A Dovetailed Life

The things that interest us weave us together to create who we are.

Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean That We Always Should

Mayor Bloomberg wants to outlaw large containers for soda and sugary drinks.

The Libertarians come crying out, “The government shouldn't be able to tell us what we can and can't have! This is America!” When I tell people that I think this is a good idea, they cry to me about how crazy I am. “You're going to let the government tell me what I can and can't do? Because of your lack of self control?”

Yes. Because drinking large quantities of soda is bad for you and I learned the bad habit because it was available to me, anywhere and everywhere, and I took advantage of it. And I've fought my body ever since.

Just because we can (either in our minds or legally) drink 40 oz. sodas, doesn't mean that it's a good idea. Nothing good comes from that.

James Holmes was arraigned today on multiple counts of murder.

He shot 70 people with a high powered assault rifle that costs a little over $1,000 and can be bought, legally, in a store and picked up with a short background check within the hour. He bought 6,000 rounds of ammo on Amazon. It was legal for him to own the gun and to buyt that ammo. He could do that.

We, as Americans, can own weapons that allow us to defend against ourselves. We can do this, legally. But, does that mean that we should?

Today, the NCAA handed down unprecedented sanctions upon the Penn State football program.

Sandusky was accused, JoePa was fired and then died, Sandusky was convicted, anyone else powerful at Penn State University who had any connection was also fired, the Freeh report came out and made the situation appear even worse than we all feared, they removed the JoePa statue, and the program's reputation that had once been legendary was ruined, not simply tarnished. Joe made a huge mistake that cost him everything. Jerry made several huge mistakes that cost him everything. Spanier made a huge mistake that cost him everything. And together, with a few others, they cost the university's football program everything.

Today it got worse. The NCAA had the power, because of their system, setup, power, influence, and total control over anything college sports related to do what they did. They had the complete ability to flex their muscles. They had the ability to make an example out of a once untouchable football program. And they did.

But just because you can, should you?

(I'll forego the argument for the sake of this post that the NCAA completely stepped out of the way of due process, allowing the almighty Emmert to personally intervene, unlike anything he has done with programs that violated specific NCAA regulations…**grunt grunt** UNC **grunt grunt**. I'll also forego the argument that this is a criminal act and therefore is left for the legal system, not the silly constantly over reaching NCAA)

Did the NCAA need to come down this harsh, effectively killing this program for an entire generation? Was this necessary?

Many say, “Yes! Child molestation and the covering of it up is atrocius and unacceptable!” Those people are right. Child rape and molestation is unacceptable. Those who cover it up for the sake of a program are in some ways just as guilty as those who committed the atrocities, too. This is unacceptable.

But, should the NCAA destroy the future of the program, making it effectively impossible to recruit for, simply because it can? No. Should it make an example out of a group that has already through the court system and the media been made an example out of? Again, I don't think so.

When we drink 40 oz sodas, we must ask ourselves, what good does it do?

When we buy assault rifles, we must ask ourselves, what good does it do?

When we enforce unbelieveable penalites on people who had nothing to do with an atrocity, we must ask ourselves, what good does it do?

What's hoped to be accomplished? Show the world child rape is wrong? We're already there, guys. We get that. Show the world how powerful you are? The good in that is questionable. Make a change so that this doesn't happen again? Maybe, but in order to make that believable you're going to need to articulate your process for how in a very convincing way.

If the NCAA hadn't done anything, they'd been looked at as weaklings. But they needed to flex their muscles…to show the world that they're actually paying attention and that they are the almighty voice to which programs must listen or else all the benefits from having an athletic program might be lost.

What's the good in that? Little. What do I think they should have done? They should have invested in figuring out ways from preventing this from happening again (the $60M fine is the one sanction I can understand). They should have done investigations into all programs. They should have helped Penn State football recover from such a devastation. They should have sent the message in another, healthier, better way. In a way that brings good, rather than stabbing in the dark hoping that good would be found somewhere.

They could flex their muscles. But should they? Not unless they can clearly articulate the good that will come from this.

I shouldn't drink 40 oz. sodas, even though I can. I shouldn't buy an assault rifle, even though I can. I shouldn't flex my muscles even though I can either.

Because, in all things, I must ask myself, “Can I clearly articulate the good that will come from this? Can I point directly to the good that the world will see from this?”

Otherwise, it's useless punishment and an example. And that's not good enough.

-B

True Freedom and Its Costs

Early yesterday morning, shortly after midnight, the freedom that a young man (younger than I am) named James Holmes had to own an assault rifle, legally, cost 12 people (maybe more) their lives. It cost 12 families their loved ones and it cost the world 12 individuals who could have made it a better place.

James Holmes was free to own the weapons that he used to shoot those 71 people yesterday. He legally purchased those guns, all that ammunition, and likely anything that he used to booby trap his apartment which he knew he would never return to.

James was free, like you and I. He had a right, a freedom, to own those guns.

Interestingly enough, that freedom that James enjoyed was paid for by the lives of soldiers who fought courageously both here in the States and abroad so that no one would take away that freedom. People lost loved ones in war, terrorist attacks, and random acts of violence, all because we were fighting to maintain our freedom. Simply put: we must defend ourselves in order to keep our freedom.

This concept isn't new. We know this. In order for us to have freedom, we must defend our freedom. But it does get more complicated.

