Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ch ch ch ch changes...

The amount of friends singing the praises of Wordpress, combined with the frustrating Blogger commenting option, has led to me making the switch there. I also have liked the option of buying a domain and going through Wordpress, so I've done so. So for those who've followed in bits and pieces with some of my thoughts along the way, if you would link to the following address;

I'm still in the process of fiddling with things there (and likely will continue to be), but the moving has commenced!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Three men speak...

Ever since reading Resident Aliens, I've greatly respected this guy as a wise follower of Jesus.

"The modern, essentially atheistic mentality despises mystery and considers enchantment and befuddlement an affront to its democratic right to know--and then use--everything for purposes of individual fulfillment. This flattened mind loves lists, labels, solutions, sweeping propositions, and practical principles. The vast, cosmic claims of the gospel get reduced to an answer to a question that consumes contemporary North Americans, though it's hardly ever treated in Scripture: What's in it for me?"

-Will H. Willimon

In other news, it's coming. Christians better start some serious thinking right now about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We're less prepared today and more acculturated as the church than we were between persecutions in the Roman Empire.

Plus, Barack Obama shoots straight about whether he's "black enough" as a candidate to be the first black President. Scathing answer.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Art vs. Entertainment

I haven't posted anything for awhile has been busy. I'm still struggling to balance my schedule, work hard for my local church, love people, be honest with God and the folks I come into contact with about as much as possible, and struggle with issues I should be struggling with; that and dedicating myself to growing in what has become a beautiful relationship with Bethany that is better than I ever could have imagined. And that takes investment too!

Anyways, some events over the last week and half or so have come together to create some interesting thoughts in my head that hold the potential to transform some things for me, so I thought I'd write them out.

Things started a week ago when I listened to the Ryan Sharp interview from The Nick and Josh podcast, and they got into an interesting conversation about the difference between art and entertainment. I'll quote Ryan's thoughts in full on this subject...I tried to transcribe perfectly, but I know I didn't;

"I think that art can lose quite a bit of its value when it gets universalized. Most great art is great art because it exists within a certain context, so there's real meaning around the symbols that shaped the ideas. Very seldom is it artists just painting what they see; it usually comes from a series of conversations or inspirations they've had from a certain community.

Sometimes with art, whether it be a film or music or fine arts, when they go mainstream, they lose something...for example, say I'm going to watch an independent art film like Paradise Now...if I'm watching it as an art piece, I could say, "Wow, they're really flipping some things on their heads about terrorism, maybe I'll appreciate the cinematography as well or something. But if I view it as entertainment, (I might think) "Eh, it really didn't hold my attention...if they would've written it so it would've been more exciting, then I would've enjoyed it more. So there's a different relationship between entertainment and art. Too often, art is domesticated and placed under this entertainment umbrella, and when it is under that umbrella, people are able to distance themselves from it; they don't have to work through some of the issues that it's showing because it might just be too uncomfortable in the beginning and say, "Eh, yeah, I don't like what's going on here. It's not really my thing."

Basically, Ryan is addressing a culture-wide phenomenon in our country where nearly everything we do is judged by the criteria of how "entertaining" it is; and our spending habits reflect that reality. In this situation, marketers and movie producers and musicians aren't stupid, they give us what we're paying for, which is quite often "art" that is short on substance and long on persistent action and explosions and color and movement to keep us engaged and entertained. Some counter-cultural persons continue to give us movies and music, etc that is meant to draw us into the larger questios of life, but these are few and far between. We are enculturated from a young age to buy into the entertainment reality.

Just as a simple example, I'll use the movie Over the Hedge as support for this suggestion.

Over the Hedge was, by most accounts, a light, fun animated movie that follows the story of a group of forest animals who wake up from a winter-long hibernation to find themselves in a small patch of undeveloped land in the midst of a suburban subdivision that popped up overnight. Since their land to roam and gather food in is gone, the movie follows their hilarious adventures to try to find food from the suburban homes to fill up their log for their hibernation. The action keeps moving, certain characters keep the laughter going, and the animals end up banding together to have success. That's the entertainment value of Over the Hedge.

The art value of Over the Hedge came with often subtle critiques of individualism, suburban life and the whole mindset of suburban sprawl, SUV's, etc. Some deeper themes running throughout the movie include the value of family, the trouble of blind trust, the consequences of stealing, and the shallowness of much of our society's life. In one section, though, the point is slammed home very explicitly when RJ the raccoon introduces the other animals to suburban life;

One character asks, "What is that?" as they pass an SUV. RJ responds, "THAT is an SUV. Humans ride around in it because they're slowly losing their ability to walk." "Jeepers, it's big," another says, "how many humans fit in there?" And RJ remarks back, "Usually? One."

