Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fear & Loathing in "Christian" bookstores.


"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
2 Tim. 2:15



Sometimes I dig a little King James version.  You just never know where it's going to shew up.

So anyway...


Last month I went over to Lifeway near a mall by me.  If you didn't know, Lifeway is a "Christian" bookstore.  Before it became Lifeway, it was Northwestern books.  I was looking for some books by a theologian I enjoy.  Turns out, they didn't have any of his stuff.

They did, however, have just about everything that John MacArthur has ever written.


I've always been a little uncomfortable about "Christian" bookstores.  It's not that I don't appreciate a one stop shop for all of my evangelical needs.  It's just that I'm not a fan of self-imposed ghettos.

We have "Christian" bookstores that sell "Christian" music, "Christian" books, "Christian" coffee mugs, "Christian" T-shirts, etc.  Some of them have baristas so that you can get "Christian" coffee in your "Christian" mug, which was probably grown by a "Christian" in Central America using "Christian" beans.  If you ask nicely, you can get a dollop of cream on top that was certainly taken from a "Christian" cow.


When I am in a store like this, I appreciate the fine selection of pictures of Jesus that they normally carry.  It's good to be reminded that Jesus is very white, like me. (Sometimes he even has blue eyes, which I'm sure is straight out of the book of Revelation.) Jesus also has a full head of hair, which is normally styled a like a good mid-westerner from Iowa of Nebraska.

I have also noticed the wide variety of bibles available.  They have sports bibles, with handy sayings for your team to quote.  They have bibles for hunters and other outdoorsy activities.  They even have a "Patriots" bible, with verses taken out of context and highlighted so that you can prove that America is Jesus' favorite country at your next NASCAR rally.

They also have a John MacArthur study bible...


Back when Lifeway was still Northwestern books, I went in and noticed that they were selling books by Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura.  I found that odd since neither of them are Christians.  But then I remembered that to follow Jesus properly, you must partake daily of the sacrament of FOX news.

Actually, to their credit, Northwestern carried a rather wide variety back in the day.  They had books by prosperity preachers, which I completely disagree with.  They also carried books by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. (Guys I enjoy, but have some very profound disagreements with.) So they were all over the map.

Once Northwestern became Lifeway, that all changed.  I remember the first time I went in there after the new owners came in.  Holy moly, the variety was out the door.  White Jesus was still there, but now  the amount of John MacArthur's works had quadrupled.  There was a noticeable increase in other Dispensationalist authors, too.

Hmmmmm....

Now I know that Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC is lead by Albert Mohler.  Al isn't known for being the most open minded guy.  This may explain a great deal.


____________________

BTW: Please don't think I am picking on John MacArthur.  Most of his stuff is good.  However, you have to realize that he views the bible and everything else through the lens of Dispensationalist theology.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism  Dispensationalism has some merits, but can run into some pretty goofy stuff.  In a nut shell, they have sliced and diced the bible into pieces like a loaf of bread.  Most of modern American evangelicalism has this as it's foundation without most people being aware of it.  Certainly when it comes to understanding eschatology. (End times stuff.)

If you are a fan of those "Left behind" movies, that's all based on Dispensationalism.

I like a lot of John MacArthur's stuff.  However, he and his followers also believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not applicable to today. (And, boy, is he adamant about that!) This would come as a surprise to a few missionaries I know.  I think it would come as a surprise to the Holy Spirit, too.

____________________


I think it's a really bad idea to only read/listen/learn from people you agree with.  That's why I like to get a variety of opinions when it comes to following Jesus.  My opinion is that way to many American evangelicals live in self-imposed bubbles.  This renders us virtually incapable to speaking into the broader culture, unless it is to condemn.

I don't think I would really know what I believe and stand for unless I took the time to hear as many sides as I can.  How can I be articulate to someone when I don't know their side of the story?  I don't have to agree with them.  That's not the question.  I think the question is wether or not I will be well-rounded and properly informed.

It seems to me that too many Christians are afraid of asking questions.




I really love Rob Bell.  Now, before you burn me in effigy, let me explain.  I think that in the past few years, Bell has gone off the reservation.  However, I also think that evangelicals are partly responsible for this.  I remember the big stink when he published "Love Wins."  Since it was controversial, I naturally had to read it.  Over all it was good, particularly the last chapter which read like a Billy Graham alter-call.  However, the weakest link was the very chapter that got Bell into trouble.

Bell wondered if God might give people second chances after thy die.  That was it.  Rob asked questions...and we can't have that.

Rob left the reservation.  But we are extremely guilty of pushing and shoving him along the way.  In fact, a few weeks ago a friend of mine stated that she had kicked Bell to the curb a long time ago.  I noted that we American christians are really good at kicking people to the curb.

I like Rob Bell because he makes me think.  It is irrelevant wether I agree with him all of the time, because I don't.  He makes me think!

This past year, Mark Driscoll lost his entire ministry for being a tough guy, hard ass.  Guess what?  I like Mark Driscoll, too.  I like John Piper, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Peter Rollins, Roger E. Olson, etc.  I have yet to agree 100% with ANY of them!  But they make me think!!! (I do not care for Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.  They give me itchy, burning hives.) Heck, I can't even agree with myself a good deal of the time.

