least offensive to others. By doing so, we not only make ourselves look hypocritical by being afraid of stating what we believe, but we also make God look like an utter weakling. A very dangerous path to pursue.
Jesus was a man of action when He walked this earth, zealously and directly opposing those who said one thing and hypocritically did another while reaching out with compassion to society’s misfits – the prostitutes, the tax collectors. He made a whip, turned over tables and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. He physically put Himself between the woman caught in adultery and the crowd with rocks in their hands itching for the opportunity to stone her. We must do likewise.
Like Him, we must zealously oppose those who say they are with us but whose actions and words reveal them to be anything but. Yet at the same time, we should reach out with compassion and genuine love to those on the other side of the aisle no matter who on our side it may aggravate. We serve a mighty, or to be more accurate the Almighty, God. We should not get in the way of His flexing His muscle.
The world needs love, not another lecture. The world needs Jesus Christ, not jostling to curry favor with fanbois and gurrls. The world needs us refusing to make every battle a pitched personal as well as political conflict. The world needs our complete witness, both telling it about Jesus and living a life worthy of His sacrifice for us on the cross.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II went to Ireland. His visit came at a tenuous, dangerous point in Irish history; the IRA was active in Northern Ireland and, as was reported at the time:
Two weeks before the pope’s visit, British war hero and elder statesman Lord Mountbatten and three members of his party were killed when his boat exploded on Donegal Bay. The IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army), an outlawed guerrilla group fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility for the death, calling it “an execution.”
With that as backdrop, the pope chose not to go to Northern Ireland, but on Saturday went only as far north as Drogheda, 30 miles from the border. John Paul issued a definitive statement against the spiral of violence. He reminded his hearers, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
He made a strong appeal to the IRA: ”On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace….Violence only delays the day of justice….Further violence in Ireland will only drag down to ruin the land you claim to love and the values you claim to cherish. In the name of God I beg you….”
The pope appealed separately to young people: “I say to you, with all the love I have for you, with all the trust I have in young people: Do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, retaliation. Do not follow any leaders who train you in the ways of inflicting death….The true courage lies in working for peace.”
What does it mean to return to the ways of peace and how does that apply to us today?
We live in a dangerous time. Our government incessantly spends itself ever further into horrific debt even as it seeks to indebt us to it, actively working toward creating a welfare state for all as it exerts increasing control over multiple facets of our lives. While it has no chance of passage, the fact that a bill such as the Universal National Service Act could even be introduced speaks volumes about the mindset permeating elected officials, one declaring we live to serve them and not the other way around. It is their goal to remake society in the image they hold dear. The people’s will? Utterly inconsequential. It is power, and the control of money, that drives the political class forward.
In light of such, how is it even possible to speak such words as “return to the ways of peace?”
The answer lies in understanding peace.
Military buffs are fond of the phrase “peace through superior firepower.” Which is actually quite accurate; the opponent who knows they are thoroughly outgunned is far less likely to enter the fray. However, in this case the key is focusing on power. Knowledge is power. The person armed with this power is at peace, for they know how to analyze and discern daily events in light of historical background and critical thinking. They have calm answers for agitated questions.
So what knowledge should we seek? Spiritual, of course, should always be our first priority. This duly noted, knowledge of where we came from as a society, and of our government, is invaluable and absolutely necessary to understand where we are and where we may be headed. Read and re-read the Constitution. Study the Federalist Papers; the writings and speeches of Washington, Jefferson and other founding fathers. Be informed about the present as well. Read Hayek; read Economics in One Lesson. This will bring vital insight and wisdom.
While knowledge is an inextricable element of peace, knowledge by itself will neither give nor know how to receive peace. We must also examine ourselves in light of whether we treat others in the manner we wish to be treated. The Golden Rule remains golden. Do we extend genuine compassion and concern? Do we forgive? Do we extend the open hand to those with whom we disagree? Without these things, without love, knowledge is rendered impotent.
Finally, do we reach out? It is comfortable and safe to be with like-minded people. Fellowship is good for the soul and should never be marginalized. Yet fellowship alone is redundant. We must also accept the mantle of service, seeking not to lead other than by example. We must speak to the whole person, covering the entire spectrum of life – culture, entertainment, news, personal triumphs and tragedies. It is of utmost importance that our message, rooted in peace which itself is rooted in knowledge and love, address multiple points.
