Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Edge Church Scandal: The Juicy Details

This blog entry was not approved by anyone on staff, or the elder's board of The Edge Church. The information, ideas and opinions contained herein are the thoughts and ideas of myself and myself alone.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Jesus, Matt. 5:48

What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, (imperfect) but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean. Matt. 15:11

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. -James 3:2

Recently, the Church that I belong to has lost its pastor. I've written a little about it, but today I am going to say everything that has needed to be said. Not only am I going to uncover all the “dirty little secrets”, but I am going to give my two cents on where we need to go from here. Before you hit the send button on your email, or skip to the bottom of this post and comment, keep reading, this isn't going to be what you think.

In July of this year, after what was described as a “sabbatical” on the part of our pastor, a letter of resignation was read aloud in the Sunday worship service, from that same man. I was not present. Over the course of the next several weeks things begin to take what seemed like a serious turn for the worse. In the wake of the pastor's resignation, which, we were told, was of his own choosing, we lost: one half of our childrens' staff, our worship leader, the pastor's executive assistant and a band of congregation members, leaving for a variety of reasons, some connected, others not.

Throughout this time a group of men that had the dubious honor of being named as elders of our congregation were thrown into the fire. They moved quickly to name an interim leader, establish a chain of communication to get control of the financial accounts, computer systems and the like. While this was going on these men were subjected to hours of meetings, listening to all of the details of both the scandals behind our issues and the issues themselves. They spent countless hours in prayer, trying to decide what needed to be done, trying to discern where God was in all of the wreckage. They made several tough, and in some cases, unpopular decisions.

Many, many people have taken offense at their choices. This has led to bad mouthing, gossip, blind guesses as to what happened and why, and people making the decision to leave, some quietly, others trying to wreak as much havoc as possible on the way out. For those of you who may not understand why this group of men is even in this position, here is a brief explanation.

Israel Hogue, former pastor of the Edge Church, asked each of them to be part of a council which was called (using the Biblically accurate term) the Elder's board, or Elder's council. These men, for the better part of two years, met together infrequently so that they could be informed of decisions and put “in the know” about the direction of the Church, etc. They were not, in any sense, a decision making body, an advisory council or have any power to make or change the policies of our congregation, except in whatever capacity the staff of the Church deemed it appropriate to take and follow their advice.

Another misunderstood, and in some cases much maligned, character in this process is my friend, Britton Thurlow, our interim pastor. Many of you may not know how he came on the scene, or what his part in all this is. When the resignation was announced, Britton had been serving as a volunteer, part-time, associate pastor, whose primary responsibility up until that point, had been the formation and operation of the Warehouse college ministry on Thursday night.

Britton's availability, schedule wise, and his former professional ministry experience, over a decade in various capacities with Churches throughout the area, made him the man with the most knowledge as to how to proceed, and he willingly took up the challenge. (some of this is partly my assessment of the situation based on what I know to be fact)

Britton and Michael Arnett, volunteered to man a public forum to discuss and advise the congregation as to what had happened, and what our response would be. They announced that we would be conducting a pastor search, and that several guest speakers had been lined out to appear over the course of the next several weeks.

Since that time, little has been said about what actually spurred the decisions that led to the collapse of our leadership. Hang on to your hats, folks, cause I am about to tell you everything you need to know about the entire scandal. Here it is.

In the course of living out, what many of us know to be an, at times, difficult existence, as a father and husband, Israel Hogue fell victim to his human nature and committed acts that put him in a position that was deemed beyond repair by those involved. While there were, I am sure, since it has always been the case in my own life, many mitigating circumstances, what caused the disintegration of two marriages and rocked a congregation to its foundation, was sin. Pure and simple.

There, there you have it. Now many of you believe that you have the right to know more, however, I dare you to find me one verse of scripture that backs that up. The sin in this man's life has not only been exposed, albeit not in detail to us, but he is actively working, with outside professional help, to repair his relationship with God, recover from his shortcomings and find a way back into God's purpose for the rest of his life. That's it, the show's over, there is nothing else to see here.

As for the rest of them, my Mother used to tell me that if I was not a part of the problem or an active part of the solution that knowing the details of this type of thing could lead to nothing good and was not something to be sought after. Now, some of you will argue that you need to know in order to more effectively pray for the recovery, repentance, etc of these individuals, I say that is a load of crap! God does not need your account of what happened -he was there, after all- in order to know that you are on his side, and asking him to heal and restore these families. He already knows what happened, and if he thinks it important for you to know, he can reveal it to you. The only other acceptable way to get this information is to go directly to the person that committed the offense, and that is Biblically reserved only to the “offendees”. So stop asking!

Not only does it not matter, who did what with or to whom, it is downright disgusting to be so morbidly excited about it. This is not an episode of Desperate Housewives, with actors paid to portray salacious behavior, this is people's lives! There are children and families, and people who most of think, or used to think, of as friends involved.

I agree that it is a shame when people make bad choices. I agree that it sucks that their families and the rest of us have to pay for it with broken relationships and disillusionment. But what I think is even worse, is that we insist on compounding an already tough situation by griping, complaining, gossiping and speculating. If this is you, and you don't understand my issue, go read Exodus. See how many times the Children of Israel got slammed with plagues, toasted to a crisp by wildfire, swallowed up by faults in the earth, bitten by snakes, the list goes on. God hates it! It is time for us to stop! The mission of our church is Love, Love,Serve, not Love, Love, Slander!

So, here are three things I am committing to, and I challenge you to leave a comment, making the same commitment:

  1. I am committing to pray for the blessing of God on all of these lives (with the understanding that blessing in some lives includes dire consequences for actions) and on the lives of the men who are leading us, the members of our congregation and the lives of the greater community, nation and world that we have contact with.
  1. I am committing not to repeat anything that I do not know as fact, and even to avoid repeating such facts as may tarnish, or negatively affect the reputations of the individuals involved. If there is correction to be done, God will do it. He is in the business of humbling the proud and lifting up the humble, he even reserves the right of revenge to himself and I intend to not get in the way of that.
  2. I am committing to examine my own life and get on my face before God to repent of my own bad decisions. That includes anything that I have thought, or said, or done regarding this situation that I should not have. It also includes safe guarding my own marriage and family by keeping an eye out for attitudes and behaviors in my own life that may lead to destruction in my family.

This is my prayer: That God will not only sort out the wheat from the chaff in the lives of the members of The Edge, but that he will bring us through stronger, healthier and better prepared to meet the needs of our community, to share and build into eachother's lives, and to worship him more deeply and fully. I also pray that God will put a guard on my tongue, that I might not speak, or write anything that would bring less that life into the lives around me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

8 Things I have Learned While Raising 8 Kids

Many of you may not know, but I am the father of 8 children. Some of you just had a conniption thinking of how much damage this idiot's kids will wreak on society. The rest of you have met my children and know that they are very little like me and are, for the most part, charming and sophisticated and very well adjusted and behaved. I thought I would share, from my heart, some of the valuable lessons I have learned in the adventure of fatherhood.

No. 8 It is Never as Bad as it First Appears

When you have your first infant you will overreact to EVERYTHING, it's okay you are supposed to. Every whimper, fart and coo will have meaning for you and that is the way it is supposed to be...for the first six weeks. After that, God keeps them cute for a reason. As they grow you learn what to listen for, to distinguish between tears of anger, fear, pain and sleepiness. You start to recognize the signs of real trouble and what is just going to be a good laugh. One other point here: no matter how minor, head injuries always bleed....a lot. Find the source and determine how bad any problem is, before calling the fire department.

No. 7 Gross is a Relative Concept

You know you've officially become a parent when you hear a child about to puke and you move to catch it, rather than save yourself. Yeah, I know it's gross, it's also true. With the exception of a few, truly squeamish people, most parents adjust to things like puke, dirty diapers, babies eating dog food and the like. It is all a part of growing up and soon, or so they tell me, you will be missing these things.

No. 6 Your Kid is Probably Not a Real Genius, (and that's okay)

All of us want to believe that little baby Donatello is the first child to ever finger paint...with his tongue. Yes, your baby is smart, unique and wonderful, but don't start to pick out his seat on the short bus if he's not talking in complete sentences by 10 months. Don't be intimidated by people with Uber babies either. It all has a way of working out. Educate yourself as to the normal signs of development by talking to other parents with multiple children, and be wary of putting too much faith in the “experts”. They will have everyone believing their kid is either the next Einstein , or Rainman. Of course all of my 8 children are well above average, but what can you expect from such superior genetic stock?

No. 5 It's Okay to Tell Your Kid What to Do

In fact, if you plan to have your children anywhere near me for any length of time, please, I am begging you, teach them some decorum. Kids will be kids, but that does not include acts of terrorism! While it is a popular urban myth that the best way to handle a public temper tantrum is to walk away and ignore the child, do not ever try this anywhere near me. The sooner children understand that they are sharing the world with other people, and that those other people do not always enjoy screaming brats, the better. While I certainly do not promote beating children, I do, upon occasion, give mine a swift smack on the rump when it's called for. I do not believe that this is the only way, but, for some offenses, it seems to be the most effective. Whatever method you choose to discipline your children, apply it fairly, which means, apply it every time it is called for. This is fair not only to your child, who will quickly grow to respect the boundaries and need less reminding, but it is good for the peace of our planet.