Too many Christians lick their lips in joyful anticipation when a leader falls from Grace.  I'm much more interested in seeing the restoration of guys like Driscoll and Bell.  It seems to me that the only prominent Thinker who got the Bell broohaha right was Francis Chan.  In response to "Love Wins," Chan wrote "Erasing Hell," which was an excellent book.  He didn't condemn Bell with silly tweets.  He engaged him politely and out of love.

____________________

In my last post, I said that American Christians have a lot of fear.  I still think that's true.  But I also think it's nonsense.  Of the few things that I am certain about in life is that Jesus always wins...ALWAYS!  If that's true, then what is there to be afraid of?

My faith isn't the least bit threatened by some dumb plan or law the government might be working on.  It's not threatened by Islamic militants or Right-Wing kooks.  It isn't threatened by secular music, or some evil song by Marilyn Manson or Bette Middler.  It isn't threatened by my fellow Believers who deny science based on their own misunderstanding of Scripture.  And it certainly isn't threatened by questionable ideas put forth in a book sold in a "Christian" ghetto...I mean, bookstore.

I would prefer any day, a "Christian" bookstore that carried everything, including the works of those theological masters, Joel Osteen, Robert Tilton and "Dr." Mike Murdock, than I would one that sells only the "Approved" ones.  I trust Jesus enough that his spirit will guide me through any of that.



Since I've never been one to shy away from the heretical, I'll leave you with a quote from Rob Bell that I actually DO agree with 100%; "I'm not afraid of people who ask questions.  I'm afraid of people who don't."


Peace

Joe

P.S. Peter Rollins is a Christian philosopher from Belfast.  I have some profound disagreements with him.  But surprise, I like him because he makes me think.  Here's a bit of his that I actually think is profound and brilliant...


Divine atheism from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

P.S.S.

Just for farts and giggles, here's a little Bobby Tilton fo ya...



It just gets better.




And last but not least...




Sunday, March 1, 2015

Talkin' Mega Mall Blues


"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
Ecc. 1:9

"I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Two days ago I had to run some errands.  One of them was to talk to the good folks at T-Mobile about some phone stuff.  The nearest T-Mobile place for me is at the Mall of America.

You may have heard of this place before.  It's the largest mall in the U.S., and soon to be the largest mall in the world. (The construction going on is impressive, and causes me to get lost rather easily.) It's located on the east side of Bloomington, Minnesota, and right across the freeway from the Twin Cities' metro airport.  This, in turn, makes the roof of the mall a handy spot for emergency landings.

You may also have heard of the mall because the Somali group, Al-Shabab, recently asked for it's followers to commit a terrorist act there.  Lovely!


My first thought on hearing this news was to think, "If you could really pull something like that off, you wouldn't blab to everyone where you were going to do it."  My second thought was, "Yeah, but it only takes one crazy."

Minnesota has one of the largest Somali populations in the U.S.  There have been young people from that community heading over to join either Al-Shabab in Somalia, or ISIS over in Iraq and Syria.  Needless to say, the Somali community is enraged over this.  They have been doing everything they can to keep crazies from recruiting their kids.

I have no idea what would cause a young person to join a death-cult.  When I was their age, I grew my hair longer to show my teenage rebellion. (I even had a Mullet for a while.  YAY!!!!) The thought of strapping on dynamite or grabbing an assault rifle wasn't in the cards.

Anyway, the local Somali community has a tradition for the end of Ramadan.  Thousands of them will descend on the Mega Mall for an all night party (Minus the beer.), chow down in the food courts, and ride the rides in the amusement park.  Therefore, I am inclined to think that most of them are not interested in blowing up one of their favorite places.


So I'm at the mall around noon on a Friday.  It wasn't terribly busy, but busy enough.  As I was walking around, it only took me only a few minutes to notice the increased police presence.  The white uniformed mall police were partnered with officers of the Bloomington police department.  I would guestimate that there were at least 4 times the usual amount.

I headed in to the Apple store with some questions about my computer.  At the door was guard.  I figure he was in his 70s, and was clearly blind in one eye.  Perhaps Apple is concerned that an elderly terrorist will strap something to their walker and head on over.

So I ask the guard about the noticeable police presence.  He said that, yes indeed, they were there to reassure the nervous.  I asked him if the threat was credible?  He said no, but that it only takes one crazy...


I have noticed that the church in America has a lot of fear in it.  In fact, a lot of our theology and behavior is based on fear. (So it seems to me, anyway.) We fear Muslims.  We fear our neighbors.  We fear Marxist/Socialist/Secretly Kenyan Presidents.  We fear that the government will take away our guns so that we can't overthrow it when we feel the need.  We fear Evolution because we know that God has to bring creation into existence according to our wishes and really poor exegesis of Scripture.  We fear that if we can't legislate our morality God will smite our nation.

You know what I fear?  
Strawberries with hair on them.

____________________


"There is nothing new under the sun."


I like history.  I have fully embraced my "Inner Nerd."  I've been reading various history books since I was a kid.  One constant that I have noticed as far back as Socrates and Plato, is that every generation complains that the younger one is full of spoiled brats and is destroying society.  Today, humanities' ability to wreak havoc and do it in a spectacular fashion for all to see, has been greatly expanded.  But the impulse to do it is nothing new.  It's been there ever since the fall of man.  The world has been coming to an end for along, long time.

Of the many, many things I love about Jesus is his ability to tell the truth bluntly.  Unlike prosperity preachers, Jesus is honest.  He told his followers that they would have plenty of problems, troubles, persecution, etc.  And then he would say, "Trust me.  I know what I'm doing." (My translation.)