We can influence society and culture. Indeed, we must. We should support each other as each of us reaches out with the calling and tools we are given. Even often overlooked acts, such as being a good parent, influence far more individuals than we can possibly know. Be it arts or society or culture or politics or what have you, to exert a positive influence by bringing well-honed truth is a group effort. It can be done. It has to be done. The alternative is too vile to contemplate.
Let’s lift each other up as together we return to the ways of peace.
My knowledge of Dawn Eden, newly ensconced at Patheos, consists of having read a few of her blog posts and assorted interviews. I know the thumbnail sketch of her life: former rock journalist (and by her own admission a bit of a slut) who after Christ entered her life gave up sex and rock’n'roll in favor of pursuing Catholic academic pursuits and preaching the virtues of being virtuous, particularly in the chastity realm. I’m pretty sure Pope Benedict XVI has her on speed dial for any and all theological questions, she’s so deep into pursuing knowledge. But I digress.
Given that Eden (actually it’s Goldstein, but she uses her middle name as her last) last wrote about rock in 2000 or thereabouts, it’s possible she might be familiar with Canadian guitar rock band the Tragically Hip which made its recorded debut in 1987. The Hip, as the band’s fans refer to the quintet, is a long-running institution in its native land, routinely topping the charts and selling out (what else?) hockey arenas from coast to coast, while in the United States it is a solid cult favorite.
I rather doubt Eden rushed out to buy the CD of, or download, Now For Plan A, the Tragically Hip’s latest album which hit the streets last week. I have no idea what kind of music she listens to these days; whether she avoids rock because of past connections, if it doesn’t bother her, if she simply doesn’t care for the music anymore or whatever it may be. On the surface there’s no discernible connection between her traditional Catholicism and band leader Gord Downie’s often inscrutable stream of consciousness lyrics that offer fragments and disconnected threads, almost defying the listener to discern what is being said. Yet whether intentionally or coincidentally, in his latest musings Downie amplifies part of Eden’s thoughts on relationships. To wit:
Baby, when’d you get so Zen? When I used to know you when When you thought all my dreams sucked I was just happy you gave a f—
What, you were expecting moon/June/spoon? This is Gord Downie, folks. That aside, the chorus is the money quote:
And we don’t want to do it We want to be it
In a few words, intentionally or no Downie succinctly outlines a huge part of the fundamental behind Eden’s arguments on behalf of abstinence outside of marriage.
Do we give our bodies to each other for the sake of momentary pleasure that fades the moment we’re done? Or do we give ourselves to Christ the Bridegroom, letting His intense love for His bride the church, a love so great He gave His life for us, shine through us even as a man and woman’s love for each other shines through them as they pledge themselves solely to each other?
Do we celebrate sex’s holy and pure nature as not only the means of creating the next generation, but as a symbol of His love by giving ourselves fully and completely to our sole soulmate? Or do we debase it by turning it into a carnival game with empty orgasms and conquests as our prize?
Which do we choose? Do we choose to do it? Or do we choose to be it?
(It’s worth noting the lyric also brings up the issue of why conservatives and Christians routinely fail to support fellow conservatives and Christians, such as Mark Scudder, in the arts. It’d be far preferable, and I say this as a huge Tragically Hip fan, to have artists on our side we can point to for this illustrations without everyone in unison replying “who?”)
A lyric further along in the song warrants mention:
And all our friends gave us a week And we’re still happening as we speak
How often do couples who refrain from sex before marriage get ridiculed by those who don’t? I suspect, based on what I read and hear, quite often. Yet they are far more often than not the couple that lasts.
To be it, no merely do it. That’s a goal worth aiming towards.
I love this post by Bill Walden (original lead singer for Undercover) so much, I’m quoting it in its entirety. Hope he doesn’t mind.
Over the last few years, I have read many people’s personal testimonies about “leaving the church”. Some are people that I have been friends with (and still am), while others are only acquaintances. Sadly, some now see me (a pastor) as an enemy. Many of these people previously were involved in Christian service, or seemed to have had a genuine relationship with Jesus at one time.
As I read about people’s “departures”, I realize that people’s descriptions of their “departures” may reveal more than they intend to reveal. Words matter, because they are the things with which we communicate ideas, whether written or spoken. I find their words interesting.
For example, people write the following statements: “I left the church”; “I left organized religion”, or “I left the faith”. While those words may be accurate of their experiences, I have never heard or read anyone say, “I left Jesus”.
It can certainly be true that people may leave a church, a religion, or a faith or faith system, but those things were never intended to be the focus of one’s life. I have wondered exactly what people mean when they say such things. If I had the chance, I would ask them, “What exactly is it that you left”?