Last night I asked a still-unanswered question via the wonderful world of social media and it went something like this: Is there any reason that non-military or non-police citizens should be allowed to own a semi-automatic rifle? I didn't phrase the question well, and I was unsure of what verbs to use, but I think the message was semi-clear: what good, honorable reason would there be for someone to own a weapon like James used in Aurora? Should it be legal to own a weapon that can do that much damage?

Of course, as many of my posts do, it sparked controversy. Americans are only as free as they can defend themselves to be! People attack us? We must fight back! We are only as free as we can assure ourselves that we are. Otherwise, those attacking us impending on our freedom have every opportunity to take away our freedom, which makes it so that we aren't truly free.

I should be clear: I think this is a giant load of crap.

If we define freedom in this way then we are saying that freedom only comes from the way in which we defend ourselves.

Friends, this isn't freedom. This is fear.

I'd invite you to take a step back and look at what this freedom has brought us: countless wars ending with much of the world hating our arrogance, machines in airports that send radiation into our bodies, racism, patent wars, and undying greed.

I have family members that carry a pistol wherever they go. The idea is that if anyone were to attack our family, they'd have a way to defend themselves. Again, I ask, is this freedom? Can we truly enjoy such a “freedom” if we are always concerned with who might be following us, ready to attack us? What is it that this freedom truly gives us?

Perhaps the question really is: what is the point of such a freedom? What is this freedom all about anyway? Is freedom the right to bear arms? Is freedom the right to say whatever we want, even if it is harmful? Is freedom the right to put up a fence so that the neighbor can't see me mowing the lawn? Is freedom the chance to eat BBQ, drink beer, and party with fireworks?

This, to me, doesn't sound like real freedom. It doesnt sound like a culture ready and willing to make this world a better place. It doesn't sound like a culture who cares about one another. No, this freedom sounds like a culture in which online bullying meets crazy heights and encourages suicide. This freedom sounds like a culture that encourages the defense of religion rather than the religion itself. This freedom sounds like a culture that has at least one mass shooting a year. This freedom sounds like a culture that is so obsessed with the work of the individual that it encourages such an individual to refuse to recognize the assistance they've received that led to their success.

In short: this freedom sounds like it delivers a worse product and costs more. It costs us the lives of soldiers overseas. It costs us the lives of moviegoers in a theater. It costs us a dying reputation. And what do we get? A degraded culture who cares nothing about what we should care about.

I sense a very different freedom in Christ. Christ assures us, because of his death and resurrection that the chains that once bound us through sin are broken forever. This freedom, true freedom, allows us to live into the people we have been made to be. This freedom, true freedom, allows us to recognize the gifts and graces of one another. This freedom, true freedom, inspires us to live as one with the peace that only Christ can give us. This freedom, true freedom, gives us life and life abundantly. The other freedom results in death; this freedom, true freedom, results in resurrection.

And the best part: the price for this freedom has been paid. The sacrifice has been given, by the very one who gives us life! It costs us nothing but the willingness to follow in the steps of the one who said “Come, follow me.”

Many may say, “Wrong! This freedom costs us everyday. It costs us because the life of discipleship is one of martyrdom. It costs us because of the persecution of the world.” AHA! The world wants us to buy into its version of freedom. But we must not. It wants us to pay the cost (and many many before us have). But we must not. Even if we are persecuted on this earth, we know that true freedom of being forgiven for our brokenness is still had. That price has been paid.

This freedom is not concerned with our rights as individuals, it is concerned with our holiness. It is concerned with who God wants us to be. It has nothing to do with our individualistic rights, it has to do with our calling.

In America, for some silly reason, we have been defining freedom in terms of the right to defend ourselves and right to do what we want. That freedom has a poor outcome and costs a lot. And that doesn't end well. It ends with dead bodies on the floor. It ends up with bloodied theater seats.

If only we would desire true freedom.

-B

 

We remember the lives of those who were shot in Aurora yesterday morning. May God's hand of comfort be on their souls and their family members. May God's comforting and guiding hand help this nation to recover from such a tragedy, and guide the world toward true freedom, for which the price has already been paid. We are a broken people. Let us remember that we are also a forgiven people.

 

Contemporary Worship Music: Unintentional Ecumenism

ec·u·men·i·cal

adjective

1. general; universal.
2. pertaining to the whole Christian church.
3. promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world.
4. of or pertaining to a movement (ecumenical movement), especially among Protestant groups since the 1800s, aimedat achieving universal Christian unity and church unionthrough international interdenominational organizations thatcooperate on matters of mutual concern.
5. interreligious or interdenominational: an ecumenicalmarriage.

In the United Methodist Church, we have a hymnal.  Every 20 years or so another one pops up, with great new hymns,  great old hymns, and…unfortunately…some of the same old, really bad hymns.  The church is trying to be ‘progressive’ (whatever that means), so we have seen little books like ‘The Faith We Sing’ and ‘Worship and Song’ pop up as well.  These are the technologically limited offerings aimed at keeping up with the rapid rate of song creation in the Church these days.  ‘Worship and Song,’ printed last year, has only now included “How Great is Our God” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart” (Open the Eyes of My Heart was written in 1997, How Great is Our God in 2004).

When I purchased my copy of ‘Worship and Song’ at Cokesbury, the sales associate told me that this was the “first expandable hymnal!”  I asked her how the binding to the book played a role in its expandability and she gave me the scrunched-nose face. Technologically, these books have been limited.

