Friday, August 29, 2008

The Culture of Fear

The other day I read an article in the Christian Chronicle (a Church of Christ publication) which was a discussion between two men, one a McCain supporter and one an Obama supporter. You can read it here.

There were some very interesting points and discussion between the two men about the level of involvement a Christian should have in politics, race, terrorism, and other such subjects. One of the most striking things to me was the final comment that both men had.
What else would you say to our readers?

BOWDRE: I would just say that it’s important for us to pray and pray and pray and then vote prayerfully.

McADAMS: Think about a Supreme Court with two or three Barack Obama appointees on it.
Look, I can understand disagreeing with someone. I can understand disagreeing with principles and perspectives on issues. But when given a chance to give readers a good reason to vote for their chosen candidate and the McCain supporter goes immediately to fear, fear of an Obama administration, I just find that sadly baffling. Maybe it's an aspect of someone not being truly satisfied with McCain, but I've found that resorting to fear to achieve an end might achieve an end, but it's a hollow victory. It was used in 2004 when mailers were sent to voters claiming that the liberals would ban the Bible if elected (link). It was rumored to be used against John McCain in South Carolina by the Bush campain (link). It's not limited to political conservatives either. The whole "McSame" or "More of the Same" talk currently about McCain, could be motivated by some level of fear about Republican policies.

For instance, if someone is converted to Christianity because of a fear of Hell, what happens when the fear is gone? When we raise our children, if we use fear as a primary motivator, what affection is left when the fear is gone?

To me, motivation from fear is empty motivation. Because truly, "...God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Support whatever candidate you like, but if we have to resort to fear to convince people, maybe we should re-examine our support for that person.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

YouTube Thursday: Blue Like the DNC

Cribbing a bit from my buddy Adam, whose staying in our basement this week (and getting better and better at Guitar Hero), here is the prayer that Donald Miller author of Blue Like Jazz prayed at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night.

And here's the text of it:

"Father God,

This week, as the world looks on, help the leaders in this room create a civil dialogue about our future.

We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation.

We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy.

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Give those in this room who have power, along with those who will meet next week, the courage to work together to finally provide health care to those who don’t have any, and a living wage so families can thrive rather than struggle.

Hep us figure out how to pay teachers what they deserve and give children an equal opportunity to get a college education.

Help us figure out the balance between economic opportunity and corporate gluttony.

We have tried to solve these problems ourselves but they are still there. We need your help.

Father, will you restore our moral standing in the world.

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.

Will you give us favor and forgiveness, along with our allies around the world.

Help us be an example of humility and strength once again.

Lastly, father, unify us.

Even in our diversity help us see how much we have in common.

And unify us not just in our ideas and in our sentiments—but in our actions, as we look around and figure out something we can do to help create an America even greater than the one we have come to cherish.

God we know that you are good.

Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.

Let Him be our example.


As you might imagine, this prayer has not made many people happy: ranging from political conservatives to Reform thinkers (Calvinists). Political conservatives are decrying his promotion of liberal programs. Reform thinkers think that he downplayed the true meaning of Jesus and could have spent his time better telling people about the atonement and their own fallen nature and need for Jesus.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Dark Knight: Analysis Part 2

So, last night, Adam Ellis and I got out to see The Dark Knight in our local IMAX. First off, if you loved TDK in standard format, you will love it in IMAX. Remember what I said in my first review about the Hong Kong scene being kind of superfluous to the rest of the movie? Ok, NOW I understand why it's in there. When Batman basejumps off the skyscraper into Lao's building, it's simply jaw dropping. The whole film is just gorgeously shot and the director Chris Nolan really uses the IMAX format to the fullest.

So, after seeing the film, I naturally have a few more thoughts on it. Because I wasn't distracted with the ins and outs of the plot this time, I could really focus on the characters themselves and of course the most compelling is the Joker. Adam has read Nietzche and I haven't so I'm going to trust his point on this, but he says that the Joker is the ultimate Nietzche-an agent. An agent of chaos as the Joker refers to himself. What struck me about the Joker this time is that I was wrong about him in my first review. The stuff the Joker does isn't without purpose. It has a purpose. It's to strip away the thin veneer of civilization that he thinks we all put on our interactions with each other. The little barriers that keep us from slipping into barbarism. And he's about exposing our hypocrisy. The Joker was right in the movie that if he'd said a gangbanger was going to get shot or a truckload of soldiers was going to get blown up, we'd all simply accept that as the way of things in the world, because we HAVE accepted them as the way of the world. But when he threatened the Mayor of Gotham, people freaked out.