No. 4 Bugs are Protein

When Baby Billy swallows the june bug he was playing with, its okay. As long as it goes down, most solids will eventually come out. As they grow, toddlers will develop even stranger eating habits. Some children between the age of 2 and 4 seem hardly to eat at all, consuming only one large meal a day, with small snacks. If their heads keep getting further from the ground, and you are not using the icepick to put extra holes in their belts, its okay. Experiment to find healthy foods that they enjoy and keep them on hand. For Pete's sake, don't ever try to put a kid on a diet. I'm not talking about choosing healthy foods, I'm talking about worrying about your four year olds figure, she, is supposed to have a bit of a belly.

No. 3 Experts know nothing about what kids like

Buy all the award winning “educational” toys you want. Kids will play with what fuels their imagination. Give them simple toys that they can build dreams with. Dress up clothes and a set of blocks will go much further to turning them into productive citizens than a whole box of over priced crap. Keep it simple. Our kids play with their toys most after a clean out, when we have given the excess away and they can actually see what they have. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BUY THEM EVERYTHING THEY ASK FOR. This is not the time to prove that Daddy loves them and is a good provider. All you will get is more ammunition when they throw their toys and stomp off screaming, which does happen from time to time.

No. 2 Life is Not Fair, But Dad Can Be

Most of the time. Here is what I mean by this. When it comes down to an out and out fight for control of anything in our house I always do one of two things: take the item in question away, if a civil agreement cannot be reached. I do this no matter what the toy is, or who it belongs to. They can have it back later. Or, we flip a coin to decide who goes first, gets the first slice, etc. I use scripture to back it up even. Solomon said, “The Lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord”. It has stopped a lot of fights and long drawn out debates in our house. If the item in question belongs to one child specifically, such as a Christmas or Birthday gift recently received, they are allowed to keep it to themselves for a day or two, before sharing requirements kick in.

No. 1 Kids are Washable

My number one favorite thing about the design and construction of children is that everything short of industrial strength dyes will wash off of their cute pink bodies. While this does not make it okay to leave toxic chemicals within easy reach, it should be your mantra regarding harmless messes. If you are a neat freak, buy your kids clothes second hand, so you can afford to burn them on a regular basis. A happy kid is a messy kid and it is true that a little dirt never hurt anybody. As for germophobes, my only advice is, get fish, you don't have to pet them and you can wear rubber gloves to wash the tank. Children are not for you.

So, what would you add? What have you learned as a parent that you wish you had known from the beginning? Share it with us!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Kind of Change?: Election 2010

“God gave us the ten commandments and the Constitution and I think it's time we get back to both of them”- Caller to the Eggman Show during election coverage, OKC, Nov. 2nd 2010.

I heard this “brilliant” statement from the lips of a man who had absolutely no idea what either document was about and it pretty much sums up the attitude of many Americans today. Well it's a load of crap! And I am not talking about which side won, I couldn't care less, because there is not a butt hair's worth of difference between them.

Yes, I voted. But mostly because there were state questions that I believed would be astronomically bad for our state, not because I was excited by the great conservative revival, I lived through the last one! Remember? Remember when JC Watts was the most quoted man in America and good ole Newt Gingrich was the great white hope who was going to lead us back to the promised land? Remember?

And where have we come since then? Have we made any headway on abortion, divorce or public education? NO! And we certainly cannot claim any victories for the good guys when it comes to the economy.

As for liberty, we now have metal detectors in every public building in America. We have legal wiretaps without warrant, prohibited items lists at our post offices and “no fly” lists at our airports. Not only is our government bigger and badder than ever before, with less accountability, but the private sector is more and more in league with them.

Every day we hear of more police brutality. Our armed forces are in more conflicts and the suicide rates are nearly identical to what they were in 1990, even with 20 times as many anti-depressants being handed out like gumballs! Why???

I think the answer lies in this man's statement, the belief that the United States is somehow sacred, necessary to God's plan, and deserving of not only our allegiance, but the sacrifice of our very lives to prolong its reign over the nations of the earth. Let's face some truth. While personal choice is at an all time high, personal liberty is at an all time low. We are living in one of the most oppressive authoritarian societies that has ever existed.

When else in history has a man needed the permission of his government to build a fence on his own land? When else has government been so invasive that they restrict the sale of children's fast food meals with toys? (SF CA) I just received a letter informing me of a $1500 per person fine for my defunct company for not filing W9s -not, mind you, refusing to file tax returns- when I do not now, nor have I ever, had employees.

Unless this new congress will spend the next four years doing nothing but repealing bad laws that were put in place by their various predecessors, what good will any “change” do? Are they brave enough to slash unnecessary government jobs when everyone is convinced that new “jobs” are the biggest part of a solution for our economy? Will they really balance the budget, not just find some magical formula that makes it appear that we have a surplus? Or, will they go to Washington and find new special interests to cater to, create more new laws (which by the way, a law does nothing but restrict God given liberty, by its very nature) and find new ways to play the great political shell game of moving the money from one program to the next, without one thought of actual, meaningful cuts in government spending? We all know the answer.

We have all witnessed the fact that the political bus that is the United States Government is careening downhill without a driver, and we all know that unless we put a complete stop to its course it will inevitably crash. It is no longer enough to slow it down. Its weight is too great. It is top heavy with laws and regulations, bloated on the tax dollars of its citizens and drunken with the belief that being the only “super power” entitles it to run over whatever comes into its path without stopping to think of the morality of it.

Okay, take a breath and get back to what you were originally going to say.....The constitution, whatever its virtues may be, was not handed down from the mountain. This misguided individual, who equated the two, obviously has never read the book of Exodus. Here's the difference.

When the children of Israel came out of Egypt it was something that was foretold by God to Abraham over 400 years previous to its eventual happening. Their Exodus was proceeded by several major miracles and ten plagues! God led Moses to a specific mountain and showed up, in physical form, that was witnessed by the entire nation of Israel, as if the mountain were on fire. God wrote the original ten commandments with HIS OWN FINGER -according to scripture- and gave them to Moses.

In contrast, the constitution was written by committee, in ink, on paper. There was more than one revision, in fact the “original” has one of the revisions blotted out underneath it! We hold these truths to be self evident...is not the utterance of a Supreme Being. It is the best ideas of a group of men, some of whom were arguably under the influence of God at the time, but it cannot, should not, must not be compared to Holy Scripture.

No matter how much we “get back to it”, it cannot make us righteous, even the law was powerless to do that. Here is what it takes. It takes a people who are so seeking the face of God that they lose track of what men are doing in other places. They are so seeking the good of those around them, in community with them, that politics becomes nothing but a background noise. We have given them far too much power. Too much time. Too much energy. We have worried about their ideas, feared their decisions and cursed their laws. Many of us have spent more time this year in conversation, trying to persuade people of a political ideology than we have seeking those who are lost to share the good news of Jesus with.

Seek first the Kingdom of God (hint, not the United States) and all His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (food, clothing and shelter)

Be anxious in nothing, but in everything, with prayer and supplication, make your requests made known to God. And the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Kind of Story are You the Hero Of?

All of us, no matter how humble, sees ourselves as the protagonist of our own story. No matter how dark and twisted our path may become, even by our own choice, we will always see that we instigated the good things in our lives and that the bad that occurs “happens” to us, rather than being the duly earned consequences of our own actions.

It was only a few years back, and I know this because it was during one of those rare periods in my life when I was journaling and recorded it, that I realized that life is a pattern of overlapping stories, and while I may be the hero of my own epic, I play a role in many other stories around me as well. It wrote it like this, “ I realized today how self centered it is to assume that new people in my life are being brought here by God to help and shape me, instead of me being brought to them.”

This morning I had one of those rare moments of clarity which typically happen in the still moments in life when my mind is quiet enough for me to hear that anyone else is in the picture. My oldest daughter, Elizabeth had woken me up a few minutes after seven,( a bit early for me, still functioning as I do on theatre people time which doesn't really get started good until the sun goes down, ) to remind me that she was working at the zoo today in her capacity as a junior curator. It's a volunteer position that required three interviews and an essay to get.

As I was driving her to the zoo, listening to her descriptions of the things she gets to do and the people she is getting to know it occurred to me that this particular scene in my life, was a chapter from her book more than my own. To her, these memories will hold a place similar to my own memories of my own first job in a dry cleaner's. It made me proud in a way that is not easy to describe. I realized that I was here, not to teach or advise, but simply to listen and be her friend in that moment.

In his book “ A Million Miles in a Thousand Years;” Donald Miller compares the scenes of our life to a story. He suggests that those who choose their own stories are more fulfilled, and that it is necessary for us to find some adventure, or quest or crusade to champion in order to have a really great life. He sums it up like this, If you were to die tomorrow, how many lives would be completely disrupted if you did not fulfill your mission? It's an interesting question, isn't it? Many of us measure by how many people would mourn our passing in a personal way, but what about ministry, or service, whatever you choose to call it. Are you centrally involved in anything that is life changing for others? If not, why not?