Interestingly enough, in some Christian circles, this technological barrier has played a huge role in keeping the churches singing the same songs they’ve been singing for ages. In others, they have ignored the technological implications completely.  Many Christians are growing up in church environments (that alone is something to celebrate) and do not realize that Christians used to sing songs out of books that they held in their hands instead of on screens (I’ll let you decide whether or not that is something to celebrate).

Long story short: music in the Church is rapidly changing.  Some people are changing it, some are avoiding it.  Others, like the United Methodist Church in large part, avoided it for 20 years or so and are just now trying to catch up. The last category of churches feel a little like RIM and Nokia do now when it comes to smart phones:  late to the game inevitably will hurt, no matter your customer loyalty.

Not long ago I presented a hymnal to a student of mine on which her name was imprinted.  I said to her, “These are the songs of our tradition.” Ever since that moment, I’ve been thinking about what I meant by that statement.  Did I mean that these are the ONLY songs of our tradition?  Did I mean that these are the songs our of tradition and OUR TRADITION alone?  What is it that I meant?  Does that make the songs outside of our hymnal NOT part of our tradition?

In seminary we talk a lot about the music we sing being formative for the Christian journey.  We sing songs pertinent to the liturgical context we are in, usually having something to do with the morning’s message.  We pride ourselves: the hymns we sing aren’t, and shouldn’t be, fluff.

In fact, the United Methodist Church has something going for it here.  Charles Wesley, brother to John Wesley and co-founder of the Methodist movement in England, wrote hundreds of poems.  As the search for a ‘Wesleyan’ identity is set before us in the UMC, a return to Charles’s lyrics are usually appreciated.  Whenever I bring the topic up in UMC circles, eyes light up.  “Yes! That’s the way it should be!” they seem to say.  Methodism was blessed from its beginnings with theologically based hymns and Methodists far and wide don’t want to lose that.

This isn’t the whole story though.  We sing songs every Sunday in Methodist Churches that were written by non-Methodist writers. Heck, we sing songs in church on Sundays that were written by the Gaithers.  We sing songs written by Calvinist predestinarians.  We sing all kinds of music in the UMC, no matter how much we pride ourselves in being ‘Wesleyan.’

I was thinking about all of this, trying to put these pieces together in my head, so that I could sort out the proper course of action. Then I had this thought: We’re not seeing this hangup with many who are writing music for the masses today.

No, in fact, these hangups of being strictly ‘Wesleyan’ don’t matter to many.  The people who are constantly writing new, exciting, progressive, worship music are largely from non-denominational churches. These churches usually have some sort of vague mission statement and clearly defining themselves is not something they do!  The popular people writing music these days for the ‘contemporary worship’ setting are largely tied to movements.  Is Hillsong a movement or a church?  Yes.  Is Passion a movement or a church?  Yes.  What do these movements do? A little bit of everything.  Many of these groups don’t even use the word “church.” Being sticklers for quality, theologically sound music is simply not a priority.  They want music that is exciting and engaging, and the lyrical composition can be what it is.

The question then becomes: is the work coming out of these ‘movements’ unifying the church at all?  In other words, if those producing material are not hung up on staying true to their founders, are they free to write music that spans across denominational barriers? Are these songs acting, whether intended for it or not, as a form of ecumenism?

These songs, those written within the past 20 years for ‘contemporary’ worship environments are criticized all the time for being too “simplistic” or “shallow” in their theology. But it occurs to me that this  very criticism might actually be what makes these songs work across the barriers.  Charles Wesley wrote songs that were deeply explicit in their lyrics, calling out church heretics, heretical leanings, and teachings that were against his views of Christianity.  He even, from time to time, called out people by name.

We simply aren’t seeing this in today’s music.  We’re singing statements about loving Jesus, about Jesus rising from the dead, and Jesus saving us.  While they might still be criticized for aligning themselves with Jesus and little else of the Trinity, these are overarching statements that don’t necessarily apply to any specific denomination or tradition.

It seems to me that it is BECAUSE of the more universal nature of the lyrics within recent songwriting that these songs are becoming forms of ecumenism.  These songs are popular, easy to sing (choruses and refrains repeat constantly) and when played well, tug at the emotions of those singing them.  In a sense, these songs are unifying the church.  These songs are played in Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, and most prominently in non-denominational churches far and wide.

So, are they unifying? Yeah, I guess, in a way they are.  These songs are being sung all over, much like hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” “It Is Well” and “Come Thou Fount” were before.  Generalized lyrics and easy to sing melodies.  They surpass and tear down walls of division that have been placed there by theological and political arguments for 2000 years. To me, it’s an interesting phenomenon.

See, the technological barriers of printing books has kept many denominations and generations infused with the idea that if it’s not in our hymnal, it’s no good.  This has allowed for boards and agencies to curate the contents of our singing, too.  But, these groups that work past those technological barriers (we don’t print books anymore), are able to stretch beyond that. And, because of that freedom, they’ve explored new realms of communal singing.

The interesting question is, what if true, studied theologians had done this rather than the guy down the street who played guitar?  Would that have changed the outcome?  Could we have had a more universal set of songs that were ALSO theologically grounded?  I don’t think so.  I think the “shallowness” of much of what we see set to worship music today should get credit for helping me attend a non-denominational service and know the music.

