I thought this, from Mark Elrod's Lame-O Weblog, was cute:
Three couples â€“ one elderly, one middle-aged and one newlywed â€“ wanted to join the local church.
The pastor told them that the church had a special requirement for new parishioners. He said that each couple had to abstain from having sex for two weeks as a sign of their commitment to the Lord's work. They all agreed and returned to the pastor's office at the end of two weeks.
The pastor went to the elderly couple and asked, "Were you able to abstain from sex for the two weeks?"
The old man replied, "No problem at all, Father."
"Congratulations! Welcome to the church!" said the pastor.
The pastor went to the middle-aged couple and asked, "Well, were you able to abstain from sex for the two weeks?" The middle-aged man replied, "The first week was not too bad. The second week I had to sleep on the couch for a couple of nights, but, yep, we made it."
"Congratulations! Welcome to the church," said the pastor.
The pastor then went to the young couple and asked, "Well, were you able to abstain from sex for two weeks?" "No Pastor, we were not able to go without sex for the two weeks," the young man replied sadly. "What happened?" inquired the pastor.
"Well, the other night, my wife was reaching for a can of coffee on the top shelf and dropped it," said the young man. "When she bent over to pick it up, I was overcome with lust and we had sex right there on the floor."
"You understand, of course, this means you will not be welcome in our church," stated the pastor.
"That's okay," said the young man. "We're not welcome at the Wal-Mart anymore either."
In a Sunday school class I was in recently someone commented that radical Islam in flourishing in our prison systems. I guess I had heard that Islam was flourishing, but didn't realize it was the radical flavor. For example, see articles here and here. Anyway, this reminded me that the US is the country with the highest percentage of its population incarcerated.
I came across this story recently in James Montgomery Boice's The Minor Prophets. It reminded me how Dave Keim used to tell it every year to the college students at Laurel in Knoxville. Wonder if he still does.
In the 19th century there was an acrobat (Jean Francois Gravelet) who was known by the stage name Blondin because of his fair coloring. Blondin gained a reputation for himself in Europe before coming to America, and once here he gained even greater fame by walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Thereafter he was associated in everyone's mind with the Falls. He did numerous stunts on his crossings. On one occasion he pushed a wheelbarrow across. On another he paused to eat an omelet. Once or twice he carried his manager on his back. On one of these latter occasions, after he had reached the edge again, he is said to have turned to a man in the crowd and to have asked him, "Do you believe I could do that with you?"
"Of course," answered the man. "I've just seen you do it."
"Well, then, hop on," invited the acrobat. "I'll carry you across."
"Not on your life!" replied the spectator.
There was clearly a form of belief in the man's first response, but it did not result in action. What is called for spiritually is a belief that will fully commit itself to Jesus, thereby allowing Him to carry the believing one over the troubled waters of this life.
This passage caught my attention when I read it the other day:
13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. You have wearied the LORD with your words. "How have we wearied him?" you ask. By saying, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them" or "Where is the God our justice?"
What God seeks from marriages...
The intensity of God's dislike of divorce...and violence...
The God can be "wearied" by his children's words when they complain about not getting a fair shake.
The episode of One Punk Under God that I watched on Wednesday (I guess it was this week's episode) opened with Jay Bakker speaking to a church audience that is almost exclusively African-American. The crowd is enthusiastic and vocal, but then he brings up the fact that he's been criticized recently for speaking out in support of gay marriage. The room goes silent and stays that way as he continues to speak. He calls out the crowd, somewhat vaguely, for not supporting the "freedom" of others considering that their ancestors once lacked freedom. That's an unfair comparison, of course, and you can't help but feel that Bakker was playing to the camera, but regardless you have to also admit the guy has the courage of his convictions even if you don't agree (like I don't) with the basic conclusion that the homosexual lifestyle should be acceptable within the church. We also find out in this episode that the other shoe drops and Bakker's Revolution church loses its primary source of funding over Jay stand on homosexuality. The episode ends with Revolution apparently in jeopardy as Jay announces that he is leaving Atlanta to move to NY so that his wife can continue her studies. It makes me wonder if Jay had this "out" in the back of his mind when he decided to risk Revolution for the sake of speaking out about his convictions...that he might be leaving it soon any way.
Let me offer a point on which The God Delusion hits the bull's-eye, then close with two on which the book seems to land well wide of the mark. I agree with the chapter about the way religion is taught to the young. Adults who are themselves full of doubt regarding the claims of faith routinely teach biblical stories and ideas to children as facts. The God Delusion is right to denounce this. Children are "natural teleologians," Dawkins says, wanting everything to have a purpose--wanting to believe that clouds exist so flowers will get rain. Teaching them religion as if its claims about the past were undisputed exploits the child's unformed power of critical thinking, and lessens the value of any future spiritual beliefs. It's ridiculous to teach children the story of the Loaves and Fishes, or any such item, as history, though it might be. Children should be taught, "This is what scripture says about our past, and whether this true is one of the big questions of life. You must decide for yourself whether you will believe these claims."