I admit it.  Trusting Jesus is hard.  I have a 50 year track record of him having my back and saving my butt over and over again.  But it's still hard.

A friend at work asked me once what he needed to do to be saved.  I told him, "Just put your faith in the faithfulness of Jesus."  At the end of the day, he's the only one who can/did/will pull it off.  My faithfulness sucks!  But he's really good at it.

____________________


There is a Mosque with a Halal market near where I live.  It's the only place I know of where I can find camel and goat meat. (Hey, I lived in the Middle East for a while.  I dig me some Arab cuisine from time to time.) I like to go in there just to see the looks on their faces. "What's that Cracker doing here?!?!?!  Is he F.B.I???"  I like to use the few Arabic phrases I know.  Pretty soon it's like I'm an old friend.  They are genuinely happy that some blonde hair, blue eyed person is showing some respect to and enjoyment of their culture.  If Jesus wants to use that to plant some seeds for his kingdom, then I'm happy to oblige...and get some camel meat.

I am not afraid to go into a place like that.

There is a gas station down the road where I normally fill up.  It is owned by a Lebanese family.  I had assumed for a long time that they were a tribal christian family.  I filled up there after having been at the mall.  I was talking to Ali, the owner, about what I had seen.  He gave me an earful about how much he hates ISIS, then he told me he was a Muslim.  He then told me that he almost never tells anyone that because he is scared.  He is not scared when I am there...and I am not afraid to buy my gas from him.


While I was at the mall, I people watch.  There are people from all over the world there even at the oddest of times.  I hear a lot of different languages.  I'm decent at guessing which are which.  I'm curious.  I'm not scared.  That which is different intrigues me.  Those who were made in the image of God come in all shapes and sizes.

There certainly were many Somalis at the mall that day.  As I was leaving, a group of four Somali girls were standing outside one of the cheesy restaurants at the mall.  They were taking selfies of each other. They had on colorful headscarves, robes, and were chattering away in a language I couldn't understand.  They were giggling and goofing around like any 20-something would.  I was not afraid.

I'll probably go back to the mall next week.

I'm not afraid.


Peace

Joe

P.S. Normally, I try to find a video to end my screeds with one that is appropriate to the tone of the post.  I couldn't find one that worked for the Mega Mall.  However, this was the song on my Pandora station as I was finishing up.  Enjoy!




Friday, February 20, 2015

Some thoughts on some thoughts



"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 
 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"
Mt. 7:15-23


About a week ago, the President attended and spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast.  I didn't listen to it, but read about it in the paper.  I saw that the former race car driver, Darrel Waltrip gave his testimony.  Then I noticed that the Dalai Lama was in attendance.  I thought to myself, "Oooh, THAT'S gonna rub some folks the wrong way." But then again, I'm not the sort to freak out over that sort of thing.  My second thought was, "Well, that's awesome!  I'll bet you $10 that the Dalai Lama has never actual heard the Gospel presented before."  God moves in some pretty clever ways.

Actually, the fact is that plenty of non-Christians have been invited, including King Abdullah II of Jordan back in 2006 when Bush was still President.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.  People didn't freak out over the Dalai Lama being at the prayer breakfast.  No.  Instead they freaked out over this...


When I first read those lines in the paper, it didn't rub me the wrong way at all.  In fact, it didn't even raise a pulse.  Those are simply sad, historical facts.  In America and the rest of the world, Scripture has been repeatedly twisted and warped to justify all sorts of evil.  And it's still happening.  The President was simply quoting history.  What's the big deal?

____________________

A brief aside here: If you think all of this is ancient history, you are fooling yourself.  Take a gander at this link about Bob Jones University in S. Carolina.  It was founded as a VERY Fundamentalist college back in the day.  Up into the 1970s, it still forbade Black Americans from attending.  Once they were allowed in, no inter-racial dating was allowed.  When I was in Bethel College in the 80s, I saw a story from there about a girl who was half black and half white.  The school made her sign a sheet to decide what she really was before she could attend an event with boy of the Cracker persuasion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Jones_University

Beautiful.  
And all of this based on some truly pathetic interpretations of the bible.

____________________


So anyway, the President speaks an uncomfortable truth.  No big deal I thought.

Oops.  The next thing you know, social media, FOX, "Christian" leaders, and of course greedy power brokers, are having a field day.  The picture at the top of this post is from Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee.  I first saw it on Facebook yesterday.  He's no fool.  He knew instinctively how to capitalize on gullible, angry, professional President haters.  And the sad fact is that many, if not most, of these haters are people who call themselves christians.

David Brooks is not a believer, but I've heard him speak on this many times, and I thought his response was spot on...

(BTW: If you want some fun, watch the clip through to the end.  Shields pops a bolt over dumb people who don't believe in vaccinations.  LOL.)



If part of the core of Christianity isn't about acknowledging our sin and seeking redemption, what is it?  Have not all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?  I can assure you that at this point in my life, I have made enough mistakes before God that I fully understand King David when he wrote, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3) I am no longer ashamed to admit them.  If you want details, I'm not terribly shy about that either...but it might make your ears smoke.

Shouldn't nations be willing to do the same?

The President simply told the truth.  I honestly don't understand what the offense was.

Except...