Contemporary worship style gets a lot of crap for the way in which it exists. All I’m saying is that its music (one of the biggest reasons it has been successful) deserves a look. A critique, too, perhaps.  But, definitely, a look.

Just some random thoughts.

-B

Ann Curry Leaves TODAY, With Nothing But Grace

Im not sure if I can explain it, or should, but I love the Today Show. Ever since I went to New York for the first time in 1998(1997?…can’t remember exactly) and stood outside Rockefeller center, The Today Show has been my go-to morning show. In fact, I can’t even stand the other morning shows.

Part of my fandom with TODAY is that I think Matt Lauer is easily one of the best reporters in the business. He can be hard on top celebrities, he can be funny, and he seems to have the best personality for a person in that seat. He’s an anchor with a soul who talks to you and reports like there are no cameras. He’s smooth, he’s clear, he’s jovial, and he’s practiced. That’s a perfect anchor.

Another part of my fandom with the show has to do with the second time (out of 2) that I was in the Today Show audience. It was June 26th, 2009. How do I remember? Because as we stood outside Studio 1A, the producers told us that there would be a very different broadcast that day. Michael Jackson had died. I only saw Matt that day, and that was through panes of glass. Al did his segments inside (as did Ann) and Meredith was live in Los Angeles.

I’ll also never forget being in 2nd period band in 9th grade, and an administrator coming into the classroom to tell us that the country was in a state of emergency and that 2 planes had hit the Twin Towers in New York. We put our instruments away and turned on the classroom TV…to TODAY. I remember Matt and Katie’s voices on that day and I’ve even been known to replay that broadcast via YouTube from time to time. How does a news anchor cover a story like that? The way they did.

When I was in the crowd at the Today Show in the late 90s, my aunt and uncle made up signs to hold, like many do. One of the signs said something along the lines of, “I eat breakfast with Katie, Matt, Al, and Ann.” Ann was so thrilled that her name had made the sign that she kissed it and signed it. It was amazing. I remember her being so, so very kind.

I guess I didn’t follow it enough to know the drama that occured when Ann was passed up for the anchor position after Katie left. But it was clear when Meredith left that this was something Ann had always wanted to do.

Ann is phenomenal human. She goes overseas as a reporter when others won’t. She cries on camera and is even unafraid to make ghastly, embarassing mistakes. She asks pointed questions at times when it’s needed. She flubs over and over again.

She’s very real.

And I think that makes her a phenomenal reporter. She somehow manages to break all the rules of journalism while still drawing you in with her deep smile and heart for the individual. She worked brilliantly as the news reporter in studio for so many years and every assignment went on left the world in tears.

About 8 months or so ago (a few months after she got the job), I started to notice her flubs more often. And these were little. Before, whe was known to walk into a camera shot not paying attention. She was known to share too much to the viewing audience. But I started to notice that she was having problems reading the teleprompter. She had never been real great at it, but the way she covered before had worked at the news desk, and it didn’t seem to feel right at the anchor desk.

Something just didn’t fit. She didn’t have the smoothness of Lauer. It started to bug me. I liked Meredith, but I like Katie better. I liked Ann a lot, but not at the anchor desk. Sigh.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Today, on TODAY, Ann Curry left her position as co-anchor. It was an odd departure but had been rumored for some time as Good Morning America had rivaled the Today Show’s ratings. Ratings, in TV, seem to be the end all be all and one can only imagine that Ann’s tenure at the anchor desk wasn’t helping TODAY garner any more interest. When people are defecting to a competitor, you have to do all that’s in your power to regain control. Over the past week, that’s what NBC News has done.

The good news is that Ann has a new job. Sort of. It seems unclear exactly what that job will entail and look like on a day to day basis, but I hope we see more of the reporting that we were used to from Ann Curry. I appreciate her humanitarian work, reporting on those who have no voices, calling all viewers to see the worlds of other people and to offer their hearts to them much like Ann has given her heart to them.

In the end, Ann wasn’t the right choice for the anchor position. It was her dream job and for that she was able to hold it for just over a year. Sometimes, though, we aren’t fit to do what we do and we must nuance our dreams to work in the best way possible. Hopefully Ann will see this new position as a way to live out her dream.

Personally, I wish Ann the best of luck. I can’t wait to see her on camera again. She’s been a bit frustrating over the past year, but now that she’s gone, I’m truly going to miss her.

When Conan left NBC, he drug their name, reputation, and money through the mud. He was so angry over the way that he was treated that he used his last month at the show to show NBC just how much power he had. When Ann left the Today Show, it what seemed to be a very similar situation, she was as kind as he has ever been. Her grace, in the midst of what must be a gut wrenching time, is remarkable.

She is a role model among role models and I hope we continue to have more of her influence in our lives. As Matt said this morning, “She has the best heart in the business.”

So very, very true.

-B

We Ought To Have Compassion For Jerry Sandusky

I watched the news yesterday, like most of America: 45 out of 48 counts…guilty.

He was held for sexual misconduct with minors, child rape, and several other counts that make us turn our heads and cry. As the trial began, I wanted to give him the most hope I could, but after some time it became more and more evident: Jerry was guilty. The defense attorney said it was an ‘uphill battle.’ I’ve never heard such an understatement.

I wrote on twitter (and therefore Facebook) yesterday that I have a problem when I hear people say “he got what he deserved.” I excepted, though, child molestation. Something seems so graphic, perverse, and utterly wrong about it. When it comes to child molestation, I tend to think that those criminals should get all that they deserve.