To me the Joker was about finding for each leader what would drive them past civilization. For Batman, he knew it was killing. And so he constantly tried to goad Batman into killing him. For Dent, he knew that Rachel was his anchor and so he took Rachel out in the most twisted way possible. Driving Dent into madness was also two fold. Not just did it drive Dent into barbarism, threatening Gordon's family, but his plan was for the rest of Gotham to find out about it too, bringing the hero that they'd all looked to down below them. The Joker's chaos had a purpose, but because we all fear chaos, it's hard to see the purpose in it. But again, the entire crux of the movie comes down to the ferries. The Joker has taken his experiment en masse and is trying now to strip the civilization from the people there, and it was there, in the ordinary people of Gotham City that he was proven wrong. In a convicted criminal, who throws the detonator out the window and even in the business man who loses his nerve, civilization and decency cannot be completely stripped away. There are limits that people have and in this case, they were still bound by that decency.

One last point: I'm not sure Dent is dead. We saw a memorial service, but never saw the body, never got a confirmation that he is dead. While the Joker won't be back (I wouldn't think), it's very possible that Dent could.

Once again, great movie. Perhaps the best of the year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


So, for the last couple of years, Kinsey has been doing dance class. She has a lot of fun doing it and also is pretty good at it.

This year, we (I) decided that we (I) would like her to play soccer. She's played baseball the last two summers and while she's had fun, she's not shown a huge amount of aptitude for it. But while she and I have been kicking the ball around the yard, she's actually been pretty good. Now, I know this is different than having someone mark you on the field.

However, what's a bit frustrating is that we found out yesterday that soccer practice is the same day as dance rehearsal, one hour later. This throws a crimp in our days and makes them very long, not including homework she has to get done. I know that extracurricular activities are not always going to be convenient and I think doing them will be good for her, but I do wish they weren't on the same day.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Saved By Grace, Judged By Works

A repost from 3 years ago (Sheesh. That's pre-Connor)

OK. This may be a long post, because I’m thinking out loud on this. This is a topic that requires some explanation of my history to understand where I’m going with this. Also, I’m really hoping for dialogue with all of my 4 readers on this, so if you see holes in my thinking or think I’m on the right track, let me know.

For most of my adult life, I have fought against a works-based salvation. Growing up in the Church of Christ and becoming very angry at that due to a couple of reasons, I decided the Church of Christ was dead wrong about having to do something to earn salvation, whether baptism or going to church or whatever. Kind of an “if saved, barely saved” ideology. I started attending a charismatic church in high school and through my first two years of college, but went to a Church of Christ college (Lipscomb) with the intent of showing all the Pharasiacal hypocrites how to be a real Christian. Ah, the folly and arrogance of youth.

Well, long story short, I learned that being Church of Christ and being spiritually minded were not mutually exclusive (Thanks Doug Varnado) and even ended up back at the church I grew up at (Otter Creek). However, my views on grace and works didn’t change and I even found people who agreed with me. We all viewed the works that we did as a response to the grace we had received, but not an obligation at any time that would earn us salvation (defined as our ticket to spend an eternity with God).

And then I start reading Brian McLaren. And rereading the Gospels and the OT prophets. And I start reading this stuff in those about what we do mattering, about what we do having eternal consequence. And my brain starts to feel twisted up. Let me explain.

Matthew 25:31 - 46 is one of Jesus’ clearest statements on judgment. He’s talking about the end of the age from chapter 24 and in this section he talks about when he (the Son of Man) comes in his glory. In this section, Jesus talks about how he’ll separate the sheep from the goats. And the basis for his judgment is NOT what these people believed, what statements of faith they ascribed to, what church they attended, what acts of worship the did or didn’t do or mixed together. The standard for his judgment is how they cared for the needy among them, the sick, the imprisoned.

