Head First: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

File under "WTF?"

This makes my freaking head explode.

The City Council of Las Vegas, Nevada, the city that craps money, just made it illegal to give food to homeless people in city parks.

Read about it here and here.

I don't have much to say about this that wouldn't be considered obscene by most people. Use your imagination.

If you wish let Mayor Goodman and the Council know what a bunch of f...um, stupid poopypants they are, go here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Senor Jefe es EL Hombre.

My little brother, slayer of crabs and ribeyes, lover of southern sweet tea, Yankee fan (snicker), and the one guy I can talk to about damn near anything, turned 39 for the first time today.

Happy Birthday Jeff. Happy Blogaversary, too.

I have a couple favorite stories about Senor Jefe from growing up. We went to Florida on vacation and were frolicking in the pool at our motel (near the Krispy Kreme). Jeff, who was about 4, had to go to the bathroom, so he found our mother, sunning herself in a lounge chair, reading one of those trashy books (you know the ones--full of blushing bosoms and heaving loins). Well, mom was pretty comfortable where she was and didn't want to take little Jefe back to the room. She whispered to Senor Jefe to just pee in the pool ([mom's reasoning] I mean, all the kids do it. That's why they put all that chlorine in there, right?). So Jeff walked to the edge of the pool, pulled his swimsuit down to his ankles, grabbed ahold and let 'er rip. About a hundred people stopped what they were doing and dropped their jaws, just like the saloon scene in an old western (the kid on the diving board stopped in mid-air). Senor Jefe finished his business with a couple quick shakes, pulled his swimsuit back up, and resumed frolicking. Our mother was mortified, but not enough to leave her lounge chair and dirty book.

It was a different time back then--a time when, as toddlers, we used to stand in the front seat of the car on the way to the store, and ride in the open backs of pickup trucks. Back then, even astronauts weren't strapped in as securely as a toddler of today is required to be. In those days, we were disciplined by being thrashed within inches of our lives, unless we had company. One time, Jeff got busted for something during a dinner party. Our dad decided that breaking out the belt might break the festive mood of the gathering, so he instructed Jeff to stand with his nose in the corner. Later, as everyone gathered in the kitchen for dessert and coffee, a loud THUD was heard coming from the living room. Our parents had totally forgotten about Jeff and he had fallen asleep standing in the corner. As I recall, he got extra dessert that night as recompense.

It's no wonder we're so screwed up. It's our parents' fault.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Kingdom Building and the Agenda-Free Illusion

Debate has a way of breeding polarity. In the zeal for one's point of view to prevail, one tends to offer only those facts and ideas that support a particular perspective, even to the point of hyperbole, despite an awareness of relevant information that might temper the argument. The result is usually the temptation to pick one side or the other and win one for the Gipper, or take America back, or stand for Jesus...whatever. Unconsciously, I think, getting to the actual Truth seems to become secondary.

In my last post, I struggled with whether my life of service to others (or apparent lack thereof) sufficiently constitutes "following Christ." I confess that I pick and choose the easy bits and too often give lip service to the hard bits, much like the child who moves the spinach around on his plate to make it appear that he's eaten some. An anonymous commenter (if I understood him/her/it correctly) suggested that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, alleviating poverty, lifting up the downtrodden and offering justice to the oppressed are all noble avocations, but of no real value if not offered alongside a proclamation of the gospel of Christ. I think that argument can be credibly made, and I might even be persuaded to see some merit in that thinking. But I don't think that's the real issue.

The hypocrisy of the American church, as I see it, is that we tend to offer the "gospel" as if telling people is enough. Ending poverty is not an ecclesial priority. Justice for everyone will not be high on anyone's list this Sunday, just as long as the A/C is kicking and the coffee is strong (even if the poor bastard who grew the coffee can't feed his family). The folks on this side are happy to take a collection to send a missionary to tell Juan Valdez about Jesus. But if you suggest that the church kitchen adopt a policy to only purchase fair-trade coffee so that Juan can get a fair price for his crop, you're met with blank stares, or worse, the excuse that buying the 40 lb. can of Maxwell House from BJ's is a matter of good stewardship.

Likewise, on the other side of this coin are Christians who want to reach out and help the whole world, build authentic relationships, stamp out poverty, feed the poor, use renewable energy (if you do this, talk to Zeke), and generally want to make the world better, but refuse to mention Christ for fear of being seen as proselytizing. Somehow, in the quest to be real, the idea of agenda diminishes authenticity.

(I have leaned toward hyperbole on both sides of this explanation, but you get the picture, right?)

Does it have to be one or the other? I mean, if you see someone in need and just pat him on the head and say "Jesus loves you, I'll pray for you, be well," and don't meet that need, scripture (James 2:16, to be precise) makes it pretty clear that you're full of shit. It would be better if you didn't name Christ at all. But, on the other side, if you're meeting that need, and you're a Christian, isn't Christ bound to enter the picture at some point? Is it sufficient to do good "just because?" I mean, there is more to the story, isn't there? Or do you want to convince people that you reach out to them because you're a genuinely good person? Steve Chastain recently asked if there was such a thing as genuine altruism. Everything has its own agenda--even being agenda-free is an agenda. That's not cynical. It's just the way it is. So why should it be a problem to say, "I extend this helping hand because I love you, and I love you because of Christ?"