What does Jerry deserve? As at 68 year old man, he’s going to get the rest of his life in prison. He was taken into custody following yesterday’s proceedings. He will never spend another night in bed with his wife. He will never see the life of a free man again. The world is over for Jerry Sandusky. He won’t even have much of an opportunity to right his wrongs.

I could tell that this news was well received because as the final decision by the jury became public, the crowd outside the courthouse steps screamed and cheered. They were ecstatic that this serial molester/rapist was finally going to ‘get what he deserved.’ They cheered the prosecuting attorney as she spoke to the crowd and booed the defense attorney when he even hinted at the idea of an appeal.

Jerry is going to, according to the world, ‘get what he deserves.’

Unfortunately today I spent the greater part of the afternoon watching YouTube clips of Westboro Baptist Church. As many of you know, WBC uses their voice to scream fire and damnation to all ‘fags’ and ‘fag-enablers.’ Mostly, if you don’t go to their church, you fall into one of those two camps for them. Within every clip they said, ‘fags are gonna get what they deserve…because they don’t listen to the Lord their God.’ For WBC, being gay deserves damnation in hell forever. If you are gay, you will get what you deserve when you spend eternity in hell, according to Westboro Baptist Church.

Of course, the thing Westboro Baptist is missing is compassion. They have none. They will explain to you (I’ve asked them) that what they’re doing is ‘love.’ They love gay people more than anyone else, according to them, because they want gays to turn from their ‘evil’ ways. Their love, though, is for some sort of works-righteousness where one could earn eternity in heaven simply by not being gay. That’s how they define ‘love’…like, hey, if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t tell you about how bad it is to be gay. Therefore, I love you. That’s not really love.

This seems a worldly, and not Christlike, response. You do something that is ‘despicable’ (in the case of homosexuality, we are remarkably disagreed…with child rape, we are not) in our eyes. Therefore, you shall be punished. According to WBC, for the gay it is hell. According the world, for Jerry it’s prison for life…and a shamed life.

How shall the Church separate itself from the world?

The world says to Jerry, a sick sick man, “You are going to get what you deserve.” The Church, though, needs to say to him, “What you did is wrong, but we love you. And yes, that means more than telling you that you get what you deserve…it means seeing the part of you that God is within. it means having compassion for the part of you that is broken, like we all are.”

Jerry will spend the rest of his life in prison. And, according to this world, he should.

But the Church will have to take the step beyond that. A step to see Jerry as a person, a human. Perhaps a very sick man, but a man just the same. That compassion for those who have wronged us, those who do despicable things, those that are misfits in society is the type of compassion I see Jesus preaching and practicing within the Scriptures. We are to follow what Jesus did. That’s who we are. That’s our calling.

We ought to have compassion for Jerry Sandusky. That’s how we, the Church, stand apart from the world.

-B

“Not that”: An Observation of ‘Contemporary Worship’

The more and more people that I speak with that are at least remotely involved with church life, the more questions come up about my opinion and experience with ‘contemporary worship.’   They like to pick my brain, ask my preference, and get a sense for how I feel like worship in the church ought to be.  Yes, they often have their own preconceived responses and notions regarding the style of music used within the Church.

The questions range. “What do you think young people are into?” “Don’t you think ‘traditional’ worship is a turn off for young people?” “Don’t you think contemporary worship is too hoaky these days?” “Is it possible to plant a church that only uses traditional worship?” “Does Chris Tomlin every write any good songs?” “Don’t you think hymns are just boring?” “What’s the purpose of the flashy lights? To try to be something we aren’t?” “Aren’t choirs outdated?”

Contemporary worship, though, is the newcomer in this game.  In many ways, it has to prove itself.  Somewhere around 50 years ago or so, the Beatles invaded America, forever changing pop music and rock and roll. This, along with the decline of mainline church membership in the United States sparked new ideas.  People left the mainline denominations to be ‘non-denominational’ in an effort to do church differently.  That was the goal: do church differently.  Maybe then, perhaps, people might think about coming back.  If we just aren’t ‘that,’ maybe they’ll be more likely to come back.

In a sense, then, Contemporary Worship (with a common low-key liturgy and more culturally-relevant music) became “Not That” worship.  See that stuff the Methodists are doing?  We aren’t that.  We’re cool.  We’re hip.  We’re reaching out to young people.  We are meeting you where you are.  You can wear jeans to our church.  That’s the way we are.

This type of church is the church that I was born into.  We still were a part of the big Baptist church downtown, but we were open to those who had never been to church before.  We didn’t have cryptic creeds.  We didn’t have strange liturgy.  We watched movie clips and played slide shows.  We had drama. Our pastor preached from behind a music stand rather than a pulpit.  I was born into a church that was trying to make church relevant to a society that it wasn’t relevant to.  What we did, in the early 90’s, was to be “not that.”  For peope too intimidated or scared to attend traditional worship, we were “not that.”  We called ourselves the “Seeker Service” so that those who were ‘seeking’ could find a place to feel at home.  Too intimidated by the choir robes and organ?  We aren’t that.

So, if this is true, and it was truly meeting a need, why aren’t all churches like that now?  Why are there young adults begging to go back to the traditional services? Why are large portions of people leaving NOT ONLY the mainline denominations, but also the nondenominational churches?  If being ‘not that’ was supposed to save the church, why are we drowning more than ever before?