Here is where I have to confess that I have not finished the last few chapters of this book, not because I don't want to, on the contrary, I haven't had much in the way of uninterrupted reading time lately, because I am being called into a bigger story, by a story teller who really knows what makes a great story. In this story I am a man who started out in life to make the kind of changes that Miller is challenging me to, but I got side tracked. The institution (church) that I had wanted so much to be part of disintegrated, I lost my place, and I lost my will to continue down the course I had set.

Now I find myself right back in a similar place. The planets seem to be spinning out of alignment, the earth is shaking under my very feet. People are literally fleeing the destruction and havoc that has been wreaked by the bad choices of a few. Others are standing on the sidelines lobbing verbal grenades at these poor choice makers and anyone who dares to attempt rebuilding anything that was blown apart by these choices. But, this time, instead of giving up, getting discouraged and finding a hole from which to curse the changes, I am running in, shoring up the walls, holding up the hands of the weary and offering my help in any capacity!

I have decided that not only am I interested in creating better stories for myself, but I also want to be one of those memorable side characters that show up for a moment, but impact the story so much for the better that you can't forget them, in as many stories as God will give me a part in.

Jesus said he did not come to seek those that were not lost, or to heal those that were not sick. It is time for us to remember why we were saved in the first place, to bring hope and love into the dark and hurting corners of the world. Here's a little secret: That's where all the best stories start!

In a cupboard under the stairs
In an old wardrobe
In a dingy Egyptian prison
In a dirty Palestinian stable on a cold winter night

So, what are you waiting for?

Got a story you'd like to share, or need someone to be part of? Tell me about it!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sara Bareilles King of Anything as a treatise on personal evangelism.

I know I am late to the party again, obviously, the song King of Anything has already sold enough copies to be number one, but, that has never stopped me from saying what I think anyway. I love this song. The lyrics, the tune, the happy feel of it, love it. I also love it for other reasons, that cause me equally to loathe it.

Sharing one's faith is a tricky issue these days, knowing how to bring up the topic, being afraid of what who will think, and, according to the latest Pew poll, for many believers, even have a clear understanding of the issue themselves can be an issue.

The song, whether aimed at well meaning Christians or not, hits the nail on the head. For those who just humm and tap your toes, here are the lyrics, as written by Sara Bareilles:

Keep drinkin' coffee
Stare me down across the table
While I look outside

So many things I'd say if only I were able
But I just keep quiet
And count the cars that pass by

You've got opinions, man
We're all entitled to 'em
But I never asked

So let me thank you for time
And try to not waste any more of mine
Get out of here fast

I hate to break it you babe
But I'm not drowning
There's no one here to save

Who cares if you disagree
You are not me
Who made you king of anything
So you dare tell me who to be
Who died
And made you king of anything

You sound so innocent
All full of good intent
You swear you know best

But you expect me to
Jump up on board with you
Right off into your dellusional sunset

I'm not the one who's lost
With no direction oh
But you won't ever see

You're so busy makin' maps
With my name on them in all caps
You got the talkin' down just not the listening

And who cares if you disagree
You are not me
Who made you king of anything
So you dare tell me who to be
Who died
And made you king of anything

All my life
I've tried
To make everybody happy while I
Just hurt
And hide
Waitin' for someone to tell me it's my turn
To decide

(With another chorus followed by:)

Let me hold your crown, babe

Now many of you may wonder what I mean by bringing this song into a discussion of personal evangelism. The clearest road map as to how it should be done, not necessarily what should be said, can be found in Jesus words to the seventy members of his band of followers that were sent out to spread the gospel. Among instructions about what to pack and where to go, we find these items: Go into a city, stop at the first house you see, if they accept you, stay there and teach. If they do not, go on to another house, any city that does not accept you, shake the dust of its streets from your feet and move on.

Refreshing, isn't it? Just share, if they like it, share more, if they are nor interested, buzz off. Now, I don't think this is exactly a model for personal contact with friends and acquaintances, but I do think we can take a lot from the words of the master.
How many times have you felt you were beating your head against a brick wall, in your attempts to “lead someone to Christ” ? Well, if you insist on brow beating, cajoling and coercing, go see Isaiah chapter one to see what God thinks about constant religious posturing, it ain't good.

Here, is what I believe, if I share with someone about the gospel, I need to wait to be invited in, as in the example of Jesus instructions to the seventy. That conversation can't start with, “So, I noticed you're gay, do you know what the Bible says about that?” or, “Was that your pickup I saw at the titty-bar while I was on my way to Church?”. We need to wait for a genuine invitation into the lives of others. Then we need to focus on Him, not them. If they like what we say, and want to hear more, then the path is laid for further conversation, if not, don't keep asking.

This next part is like shooting a three pointer, on one leg, blindfolded, with a medicine ball, hard if not impossible. Our job in this context goes back to the two great commands, love God, love your neighbor. No matter what. We are never released from this, ever. So, what that means is, we continue to be loving towards that person. We look for opportunities to pray for them (don't ask, don't tell, just pray) that God will intervene in their lives and make himself apparent.

In other words, we continue to be a friend, whether they kick out their boyfriend or not, whether they continue visiting the “gentleman's club” or not. It is not our job to save them, as the song implies, many people do not even recognize their need for salvation, which has to be the first step. That is not your job. That is the Holy Spirit's job. If they ask you what the Bible says about something, kindly and without judgment help them find out. Remember that scripture records Paul as having said that throughout his entire life he had not violated his conscience in his service to God, he genuinely believed that killing Christians was the right thing to do. (had that thought a few time myself, after all they are saved, and they make a lot less noise when they're dead, joking of course, or am I?)

We tend to lose site of the fact that we are just as in need of saving as the next guy. Like the song says, “Who died and made you king of anything?”

Oh, by the way, I hate the song, because I see myself in the person she is singing to, far too often.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bare Feet are Happy Feet (poverty is not contagious)

What is it about poverty that scares people? Really? I have been poor my entire life. Most people don't know how poor. You see, unlike most people from the wrong side of the tracks, I have developed a little camouflage. Mine involves the fact that I am well read and articulate. I also have something of a sense of style that sets me apart, that, and I brush my teeth and shave occasionally, but I assure you, I am a card carrying poor person. For some of you, this will cause you to look at me differently. There is something about me that is unique. I don't give a damn about money. Never have. You couldn't buy me with all of the gold that the federal reserve may or may not have. I am not for sale.

That is not to say that I don't do things for a paycheck that I would not do for free, of course there are, but what I mean to say is that I refuse to change who I am so I can have more of the stuff, and I'm okay with it. I would like at some point to be comfortable, to not have every storm or breakdown become a major crisis. Nobody likes to live like that, and I work hard to make that happen.

In our modern society, and sad to say, even more so in the Church, sometimes, the having of things is seen as a sure sign that the universe is smiling on you, that you are doing life the way it was meant to be. How can we say this, or even believe it? I just read a short article in which the author describes a scene in Africa, when he and a group of mission minded believers arrived at an orphanage to the smiling faces of shoeless orphans who had nothing. It was my experience as well , in my one trip outside the borders of this country into the third world, that the people, especially the children, were happier.

Here in the good old USA we have just the opposite problem, too many shoes. A friend of mine was describing the other day a conversation in which he told his stepson that he would not be getting the latest and greatest sneakers this time around, because my friend is being forced to reconsider what his life is worth, and he has decided not to measure it in money.

We are told from the time that we are small that it is important. Children are encouraged to cram their heads full of a very specific set of facts, a very narrow wedge of information, which we mistakenly call “education”, all based on the monetary benefits that are thought will be derived from knowing the right things. Never mind, will it make the world a better place, just pass the test, get the grade, take the right classes. Never mind what you want to learn, where your passion lies, where your curiosity compels you to.

I think this comes from a misunderstanding of the Biblical concept of stewardship. A few weeks back I issued this challenge on my Facebook page: Bragging rights to the first person to quote chapter and verse where Jesus has anything good to say about wealth or the wealthy. It sat for several days, with a couple of likes, but no replies. Then a young man, who was one of my acting students years ago replied with: Luke chapter 16:1-13. Read it. At the end of this parable about a steward who had been squandering his bosses money and got caught, we find this statement by Jesus: “ You cannot serve both God and money” this is the point of the story.

I assume, having not asked, that the positive angle this young man was pointing out was when Jesus told his listeners to follow the steward's example and use worldly wealth to “buy friends for yourselves”. All-in-all, not quite the answer I was looking for, and there may well be an answer that I have not thought of.

I fear that we, like the children of Israel, have formed a calf to worship in the form of the almighty dollar and all that it affords. We have bought into the idea of owning things, planning for retirement, saving for emergencies, and the like. These are not bad things on their faces, but let me ask you this. Have you ever said to your neighbor, which remember, Jesus defines as anyone who needs you, go, be filled, and done nothing when it was within your power to do so? Have you funded your 401k while your neighbor lost their house for want of a single payment? Have you saved for next Summer's vacation while there are those in your community praying for a single sack of groceries?