I know, I know...there are people who do not name Christ and are still charitable. But I have no basis for addressing that. I don't know what motivates them. I only know that whatever good I do and whatever love is in my heart for others is inextricably tied to my love for Christ (when I'm not trying to call attention to myself). I can only speak to that.

It just occurred to me that this is just a twist on the old faith vs. works argument.

It has to be both. You can't cram your faith down people's throats, but as you invest yourself in people, making the world better, listen to Peter:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Either way, I'd give this guy a fifty, just for being honest.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I never even got to the question.

Tony Campolo posed the question, "If there were no heaven and no hell, would you still follow Jesus?"

I started to answer, but stopped. I had to admit that I'm not even sure I follow Jesus now. I've been a Christian for many years. I believe that Jesus is who He says He is. I invited Him into my heart (over a hundred times...and counting! Thank you, A/G youth camp!). I always cooked at the men's fellowship breakfast. Spoke in tongues (but was never "slain in the Spirit"--I'm no wacko). I do my best to be obscenely generous. I've experienced immediate healing when I called together the elders of my church. I pray (for other people, not just myself). I don't know too many orphans, but I help widows and reach out to strangers whenever I can. I go to third-world countries and help build meeting places for the Church to gather. And this little light of mine? I'm gonna...well, you know. Is that following?

I'm trying to reconcile the activities of my life to the idea of following. If you say you're following me, that means if I go into the supermarket, then sometime shortly thereafter, you go into the supermarket, right? If you're following me, and I walk out a window, then what? You don't have to walk out the window, but then, you can't say you follow me, can you?

I'm reading Kierkegaard, who seems to believe that the supreme purpose of the gospel is to wreck my life. Shane Claiborne's not helping, either.

The idea of following Jesus has somehow been blurred into these other Christian activities. I'm not saying these things have no merit. I just question whether they necessarily represent an accurate definition of following. If I say I'm following Jesus, then it stands to reason that I am going somewhere that Jesus has been, or that I am doing something Jesus did. Yeah, we did the gay coffee thing, and I've sat in the gutter and befriended homeless guys in the city. But I still stop for a cheesesteak on the way out of town and come home to my sleep-number bed (Jesus didn't have a bad back like I do, you see).

Is there a balance (as we all so desperately hope)? Or is that a cop out? Would you still follow? Do you follow?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

If this world is not my home, why does my mail keep coming here?

On September 16, 2001, the first Sunday after the twin towers fell in NYC, my friend, Jay, a missionary to China, spoke in my church. I think it was providential that we heard from the perspective of someone who had lived outside the US for a decade. His entire sermon was summed up by his opening statement, one that I have repeated many times:

"Does your Christianity determine the kind of American you are, or will your patriotism influence what kind of Christian you are?"

It's a straight question, although it may seem loaded in light of recent history and the ongoing debate over whether the forefathers intended America to be a "Christian nation." ***begin brief tangent*** I think that a great many of the founding fathers were devout Christians, and some of them hoped that America would be built as a Christian nation, but I do not think that such a notion was the concensus among the leadership. It is the habit of Christian Nationalists to attribute any acknowledgment of God by a leader as intent for a Christian foundation. I don't consider such to be intellectually robust reasoning, any more than I would consider the myriad Greek mythological elements of Washingtonian architecture to be a serious homage to "the gods." To be sure, Christianity dominated the culture of the day, so it stands to reason that Judeo-Christian values would be the underpinning of a new society, but that is a far, far cry from the theocracy that so many seem to endorse. ***end brief tangent***

It appears to me that far too many people are unable to untangle their politics from their faith. It's easier to understand the current political debate when you consider that a great deal of conservative evangelicalism looks more like Old Testament Judaism than it does the New Covenant. Politics and true Christian faith don't really mix well because the faith is ultimately about selflessness and service, and will inevitably be either trampled or corrupted by the political machine. But politics and religion were made for each other, because they're both about power (and the inherent necessity to compromise in order to obtain it). In that regard, guys like Ralph Reed and Jim Dobson are, sadly, right where they belong. Just like the disciples, they appear to want to establish the kingdom by usurpation--by a sort of government takeover. Does that sound like Jesus to anyone? Not to me.

Nevertheless, I love America. I'm still moved by patriotic images (except for "Flag-Wrapped Jesus" [wtf?]). It's almost impossible for me to hear someone sing the national anthem (even badly) without shedding a tear. I have no qualms about saying "God bless America" (or that God has blessed America), and I certainly don't consider that doing so implies that God endorses the United States over other nations. Nor do I believe that America is defined by whoever the current leader happens to be. I believe that the genius of the Constitution is the constant tension of the separation between powers. And what makes America great has little, if anything, to do with what happens in a few sun-bleached buildings (whitewashed sepulchers, maybe?) in Washington, D.C. I'm just thinking out loud, here, but I love America because we can talk about this stuff, and we can raise hell, and we can disagree, and we can still have each others' backs. I don't know how to describe it, really.

But I love it.

God, bless America.