I’ll tell you why.  We stopped.

It isn’t 1995 anymore. What was hip and cool then is not hip and cool now. What drew people in because it wasn’t ‘that’ then, pushes people away now.  ‘Contemporary’ has become a way of saying ‘not that’ and it has done so in a permanent sense.  This is why so many ‘contemporary’ services feel hoaky.  This is why many young people want to return to traditional worship.  This is why when you hear about contemporary worship, you ask yourself if it is emergent or ‘contemporary.’   Oddly, those leading the traditional services never went out of their way to reach the young people and different generations; it’s very much a “take it or leave it” situation.  Some choose, for many reasons, to take it. Many, sadly, are choosing to leave it.

‘Contemporary’ was great when it needed to be. But it is stuck now.  Sure, churches like Hillsong and movements like Passion are successful, but by and large ‘contemporary’ music in many (especially mainline) churches is simply stuck.

‘Contemporary’ has to move forward. ‘Contemporary’ has to continue to be what it’s high and lofty goal was (an environment that allows those on the outside access to the inside) instead of what its not-so-just goal was (‘not that’).  It has to be as innovative as it once saw itself being.  It has to live into its title.

In order for us to justify our worship style, no matter how it exists, we need to be able to articulate it in a way that explands the Kingdom.  Otherwise, it has little reason for being. This is true for traditional worship.  This is true for ‘contemporary’ worship.  Our worship should be creative.  Our worship should be innovative.  Our worship should remind of of who we are.  Our worship should define who we are.  Our worship should convey to those within it that the Church is thriving, moving, changing, and growing disciples. Our worship should be, of course, worship…reflecting the God who breathes life to the people.

We cant have ‘not that’ from either side.  We need quality, strong, theologically sound worship in both environments (and perhaps more to come).  That’s when it finally becomes quality worship and we can **finally** get out of the way.

-B

One Thing My Wife Has Taught Me, So Far.

Three years ago today, I said “I will” instead of “I do.”

Since then, Allison and I have lived in residence housing, changed career paths, moved states, found new jobs, gone from a 900 sq ft apartment to a 200 sq foot apartment, both enrolled in graduate school in two different cities on two different campuses, one of us lived on a dairy free and gluten free diet, bought three iPads and five iPhones, had money and not had money, one of us has graduated from graduate school, and we’ve made the difficult decision to live 9 hours by car and 2 hours by plane away from each other in the coming year. Exciting opportunities, difficult decision.

Because we begin this next year, and because today happened to be our anniversary, I asked Allison if I could blog about what this marriage has meant to me recently. She said as long as I didn’t say bad stuff (are there bad things to say?) it was okay.

Marriage has been one of the greatest things one could ask for. It has been everything I thought it would be and much that I wasn’t expecting. We’ve learned how to make decisions together, be completely and utterly honest with each other, discuss fairness, and truly understand how one is the extension of the other. This is why I write today. Allison has taught me many things throughout our marriage, I thought it’d be nice to reflect on just one of them.

As we have been married, Allison has made a career change. She’s now committed herself to working in the life of college students on college campuses, trying to make a difference in both organizations and individuals, Throughout my time observing her intern at Florida Southern and then work and be a student here at NC State, I’ve been able to observe the difference she makes in the lives of her students. She understands something that is crucial for someone in the life of student affairs at the collegiate level: the college experience is about relationships.

When we first moved to Raleigh, I was working at a church outside of Raleigh, leading the music for worship at a new church plant. It was an enriching experience with both highs and lows. I got to know a lot of people and I grew both as a musician and music director. I was new to the game and young and had some incredible mentors along the way. But, I still thought of the experience as a strategic one. What were we going to do to grow this church? What did we have to do to attract people to this church?

Then, this year, I began work as an intern for the Duke Wesley Fellowship. One of the first things I noticed about this group was the fact that they loved each other. They loved being around each other. They were active on campus and loved the true sense of fellowship. It struck me: this ministry wasn’t about strategic moves…this ministry was about relationships.

I think that it was about this time that I began to notice this in Allison’s work. She talked on the phone with students. She went to lunch with them. She helped them through their struggles, encouraged them, and as necessary, held them accountable to the work they promised they’d accomplish and yet failed to accomplish. She was not only an advisor to them, she was a mentor. This struck me, and it began to be the way that I saw my work with Duke Wesley. Those men’s small group times when only two people showed up? They were worth the time. That time when I happened upon a student struggling with the workload? Worth the time I took and the assignment I put on the back burner.

Over the past year I haven’t been able to observe Allison work as much as I’d hoped to. But, the short times that I did, the impression that she made on her students astonished me. She truly cares for her students. She makes their college experience about them, and how best they can experience it. She encourages them to put into college what they want to get out. She puts a deep amount of energy into getting to know her students and it shows.

Next year, she’ll be continuing her work in another state, back at our alma mater. We will talk over FaceTime, Skype, text, phone, and hopefully a little face to face. As little as I was able to observe her work these past few years, it will be even less in this coming year. But, I’ve already learned a huge lesson from her that I’m sure to carry with me as I finish up my last year in Seminary, with my RAs, and with Duke Wesley: the college experience is about the formation of the college student. This time in the life of the student is one of the most formative times the student will ever have. As someone employed by the university working one on one with students, your job is to make that as smooth and effective as possible.