____________________


"I don't want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it."  Billy Graham

"Christians should never have a political party.  It is a huge mistake to become married to an ideology, because the greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology.  Ideology is a man-made format of how the world ought to work, and Christians instead believe in the revealing truth of Scripture."  Chuck Colson 

It's not exactly a secret that the church in America has been sold out to far-right politics in most respects.  When I talk to many, if not most, non-christians, they just assume that since I am a christian, I must be a Republican and probably a TEA-Bagger at that.  How in the world did that happen??????


For the record, I do tend to vote Republican the majority of the time.  But I'm not blind.  I'm not wedded to the idea that I am doing Jesus a favor by voting for his ordained party.  I'm strictly independent.  In fact, I reject the idiotic labels of "Liberal" or "Conservative."  Those are man-made
 philosophical constructs with all of the inherent flaws and falleness that comes with them.

When someone says to me, "Yeah, I'm a Christian and a Liberal...Conservative," what I hear is, "Yeah, I'm half a Christian."  I'm pretty sure that that bible warns about taking on worldly labels.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's perfect will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Romans 12:2


The church in America is massively compromised thanks to politics, particularly far-right politics.  The Left has some of it, but not nearly as much.  I'm uncertain why that is the case.  Perhaps liberals tend to be more secular to begin with.  I don't know.  But for some reason, the church in America is kowtowing to extremism on the Right like a dirty, little whore. (Blunt, but I mean exactly that!) The result is that the purity of the Gospel has been compromised and seriously harmed.

The church in America, either through willful ignorance or shear gullibility or just plain stupidity, has allowed itself to be played and used by politicians, and by those out to make a buck in the media.  If you spray a little Jesus-gloss on whatever you're saying, witless American christians will buy it.  It just breaks my heart.

I know sooooooooooooo many Christians who allow themselves to be influenced by godless, wicked people like Ayn Rand (Militant, Jesus-hating Atheist), Glenn Beck (Mormon), Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (Gas bags out to sell commercials to masses of sheep) and it makes me weep.  It's one thing to know what they say.  It's entirely different to embrace their ideas.  It's the equivalent of saying you're a Believer, but when it comes to your sexuality, you embrace the ideas of Mick Jagger, Hugh Hefner and Dan Savage.

____________________

The movie, "American Sniper," has been out for a while now.  I haven't read the book or seen the film. Apparently, it has sparked some controversy.  I'm not a pacifist.  War is an ugly business and ugly things happen in it.  However, if you want to see what ugly truly is, watch this next clip.

I don't really care what Michael Moore has to say about anything.  I get a kick out of his movies, but I know from the start that he's loaded it with all of his biases.  Apparently he had some comments about the movie.  FOX news knew right away how to make some money off of that.


I had never heard of this talking twat, Todd Starnes, before this.  He impressed me!  I had no idea that anyone could fart out of their mouth as long has he does here...


If that isn't a perfect example of a complete perversion of Scripture, I don't know what is.  To take my Messiah, my KING, and treat him like a prostitute makes me absolutely LIVID!  That man is NOT my brother in Christ!!!!!!!  No one who follows Jesus would EVER say something like that.  That man is a fool and nothing less.


I highly doubt he even believes what he is saying, but he knows it's good for ratings.  And there will be so many "Christians" who agree with him...

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 1 Tim. 4:1

And so it has begun...


Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea.
They will leave you drifting in the shallows,

drowning in the oceans of history.
Travellin' the world, you're in search of no good.
But I'm sure you'll build your Sodom like I knew you would.
Using all the good people for your galley slaves.
As your little boat struggles through the the warning waves.
But you will pay, you will pay tomorrow.
You're gonna pay tomorrow.


Peace

Joe

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Rebel, Rebel"



"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me."
Matt. 25:40

"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."
Ez. 16:49


A week ago today, I received one of the greatest compliments of my entire life.  I was politely asked by my former employer to shop somewhere else.  In other words, I have been un-officially banned from shopping at the Cub Foods store where I was employed until last July.  My crime?  "Recruiting."

As of last July, I found a job with Lakewinds Natural Foods.  http://www.lakewinds.com/  I had been flirting with the idea of getting a job there for a long time, and was routinely encouraged by others there to try and apply.  So I finally did.  Turns out, they are making me into a butcher.  I'll never get rich, but I'm happy.  The people I work with are great, fun and extremely knowledgeable.  The majority of customers are very nice and fun to work with.  PLUS, as a co-op, the way they treat their employees is AMAZING!

Let me give you some facts as a background, then I'll explain the main thrust of this post.

Cub Foods: The one I worked at is owned by Jerry's Enterprises as a franchise.  The rest are owned by Cub Corporate and Supervalue.

In 2008, our limp and flaccid joke of a Union signed a contract with the company.  We had a hiring freeze, a wage freeze and we all had to take a one week UN-paid vacation.  The week after the contract was signed, each store spent over $100,000 on camera systems to help spy on employees.  I should add that all of the department managers received their yearly bonuses, too.

In the past month or more, I found out that the company has been doing whatever they can to not provide health coverage for it's part-timers.  Two of them are friends of mine.  One has given over 20 years to that store.  The other is a young mother with two children who has worked there for 6-7 years. How did the store reward their loyalty?  They cut their hours so they didn't have to provide insurance.

I think the only word for something like that is DESPICABLE!

(Believe me, I could go on with many more true tales.  But for time sake...)