I know there are a couple of verses that indicate that people should be better managers than to end up in a tight spot, but honestly, have you never made a bad decision and ended up somewhere other than where you intended? And do you honestly believe that God is calling you to set aside for your own future comfort while not aiding those who are fighting for survival? Have you even asked him?

I know that we are all taught to tithe, to give 10% to our local churches, that that is sacred, well, I got news for you. When the prophet Malachi told the people to bring the tithe into the storehouse, he was not referring to a local church with a 5 million dollar budget, that spends more than 50% of that in salaries and benefits for employees. (that is a real statistic from OKC) He was talking about a system, outlined in Deutoronomy that was set up as a tax. That money went to feed the needy, (widows and orphans) to take care of travelers (illegal aliens?) and to provide for the care of the Levites.

Now, before you compare the tribe of Levi to modern pastors, let me 'splain something. It isn't an entirely accurate analogy. The tribe of Levi was given this offering to make up for the fact that they had no physical inheritance in the land of Canaan, look it up. God wanted them to stay out of business. They didn't own property and were limited in their options to make a living. Now, many pastors are limited by their schedules and salaries and I do not begrudge them their salaries, but many of them are some of the wealthiest among us, and I question the validity of that.

Add this to the fact that the bar was lifted in every other regard when it comes to comparing the old and new covenants and you may come to the conclusion, that 10% should only be a starting point.

Here is what we have done. We have assumed that scripture applies to people in need when it says: “if a man will not work, neither let him eat” and “if a man cares not for his own, he is worse than an unbeliever” but we do not recall that Jesus, in describing the criteria for inclusion in the sheep, instead of the goats, on the day of judgment, states that anything done for the least among us was done for him.

I am poor, have been all of my life. Do not pity me. I look around at my eight children and am very aware of my blessings. When I see them worship and hear their kind words for each other, I know that I, like Martha's sister Mary, have chosen the better part. Another friend and I were having this very conversation. He was fretting over whether God was calling him to have another (4th) child, or if it was selfish of him to want this when he hadn't fully funded the other three college funds yet. I asked him to think about the families that had everything and to pick out one that he knows that is content. He could not.

If you find yourself afraid of reaching out to the poor, or even just the down-and-out think about this.

Poverty is not contagious. Success, can be. Infect someone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fast Food for Christians

A few days back my buddy Mannaseh wrote a self revealing piece about health and food. It rang true with me and I have pondered it since. Finding inspiration in the mundane is a particular hobby of mine and this blog post about food (how much more mundane can a topic be?) was no exception.

I was immediately struck by a spiritual parallel that most American Christians will understand. The phenomenon of fast food gospel. Since I just coined the phrase, allow me to explain. What I mean by fast food gospel is the practice of preaching exclusively topical sermons, littered with pop culture references, pulling obscure verses together to try and make a point, and generally preaching to “tickle the ears”, as the New Testament puts it, of the hearers.

More and more we are moving away from teaching the entire Bible. Most people are fortunate to have heard contextually accurate sermons regarding more than half of the New Testament, let alone the old. It just isn't convenient. Why dig through an entire life story of some long dead “hero of faith” when we can hash up a story from the headlines, or better yet, the latest movie.

Now, if you read me often you'll know I just wrote a piece about Machete, so I am not opposed to taking inspiration from almost any source, but, using this technique exclusively creates Churches full of believers that think the Bible is nothing but a series of USA Today type headlines: not a full on tabloid, but not exactly a full fledged newspaper either. They are getting the Reader's Digest version.

While it may seem fun to take verses and twist them around to make them mean what you want, the scripture itself has several warning regarding people who do such things. They're called Wolves in Sheep's clothing, False Teachers and a few other choice terms, such as well decorated tombs and poisonous snakes. And for good reason, it makes for spiritually overweight, lazy believers who can never hope to accomplish the hard things when God asks.

The stories are there for a reason. The context matters. If we find out that David, for instance, was a man after God's own heart who did the whole will of God (according to Acts chapter 13), we might miss something if we don't realize that he also had time for adultery and murder and was a miserable failure as a father.

But we are too busy inventing new doctrines to keep the padded seats, with armrests, full. (remember when it used to be pews, ah the good old days) It's hard to tell people that Job got his stuff back, but only after God let the devil steal it, or that there was a prophet who was commanded to marry a professional harlot (hooker) and then buy her back on the slave auction block when she ran around on him. What about Moses, who was in hiding in the desert from a well deserved murder rap when he stumbled across the burning bush, or how Paul was on his way to kill Christians when God struck him blind? Things like this don't sit well with our modern ideas about holiness, which typically has more to do with having your finances “in order” than anything else.

We have entered an era of fast food sermons and Bible studies. And, I am afraid that there are a lot of Christians with spiritual diabetes who couldn't stomach a full meal of the truth. When we deal with the hard truths of scripture we tend to gloss over these incidents as being the spiritual equivalent of a weight loss product ad: before salvation (photo of debaucherous behavior) after salvation (perfect little angel that looks like a mormon elder). But that wasn't so. It was after three years of ministry with THE SON OF GOD, that Peter lost his cool, chopped off a man's ear and cussed out two, count 'em, two servant girls in one night. Six weeks later this dude is preaching a sermon that was understood by people in at least thirteen different languages!

Paul writes letters to Churches who were allowing their members to engage in temple prostitution, and while he called them to repentance, it apparently never occurred to him to question the sincerity of their faith.

Jesus sums it up like this: There was a vineyard owner with two sons. He said to the first, “Go pick grapes” the boy said. “Yes, father.” But, never got off his butt to go. He told the second the same thing. He said, “No, thanks.” But, later changed his mind and went. Then Jesus asked, “Which one did as the Father desired?”

Samuel said that to obey, was better than sacrifice, and I think we can apply this to any religious observance. What counted with the vineyard owner's son, is what counted with David. They both took what the father asked to heart, and, better late than never, they did it.

So, the latest and greatest devotional may make “quiet time” fun time at your house, but if you are not being challenged to go out and rescue the lost, and give aid to those in need, and then following through on it, burn the damn thing. Crack open a real Bible, read about a few of the people that God was excited about. Have a real spiritual steak and salad. See how they handled the hard stuff, sometimes right, more often than not, wrong, then right. Now go follow their example. (skip the adultery and murder, that part's no fun)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Gospel Isn't Monkey Business, or, Is It?

I saw a monkey, day before yesterday. In seven-eleven. He opened a straw to put into his Big Gulp and calmly took a long sip. This would have been odd, all on its own, seeing as how this was Edmond Oklahoma. Then the fun happened. His handler took the cup from the monkey, placed her lips on his straw, and took her own long sip.

I wanted to freak out. I wanted to run out in the parking lot and drag everybody in, ask the woman to make him open straws and do the soda thing again, take pictures, share the experience. Not because it was that unusual, but mostly because, then I would know I was not merely suffering from sleep deprivation. That this was actually happening. Thirty-nine years, that's how long I have been here, conscious of my existence on this planet without ever having once, so far as I remember, shared a seven-eleven with a lower primate.

The woman has obviously been working with them for years. She was very comfortable with the whole thing, beyond just the drinking after the monkey part, she was cool and confident, as if people should be used to seeing furry patrons in the seven eleven. Not at all like the high maintenance women you see with their yippy little fur balls in designer handbag/ travel kennels, cruising through the mall to the clack of stiletto heels. They were wanting attention, but this lady, didn't seem to mind it, but was just out for the evening with her monkey.

Turns out, my brother knows the lady. Assures me that she is eccentric to be sure, but harmless. He cleans her windows and once asked her if she spanked her monkey, which he meant in the form of discipline, then realized it had come out wrong. She didn't notice.

The monkey sat on the counter, took the money from his handler and gave it to the cashier, which she thought was adorable. He took the change with an outstretched hand and tucked it into a coin purse held ou t by his handler, jumped onto her shoulder and they walked out the door.

I envy her. I really do. She is living life. She didn't need me or anybody around her to approve or applaud, she is content and she has nothing to prove. This is the way I want to share the gospel, with nothing to prove.

I was pondering a section of scripture over the past several days. It appears in Luke chapter 10. Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples, without shoes, without money and instructs them to be totally dependent on the kindness of strangers. They were told to enter the first house they came to, pronounce a blessing of peace and if it was received they should stay and eat what was put in front of them.

This seems counterintuitive to our modern way of thinking. These disciples were sent to pray for the sick, cast out demons and spread the gospel. They did not have any promotions, did no market research and essentially had nothing to offer, other than their message. They were penniless hobos.

Why would God ask that of them? Here is what I think. It wasn't about them, and that was the point. In our modern world, we get way hung up on appearances. We rate people based on what they wear, or don't wear; the things that they say, the music that they like, the list goes on for days. What I think Jesus was trying to prove was that the message, and not the messenger was the real issue. In other words, if you hear a hobo, who has nothing to lose and nothing to offer you, share a message and you recognize it as the truth. Not just truth, but the kind that will make you sell your business and chase after it, then you really get it.