I only hope I can hold a candle to the work Allison has done. I always want to see her as an extension of me and me as an extension of her throughout the rest of our lives. I hope that I can be that extension of her in the Triangle when she heads back to Florida. I hope I can care for my students as much as she cares for hers.

Allison, I love you. It’s been a great three years together and I can’t wait for the rest of our lives.

 

-B

Little Eddie Munster Was Quite The Bully

By now you’ve heard the story about the guy who accused Romney of bullying him in high school. Some people even used that clever little picture of Eddie Munster which they *swore* was Mitt as a child. I still don’t believe that it was.

Anyway, Mitt was accused of some pretty bad stuff…for a high schooler. Yes, friends, Mitt was not the rich, holy Mormon man that he now is. Well, he was rich. In any case, color us all shocked.

You see, this is well placed for the accuser. It’s got the gay political momentum at a time when Obama came out supporting gay marriage and Romney spoke at Liberty University (a school that teaches that Mormonism is a cult) and got a standing ovation for ’defending’ the ’sanctity’ of heterosexual marriage. Washington Post, we salute you for your impeccable timing.

Like any good politician though, Mitt came out and ’apologized’ last week.
He said,

I don’t remember that incident and I’ll tell you I certainly don’t believe that I–I can’t speak for other people of course–thought the fellow was homosexual,” Romney said. “That was the furthest thing from my mind back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, if I did stupid things, why I’m afraid I got to say sorry for it.

Romney didn’t really apologize. Like any good politician, his ’apology’ was little more than a political move to remove the media’s attention toward him.

Here’s the thing. I think he made the wrong move. The issues that will occur this political season are: the economy, gay marriage, jobs, gay marriage, the economy, gay marriage, and maybe a little medical marijuana. And oh yeah, there might be some attention given to bullying.

But bullying, as we understand it, characterizes us. No one is surprised that rich 17-year-old Eddie Munster, err…Romney was a privileged child. No one is surprised that Eddie, err…Mitt led a group at beating him up. Mitt as a bully is, well, a bully.

Surely Mitt has to realize that bullying is a problem. Surely Mitt has to realize that his involvement in this incident paints a picture, a very certain kind of picture. Surely Mitt understands this.

So, why not just admit it? Why not say “You know, I did a lot of stupid things and this was one of them. I remember this incident and for it I am deeply, deeply sorry. Bullying (no matter the reason) is a troublesome thing and is tearing our youth apart. If one cannot trust their classmates, who can they trust? I was part of the problem. Now I want to be a part of the solution. Bullying is wrong and it was wrong for me to do what I did. I am deeply sorry for contributing to the immense problem bullying is having on this world. I want the world to know that as President of the United States, I’ll do anything I can to fix it.”

Does this mean that Mitt doesn’t understand the issue? Does this mean that Mitt doesn’t understand the critical nature of the issue? Does this mean that Mitt heard ’gay’ before he heard ’bully’?

In fact this story DOES say something of Mitt’s character. Or, at the very least, his attention. I want to like Mitt, but I think he’s going to have to do something to step down to our level if he’s to be a good President.

Not just in money, not just in justice. He’s going to have to realize…in all fullness…what it is like to be a normal American.

Obama preaches to the normal Americans. Mitt doesn’t. That’s deeply problematic for the Republican party this election period.

-B

Thoughts on Bullying

The fearful always preyed upon your confidence.
Did they see the consequence? They pushed you around.
The arrogant build kingdoms made of the different ones,
Breaking them til they’ve become just another crown.
-Lifehouse

You may have caught the recent news about the death of Tori Swoape, yet another teenager who committed suicide because of school and online bullying. It’s sad, sad news.

Bullying is a difficult problem in today’s world. We hear the arguments left and right that because of the advent of social media, we are empowering each other to say things one might not have said face to face. Aspects of a changing cultural scene play into another one, making the issue of self esteem and bullying a more complex one that ever before.

My heart is saddened by these stories of bullying. My heart aches for the children who literally think there is no other way out of their difficult situations. I struggle a lot with the concept of bullying, mostly though because I’m convinced its been around for ages. Bullying, as I see it, is not a new thing.

Bullying, as I see it, is no more than a power play. Bullying is not about being cool or lame, smart or dumb, black or white, gay or straight, fat or skinny, or any other way that we distinguish ourselves from some other person. Bullying is simply a play of power in an effort to attain more. It is an attempt to use whatever assets I have to make you feel worse about yours.

It is an effort to draw upon the emotions of others using the skills, talents, and resources at your disposal in order for yourself to be made higher. Bullying is simply power at work.

Isn’t our entire society shaped around bullying? Isn’t the goal of American society to win over someone else? Isn’t the goal to be the most powerful? Isn’t that the reason that we continue to have one of the strongest militaries in the world? Hasn’t the history of the world involved strong senses of nationalism and power?

The opportunity to surrender before entire annihilation in war is an example of this. The reason one might wave their flag of surrender is because they’ve been intimidated enough to the point that they can now acknowledge that they cannot win. They cannot go on. The other military has then used their resources to convince you and your military that it is weaker, insufficient, and likely to lose. Resources used to intimidate so that surrender happens and the fight for power is over.

