Monday, August 11, 2008

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Sunday, I thought, went pretty well. The service ran over (a common occurrence when we add an element like a video or drama), and the sermon was a bit too unwieldy (gotta love teens in the front row yawning as you are wrapping up), but overall I really meant what I said. Your life is interesting enough to people to be the entry point (eventually) to speak to issues of faith. I find fewer and fewer people showing up at church cause they made a commitment to Jesus at a crusade, camp meeting, or in their house either after hearing a televangelist speak or talking with someone who knocked on their door to talk about Jesus. The norm here is folks engaging friends or family in conversation, and that conversation leading ultimately to a faith-commitment. In a world where people feel increasingly uncertain about the safety of their neighbors, real, genuine concern and respect will take us far in conveying the message of the gospel. I said it, and believe it to be true.

2) I think that while "Mad Men" is getting a lot of love from TV critics starved in the summer, it moves pretty slow. It's shot beautifully. The set and costume work is impeccable. It must smell like a big ashtray, the cigarette smoke think in an attempt to help us get a good glimpse into another era that we may, or may not, have lived. But it still moves pretty slow. Previews of future look promising, so I'll stick with it as the only show on TV I'm currently following... but if it doesn't start picking up soon, it's off to pre-season football on Sunday nights.

3) If you didn't read the comments section of the last post, you need to do so. Friends of the "Office", Aaron and The Thief through in couple of other good chucklers. Here a few more things you never want to hear as a pastor:

- Mrs. Peabody, next time you read this scripture at worship, the word is "phylacteries", not "prophylactics"

(that one actually happened to me once... you try preaching a sermon after hearing an older lady mistakenly read the word "prophylactics" in a packed sanctuary on Sunday morning).

- "Weren't you going to collect an offering today?"

- "Well, the reason you don't understand that scripture is because you don't know anything about aliens or UFO's."

- "There's a process server out here looking for the music director."

- "I find the defendant, guilty on all charges."

Let me know if you come up with any others.

4) I think that by week 8 Brett Farve will wish he had stayed retired and taken Green Bay's 25 million dollar bribe to stay on the sidelines. That last playoff game he played last year he looked like he was totally out of gas. What shape will he be in after a season of not only playing in New York (and it's fishbowl) but also learning a new offense? It's too bad it had to go this way.

By the way, I promise that when I retire, that I'll stay retired. I know you were worried. Don't worry that pretty little head of yours. When I'm done, I'll be done.

5) Speaking of football, I haven't made it public news via the blog or any medium (hence Brother Esq being surprised when he heard) but I will be in L.A. for the OSU/USC game in September. Eric the Buckeye made the invite, and since I've only seen the Bucks on the road at Indiana University (which was so poorly attended it might as well have been another home game.... except they wouldn't have ran out of food at the Shoe in the 2nd quarter) and Purdue (Michael Jenkins' big catch that propelled them as a team of destiny in a National Championship year), I thought I'd save my funeral and wedding money and give 'er a whirl. I'm sure I'll break out the occasional "Didn't OJ go to school here?", "Yes, Pete Carroll has done a good job. He'll make a NFL team very happy next year."and maybe even a "Kick their Booty!". I'm looking forward to it very much, and feel very blessed to get to go.

6) Stayed up late watching hours of badminton. This is why my wife hates to watch the Olympics with me. When we lived in Toledo during the Winter Olympics back in '98, all I watched was curling. Hours and hours of curling. My wife, who lives for girly sports like gymnastics and figure skating was incensed. She just couldn't grasp the subtle fine points of one of the world's finest sports. When to brush the ice and not brush the ice. How hard to throw the stone. Where to aim it. There's a lot of strategy to it, and since we were watching the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's coverage (which shows the sports, as opposed to all the commercials and athlete profiles on NBC), they explained them to us.

In detail. Suffice to say that if I lived in a town with an ice rink, I think my chances of one day competing in the Winter Olympics would be significantly higher.

Anyhow, the badminton was great! I'm hooked. However, I'll have to buy a set so that, among other things, Xavier will no longer be distressed that they hit a "birdie". Ah, my soft-hearted child.