Hearing a message, well produced with a little backup lighting and a slide or two, laden with pop culture references and some sweet music in the background can definitely get our attention. But what about a guy just showing up in your living room with no shoes, claiming God sent him? Yeah, no wonder there were instructions for handling the ones that threw them out.

So why is it, with the wealth of examples we have Biblically that we just don't seem to understand that God's messenger is not the issue, its the message. Maybe we have missed the point. Now, God help me remember this the next time I am tempted to write somebody off as having nothing I need, because they just drank after a monkey at the seven-eleven.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Church, the NFL and the Ultimate Battle for Good and Evil.

“I hate sports” - Disciple Howry, the Edge Church Sunday Sept. 19th

While I cannot agree more, it was a brave statement for a man who resides in Oklahoma. It isn't so much that I hate sports, which as anyone who has studied anything about relationship knows, would actually show that I am passionate about them, and therefore some part of me must love them. I, am completely apathetic to sports. Don't care who wins, don't care who loses and never have. I realize this is a sacrilege to many of you. Let me explain.

As a young man I played sports. I played baseball, basketball and soccer in team athletics and was okay, not the best by far, but not a complete loser either, but it just didn't appeal to me. The contemplative type of thinking that I thrive at is completely unwelcome in any team sport. I would be the guy who had to admit that the other team flat outplayed us, or that I had indeed committed the foul. If I was gonna play, I would give my best, but to me it was a game and nothing more.

You see, I have always looked at it like this: team sports are an archaic hold over from our days of tribal warfare. In this sociological ritual, we assign ourselves allegiance to a group of people that we may, or may not, be loosely geographically connected to. They in turn go out and do battle with a neighboring tribe. Now, in the old days, this would all end with the spoils of the defeated tribe leaving with the victors, including the chiefs daughter who would be wed to the opposing leaders off spring to forge an alliance. Today, we just trade trophies and “bragging” rights. I, would rather watch a good movie.

Now, granted the old way, was not very efficient, seeing as how the decimated enemy would hardly make an adequate rival for the next outing, since what players had not been made permanently “ineligible” due to fatal injuries were “drafted” to play for the opposing team. But the stakes of these conflicts would have at least made some of the absurd salaries being handed out today make a little sense. Can you imagine if the winning team got to pick the best players up and carry them off the field from the defeated team, talk about building dynasties.

While I certainly do not begrudge anyone the right to laze around on a weekend afternoon watching guys beat each other senseless, it seems to be an opiate of sorts. We attach so much meaning to the rise and fall of our favorite teams and many fans which, by way is short for fanatic, more on that in a minute, will set aside a huge portion of their income to spend on tickets, pay per view, team paraphernalia and other expenses, such as mass quantities of food and alcohol related to being a follower of a sporting franchise.

The word fan is interesting. Its root, fanatic is defined thus, by Encarta: 1.extremist: a holder of extreme or irrational enthusiasms or beliefs, especially in religion or politics. I think this fairly describes most serious sports enthusiasts that I have met in my lifetime. It seems that we are much more passionate about our vicarious living than our actual life at times. We would think nothing of publicly expressing an opinion of another's allegiance, as advertised by a T-shirt or cap. In fact I saw two guys, one in red and crimson, one in orange and black about to throw down, just inside the gates of a local theme park, based on a snide comment one made in passing.

My wife and I are part of what is known as a “neighbor group” at the Edge Church where we attend. Currently the group we are part of is reading Donald Miller's book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. In the book Miller outlines what happened to him after his successful memoir, Blue Like Jazz became a sensation of sorts, but was followed by near failures, leading him to believe that he was a failure. Through the course of events he stumbled upon a concept. What makes a good story makes a good life. That may sound a little simplistic on its face, and it is. What he explains is this, when a character in a story wants something badly enough to give up everything to get it, and when that quest also includes a sense of the importance of others as equal to oneself, it leads to a life that is well lived. It creates an individual who will be actively missed when he is gone.

Back to sports. We have all heard it said, by some well meaning evangelist, that we should be just as excited about worship as watching our favorite sport, or in my case a really good movie. I agree with this, but maybe not in the way they were using it to drum up emotion for the meeting at hand. On a deeper level we should be seeking out a connection with the ultimate conflict between good and evil.

Now, before you rush out to buy the latest Christian T-shirt, album, bumper sticker or tickets to the hippest gospel concert or conference, hear me out. As my friend Mannaseh over at Soulmannah.com said, “Corny, done in the name of Christ, is still corny.” I'm talking about the real deal.We are being actively recruited to be a part of the team. We don't just sit back and cheer God on and booh the Devil, we get to suit up and play. But, unfortunately most of us are on the bench. On this team, unlike the Santa Fe Wolves, under the leadership of a team of men including my good friend Andy Rasmussen, we decide when we play.

That's right my friend, while God may occasionally put you aside to rest, it is you who makes the decision whether to engage or not, and there is room on the field for everyone. Many of my friends have expressed disappointment with Churches that don't give them opportunity to serve. Don't make the mistake of confusing what the institution you call church will allow you to do, for what God has called you to. Unfortunately they can frequently act more like a traditional sports team, where the coach chooses his top players and it is a cold day in hell before some guys see even one second of game play, and that is wrong.

It is my opinion that this type of “coaching” is what is killing the Church of America. We have elevated these men to positions God never intended, then given them the authority to keep us from our God ordained destinies. Rather than pitch a fit, find what you want to do, whether it has the name church on it or not, remind yourself that you are the church and get off the bench. While watching a game may be exciting and is certainly one way to relax, any real sports fan will tell you that playing is where its really at. I, for one, am aiming to collect the spiritual equivalent of an NFL all star salary in changed lives, and I am willing to bring anybody with me who wants to go.

I would finish this off with a cheesy sports idiom, but that's not my style. So, from a director friend of mine, Chad Anderson, here is his encouragement to actors going out to face an audience. “Let's get out there and melt some faces!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Which Way Do I Go From Here?

Trust God with everything that is within your power. Don't trust your own intellect, knowledge or wisdom above his leading. I everything you do, look for him, when you find him, point him out. He'll show you what to do next. -Paraphrased from Solomon in Proverbs chapter 3

This is my life verse. I have always wanted to be the type of follower who wanted God's wisdom on everything. NO, I am not talking about the loony tune who prays to decide what icecream flavor to eat today, but when it comes to decisions that will impact more than the next hour or two of my life, I at least want to take into consideration what God has said to others in the past, and might be saying specifically to me right now.

I do this better at some times than others. Have you ever gotten so busy that you look up and suddenly realize that you and God haven't had a real conversation in a while? This seems to be more common, in my experience, among believers who have walked with God since childhood. We've always been aware that he was there, but like your mom, or your wife, you have this vague impression that no matter how you react to them they will always be there in the same way.

Recently I have come to the conclusion that I should be much farther down the road in my walk with Christ than I feel right now. There are habits that I have intended to shed, like extra pounds, for years. Not all-consuming, life shattering habits, but things that if you heard me name them would either; make you feel better about yourself; or make you run and hide when I come calling for fear that they are contagious. Having grown up as a minister's father, even scripture becomes old hat to me. As fresh as it can be, it can be a struggle to even crack the binding once a week. It isn't like I'm not dwelling on it, cause I memorized enough of it as a child (entire chapters) that it seeps out of me into conversation.

The last few days I have been struggling with what is next for me, in my life, work wise, vocation wise. Those that know me, know that I pursued a life in theatre for fifteen years. Well, more like twenty-five, but I really only got paid for it for fifteen. In January of 2010 it became evident to me what many others had already realized, that it was no longer financially feasible for me to keep running down the road I was on, the bridge was out. This came as a huge shock. It took several months for me to even admit that it was over. This wasn't a job, it was who we, as a family, had become. IT was our vocation, our hobby and our ministry all in one, but it had also become an idol.

When we pursue anything the way God wants us to pursue him he becomes jealous. He isn't the jealous I would be if my wife decided to chase another man, which is good, because it means I, unlike the aforementioned imaginary man-whore, get to live, with all of my body parts. So, that was my dream, my (I still believe) God-given dream since I was fourteen years old, what now? (I asked this question last night on a long walk, at one in the morning, my response? Crickets! Literally, the sound of crickets!)

I feel that I know what is supposed to be next for me. It is a thing that I have felt called to since childhood and have feared that I would end up doing. But, I am not sure I am ready, nor has an opportunity even been given, it is just an impression that I have. And as I listen to the words of Solomon I wonder if this is God, or just some left over childhood fantasy.

Here is what I do know. My one regret in this situation that I find myself is that the only hesitancy I have in jumping off this cliff into the great unknown, into this calling, is that I have not kept myself ready. I have not been in the gym, (spiritually speaking) keeping up with the workout regimen required to make these kinds of life changes and I am afraid of who I have become, and his showing up at unexpected moments in my life.