I would continue…“ Is it the church that you were called to give your life to? Was it a religion or a faith that you were called to follow?” Why do people use such verbiage? Perhaps it is an oversight, or carelessness….or perhaps it is an accurate description of something they used to follow but don’t follow any longer.
My main point is this: We are called to follow Jesus Christ, and have a relationship with Him. Attached to that is church, faith, and religion, but those things are just the outgrowth of walking with Jesus. They are the accoutrements of a life with Jesus. A church building or church body exists to help a person walk with Jesus. An organized religious expression exists to help someone walk with Jesus. A systematic theology exists to help people walk with Jesus, and sort through ideas about God. Those things, as important as they are, are not the substance of the Christian life; they are the “add ons”. I do not mean to minimize any of those things, but rather, I mean to point out that some people may have experienced the “add ons” without experiencing Jesus
It is entirely possible that people were attached to all those things without ever having been attached to Jesus. Their testimonies of “departure” may be revealing more than they know.
I read about people’s objection to the church, and sometimes I agree. I read of their anger about religiosity, and sometimes I agree. I read of their frustrations and struggles over certain theological issues, and I understand.
But so far, I have never read anyone’s “testimony of departure” where they have said, “I really don’t like Jesus. He treated me badly, He is unfair, He is not worthy of following, etc.”
When “departure testimonies” focus on complaining about the accoutrements of the Christian life, and not on Jesus, I wonder what it is exactly that people are leaving. Could they say that they had a real relationship with Jesus, but found Him to be unsatisfactory? The focus seems to be on people’s dissatisfaction with the peripherals of the Christian life, and not the centrality of Jesus Himself.
Finally, I know that some may now respond that they are atheists or agnostics. I have friends in both categories that I love very much, and pray for often…but I wonder…did they ever really know Jesus? Is it Him they are rejecting, or all the peripherals?
I sometimes imagine them talking face to face with Jesus. Would they be able to say, “You know Jesus, I tried you, but You never came through for me. You are harsh, uncompassionate, and generally you were a huge disappointment. I cannot follow you….no thanks”.
When Jesus walked the Earth, we know that people did reject Him to His face. Perhaps that truth is tucked away in the “departure testimonies” that I read, but I am not hearing that clearly stated. I wonder if we should ask people what, exactly, didn’t they like about Jesus…
I understand people’s frustration with the church, religion, and theology, but as they speak and write of their departures, I wonder….what is it exactly that they left?
I was raised a good Catholic boy (yeah, yeah, I know – where did I go wrong; something my mother often wondered). Part of this upbringing including being severely taught to show the utmost respect for priests, nuns and all other Church members in authority positions. Note that this was show respect, not never question. My parents, especially my father, seldom hesitated to enthusiastically engage assorted parish priests and other officials in even more enthusiastic discourse over various matters of theology and/or local church policy. This duly noted, there was never any disrespect for the position someone held, regardless of whether the individual holding said position was equally well regarded.
Said all that to say this. One of Patheos’ Catholic blogs is Standing on My Head by Father Dwight Longenecker. In a recent post he ripped and ridiculed not only Christian rock itself, but the very notion of it being suitable for ministerial, let alone liturgical use.
Shall we examine his foolishness… er, rationale?
A friend of mine used to quip, “When you’re talking about Christian music it’s pretty safe to substitute ‘bad’ for ‘Christian’.
A friend of mine used to say the moon is a gigantic dusty grapefruit. I didn’t believe him either. But at least he wasn’t a smug, sanctimonious ass.
Who hasn’t had to endure a Christian rock band or sit through a worship with some aging trendy strumming a guitar and inflicting folk music or light rock on everyone?
Gee. I’ve endured many a Christian rock band. I recall many of them giving altar calls at the end. I recall many, many people coming forward to give or recommit their lives to Christ as a result of those altar calls. One of those people was… me. As to worship, I also recall many a moment of folk or light rock bringing many people into a deeper relationship with Jesus, encouraging them to follow Him more closely and be better servants to one another and the world. One of those people was… me. Somehow I doubt Fr. Longenecker has ever been to an actual Christian rock concert or heard quality contemporary worship/praise music. Which, despite his upcoming assertions to the contrary, does exist. In droves.
Why is it that so often Christian music is so awful?
Because the modern church, with few exceptions, has done such an abominable job of finding, nurturing, supporting, and promoting artists? Naah, couldn’t possibly be that.
I think there are a couple of reasons. The first is that the musicians and their audience mistake a worthy message for talent.