7) Have you got the itch to go see the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010? I do. Stay tuned.

8) Wednesday, I'm leading "Ride and Dine" for our Holy Rollers biker group. I do this once a year, and if you show up it is truly the only time where we could legitimately get lost. I mean, very lost. You don't want to miss that kind of adventure. We may end up somewhere where can get something to eat, too. Come on out for an adventurous ride.

9) I read the article on Rick Warren in this month's issue of Time Magazine. It was good, but it left me scratching my head. Fact is that a lot of churches and Christian organizations were trying to achieve the PEACE (which stands for promote reconciliation; equip servant leaders; assist the poor; care for the sick; educate the next generation ) initiative Warren has set forth, and have been trying to do so for a good many years. They just never got an article written about them.

Of course none of them ever sold millions of books or hob nobbed with heads of state. Do that and saving the world becomes news.

But considering that Warren got religion on social justice ministry pretty recently (2003, according to article) - as did virtually all these evangelicals who are now stumping for one cause in Africa or another - I think the broader story, which Time missed, was how quickly the Christian landscape has been changing over the last decade. I mean, this was the magazine who has recently as 2001 wondered aloud if T.D. Jakes was the next Billy Graham. Bishop T.D Jakes - a man who preaches that God wants his people to be rich, and proves it by jetting around in a private Gulfstream jet. Now America's latest "Bill Graham" gives away all his book royalties and is trying to turn Rwanda into a "purpose-driven nation".

Ah, the difference a decade makes.

The cynical part of me says that the real reason for the progressive shift among the Rick Warrens and Bill Hybles is that as their congregations aged, they realized that in order to keep attracting young people they had to modify their theology and practice. The huge mega-churches that grew up during the me-centric eighties is finding itself having to re-create itself in the 21st century, and part of the re-creation involves acknowledging the role globalization is playing not just in economics, but on our perspective. Hence the intensely personal theology which contributed to the "church-goer-as-consumer" approach to building churches on the backs of entertaining worship and providing all kinds of goods and services to various niche demographics, is now being forced to ask the question, "Should we have used "the mall" as a metaphor for the ideal church in the first place?" in a world where consumerism is being identified as an ill.

I watched the genesis of this as I kept going back to Willow Creek for various conferences and worship services. In the nineties, for example, nobody who was overweight or looked strange was allowed on the stage during worship (something church leaders would openly boast in their "how to do it like us" conferences). All the singers, musicians, and the like were perfectly dressed, blow dried, smiley and happy.... just like the band on the Lido Deck of the Love Boat. The church boasted every kind of ministry its constituency could want (mostly self-help stuff) and a huge food court, the crown jewel of which was a full-functioning Starbucks.

15 years later all of this changed. The band members dressed like, well, serious rock musicians... which is to say that they had just rolled out of bed. The smiley happy worship leaders were replaced by a grungy looking worship leader who looked serious... as if the worship service in the morning was the most important thing happening in the world that day. Ads to get people involved in one cause or another were posted all over the joint. The Starbucks in the lobby was replaced by "Mr. B's Coffee", which served all fair-trade, shade-grown, organic coffee. As Whole Foods and Wild Oats grew in popularity in West Barrington, Willow began to drink the koolaid... or rather, the organic, grown-on-a-farm-using-unionized-labor kiwi java cooler.

And the same, I'm told, is true of Saddleback, which was at one time the place to see and be seen in Orange County, California... which ain't exactly Compton or the LBC. Slowly the church has transitioned from the "God has a purpose for you" place, to the "God wants to save the world from poverty, war, and disease" place. Was it theological, or a functioning of marketing as my generation rejected the Boomer ethos of self?

Who knows. Ah well... I suppose it shouldn't matter. Whether it was a real spiritual epiphany or church leaders positioning themselves differently to reach the desired 18-35 market. As long as the cause of justice is served. Let's just never forget that justice isn't always fashionable, for I fear in the world of "what's now", this too shall pass.