Now, before you start imagining me as a pedophile, realize that I am the same guy who never tasted alcohol until he was well over thirty, never had any inappropriate relationships with another woman. (and what my wife and I do is none of your beeswax) I have never stolen anything, tried to pay my taxes, (by which I mean to the best of anyone's ability to figure out what the heck that means) taught my children right from wrong, and have tried to be kind to everyone who doesn't completely piss me off, and asked for forgiveness from those people, so...

But still, there are days when the weight of my thoughts, the things I have said and done, the burden of my own sin, the knowledge of what I would be personally capable of if not for the constraints of the love of God, knock me to my knees and I am overcome with the guilt of my own sin. The enormity of it strikes me and I rest in the knowledge that were it not for the loving, willful sacrifice of the Son of God on my behalf that I would walk into an eternity apart from the forgiveness of God and that I would deserve every second of it.

Knowing that Isaiah told God, on the occasion of his calling, that he was a man of unclean lips, that Peter on the night before Christ's execution cut off a man's ear in a violent rage and then proceeded to cuss out a number of young servant girls, that Moses was in the desert hiding out from a well deserved murder rap when he saw the burning bush, and that the first thing Noah did after leaving the ark was to get drunk and naked: makes me feel that I am in good company, it also lets me know that I had better get my crap together, because I have already told him I was willing, and IF I am truly hearing him, then he will move me in this direction whether I am completely ready, or not.

You may have heard it said before, but it is a Truth: God equips the called more often than he calls the equipped.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

If Not Us, Then Who? Machete in a positive light!

"Machete is messy, violent, shallow, and tasteless -- and that's precisely the point of one of the summer's most cartoonishly enjoyable films."

This, from rotten tomatoes, a website that compiles reviews and gives scores to movies based on the percentage of negative to positive reviews. So far, the gore fest, directed by Spy Kids creator Robert Rodriguez, is getting above average scores. This quote is only half of the story.
As anyone who knows me already understands I can find something to gripe about in even the most benign situations,and something to inspire in some of the most interesting of places, I really tend to see both sides of every coin and if you talk to me long enough, you are likely to be confused, which is where I live most of the time. Life is a paradox. Too much religion tends to turn people into nazis and roses grow best when surrounded with crap. The world is filled with things that are that should not be. As Solomon put it, he gives us beauty for ashes.

So, against what's left of my better judgment, I went to see this film the other day. Not that I put up a heavy protest. It is more my artistic sensibilities that were straining against the idea than my personal moral code. Make of that what you will. Anyway, I was invited by our missions pastor, so I figured, what the heck.

There was more blood shed in the first five minutes than world wars 1 and 2 combined. And it only got more interesting as the film progressed. Rogriguez is known for his over-the-top, take-no-prisoners style and if that's what you're looking for, you would not be disappointed, but that is not why I am writing about this film. As the story unfolds it is a typical revenge driven, male macho, ultimate justice fantasy. Machete wades through “bad guys” like a lawnmower through six inch grass. But, there is more to it than that.

Anyone who has ever read Rodriguez's film making book, “Rebel Without a Crew” about how he made his first feature, knows there is more to this guy than what meets the eye. First of all, he is making the movies he saw as a kid, for a new generation, granted that list does not seem to include Mary Poppins, The Apple Dumpling Gang, or Herby Goes Bananas, but that's what he's doing.
Sometimes it is easy to judge someone elses actions in light of our own prejudice, or upbringing. As the old saying goes, “Didn't your mother ever tell you...?” For instance, I worked with a guy who grew up in the back room of a strip club. He's a christian now and works in outreach to people in that lifestyle, but, because of his background, good or bad, I bet he is not nearly as distracted as I would be, were I to follow him to the places he goes, which neither I, nor my wife, think is God's plan for me.
Back to Rodriguez. In his book there were several moments when he would say that things just worked out for him. Anyone who has ever had any dealings with the Holy Spirit would immediately sense God's call and hand on this guy, while he may, or may not, be paying attention.
Anyway, in this film , the first scene features Machete and a second, unnamed federale about to bust into a Mexican slum to rescue a girl being held hostage by garden variety scum bags, his partner says, “Why this girl, why does it matter? We don't have to do this, you know?” (I know this because it was conveniently subtitled in English) Machete's reply was incredible: “If not us, then who?” Followed of course by loving interactions with his fellow man that lead to copious amounts of blood being spilt and an emergency room bill that I cannot even begin to fathom. I actually thought during the scene, wow am I old.
If not us, then who? Wow, talk about a wake up call. Forget the rest of the movie, although in my opinion there was probably more political commentary in that piece than anyone will ever give it credit for, not saying I agree with all of it, but it makes you think. But forget all of that and let's talk about this phrase.
I grow weary of the oppressive nature of our society. While I know that every generation feels, to some degree, that the changes the yahoos after them make are bad. But, I think we are experiencing more than that. We are in a place right now where it is acceptable to commit, or go along with, all kinds of atrocities, big and small, because, “I just work here” or “I don't make the rules” or “That's company policy”.
We treat people poorly. We don't pay out on insurance they were told (Or should I say sold?) would take care of them, never mind the details. We take from those who can least afford through excessive late fees and surcharges and overdraft protection. We refuse the customer refunds. We threaten, bully and otherwise harass well meaning, law abiding citizens in the name of doing our jobs. Our police seem to have taken to beating people in the streets (which I relaize may be justified at times) We take taxes from each other to take care of problems, then turn around and ask for more, cause it wasn't enough. With no account of where the first money went. Never mind that we have already taken more than anyone can afford.
In case you hadn't noticed I use the word we to describe these crimes, because that is how it works. We want the government to be “of the people, by the people and for the people” when we are holding “their” feet to the fire, but what about us? We have gone along with every bad idea with hardly a whimper. Have you ever read Proverbs or studied Jesus sermons? There is a lot of “woe” coming unto people who oppress the poor and take what isn't theirs.
Back to Machete. I want that attitude! I want to say, when I see injustice or a neighbor in need, “If not us, then who?” In fact, Disciple, I know you are reading this, I asked Disciple (The missions pastor who invited me to see this film) on Sunday to give me the Spanish phrase for this, which he said, but I had to look it up.
This phrase should come out of our mouths on a regular basis. You see, the system we live under only works when every citizen is willing to be accountable, not only for his own actions, but for holding his leader's accountable too. And while I think we should vote, understand that evil companionship corrupts good morals. That means that we send good people to Washington and they send them back to us broken and remolded, unless we hold them accountable.
This is true in our churches too. How many of you have ever wondered how much should be spent on that new building, sound system or what ever, when there are so many needs to be met? A friend of mine, Boe Parrish, is pastor of a unique congregation, if you can even call him that. Mr. Parrish has determined to spend the money that comes in on better things than a fat salary for himself. Daybreak Community church works with a volunteer staff and is striving to make a difference with every penny that comes in. He put it like this, “I just figured out that the traditional model of ministry was too expensive” he went on to break it down to the cost of every soul won. I have never thought of it like that, but it makes you think.

I am not proposing a specific solution, nor am I attacking anyone. I am challenging each of you to look around, the next time you see a problem and look for a solution, no matter how small. Instead of writing letters to complain about what they are doing wrong, try praising leaders for what they do right, or support something instead of opposing something. Try the “whatever things are good, whatever things are pure, noble of good report...” method that Paul suggested., but mostly just be willing to get involved. Be willing, metaphorically speaking, to pick up your machete and wade through some bad guys!

si no nosotros, ¿entonces quiĆ©n?  (feel free to correct this, it was from an online translator)

If not us, then who? LLS

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Public Cell Phone Conversations as Prophetic Utterances

This one is dedicated to my friend Tammy Hott. Tammy, I try to say what I hear God say, I ask the questions that are on my heart. Some times that is encouragement, some times it is a rebuke (mostly aimed at me), some times, it is just a way of reminding the world that I am still here, and sometimes I miss God completely and do the whole clanging gong thing Paul talked about. Anyway, here is what God is talking to me about today, it's a little kinder and gentler.

One of my great pet peaves of the modern world is cell phones. I do not enjoy being interrupted by them, listening to one side of stranger's conversations and getting less than stellar service from workers who cannot be bothered to live their private lives “off the clock”. This is partly because, as my wife said to me the other day, “You were born old, and I will probably never grow up completely.” I admit it, and anyone who's known me for long will agree that I began to show signs of Crotchity behavior in my mid-teens. It is also because this behavior is undeniably rude.

For example, last night we are sitting in Chick Fil-a in Edmond eating our dinner when someone begins a very loud, one-sided conversation in the dining room. I look up to discover that it is, in fact, the manager of same restaurant. He is discussing personnel matters and making snide comments as confidently as if he were ensconced in his own office. “That's disturbing.” I say. “Shut up, he'll hear you.” says she. I do. Not because I care if he hears me, after all, it is his behavior as he tips the phone away from his mouth to ask a customer what soda he is drinking and clumsily takes the cup for a refill, one-handed, that is deplorable, and if he is offended by my opinion of his caddish habits, so be it. But. I like sleeping in the same bed with my wife.