It’s no different on the schoolyard. A girl can call another girl a ‘slut’ because she knows it is a degrading word that others will associate with her enemy. If the term catches on, the girl will no longer be the cool girl anymore, she’ll be the ‘slut.’ When the population turns against you, your own acknowledgment of who you are changes. Your confidence is lost. The power is removed from you.

The same is true of the current rush of gay children committing suicide because of bullying. They’re just a normal kid until those who are against them use some sort resource (language, popularity, Scripture) against them so that they draw upon an emotional reaction.

Once someone has lost confidence in who they are, they’ve forfeited all power. And that power is left for the taking.

I see the attention that the media, social media, and school systems are giving to bullying as more than just an acknowledgment that bullying is wrong and must be stopped. In a very real and tangible way it is an acknowledgment that something is wrong with how we live together. Something always has been wrong with the way we have been.

Nevertheless, bullying is our history. If we believe in a cause, we march for it. We stop traffic. We boycott. We sing hymns to stop meetings. We use our resources to beat down those with power to get our side heard. We can and do (both rightly and not rightly) paint it with the brush of ‘justice’ but we bully…back and forth, left and right. When we use our resources to force even something as worthy inclusiveness and fairness, we are simply using the same tactics on others that were used against us.

I’d wager that some disagree, but I don’t read Jesus as having used resources to draw emptional responses in order to win power. He took the authority that God gave him as his guiding light. With that, he was unwilling to submit to a power play. I’d encourage you to study his trial before his execution to see what I mean. It was (and is) I am very sure, a different way of looking at the world.

As we continue as a society, the trick is to remove the power. The trick is to remove ourselves from a world where power is at stake. We must remove ourselves, perhaps humbling ourselves to death…even death on a cross…because we are unwilling to give into the need for power in this world. If we could approach our disputes as people from an attitude of humility, surely some sort of attitude worthy of God would prevail.

If anything, the attention being given to bullying is bigger than it perhaps realizes it is: it’s an acknowledgment that something has to change on a large scale or we are to suffer the devastation of centuries past. Worse, it’s likely going against God’s will.

We cannot continue fighting violence with violence. We cannot continue to fight bullying with bullying. We’ve got to change society’s understanding of power. Hopefully, that will end the battle. Hopefully, that in turn, will end the suicides.

-B

 

North Carolina’s Amendment One: What’s God Got to Do With It?

I spent the last two weeks with WAAAAYYY too many United Methodists. Throughout the weeks, those who supported the church removing its statement, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” wore colored stoles to show their support. The church attempted to reconcile the hurt it has caused to its gay and lesbian members but was unsuccessful at passing legislation that would help mend the wounds. The church then, in a vote of 61% – 39% voted to keep the language currently in its Book of Discipline. When the vote to remove the ‘incompatible’ language failed, many who support gay and lesbian full acceptance in the church marched onto the floor and refused to leave until the bishops negotiated with them.

Then I came back to North Carolina.

Amendment One has been all over the news here and throughout the country and those voting to defeat the amendment have been adamant about placing signage in their yards. Honestly, with all the promotion I’ve seen against the amendment, I didn’t think it had a chance at passing.

News flash: Bryant underestimates the conservatism in North Carolina.

The best part of any breaking news story in 2012 is the mass amount of Facebook and Twitter trolling that occurs. When Bin Laden was killed, my news feed was split. When Obama cancelled NASA efforts, one would have thought they were calling for his resignation. The same was true today when I watched Amendment One pass with flying colors. Whoa.

My favorite argument: “This is God’s plan. This is how God wants it to be.

GOD’S PLAN?!? WHAT DOES God HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THIS? Last time I checked, America was based on personal liberties, the right to not be under some sort of monarchical rule, and the right to not be told what religion to practice.

Friends, as I see it, America gave up on God A LONG TIME AGO. In America we care about free enterprise. We care about wealthy citizens. We care about the American Dream. We care little about the poor. And we, historically, have cared even less about the marginalized. Remember, we are a country that has based people’s worth on the color of their skin. We have even based THEIR PRICE on the color of the skin and the calluses on their hands.

America doesn’t care about what God wants. America only cares about what America wants.

Which leads me to a strange place with Amendment One. The majority ruled that they wanted marriage to be defined as between a man and a woman today in North Carolina. Fine. That’s the way it goes. We live in a democracy where everyone has a right to their own opinion.

BUT PLEASE, OH PLEASE, DON’T BRING God INTO THIS! We gave up on the Almighty a long, long time ago. America was written under the paradigm of personal liberties and rights. And, somehow, we have been about taking away those rights and liberties ever since. It’s a strange place to be in. Something tells me, too, that if those voting for Amendment One had taken God out of the picture completely, this vote would have been incredibly different.

See, the Church has a right to decide how it feels on the subject of Sin. It has a right to attempt to define it based on its own Biblical principles and historical teaching. It can do whatever it pleases and it’s allowed to use God because she made it in the first place.

But, for America, no.

God’s will has little to do with whether a gay man has a right to his partner’s body and life insurance after his untimely death. God’s will has little to do with whether a lesbian is allowed to know where in the military her partner is stationed. God’s will has little to do with gay and lesbian rights in America.

Us Christians are living somewhat of a dual citizenship and our witness is being hurt by the way we throw one into the other so often.

-B

 

I use the term ‘America’ in substitution for the ‘United States’ simply because it seems to me to be a bit more pejorative. You’re welcome.

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