LakewindsA Co-op is a member owned business.  I wont bother going into all of the details, but if you want to know more about one, here's a handy little video...


There are three stores in our co-operative.  We sell "All-Natural" products, which means we wont knowingly sell anything that has nasty dyes, extra chemical crap and the like in them.  99% of all of our vegetables are organic, and so on.  You get the idea. (Don't mistake this for a health food store.  You can still buy 100% organic pop-tarts that will still make your butt big.) I also like it that co-ops support local farms and businesses.

Anyhoo, There is quarterly profit sharing for the workers, a very nice discount on products, benefits, generous holiday pay...even though we close early, anyway, on days like the 4th of July.  There is even a yearly co-op picnic in which they shut the stores down for everyone.

But better than that, the real kicker are the people.  I'm sure there are some jerks hiding somewhere, but thus far I have yet to meet someone who wasn't nice, interesting and so on.  It's hard to dislike a group like this.  Here's an odd one for you.  Our C.E.O. of sorts is named Dale.  On the days before Thanksgiving, he was in our store and others.  He spent more than a few hours back in our meat dept. slogging out turkeys and helping customers.  I will often see him bagging groceries for customers and bringing them out to their cars. (When was the last time you saw a C.E.O. do that?)  Best of all, he knows the name of every single worker in the stores.

(I could go on with this, too.  But for time sake...)

So now that you have some perspective, you can understand why I began to preach the Gospel of Lakewinds to friends of mine who were stuck at Cub.  My old manager was always good to me, so I feel terrible that I may have hurt him.  However, I have friends that I care about.  I see them in a situation where they are being taken advantage of, not being allowed to thrive or progress, being treated like a bean to be counted instead of as a person.  I know a better place for them.  Do you think I'm NOT going to tell them??????

__________


I believe in the "Free-Enterprise" system.  I think it is the most natural economic system for human beings, ever since a caveman told another that he would trade his tomatoes for the other guys beaver hide.  I'm not opposed to anyone being wealthy or a company being profitable.  However, it strikes me that there are moral and ethical ways of doing that, and there is also an evil way.

Whatever their faults, Trader Joe's, Costco, Lakewinds, The Wedge Co-op, and others have found a way to make money and treat their employees right.  In fact, it can be easily argued that treating your employees right is a good way to make money, because you save money by not constantly having to retrain new people.

And then there is Walmart, Cub Foods and so on.  I think you can tell a lot about a place by the way it treats it's workers...the least of these.

There isn't much I can do to make a huge difference in the world.  But I'll do what I can.  If I helped a few of my friends get out of a bad situation and into a better one, great!  I can't say that I've ever "Stuck it to the Man," before.  But it feels pretty good.

If doing the right thing means that I'm asked to shop somewhere else, fine.  I'd do it again, and again...and again.  I can always buy toilet paper at Target.





Peace

Joe

P.S. Considering my deep feelings on this one, I thought this post was extremely mild.  :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Pirate looks at 50





"He will keep you from every form of evil or calamity as He continually watches over you. You will be guarded by God Himself. You will be safe when you leave your home, And safely you will return. He will protect you now, And He'll protect you forevermore!"Psalm 121:7-8 (From The Passion Translation)

"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
Isaiah 46: 4


Old as the hills, new everyday.
It's in the bones like it's DNA.
First taste is sweet 'til it rots in your mouth.
Another old friend who rats you out.
All of the time in this life, can't loose the ties that bind.
They shackle our feet, we trip, we fall, we crawl.
I was born in the mess of it all.
Then You rescued me, rescued me, Lord, with a touch of Your hand.
Another captive free again.
Who else in heaven could do this but You?
You rescued me, rescued me Lord, with a love out of mind.
Oh, You know I love it when,
everyday I am rescued again.
"Rescue," by the Newsboys

So on this date, last month, I turned 50 years old.  That morning at church, my friend asked me what 50 feels like.  I had to respond honestly that I had no idea.  I wasn't sure what 50 IS supposed to feel like, nor if I did, that I felt it.  My hairline is pretty much the same as it was in my 30s.  I have a little gray, but it always turns blond in the sun.  I'm physically stronger than I was in my 20s.  I have no major health problems to contend with.  Most people never guess I'm as old as I am. (Which may be due to a serious streak of immaturity on my part.)

I don't know.  I don't feel "Middle Aged," or what ever the term is now.  I guess I feel like I'm in my mid-30s perpetually.  I suppose it's all relative anyway.

I will say this, this particular birthday...in fact, this entire past year, has for reasons I don't understand, caused me to become very introspective. (Which is something I'm pretty good at to begin with.) I've been reflecting back on these 50 years, and I've come to some conclusions.

But before we get to that, here's a song...



If you are like me, you grew up in the "American Evangelical Bubble."  That great, self-imposed ghetto that Christians live in.  Our parents protect us with rules designed to keep us from falling into sin.  We have christian friends. We often go to christian schools.  We go to christian rock concerts and festivals.  We even have christian coffee mugs.  AND, to quote Steve Taylor, "We only drink milk from a  christian cow."

Even as a kid, I was keenly aware of this self-imposed exile.  I always thought it to be a bit odd, but what can you do when you are 13?  Also, I'm not saying that this is bad or wrong.  What I would say is that it is incomplete.  You can't protect your kids.  Only God can do that.  As a parent, your job is to prepare them, and there is a difference.