"They eat to live...these guys live to eat. Let me show you what I'm talking about. The human mouth is called a piehole. The human being is called a couch potato. That (pointing to the telephone) is the device to summon food. That (the delivery man ringing the doorbell) is one of the many voices of food. That (the door) is the portal for the passing of the food. That (the delivery man's scooter) is one of the many transportation vehicles for food. Humans bring the food, take the food, ship the food, they drive the food, they wear the food! That (match) gets the food hot, that (cooler) gets the food cold, that (the table with a family praying) is the altar where they worship food, that (alka seltzer) is what they eat when they've eaten too much food, that (treadmill) gets rid of the guilt so they can eat MORE food! Food, food, food, food, FOOD!!!!! So you think they have enough? Well, they don't! For humans, enough is NEVER enough!"

And the real kicker is in the song Ben Folds sings as the credits roll which is an adaptation of his earlier song "Rockin' the Suburbs." Check out the lyrics; biting!

But you know what the sad thing is? A vast majority of folks came out of the theater, gave the movie a one-word judgment; either "good" or "bad" (according to its entertainment value, of course), and went back to their lives that often included the very things the movie producers were critiquing without a shred of their conscience being affected. Why? Because they've been trained to exist on the surface level of the desire to be entertained and were oblivious to the deeper issues the movie placed before them.

And I know by using "them" language here it seems I am trying to exclude myself from being among that group. I am not. I write about this phenomenon because I am still deeply enmeshed in it, and have only recently become aware of how pervasive it really is in our society. It so thoroughly saturates our society that everything, and I mean everything is shifting to reflect this commitment to surface entertainment.

Governments love this, because a populace that is perpetually entertained no longer holds its leaders accountable for their actions and policies; they no longer have time nor the desire to do so; because why would someone dive into the complexity of policy making and long-term decisions (an area of frustration that requires depth of conversation and vision) when you can watch the newest Die Hard movie or stare at a female celebrity's body and sense that all is right in the universe? In fact governments can encourage this entertainment industry, especially when the movies provide simple categories of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong so that when the government labels someone as evil, the people channel some Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood to eradicate the evil infestation.

And I dare say (some of my friends will sigh at this point that I've gone here) Satan loves this move to entertainment as well. Even those who make the move to be involved in church come expecting to be entertained, and so instead of an institution that has the guts and courage to challenge the status quo, the church becomes another provider of religious goods and services for the entertainment of the individual. One quickly finds if you are in the leadership of a church in our society if your message/presentation is more or less entertaining than the act down the road by how long folks stay at your church. If they leave relatively quickly, it might be because you're unhealthy and unfaithful, but more likely it's because you're not ministering to their felt needs quite the way they'd like, and so because their "feeling" is central to their understanding of what is "right," they leave for the spot down the road or, even worse, they're so crushed by the drive to be entertained that they stay paralyzed in their LA-Z-Boy in front of their 62" plasma with 3,000 channels with a Bose surround sound system, remote in hand, and with one click of the thumb can delude themselves to think all is right in the universe; or, at the very least even if they recognize the world is F-ed up, they have neither the time nor the energy to be involved in the complexity of saving it, so they settle for the pseudo-world in front of them.

There was a book written near the beginning of the twentieth-century that prophetically saw this coming called "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. Read it. Then pick up "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neal Postman and read it. Then check out "The Saturated Self" by Kenneth Gergen and see if these suggestions about the nature of our society aren't dead on.

Then you'll find yourself where I am. Knowing the system exists, that I am compelled to battle the urge to be entertained as the goal of life, yet only sporadically engaging the fight. To be sure, it is frustrating to be able to see how deeply my life has been enmeshed in the desire to be entertained, whether we're speaking of movie after movie or song after song or book after book that keep me moving enough in my life to avoid my own hungering for something more and disquieting thoughts about how I'm living a false life vicariously through celebrities and characters in books. I am finding that the more aware I am of this impulse and the more I subject it to Christ in favor of real life, the more free I am. I can watch movies and hear them making an argument about the nature of reality and human existence much more now; I can read a book that challenges me (like Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" right now) and take some time to think about what he's saying rather than hop to another one because I want to hear something "new" and "exciting"; I am recognizing the importance of consistency in direction in life that provides a deep satisfaction (sometimes in spite of circumstances) instead of hopping from thrill to thrill to "feel good" about myself. This is recognizing the beauty and challenge of art rather than the drive to be entertained.

This awareness impacts so much, and I'll have some more thoughts on this soon, as well as another glimpse at a movie much deeper in meaning than Over the Hedge that reveals a little further my perspective on the entertainment vs. art divide.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

The cheater inches closer...

Link here.

Every time he hits a homer I throw up a little bit in my mouth. The classy move would be to retire before he soils the record with his creams and clears, but that would be asking too much from the biggest ego in sports, now wouldn't it?

Know what sickens me the most? Barry Bonds is the best baseball player in history. And he was before the steroids and HGH. His short-sighted decisions were equivalent to dumping a city's worth of poo all over his career. He didn't NEED TO CHEAT!!!! But he couldn't bear to see McGwire and Sosa the center of attention. Maybe if he respected the game....nah. Too much to ask from someone whose dad and godfather are synonymous with everything baseball used to be about. Hustle, desire, respect for the sport, and love for the game.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The most clearly laid-out reality that every movement (or revolution) must become an institution; or die

From Brian P (who I do not know), comment #7 on this site.