Uh, no. If that was the case, every everything every Christian record label releases would sell. It doesn’t. People do both care and have the wisdom to discern what’s worth a listen.
Then they get a martyr complex if they’re criticized. “You’re obviously not very spiritual if you can’t enjoy my music!
Wrong again. I don’t mind if people don’t enjoy my music or that of the artists I like. Where I do call into question someone’s spiritual discernment is when they apply their cultural bias and personal preference to their alleged discernment. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not good and therefore cannot possibly be used by God. I know people who think Pink Floyd is the worst garbage on the planet. Does that make it so? No. So don’t waste my time bringing your petty preferences, inflated with pseudo-spiritual tripe, into any discussion of art’s value or quality. Like what you like; dislike what you dislike. But don’t drag God into it.
The second problem is that the audience are often either totally uncritical or they haven’t the ability to criticize intelligently. Too often the audience actually like the crap that is being dished up.
We’ve addressed this already. Telling people they’re mindless drones for their musical tastes isn’t exactly what I’d consider a strong opening to winning over hearts and minds. Or winning souls for Christ. Or drawing those who already know Him closer.
The third factor is that market forces are usually not in play. Market forces often have a surprisingly sharp and salutary critical effect. Market forces weed out the junk, but in the Christian market they’re doing it for love, not money, so no one is telling them to get off the stage ’cause it won’t sell.
Already addressed this as well. But hey, keep flailing away at that deceased equine if it makes you happy.
These are all the practical problems. There is, however, a deeper problem. Christian popular music is almost always pretty bad,
Feldercarb. (Look it up.)
but the problem with most “Christian” music is that it is secular music with Christian words.
And what, pray tell, makes music secular or sacred? The style? The sound? Are you telling me God’s such an impotent wuss He can’t use whatever variation of His language — for music is God’s language — He pleases for His purpose? What emasculated God are you following? Not the one I know and in my stumbling, bumbling way serve.
In any decent art style and substance are supposed to match up. The meaning and the media are supposed to harmonize.
Which far more often than not they do. Except to those with open mouths and closed minds.
Most “Christian” music is taken from the secular world. Whether it is the music of Broadway musicals, Country Western, Las Vegas ballad crooners or light rock or heavy rock and roll it’s secular not sacred.
Again… it’s music. Music in and of itself is neither sacred nor secular. Did Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” which is an adaptation of an excerpt we know as “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” from J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” which is itself an adaptation of Hans Leo Hassler’s love song “Mein G’müt Ist Mir Verwirret” turn what started life as a secular tune, turned into a sacred one by Bach, back into a secular song? Really?
When you then add sacred words to the secular music there is a natural disconnect.
To people who serve a whipped puppy masquerading as God Almighty, yes. Or if you prefer, to those who are so petrified of themselves they can’t handle life, thus run and hide and cry out for the bad people and/or things to go away. I’m hardly the strongest person you’ll ever meet when it’s sin-resisting time, but I don’t need musical burqas to protect me from the beat menace.
That’s why so much Christian music (even when it is well written and well performed)
You said there wasn’t any. Make up your mind, will you?
doesn’t really work.
Feldercarb on a stick.
Oh sure, people might like it.
How dare they!
They might even have nice feelings about Jesus by listening to it,
What? People enjoying the notion of there being a loving Savior? Obviously a Satanic trap.
but the secular music was designed to produce certain types of feelings,
So? God can’t use it? Do we really need to repeat how small your God is?
and why should those warm sentimental feelings or hard emotional feelings be linked with worship?
Uh… because we’re human.
We might like listening to Christian country Western or a sweet Broadway type ballad about Jeezus or we might get all hyped up listening to Christian rock, but is it worship? Is it really inspiring us to draw closer to God? Is it really deepening our spiritual life or is it just music we like which makes us feel good and it makes us feel even better because it talks about Jeezus too?
Let’s think back a bit about something mentioned above that takes place during so many of those “awful” Christian rock concerts. Altar calls. Exhortation toward Bible study, fellowship and discipleship. Obviously thin disguises for warm fuzzies. But back to reality. You see, Fr. Longenecker, maybe — just maybe — in spite of your sarcasm in regard to and loathing of contemporary Christian music, God uses it anyway. The evidence is all around you. Too bad you’ve chosen to close your eyes to His work.
Forgive me for being cynical,
Don’t push your luck.
but think about it.
I have. Which apparently puts me one up on you.
The worst example is Christian Rock music.