I'll stop on that, because to expand on that thought is for another post.

____________________

Getting older has one great gift, and that would be the gift of "Perspective." (Hair on the back and in the ears, not so much.) Perspective comes from years of experiences over the course of a life, that then changes the way you look at things.

At this point in my life, I have made enough mistakes, good choices and had enough unexpected events happen to me to realize that life is a lot more complicated than I did when I was younger.  Again, perspective is a great gift if you are willing to embrace it.

When I was a kid, I had my life all planned out.  I distinctly remember walking home in 7th grade telling myself, "I will join the army at 18.  At 20 I will be in college.  At 21 I will be married.  Before I'm 30 I will be a medical doctor."  Life is great when you are a kid. (This was a step up from wanting to be a garbage or fireman when I was 5.)

Needless to say, none of that happened.  

The funny thing is that by the time I graduated college, I had no idea what I wanted out of life.  What I did know was that I wanted to walk with Jesus.  I was pretty clueless about that thought, but I did mean it.  I can honestly say that an adventure began out of it..."An Unexpected Journey," if you will.



So, with that in mind, here are some things that I have learned about myself and life in the course of 50 years...

#1. My greatest sinful struggle is selfishness.  I love to be the center of the universe.  I am selfish with my time, my money, my thought life, my body, my heart, my mouth...pretty much every area of my life.  It's like a super power, and I'm not even an X-Man.

I like to rebel against God.  I am selfish, and will willfully choose not to spend time with him.  Odds are, I am not the only person out there who has this problem.  It is with this in mind that I have to say that God blessed me with a rather nasty head cold this week. (This is my one and only week of vacation for the year.) So I have nothing better to do than slow down and reflect.  An odd blessing, but one never the less.

People need to truly know their sinful issues and struggles if they every plan on turning them over to Jesus.

#2. Never trust a Christian who hasn't been broken.  By broken, I mean going through God's boot camp; it could be the death of a loved one, a struggle with addiction, some terrible accident or tragedy, a mental health issue...something in which you are forced to come face to face with all of your helplessness, finitude, brokeness and humanity.  These times are completely unpleasant in the moment, but they give you an understanding of your need for grace, mercy and total dependence on God that you cannot get in any other way. (The great part is that if you live for a long time, you will have multiple opportunities to experience these awful situations.)

Now please do not misunderstand, you CAN trust other believers who have yet to go through times like these.  But you can only trust them to a certain extent.  It's not that they want to hurt you, or violate your trust.  It is simply that until they fall flat on their face, and God picks them up and cleans them off, they are incapable of truly comprehending your own situation, along with the need for empathy, mercy and grace.

At this point in my life, I have had many boot camp experiences. (Which probably means that I am not learning my lessons very well.) My favorite one was many years ago, and it caused me to end up on the therapist's couch for over 2 years.  It was a nervous/anxiety breakdown of sorts...in public, and it really did a number on me. (I liked the first one so much that I had another one about 6 months later.)

I recall one time where I was in a parking lot screaming at God for letting any of this happen.  I called him every name in the book, and accused him of every vile sin imaginable.  In retrospect, it must have been the equivalent of a 3 year old having a tantrum, while the parent looks on in a bit of amusement.  That's my take on it anyway, because he didn't give me the big squish for it, and instead was very patient.

#3. God will ALWAYS have your back!  When I look out a head of me, I get scared easily.  I am very uncertain of the future.  When I look behind me, I see a perfectly straight line. (As per the cartoon at the beginning, the straight line is probably when God was dragging me along.) I don't understand the current circumstances I am in, nor do I understand the bad times when they are happening.  But I do understand them after the fact.  And it points to one unescapable conclusion...


God is faithful!!!


Every good thing that God has given me, he has used for me and his kingdom at the same time.  More importantly, every bad thing I willfully chose and tough time I had to suffer through, God has used for my benefit and his kingdom.  If I had never gone through the whole breakdown thing, I never would have been able to work with at-risk students, many of whom I call close friends to this day.

If I had not been forced to confront my own desperate need for grace and mercy, I would not see the need to fully extend it to others.  Plus, I would almost certainly be much more quick to offer judgement.

God has protected me from myself and others at every step of the way.  There are some stupid choices that I have made that should have cost me much more than they did.  God had and has mercy on me.

While I consider myself to be an enemy to no one, there have been numerous people who disliked and even hated me, for what ever reason.  God has protected me from them.  In some instances, he has even humiliated them...which I did not come to know until a long time later.  This is why revenge is beneath me.  God has taught me that vengeance truly is his, and I shouldn't waist my time with it.


It so often sounds trite when we sing "Great is thy faithfulness," and other hymns like that, but it really is true.  The number one thing that I have come to understand at the age of 50 is that no matter what I do, no matter how faithful or rebellious, wise or foolish, saintly or sinful I am, his loves remains stedfast and his faithfulness is rock solid.

I still do not fully understand why my life is the way that it is, or what the future holds for me.  But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is always here for me every step of the way.  I also know that he will delight in putting what I just wrote to the test on many, many occasions.

Considering in the light of all eternity that awaits me when I am fully reunited with him, I'll try not to get all worked up over it, and keep in my mind that victory is his.  In the mean time, it's been an interesting adventure to say the least.  Who knows what he has up his sleeve for tomorrow?