Before you read it, which I highly, highly recommend, I should tell you that I italicized some parts myself for emphasis, the first two quoted sections are Brian responding to the site owner, when Brian says "IC" he's referring to the "Institutional Church," and if you want some great reflections from Scot McKnight related to Barna's insights in Revolution that go beyond his more surface findings, listen to this podcast. I yield the floor to Brian;

“I’ve come to a point where I’m at peace where I am, and I enjoy being with ICers, nonIcers etc etc.”

I’m very happy for you!

” It’s just enjoying life and walking with Jesus, no labels”

Heh heh.

That works as long as it’s just you by yourself.

When it will fall apart is when you get together with your fellow Revolutionaries to do something together. Especially if they start having kids. When the blessed moment arrives, everyone in the church will be happy. But then the questions start coming:

So do we baptize the baby now, or wait until he/she is older?
If/when we baptize, do we do it by sprinkling, or by physically dunking people in water?
What exactly are we going to teach this child? Will we use a formal list of teaching points?
And of course now it’s time for Junior’s first communion. How often does that happen anyway? Once a week? Once a month? And what exactly is Junior drinking, anyway?
Wine? Grape juice? From little dixie cups or from one big communal cup?

I’m just getting started.

Think this stuff is trivial? Well, yes, yes it is. But you’re going to find that, in this and in so many other decisions, you have to make choices as to what you will and will not do together. And when you do, sure as sunrise, you’re going to have a small, offended minority who will walk out, convinced that you’ve fallen into error.

Eventually you’ve got a “way things are done”.

And after the first few times you have guest speakers come in who tear that order apart, you’re going to start making sure anyone who gets in your pulpit (or whatever) has the proper education in the way things are done, AND in the Bible. That means your own seminaries.

Until the day you wake up in about thirty or forty years with your own seminaries, your own governing structure, your own specific doctrine… and you realize that you’re a denomination in all but name. But of course you don’t call yourself a denomination. You call yourself “the community who seeks after God”.

Just like all the other denominations :). You’d be surprised at how many of them insist that they are *the* true church, usually started by rebels not much different from yourself.

And then in the second generation your kids start noticing all the flaws in the edifice you and your fellow revolutionaries have built. They make a noise, and pretty soon THEY are starting a revolution against YOU and complaining about the IC (or whatever the cool buzzword is) and how it ‘doesn’t get it’. And the cycle starts anew.

I say this, because I’m from a country that was started by just such religious movements. Ever hear of the Puritans? The word originally meant those who wanted to ‘purify’ the Church of England from what they considered it’s idolatrous practices … to make a clean church that would just follow Jesus without all the baggage. When they were run out of England, they came to America to build this ‘perfect church’ from the ground up.

The end result of that, four hundred years later, is places like Church O. How well would you say the experiment worked?

I’m not saying that a new denomination is necessarily bad. Very often, the IC *doesn’t* get it. I am banned from my parent denomination’s most prestigious university because I speak in tongues. A new denomination can very well be a move of God to prod the church *as a whole* in a new direction.

What I am saying is that what you and your fellow revolutionaries are doing has been done before many, many times in the history of the church. It can be a very good thing, as long as you don’t expect too much.

After all, what alternative do you have ? Quit associating with Christians altogether and go totally solo? That, IMO, is the biggest mistake of all.

Why? Because the fundamental lesson of Jesus is *love*. Love means learning to live with people who are very different from you. Church — revolutionary or not — is a perfect laboratory for this, because you find all kinds of rude, arrogant people whom you would otherwise have nothing to do with. Learning to function with such people in love is as good a lesson in being Christlike as anything else I can think of.


Brian P.

Gulping and sipping...

What was that? The U.S. is intervening in Iraq and not intervening in Darfur for what reason?

ht: Drew Moser

Saturday, July 14, 2007

And you thought ballplayers tuned out the crowd...

Well, maybe Manny Ramirez is an exception to the rule, but here's a fun link for you.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Let's hear the tired phrase about freedom again...

More Pics @

*Cue epic music* "Cause I'm proud to be an...."

Here's a link for your interest. Declassified documents showing the FBI's campaign to completely discredit MLK Jr. because he was upsetting the status quo too much; includes multiple illegal wiretaps. Have fun reading this bad boy.

A little excerpt; "As early as 1962, Director Hoover penned on an FBI memorandum, "King is no good." At the August 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King told the country of his dream that "all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm free at last."' The FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division described this "demagogic speech" as yet more evidence that Dr. King was "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country."

And another fun read here...illegal investigations into civilian citizens by the military over time. You get stuck on this page for very long, you might start to distrust some institutions you thought were always out to protect your "freedoms."

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