And here we go…
At the risk of sounding too puritanical,
Reality isn’t really a risk, sir.
rock and roll music was, from the beginning highly sexualized, laden with rebellious, heavy and nasty rhythms
Nasty? What is this, a Janet Jackson revue?
linked with the drug culture–designed to alter consciousness and demolish self restraint. The acid rock and heavy rock was also obviously
linked with an occult and demonic sub culture.
And because a few losers played the devil game, stealing God’s language, we’re supposed to concede? Uh-uh. We’re stealing it back.
So you want to put cozy Christian words to all that?
Try listening to the Rez Band song again, then get back to me on that “cozy” thing.
To my mind that’s like putting a gospel tract inside a porn magazine.
Why not? We’re supposed to be reaching sinners, aren’t we?
The same criticism applies when the musical style is not quite so bad as acid rock. You name the popular secular style–the music wasn’t written to deepen prayer, lead to worship or open the soul to the sacred. It was designed to produce shallow emotions about love and romance at best, and lust and sex at worst.
Because we as Christians have been so shallow we’ve let the world run wild. We haven’t promoted our artists. We’ve held them back at best, actively ridiculed and opposed them at worst. We have made ourselves culturally irrelevant. We have paralyzed ourselves into being afraid of our own shadow. We have abandoned the things of God and settled for perpetual self-appointed second class status. That’s why we’re losing.
Pope Benedict XVI comments on this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. He acknowledges that down through the ages this has been a recurring problem in the church. Sometimes the hymn writers put Christian words to beer drinking songs. At other times they adopted the popular operatic style. Now they adopt light rock, hard rock, and virtually every other secular style.
Yeah, it was really rude of our forefathers to try and use God’s language for its intended purpose.
The antidote is to be more aware and appreciative of sacred music.
We are. You’re not.
There is a kind of music that on its own–even without words–is designed to open the mind and heart to the sacred.
Yes. It’s called “whatever God wants to use.”
Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony which evolved from it–is the music of worship.
I happen to love Gregorian chant. But it is not the only arrow in God’s musical quiver:
Especially in the liturgy this is the music which we are supposed to use because the music lends itself to worship.
As does most everything else when you let God be God and stop trying to squeeze Him into your box of what He can and cannot do.
It opens the heart and mind to a new dimension and reveals the spiritual aspect to our lives in a way that secular music with Christian words does not.
I’m sure this would be true… if there was such a thing as secular music.
That’s what sacred music is. What is required is catechesis about this music and an effort to appreciate it. Truly sacred music is an acquired taste. It takes some effort. It also takes some effort to produce it at a good and worthy level.
So when are you going to put in the effort, Father?
The problem in most mainstream Catholic parishes is that they’ve had nothing but crap music in church for as long as anyone can remember. The people actually think its okay because they have never heard anything else. They take on board the blend of muzak, Broadway tunes, folk music and light rock thinking that this is all there is. Then if they ever do hear Gregorian chant or sacred polyphony they hold their ears and say, “Geesh, why does Father want to bring in all that gloomy music? We’re outta here.” Alas. Its true.
Yeah, sucks when people want to live in the twenty-first century. Again, I love Gregorian chant and traditional hymns. They’re wonderful. But they don’t always work. Our God is a mighty God. Why, then, attempt to tie Him down as to what He can use? Let God be God. He’s much better at it than anyone else.
Does this mean that Christians should listen to nothing but Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony? Is that all we should ever use in the liturgy? The purists would say so.
I’m very happy for them having discovered backwards time travel and all.
But I’m of the opinion that we have to work with what we’ve got. We have to meet people where they are and move on from there.
Which you are doing in this article exactly how, reverend?
Chant and polyphony are the foundations of the music we should use. In addition to this we have the library of sacred hymns (and there’s enough there to warrant another blog post completely) the worthy ones of which will serve to complement the words and actions of the sacred liturgy.
Fr. Longenecker… please go away. And don’t come back until you’ve gained some wisdom.
Again you announce while you whirl and bounce Intentions to pounce on the beat menace No woman or man could ever withstand The devious plans of the beat menace
Come to lay you low, we’ve come to vex your soul
Feeling the heat, hell at your feet Don’t even speak of the beat menace Something to take away your innocence Someone to blame it on
Helps you to defeat Dancing in the street
Come to lay you low, we’ve come to vex you
Resolved in your mind- the nature of crime Is to swallow the line of the beat menace Imagination’s on the rise again So hide your heart away Dust off the fears and guilts and lies again The beat is here to stay Your satellite can reach that Eskimo He buys a suit and tie Re-styles his hair like girls in Tupelo And sings “Sweet Bye And Bye” He’s meeting all your strange requirements He thinks you can’t be fooled He’ll get the rules and laws and sacraments By sending checks to you
Today is Easter Sunday, the day we who believe celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead and atheists get their collective panties in a wad. The poor dears.