Father in heaven, my Lord, Jesus the Messiah, I was born in this mess but you have rescued me every day and in every way for far longer than I ever deserved!  You have shown me that your amazing love is true!  You amaze me every day with your love, patience, mercy and grace!  I will praise you!  I am 50 years old, and because of you, I ain't the same.



Peace

Joe

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Anger & Atheism


"A fool says in his heart, "There is no God.""
Psalm 53:1

"How do you hate someone you say doesn't exist?"
Josh Wheaton


So a little over a week ago I went to see the movie, "God's not Dead."  I went with a small group from my church.  A bunch of us try to get together about every other Friday to just chat, pick each other's brains, and so on.  We decided to see this film.

To be honest, most so-call "Christian" films tend to make me break out in a rash in unmentionable places.  Most of them strike me as being an hour and a half long tract stuffed in your face.  No subtlety what so ever.  I'm not trying to be mean to Kirk Cameron, but so many of these movies are simply preaching to the choir.

This movie was different.  I actually really enjoyed it.  For one thing, the actors actually knew how to act. (A rarity.) I also liked it that not everything was resolved at the end.  Not everyone became a christian.  That's the way it is in real life.

The premise of the film is that a college freshman is forced to defend the existence of God before all of his classmates by his militantly atheist professor.  In the process, he loses his girlfriend, his family is upset, and so on.

And that's all I'll say because this isn't movie review...

____________________

Atheism.  Atheism is fascinating to me.

I've known plenty of atheists, or at least people who call themselves atheists.  In fact, there is a pop culture phenomenon in America today of a sort-of Instant Atheist.  I recall an interview a few years back of Seth McFarlane, the creator of "Family Guy," explaining that he didn't believe in the god of George W. Bush, and was thus an atheist.

I thought to myself, "We'll I'm not sure if I believe in that god either.  But I don't think that makes me an atheist."  It's my opinion that this pop phenomenon is not particularly deep, nor intellectually rigorous.

For the record, I'm not interested in bashing atheists or agnostics.  What they believe is their business, and no one answers to me on judgment day.  I have more than enough on my own plate to deal with before I go around stepping on people's toes.

But I did want to write about what I have observed.  Obviously, there can be exceptions.  But I'm going to break down what I have noticed over the years.

The Casual Atheist:  I think that the pop phenomenon could fit into here.  However, I first ran into these types when I was teaching in the Czech Republic back in 2000.  The Czechs aren't real keen on any type of religion, due to the fact that the catholic church was often used to keep them down.  It's an understandable reaction.

To the average Czech, they just didn't give the idea of God much thought.  If they did, they were kind of creeped out due to past history.  They just figured that "This is it.  This is all we've got.  So just live."  They weren't terribly hostile to "God."  They just didn't have time for him.

These were the first real atheists I had met.  It wasn't deep and well-examined.  It was simply a way of living.

The True Atheist: At the last school that I taught at, I had a very good friend who could fit into this category.  She was a great help to me at this school.  She was very gracious and kind...and laughed at all of my jokes.

I call her a "True" atheist, because she admitted that if you were going to be an atheist, then you had to admit that life was meaningless.  Whatever meaning you found in life was that of your own making, and it was no better or worse than anyone else's.

For more on this, try reading any of the works of Jean Paul Sartre or Albert Camus.  They were French existentialist philosophers and atheists.  I obviously don't agree with them, but they were brutally honest about the meaninglessness of existence.

Anyway, my friend didn't hate people of faith.  She just told me that I had rose colored glasses.  She told me in no uncertain terms that we are all just a result of a cosmic accident.  There is no higher calling or purpose, and when you die you are just worm food.

Hey, at least she was honest.

If there is no God, then the universe does not care.  You/we/I are just random accidents.  There is no universal morality, no true good and bad.  It's all relative.  You might not "Like" certain things, but you can't claim that they are inherently right or wrong because there is nothing to base that on except yourself...which is no more important than anyone else's.

I knew one other guy who I would call a True atheist.  He admitted everything I just wrote. (Heck, that's who I got a lot of it from.) Since there was no true purpose in life, he decided to be a libertine.  He spent his youth getting with ever chick he could.  He was going to squeeze as much sensual pleasure out of life that he could.  I respected him for it.

The Angry Atheist: If you are familiar with Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, then you will know this type.  They are both brilliant men who can debate you into the ground.  I've heard them argue with various Theists, and they usually make them look foolish.  These guys absolutely hate with a red-hot passion any idea of "An Imaginary Friend." (Dawkins' term.) The idea that you might take your child to Sunday School is a form of child abuse in their minds. (And I am not making that up.)

However, I have a problem believing these types.  I really can't think of them as true atheists.  I'm not trying to be mean, but every time I hear them trash the idea of God, the more I think they are firm believers in his existence.  They totally believe in God.  They are simply really pissed-off at him!!!

They don't hate the idea of God.  They hate God.

 "How do you hate someone you say doesn't exist?" is asked by the main character of "God's not dead."  Every single time I hear a militant atheist talk, I want to ask that question.  I don't mind having a respectful discussion with anyone.  I enjoy it...including atheists.  But these militant folks?  Hmm.

____________________

The psalmist wrote that "A fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"  Which is a brilliant observation.  The psalmist does not say "Head, Mind, Soul,etc."  He chose a different word.  The older I get, the more I understand that.