This doesn't trouble me greatly. I simply file it away with all of the other scenes from life that populate my head, and come out as plays and sketches, and finish my dinner and go to bowling, which we do every Monday night. I don't think about it again until this morning. I am sitting in the dentist's office waiting for 5 of my 8 kids to be seen when a scared young mother, seeing how calm I am and how many children I have, strikes up a conversation. She has a two year old with a cavity and is consequently feeling like the worst parent on earth. I reassure her that she is not the first and the fact that she is even aware that this is unusual, let alone is concerned about her role in it, is proof positive that she is not even in the running for Bad Mom of the Year.

The conversation is pleasant enough. We speak of country life, hers not mine (I'm somewhat envious), squirrels and the like. Half an hour later we are joined by a bold, brassy blond with a no nonsense attitude who is griping her apartment super out, on the phone, for a plumbing issue. She looks like she belongs in Jersey, not here. She has two boys with her and when she is done on the phone she joins the conversation. She is interrupted, after a five minute diatribe on the glories of apartment dwelling, during which she apologizes half a dozen times for her language, which she doesn't mean, (I know this because if she meant it she would make some attempt to curb it, we are in a pediatric dentist's waiting room, even the biker chick with at least nine “old school” tatts and leather pants is glaring)anyway, she is interrupted by her phone which has an unbelievably loud ring tone, featuring Pitbull.

This other mother, the one who was seeking reassurance, is a mousy little thing who keeps shooting sideways glances at this intruder. The first mom tries to talk a little more, which is difficult because blondie is loud! She is airing her laundry about her fifteen year old son and how he is going to get kicked out. We find out that he is smoking pot, has had sex with his girl friend on the living room sofa and calls his darling mother a “F'in B” (now she curbs her language) this last is apparently the last straw and he is going to need a place to live or she is going to need: “..a shovel, what do you think for? (pronounced FOAH, like Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinney) To bury the body.”

Just as I am about to get up and say something, she wipes a tear from the corner of her eye and God taps me on the shoulder.

Here's the deal. I have been saying for years that the reason that fringe groups get so vocal, and sometimes downright violent, is that we (the church) don't pay attention any other way. They have to carry protest signs and wear giant slogans on T-shirts before we realize that they are hurting and we need to do something. But, it isn't working anymore. We are so busy with “life” that we simply cannot take the time to care. We won't decode their subtle hints and offer a helping hand, so they have started shouting it from the housetops.

Think about it. How many times have you prayed, God I wish you would bring somebody across my path today that I can minister to only to be shoved aside in the grocery store aisle by some woman on a mission, ranting about how her no good boyfriend keeps going back to his wife? I realized that not only are they hurting, but I don't even need a “word of knowledge” to know what the hurt is. They are walking around talking about it. They are shouting about their divorces, their kids, their jobs, their botched plastic surgeries, and all the while I am hoping they will shut the heck up! I have been under the mistaken impression that they were not talking to me, that it was none of my business and I would like to keep it that way.

So, as my last kid comes out and I gather up my laptop, with a sleeping daughter on my arm, the young mother says, “Thank you for the advice, I feel so much better.” I tell her thanks for the conversation, I didn't really want to work anyway. Meanwhile, Blondie is: “Oh, we're going to get married, Tyler is walkin me down the aisle (this, we all know by now is the 15 year old thug) if I let him live that long!”

At the risk of being rude, I tap her foot, which is extended and bouncing, she looks up, “I'll pray for Tyler.” I say. She smiles, whispers thank you and she is back to the phone, “Well, he better like it, I'm marryin' Mark (her Mark not me) with the pastor and everything, we already had our premarriagell counseling.”

“God, please help Tyler not to kill his mother, and help her to find some middle ground with her son before it is too late, but mostly God, please show Mark a way out of that situation, or give him the intestinal fortitude of a marine drill sergeant, because he is going to need it.” (that is a joke and not what I actually prayed for them, just sayin...)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Co-opting the "F" Bomb for the Kingdom!

The constant use of obscenity is a sure sign of a weak mind grappling with concepts that are too big for its vocabulary- Mark Morris

Feel free to quote me. That's right, I said that. I made it up, wrote it down, printed it out and taped it up in my toolbox, in the cabinet shop I worked in, where every body could see it. That's right, Mr. Popular, that was me. I spent my early twenties working in this environment, which was like a total immersion into the obscene, and profane, world of adolescent male behavior. I grew up in a Preacher's house. I heard my dad say “the d-word”, one time, when I was twelve and was certain that he was angry enough to kill one of us in that moment, it was that shocking.

Recently it seems that society has kicked politeness off the bus. We use whatever language occurs to us in the moment. Regardless of where we are, or who is listening. (I am using “we” here in a very broad, “We the People” sort of way) I have heard the “F” word in line at the grocery store, standing in line at the post office—which I could almost ignore, given it was inside the post office-- and once from a very large gentleman of color, as I entered a public restroom. He was on his cell phone, but, my distinct impression was that it was aimed at me, and I nearly did not reach my intended destination before it was too late.

Any student of history will understand that we are in a back-swing against formality, and that this constant use of graphic language and shocking behavior is a reaction to the restraints of the past. You may be thinking, “What restraints?” It is my opinion that It will pass, like all fads, including giant tattoos.

A week or two back one of my former acting students, who is now a married mother of two, posted a link to a video of a song with this caption: “Don't listen to it if profanity offends you” this is like a double dog dare to me, so I follow the link, read a short story about Cee-Lo, the songs author, and boot up the video prepared to “shut 'er down”. The song, which is entitled “F***You” is about a guy being jilted by the girl he loves and watching her tool around town, with her new, improved, rich boyfriend. He had been passed over for a guy with more jack.

Now, honestly, I liked the song, I know that makes me a heathen, puts me in need of repentance and ruins my chance of ever being seen as a role model in many circles, oh well.

Men, let's get real for second. How many of you would not want to use a few choice words on the gold diggin ho who abandoned you and the man who stole your woman? If my wife were swept up under the spell of some rich guy and I saw them tooling around town in his Benz, it would make me want to immediately take everything that was not nailed down to the nearest pawnshop, trade it for as much noisy car audio gear as they would give me, bungee cord speakers to the top of my car and follow them down the street playing this song on a loop wherever they went. No. It isn't right. I realize I should be home praying that she will come to her senses, and her boy toy will find Jesus, and that Jesus will give me the strength not to run him over with my car...

But, like I said, I was immersed in profane language long enough to become nearly immune to it. Now, I don't swear like a sailor. In fact most people who know me have never heard me utter anything more fierce than a “snap” but.. I'd be lying if I didn't say that occasionally a good expletive really hits the spot. An occasional “Hell-o kitty” or “Dam-over the river kwai” have escaped my lips, I am not too proud to admit it.

When I first entered the “Wonderful World of Woodworking” it took about six months for God to convince me that I would not burst into flames or be sent on the Amtrak straight to hell for not correcting every foul word that proceeded out of the mouth of my workmates. I was always asking things like, “Do you really want him to place his oral orifice on that particular region of your anatomy and ...” you get the idea. Most guys avoided me and those that didn't found out that, to carry on a conversation with me, they were gonna need some more words.

I've been thinking about this casual use of the F word, for a while now, and I think I have finally come up with a way to combat it without making everyone think you're a narc. We need to co-opt this word. Many groups these days are in the habit of reengineering the definitions of words to suit their purposes. A few that are well known: gay, choice, sale, savings, and patriot. (as in patriot act)

I think it is high time that we as followers of the one true God and His Son Jesus, on both sides of the political spectrum, took advantage of this tactic ourselves. Here is what I propose. The “F” word was originally coined, or so the legend goes, during the plague in England when brothels were shut down to prevent the spread of the disease. This did not set well with some important people, who convinced the Crown to acquiesce, and leave a few choice ladies of the night open for business. These establishments bore a written edict “Fornication Under the Consent of the King”. Which got shortened to its modern version, known in polite circles as the “F” word.

I suggest that to avoid confusion we simply replace the first word in this acronym with the word forgiveness. Forgiveness Under the Consent of the King, kinda catchy, no? Imagine strolling out to get your mail in the morning.

Neighbor: Good morning, good neighbor. Fine morning, is it not?
You: Yes it is, F*** you!

You could greet just about anyone with this newly reminted phrase. (keeping in mind the new meaning that you are simply expressing God's grace)

The marketing possibilities are endless. T-shirts bearing slogans such as:
Jesus Loves You! F*** You!
You get the idea. Now, of course I am being facetious (that means I'm joking), or am I? I am sure that, if a campaign were thorough enough to redefine the term, it would pass out of public usage post haste, much as the original meaning of the word “gay” has.

While this may be ridiculous to you, (I hope it is and you are not writing me a nasty comment that I will be forced to delete even as I type this), but why is it we focus so much on the meaning of that “f” word while ignoring the erosion of the meanings of a few others like “faith”. We believe that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, is given in measure to each man by God and is a prerequisite of pleasing god, but we have allowed it to be bastardized almost beyond recognition.

A “man—or woman-- of faith” is simply someone who claims belief in a moral code, real or imagined. We are quick to ally ourselves with anyone that walks under this banner.