10) Finally, I just signed up for this season's version of Fantasy League Football. I've been playing in the same league with my brother's friends now for six or seven years. My team name? "Farve From Over". Needless to say, I will most likely be trounced for the sixth or seventh year in a row. As the oldest member of the league (by a good decade or more), I get constantly abused by a league who posts things like "The Rev just tried to pick up Kenny Anderson" and "Rev, can I borrow your leather helmet from high school?"

As always, though, I will soldier on, because, although old, I am Farve From Over!

I'm like fine wine... I just get better with age.


Travis Miner said...

Is John David Booty still at USC? I thought he was paroled last year.

Oh... and don't knock Kenny Anderson! He was the best QB Cincy ever had if you don't count the ones named Boomer.

Anonymous said...

Here is a seldom known fact that might help you in yoru comparisons. Billy Graham did give his royalties back. The company I used to work for published his books. The royalties were a reduced amount as the SIGNING BONUS he took was HUGE! His organization also owns a jet. Have you noticed you have NEVER heard of anyone running into BG in the airport! Be concerned if you feel you need to be about the direction of the church and consumerism but please don't be naive'

Why should a man be able to write about demons and get his royalties and another write about God and not get his? No one makes you buy a book. This isn't offering money or taken from pour starvving widows on fixed income. It is providing a service for people who want to buy a product. Are you advocating discrimination against Christians or are you upset that the mman who writes the books and does signings all over the counry wants to be paid? I am confused by your criticisms on some things. If you are against sellinng or profit, I am sure your church doesn't sell tapes or books or anything.

bryan said...

Actually, we don't sell tapes or books. Our sermons will be available on our website for free as soon as we straighten out some procedural and technical issues.

The point, which I respectfully believe you missed, was that only seven years ago, TD Jakes, who is an apostle for the "Prosperity Gospel" was being lauded by Time as the "new Billy Graham". Now, Rick Warren is being given that mantle, and only after taking his ministry in a totally different direction from "God has a purpose for me" to "God wants to save the world from disease, war, and poverty and He wants us to do it with Him".

That's a huge swing. Time didn't bother to ask the questions, "What happened in Christian circles that caused Warren, and others like him, to change their focus to social justice?" and "Why is that focus now taking center stage where Jakes' health and wealth message once stood?" How did we go from celebrating me-centric theology and the Prosperity Gospel to faith committed to fighting disease and poverty in only seven years?

I was openly wondering if the reason Warren's message seemed to be catching on was a function of theology or marketing. Has the preference 18-35 year-olds showed for the "church as mall" twenty years ago, been replaced by the preference current 18-35 year-olds are showing for a "church as hospital and mission"? In the one case, the object is to cater to needs of potential church attenders by identifying them as consumers who desire goods and services to be provided. In the other case, the object is to tap existing desire to get involved in serving those who are poor, broken, and oppressed here and abroad.

So which came first.... a message from the church to the populace to move from consumer to servant, or the message from the populace to the church to move from being consumer-driven to servant-oriented? The cynical part of me says that the church only changed because the culture shamed it into doing so. The other part of me says that the prophetic witness embodied in Jesus message and ministry moved in the hearts of Christian leaders, and thus moved the focus of their ministry.

What's the truth? Probably somewhere in-between.

In any event, that's what I was trying to say.

But you asked some questions, or make some accusations, I want to address.

First as to whether or not Christian artists/authors should be able to take a profit from their work, my position is that I've never had a problem with this. On this blog I have recommended a good many books, and even provided a link so the reader could easily make the purchase. One opposed to authors making profits would never do such a thing.

But the answer to your question, "are you advocating discrimination against Christians or are you upset that a man who writes the books and does signings all over the country wants to be paid", my answer is...

"I advocate discrimination against Christian authors/teachers/artists whose sense of enterprise drives their message, which is, in the end, about profit (particularly their own) and not much else."

That's why I point people toward authors like Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Lesslie Newbigin, N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren, and not toward others whose focus theologically I don't support. I am biased, and proud of it.

Hope that helps clear things up.

Anonymous said...

Not nearly as deep as a couple of these comments Buch ... but it's spelled FaVre not FaRve. Not spelled as it sounds. But then again, maybe that was intentional :-)