Militant atheists are conspiracy theory fruitcakes’ kissing cousins. Whereas conspiracy theory freaks and flakes claim any evidence provided to disprove their theories in fact validates their manifested psychosis, militant atheists invent out of whole cloth their “proof” there is no God, claiming there is no scientific or archaeological evidence to “prove” that which people have based their faith upon. Then, when confronted with evidence to the contrary, they claim that since the presented evidence is based on faith, a faith whose validity they deny since it is nothing they share, it is therefore invalid.
To the militant atheist, any evidence of a loving God is based on faith, therefore is outside of their personal belief system and therefore cannot possibly be true. Why? Because they don’t believe it. To the militant atheist, that settles the matter. They see Christians as being bigoted and blinded to reality and reason by the faith to which they cling. In reality, they themselves are blinded by their own stubborn insistence that there is nothing in which to have faith. They are what they profess to oppose, but are too blinded by their own pride to realize it, let alone admit it.
Atheists relish in the belief that since love exists outside of faith, and hatred exists in spite of faith, therefore there is nothing in which to have faith. This is an extension of their belief that if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist, although it’s usually wrapped in a container of “if it can’t be proven, it doesn’t exist.” Very well, then: prove that God doesn’t exist. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Even the atheist’s patron saint Richard Dawkins can’t do that.
Atheists claim that the flawed nature of man proves there is no God. Very well, then: how can the flawed prove there are flaws? What defines a flaw? What constitutes a flaw? That which general consensus agrees upon? Search history and note how often general consensus has condoned that which is now considered evil: war, murder, rape, enslavement. Note also how despite the alleged advancement of man these horrors still exist among us. Who are you to say those who believe these things are wrong and you are right? What is your measuring stick? If it is yourself, again it must be asked: who are you to say what is right and what is wrong? How can flawed man promote lovism and free thought unless you are without flaw? If you are not without flaw, why should anyone believe or follow anything you say? How are they to discern what in you is right or wrong? How can imperfect man claim to determine perfect right and wrong?
Atheists amuse me. They sharpen rather than challenge my faith, much as liberal believers who treat Scripture as a cafeteria sharpen my belief that God’s word is His word. They reinforce my dictum to let God be God and let everything flow from Him. Life without God makes sense only to those who believe themselves to be self-enlightened. In fact, they are the darkest of dark, living in darkness and refusing to admit there is a light.
As is obvious to anyone who’s been here lately, I haven’t been here much lately. A bit of the writing funk. Well, time to get the funk out.
A large part of the problem has been yours truly doing an unfortunately excellent job of beating himself up lately over what he’s not doing. Which, naturally, leads to nothing being done.
Rather than acknowledge how I am legitimately doing my best to land the next gig, I’ve been berating myself every moment spent not looking online and elsewhere for one, enjoying nothing and berating myself over everything. I’ve tried to do it all myself instead of trusting God that it will work out, I am in His care and doing the work — in this case, to get work — does not translate into me being the one-man gang, whipping myself into frustration and hopelessness leaving me lashing out at God for apparently not caring when in fact He’s never stopped loving me and looking out for me.
It is frustrating beyond words to face each day with the “come on, you’ve got to grind it out” mindset dominating my thinking. I can’t afford to take a day off from the job search. I know this, and thankfully I haven’t. However, I also can’t afford to beat myself up over what boils down to both disrespect for my own efforts and disrespect for God’s providence. Certainly I want this to end now. But if it doesn’t, does God love me any less? Am I working any less hard at finding work? Am I any less in His will or under His care? I’ve filled out eighteen applications thus far this week. There will be many more. I’m constantly studying how to improve my presentation and approach. The sniggerings of the “get a job” crew aside, what else would anyone — including myself — like me to do?
Time to pull back getting on my own back about things, start trusting and start scheduling my time more efficiently. First priority has to be more prayer, Scripture and fellowship time, letting everything else flow from this. Otherwise I’ll continue to be a self-paralyzed, embittered soul. Which is no good for anyone.
Time to reject the tyranny of the urgent and re-embrace the love of God.
P.S. Giving credit where credit is due: the term “tyranny of the urgent” comes from an excellent pamphlet by Charles Hummel.