What about the word friend? I am not opposed to online social networks. In fact I have a list of a few hundred friends myself. (It could be more but I choose not to accept the friend request of every pitchman and ho with a soft-core porn site that blanket invites everyone they can make a connection to) If I'm honest, these are mostly people that I used to be friends with in a past life, or who share a connection through enough other people that I feel like I should remember them, or people who post funny replies, or...

When scripture says, “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”, or, “greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend”, I don't think that it is referring to a few hundred people that I can find some nebulous connection to. I believe it is supposed to be more than that. At the least, a friend is in the same category as a neighbor, is it not? We are commanded to love our neighbors, in a go out of your way to help out with things you would rather not with a good attitude, sort of way.

Before you hit the delete button and send all of those “friends” into facebook purgatory where they will have to prove themselves worthy of being friended by you, consider this challenge. What if we were to treat every single person on that list as if they were our real, honest-to-goodness, real-life friend. What if we took the time to say Happy Birthday to all of them? What if we made it a point to check their page every now and then, congratulate them on their wins (job promotions, college graduations, birth announcements...) and empathize with their losses (death in the family, house fire, divorce...) What if we rejoiced with those who rejoiced and mourned with those who mourned? Offered to help them move, give them a place for the night, invite them to Sunday dinner, helped them fix their car or fence or marriage? What would happen?

See, that is the kind of concern I think God has when it comes to how we use words. In my opinion he has better things to do than keep score and chalk up debits in some cosmic “cuss jar”. But I think, just maybe, when we use words like, faith, hope, love, Jesus, forgiveness, repentance, righteousness, holiness, the list could go on, flippantly, I think that grieves him more than things like the casual use of obscene language that we get hung up on every day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The best response to Terry Jones.

Yosemite Sam was good, but this is perfect. I will sully it no further with my remarks.

How to Win Friends and Influence Muslims!

Do not be eager to be thought of as a teacher. Don't you realize that those of us who teach will be judged more strictly by God and man? (paraphrase James 3:1)

First of all I know I'm a hypocrite for even writing this. I preach against making insulting comments about people whom you have never met, but I kinda feel like I know Terry Jones. So that out of the way...

For the last several days a very serious battle between the forces of good and evil has been playing out right before our eyes. I am of course speaking of the war between gravity and the roots of the hair in Terry Jones' mustache as it struggles to prevent the hairy monster from crashing to earth taking his face with it and revealing to the world the tiny little child that is piloting this “pastor's” body.

Who else but a third grade boy could be so ridiculously self centered as to hold the entire world hostage with a threat of setting a fire? Not since the days of elementary school have I witnessed such blatant playground politics.

First Terry calls names and threatens to burn the “bully's” prize possession on the premise that this particular book is filled with evil and “God” told him to do it! With the exception of a couple Old Testament prophets, when has God ever needed press releases and conferences to gather a crowd to witness a stunt like this? And, correct me if I'm wrong, but when they did get all theatrical and lay siege to a model of the city, wear a linen belt and roll around in the dirt, etc it was always to call God's people to repentance, not to point out how heathen the heathens were.

I'm quite sure that had “Pastor Flipflop McWaffle Jones” ,or “Flippy” as he will be called for the remaining duration of this blog entry, known what a stink he could raise , he probably would have realized that god's revelation (I refuse to capitolize the “g” because I don't think God with a capitol G has said anything this guy has listened to in a while) was really relating to the ten year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and taken another year to promote and schedule his book tour, or at least get a proper banner printed for the side of that butt ugly trailer. Or perhaps he would have hidden under his bed from sheer terror of the threats that would come at him from both sides. But this guy is eating this up!

I'm not a shrink, nor have I played one in my extensive acting career (unless you count one three minute youth sketch sometime in the early nineties), but it is my guess that wanting this kind of attention is the reason that this guy became a pastor, to “Speak for God”. Now, I'm pretty sure that God is less than approving of the message this guy is pronouncing and I'm a little less than thrilled that people all over the world are linking him to things that I believe in, very deeply, myself. So I felt perhaps it behooved me to distance myself from this type of lunatical behavior. I say this type, because there are other types of which I whole heartedly agree, I will explain in a moment.

SO ANYWAY! With a clear word from the Lord as to the proper course of action Pastor Flippy schedules his event. Then, when it becomes even clearer that the only people who are in favor of him doing it are just the ones that want video of him being roasted on a spit, over the burning qurans, to add to their Youtube channels, he flips. Apparently a local Imam, or as it Flippy so eloquently pronounced it in one interview Islaammic Immen, spoke with him and told him he could arrange a chance to meet the leaders behind the Ground Zero Mosque. Flippy sees this as another sign from God and announces to the world that this fine fellow has assured him that they will be moving the mosque as long as Flippy agrees to put down the lighter and step away from the blowtorch.

This is where it gets really interesting. Whether Pastor Flippy thought that saying this aloud would force their hand, or he knowingly lied, or he was deluded into believing that he had single-handedly saved America from the Islamic scourge, we will never know. IT didn't work. The Imam in Florida and the leaders in NYC were quick to denounce pastor Flippy and let us all in on the fact that the man is a liar, delusional, or both, no such agreement had ever, or ever will, exist.

Now we have reached my favorite part of the story. After telling the world that god told him to burn quarans, because they are evil and convince Muslims to kill people...(like this nutbag can't do that without help from an ancient holy book?) Pastor Flippy McWaffle Jones claims he is disappointed, nay , outraged that these Muslims (who are evil, remember?) have LIED to him and now it's ON! (the book burn that is) or maybe not, but unless they move the mosque he is definitely, maybe considering a bonfire that may or may not contain books that closely resemble the muslim koran. They LIED to you? What do you expect? I will tell you almost anything you want to hear if I believe that GLOBAL CATASTROPHE may follow your next move, and sleep very well tonight, thankyou. Besides, I think I think it very much more likely that the ends of your mustache have become so ensconced in your ears that you only hear what you want to hear and the Imam never said any such thing.

I also think that the entire case has been overstated. I know that there are Muslim zealots who would like nothing better than to see me, as an American and a follower of Christ, dead, but...I have a feeling that most Muslims feel very much like the Islamic man on the street in London who told a reporter that the world was making a very big deal out of a church of thirty members and one Idiot. He went on to say that burning a stack of qurans will not destroy Islam. Here's what I think. A few mosques in Palestine may have dedicated their weekly “Friday Flag Flaming” in his honor, but didn't we have the same headlines last Friday?


Is it really that different?

There have always been radicals. One of them is my all-time hands down hero. He was a humble blue-collar worker from a small town. He spent his days sharing important ideas with his friends and anyone who would hear him about how people should treat each other. He hung out with a lot of people who would, frankly, not be on most of our top ten influential people lists. The first thirty years of his life he lived in anonymity and then for three years he went around pissing off both the religious and political establishment of his day, by NOT taking the bate and playing their game. They killed him for it.

Over the next decades of World History his friends would mostly be assassinated or imprisoned by the government or religious leaders. Here are a couple of key points about Him and what he taught.
He taught his followers to never return evil for evil but to overcome it with good. He taught them to willingly submit to the insults of others and to pray for their enemies. When he was unjustly accused by a Godless despotic government of treason he gave NO answer. When they beat him and cursed him and stripped him of his dignity, he publicly forgave them.

This TERRY JONES is the man who you claim is inspiring you to act like this! He won't say anything to you, because his kindness will eventually lead you to repentance. I hope. But, I am not that nice! People like you disgust me. According to reports you have lived off of more than your agreed upon share from the “temple coffers” for years. There were two priests who did that in the Old Testament, God caused fire to come from the altar and consume them where they stood. Men like you are lucky he is not in that business anymore! Please stop speaking for me. God did not tell you to burn Korans, or anything else for that matter! The only press conference you need to call is the one where you announce your resignation and repent of your misleading the people of God.

(That was spoken out of my own sense of indignation and not under known influence of God. If he chooses to use it, he will, if I am wrong, he will convict me of it and I will repent)

People, listen: in case you don't know, many “Christian Leaders” are neither! And God will call us all to account for following them. So, heed the advice of the apostle Paul when he said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” and when you see Jesus take a left when your “leader” is taking a right, get the heck out of line, put down the koran and the lighter fluid and go hug a muslim! You are not called to save, change, berate, educate, or enlighten them! You are called to LOVE! Okay, sermon over.

So now Flippy goes to New York City with his new-found muslim buddy on a commercial jet liner, wow....that sounds interesting. Can't imagine you'll have any trouble finding seats on THAT flight. And the rest of us sit with bated breath and wait to see if he will light the first match to flame the fires of ARMAGEDDON, my guess he won't, but even if he does it will blow out just like the millions of barbecue grills that were lit last weekend to celebrate the passing of Summer, and we can all get back to normality until the next crackpot comes along.

Love God
Love Others
Serve Everyone

Speaking of service, to the flight attendant on that plane with only two full seats, (you know who you are), It's customary to give the condemned man whatever he wants for his last meal.