I've heard other non-believers (like Bill Maher) make this point: that children are basically brain-washed into religion. And it's true, we do indoctrinate our children...train them from a young age and that's a good thing. And of course, there are also plenty of Christians who came to Christ as adults without the benefit of having their impressionable young minds molded. But I'm intrigued by the suggestion that, at some point, there's room for a more honest and mature conversation between parent and child where we can admit that we do have doubts...that we believe and want God to help our unbelief.
It was reported recently that the nation's largest church of Christ (Richland Hills in TX, 6400 members) has decided to add an instrumental service with communion on Saturday nights. By definition, churches of Christ don't use musical instruments in worship, right? I first heard about Richland Hill's decision via Mike Cope's blog where he re-posted an essay by Leroy Garrett. It has since been covered in The Christian Chronicle.
Rick Atchley was quoted in the Chronicle saying he "...told the congregation the decision should help ease crowding at Richland Hills' two Sunday morning services. Moreover, he said, it will allow the congregation to "reach more people who need Christ."
Frankly, the use instrumental music isn't fundamentally a big issue to me. We don't find a detailed game plan for worship in the NT like we do in the OT for a reason, I think, and arguments of exclusion don't seem adequate to me given the whole of scripture. On the other hand, about a decade or so ago, when we lived in Knoxville, a friend of ours had the habit of attending the Evangelical Free service on Sunday afternoon after attending the c of C assembly Sunday morning. We went with him once, and my observation was that I was distracted/bothered by my dislike for the style of music that accompanied the singing. Of course, acapella singing is also not a style of music for which I have an affinity, but regardless I've become accustomed to it via three and half decades of experience. So, as a matter of taste but not faith, I suspect I'd have a struggle (initially at least) with instrumental worship. And that's not to say that I have no appreciation for acapella music and the value of that tradition. In fact, I do wonder a little about the rational of adding instruments as a means to reach more people, as a missional tactic. There is probably some validity to that, but on the surface it seems like a close call as to whether becoming more like most of all the other Christian groups would lead to a wider or narrower catch in the end.
Q: Some people might say the reason there's such enthusiasm around social issues like gay marriage and abortion and pornography is that people in the evangelical church are primarily called on to condemn other people. Once you bring in issues like poverty and global warming -- and more broadly, compassion for the least among you -- obligations turn on them. There's a little guilt. Is that too cynical?
A: Not at all. Let's develop this conversation at a little deeper level. In Foreign Affairs, Walter Mead talked about the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals. We make these differentiations in our own family of believers.
Fundamentalists are always mad. They don't play well with others, and they feel tainted by any view other than the one they have. That is a pretty narrow segment, but a pretty attention-getting segment of Christianity. In terms of stereotype, that's what most people focus on when they see conservative Christianity.
By the way, I don't say fundamentalists in the pejorative sense. I believe there is a legitimate reaction to what we would see as declining moral integrity in culture.
But another reason it has been so popular is that anger is the greatest and most immediate way, not only to invoke a response and build an audience, but to raise money. We'll both be cynical here for a minute: One of the things fundamentalist churches have learned, have practiced, and continue to practice, is the best way to grow in influence and fundraising is to make people mad. And the best way to do that is to create an enemy. So from that standpoint you're right.
But from another standpoint, a much larger portion of the church really does want to be more like Jesus. And that wasn't Jesus. Jesus didn't spend his time walking around yelling at people. His concern was for the vulnerable. As I often say, unless we start to care as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as we care for the vulnerable inside the womb, we won't have a picture of who Jesus was. There's a growing number of people who want to emphasize this. They're just not the people with a lot of money, or time to be self-righteous -- there are millions of us.
A month or so ago, I got engaged in a conversation on Scott Freeman's site about nonviolence. One of the commenters (an apparently otherwise reasonable, dedicated Christian fellow) said (apparently yelling at the time)"
"I BELIEVE WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING AS CHRISTIANS ABOUT ISLAM AND THE MUSLIMS.THEIR KORAN TELLS THEM THAT THOSE WHO DO NOT AGREE WITH THEM THEN THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO KILL THEM.TODAY THERE ARE MORE THAN 6 MILLION NOW IN THE US AND OVER 2000 MOSQUE. SURAH 9:29 STATES "FIGHT THOSE WHO BELIEVE NOT IN ALLAH NOR THE LAST DAY. THEY TEACH JESUS'APOSTLES BECAME MUSLIMS. THEIR INTENT IS TO DESTROY CHRISTIANS AND IF YOU REALLY READ THE KORAN THIS IS MOST EVIDENT."