We think we are rational actors, but the truth is that we are not.  We believe what our hearts want to believe.  Just think of the kooks that get all their news from some talking head on FOX or MSNBC.  They have already made up their minds what they want to believe.  Now they are simply looking for someone to tell them it's true.

What ever is front and center in your heart is, in fact, your true God.  You can say you don't believe in him, but I don't believe you.

Peace

Joe

P.S.  Peter Rollins is a philosopher out of Belfast.  Which is why it's hard to understand what he is saying.  He is part of the whole Emerging Church thing. (Which makes him evil in the eyes of some.) Say what you will, I would love to listen to Pete, or even Rob Bell, debate Dawkins or Hitchens.  THAT would be fun.


Divine atheism from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Naughty Noah


"I'm afraid that as Evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract."
Francis Schaeffer

"I will only be satisfied with Hollywood once they accurately present Jesus as a Mid-western boy from Iowa, with an American accent and dark-blonde, feathered hair...just like the pictures of him in the "Christian" bookstores."
Me

Soooooooooo, there is a bit of a stink about a movie that comes out this Friday.  Frankly, I'm shocked, SHOCKED I say, that Hollywood would take liberties with the bible!  How dare they not keep in line with biblical accuracy?  "VeggieTales" certainly did.

____________________


It has been noted before by many that American christians tend to begin so many responses from a defensive, fearful position.  This strikes me as this being the case once again.  It's been interesting to see the response of so many people on social media to this upcoming film.  Most of the people who are knocking it, admit that they haven't even seen it.  They simply have their facts on good, solid "hear-say." A pastor, or someone in some type of authority told them that the film was bad because of this or that.

It's no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I have a rather high tolerance for controversial things.  I'm not afraid of that sort of thing.  If anything, it simply stokes my curiosity.

When I first saw a trailer for the Noah movie a few months ago, my initial reaction was, "Sweet, they got Russel Crowe to play Noah."  It was not, "I hope they use the proper exegesis of the text."  I had no expectations that Hollywood would get it right.  They NEVER do!

Even when it's a movie about a bible story where the film maker wants to get it right or be accurate, they still never do.  In Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," he took artistic liberties.  In fact, one key scene, where Jesus is being nailed to the cross, Gibson got it wrong.  He shows Jesus being nailed through his hands.  The Romans didn't do that.  They put the nail through the wrist, so that the condemned would stick there and not tare off.

The thing is, most bible movies aren't made by Believers, anyway.  They just want to tell a good story and do it artistically.  So they are going to use artistic license to tell their version of the story.  If you understand that ahead of time, it will save you a great deal of grief and frustration while you munch on your popcorn.

____________________

A day or so ago, a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook.
http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/03/17/will-evangelicals-miss-boat-paramount-noah/

I thought it summed everything up very well.  In particular, I like the quote from Francis Shaeffer.  Christians seem to like movies, music, art, etc. that sells Jesus.  If it doesn't bring you squarely to the face of Christ, then it isn't any good.

Christians seem to like self-imposed Ghettos.  We have Christian coffee mugs, Christians T-shirts, Christian bumper stickers.  We seem to insist of labeling everything as either "Christian" or "Non-Christian."  We likes us a nice black and white world.

I don't see the world that way.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  If Paul is correct in Romans that, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,..." then I don't need a label to see the truth of God all around me.

I've said this before, when I hear a work of Beethoven...or even a guitar solo by Neil Young, I can hear God testifying to himself through the creativity that he has given every human being, whether they are one of his followers or not.

CAVEAT: I fully admit that there is plenty of crap out there that doesn't honor God in any way, shape or form.  Often times, you will find said crap in your local Christian bookstore with a Jesus label on it. 

Preach it, now!!!!

____________________

A couple of decades ago, "The Last Temptation of Christ" came out.  It had Willem Dafoe as Jesus and David Bowie as Pontius Pilate. (David Bowie?!?!) Anyway, a lot of christians really got their undies in knots over this film.  There were even protests outside of many theaters.  The irony was that the film wasn't based on the bible.  It was based on a novel written by some goofy Greek Orthodox priest/monk.

Needless to say, I went to the movie.  After watching it I can honestly say that if it hadn't been for the "Christians" bringing all of the attention to it, the film would have died in a week.  It was a real "Sleeper" in every sense of the word.  Thanks to the protests, the film actually made money.

Actually, there were two things that I really did like about the film.  #1. The soundtrack is EXCELLENT!  It was written by Peter Gabriel.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passion:_Music_for_The_Last_Temptation_of_Christ  If you can ever get your hands on a copy of that CD, do it!

#2. When Willem Dafoe as Jesus starts to preach to the various crowds I thought, "Yeah!  That's probably exactly like Jesus' style of interaction."  I was impressed.  Other than that though, a pretty dull film.

I was going to Bethel Seminary at that time.  I remember a professor talking about the film in class.  He said that the movie was probably a bad idea.  Then he asked our class if anyone had seen the film.  I was the only one to raise a hand.  He gave me kind of a stunned look and asked me why.  I replied...

"I figured that since so many christians were giving it all this free advertising, I kind of owed it to them to go see it."

So with that in mind, I'd simply say to not be afraid or get worked up about "Noah."  It's Hollywood.  What are you expecting?  Finally, it's Russel Crowe, dude...Russel Crowe.


Peace

Joe

Here's the trailer with some of Peter Gabriel's music.  It's not perfect, but it's pretty good.