This got me kind of riled up - that the number muslims and mosques in the US is somehow evidence of an increasing threat. That in one fell swoop, the commenter lumped into one group the millions of law-abiding Muslim citizens of the US into the same category as that tiny, tiny number (remember, we're talking about people currently living in the US) of mentally-deranged jihadists who are poised to harm Christians and the population of the US in general. I wrote in response:
jihadists/Islamists are a minority of Muslims (a tiny or effectively non-existent minority in the US). It is unfair, bigoted, and counter-productive to lump all Muslims in the U.S. into the category of suspicion and threat that jihadists deserve - in the same way that it would be unfair, bigoted, and counter-productive to lump all Christians in the U.S. into the same category of danger that includes racist white-supremacist "Christians", the Olympic-park bomber Eric Rudolph associated with the Christian Identity movement, the militant Christian terrorists in Northern Ireland, etc. Lumping the 2 to 7 million Muslims living in the U.S. into the threat category harms the vast, vast majority of them who are no threat and does not help us identify the tiny, tiny minority who are.
I'm reminded of other xenophobia in the news lately like attaching significance to similarities between Obama's name and other infamous world figures or their Islamic origin (link), CNN's Glenn Beck asking a Muslim politician to prove to him that he isn't working with our enemies, and Virginia representative Virgil Goode's anti-Muslim letter to his constituents (Cenk Uygur make a good point about Goode's statement here). This came back into my mind when I listened to last weekend's installment of This American Life (episode 322, Shouting Across the Divide) (available for free as real audio on the show's web site, for free as a podcast in iTunes).
A Muslim woman persuades her husband that their family would be happier if they left the West Bank and moved to America. They do, and things are good, until September 11. After that, the elementary school their daughter goes to begins using a textbook that says Muslims want to kill Christians. This and other stories of what happens when Muslims and non-Muslims try to communicate, and misfire.
Give it a listen. The story of what happened to Serry's daughter is really disturbing and is the kind of thing that naturally arises from blanket demonization of muslims. If you are either or both of these: a) a patriot dedicated to the ideals of religious freedoms and personal rights that are foundational to our democratic republic or b) a disciple of Jesus who, therefore, values compassion and mercy and treating others with love as you would have yourself treated then surely you'll want to be careful not to do anything to contribute the kind of suffering experienced by Serry's daughter.
Updated: 2006-12-28 I'll provide more precise targets by briefly summarizing what I'm trying to say here, and anyone can specify exactly what is disagreeable and why.
1.a. There are dangerous, violent, radical muslims in the world. Some of them may be in the U.S.
2.a. Radical muslims have attacked us in recent years (for example, World Trade Center attack) and will remain a danger for the foreseeable future.
2.b. Radical Christians have attacked us in recent years (Olympic park bombing, bombing and shooting of abortion providers, maybe even the Oklahoma City bombing though I don't think McVeigh considered himself a Christian) and will remain a danger for the foreseeable future.
3.a. The vast majority of muslims in the U.S. are not violent radicals, but are law-abiding, nonviolent, are not a danger, and are not guilty by association with radical muslims whose actions they repudiate.
3.b. The vast majority of Christians in the U.S. are not violent radicals, but are law-abiding, nonviolent, are not a danger, and are not guilty by association with radical Christians whose actions they repudiate.
4.a. The number of mosques and muslims in the U.S. is not a rational measure of the threat posed by violent radical muslims.
4.b. The number of church buildings and Christians in the U.S. is not a rational measure of the threat posed by violent radical Christians.
5.a. Muslim school children should not be ridiculed and ostracized at school because of their religion (TAL 322).
5.b. Christian school children should not be ridiculed and ostracized at school because of their religion.
6.a. Muslim school children should not be proselytized for Christianity in public schools in the U.S. (TAL 322)
6.b. Christian school children should not be proselytized for Islam in public schools in the U.S.
While we're on the subject of religion on TV:
I've watched the first couple episodes (out of six total) of "One Punk, Under God" (trailer), a documentary/reality series about Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) on the Sundance Channel. The show follows Jay and (from the World of Wonder Productions web site):
â€¦his Revolution ministry in Atlanta, as he faces the struggles of putting together a new generation of Christian punk rockers.
The 6 episodes will structure around a story arc where Jay examines and tests out a chosen Biblical scripture to discuss in his weekly sermon. We follow as he wrestles with the interpretations in his daily life, and finish the episode with his final sermon, as he preaches to his church members.
The first episode introduced us to Jay and his ministry (the Revolution church meets in a bar/music venueâ€¦The Masqueradeâ€¦in Atlanta) and focused on him coming to terms with his family's history. In the second episode, he struggles with the dilemma that if he speaks out regarding his convictions about homosexuality (he seems to have concluded that homosexuality is probably acceptable and, regardless, that the way the church engages the homosexual community is wrong) his ministry risks losing the significant funding it receives from more traditional/conservative religious groups. In the end, he speaks his mind, and the second episode leaves the viewer wondering what the fall-out will beâ€¦both for Revolution and for Jay's (non-existent) relationship with his father which he's trying to rekindle.
So far I've enjoyed it. Lke God or the Girl (on A&E, I wrote a paragraph about it here) before it, it makes for entertaining viewing and is encouragingâ€¦young, interesting people earnestly trying to make a difference for Jesusâ€¦and finding a temporary home on secular TV.
There's a nice review on Slate.