And as I look through the gospels, Jesus talks very little about what people believe. He is much more concerned with what they do. Now, do I think faith is unimportant? No. I think it is, but it seems that it is less important than what I do with that faith. James said this. “Faith without works is dead.” Works are important.

As I wrote about two weeks ago, being saved by grace is great. It is a wonderful gift given by God. BUT if we don’t do something about that, we will be judged. We will be held accountable for that. When we are saved by that grace, we are all given a joyful responsibility: to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. That’s the message that Jesus preaches throughout his ministry. When the gospels talk about the good news of the Kingdom, this is it.

This also begs the question of what does judgment mean. Traditionally, I’ve thought that when I die (or if Jesus comes back before that), I’ll wake up in a big room with everyone that ever lived and because I’ve got grace, I’ll be a sheep. I’m not so sure about that anymore. I do think judgment is an important part of eternity, but (and now I’m really thinking out loud, so take this or leave it) what if judgment is eternally occurring? What if my daily walk is being judged in how I help bring about the Kingdom? That can sound scary on one hand, but on another, it’s extremely hopeful. Because what if judgment and mercy are two sides of the same coin? What if the mercy that God offers is a part of his judgment? I don’t know how all of that plays out. I don’t know what all of this means, honestly.

Here’s what I think. My job as a follower of Christ, as a disciple of Jesus, is to help bring about the Kingdom of God. I’m going to try my hardest to do that every minute of every day. I’m going to find a community that will try and do that with me. And I’m going to genuinely love (no matter how hard it is) the people I come in contact with.

I think that’s the Law and the Prophets. I think that’s the message Jesus came to bring. And the grace that we receive through his death and resurrection both empowers us and makes us responsible for that mission.

So, how off base am I? What holes do you see? What resonates with you? Looking forward to the dialogue

Thursday, August 21, 2008

YouTube Thursday: Wise Up (Remix)

This is one for the Christian music old schoolers.

I was big into Christian music in the 80s and early 90s. Huge fan of Michael W. Smith, Petra, Amy Grant, Rich Mullins and a few other more obscure groups and artists (Michael Gleason, anyone?) This was also a part of the reason I got a job at a Christian bookstore. But perhaps more about that time in my life another day.

There was a CD that came out in 1989 that were remixes of Christian songs called Adventures in the Land of Big Beats and Happy Feet, and one of the remixes was for Amy Grant's song Wise Up off her record, Unguarded. And after seconds and seconds of copious searching, I present it here for you today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Odds and Ends

Connor put pee pee in the potty last night. Yes, we're pretty excited by this. And Connor, when you're reading this 15 years from now, no, I'm not sorry I put this out on the internet for the world to read.

Kinsey has had a great first week of school. She's getting her school work done at school. This was a bit of a struggle last year, since she can tend to be a very social girl and get easily distracted. I know this isn't a shock for those of you who know her.

Also, in a bit of blatant church promotion (which I'm sure I'll do again later this week), Otter Creek is hosting its bi-annual consignment sale, organized by Amy Westerman et al. Sheryl volunteered there last night and they already have a ton of stuff. So go get good deals on clothes and toys and furniture.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Black, White, & Gray

Saturday night, I watched a bit of the Saddleback Civil forum where Barack Obama and John McCain separately answered questions posed by Pastor Rick Warren.

There were several interesting things in this. The first is the complete difference in the personalities between the two. Obama was thoughtful and nuanced in his responses, talking about his points but also acknowledging that people who claim the same God and the same Jesus can interpret things differently. McCain was straightforward and unwavering in his positions on life, on the war, and on government.

To me, this is what the crux of the entire election is going to come down to and is indicative of a shift in thinking by both Christians and nonChristians. How much nuance is allowed? People that want black and white in their thinking: right and wrong, good and evil, clearly defined; these people are going to tend toward McCain. And by the applause he received from the Saddleback audience (3 times for every 1 that Obama got, according to MSNBC), quite a few Christians will tend toward him. However, people that acknowledge that there can be gray areas in belief will tend toward Obama.

What do the American people want? In times of crisis (war, down economy, etc.), will we trend toward the straight talker or the nuancer?

Another thing that I found very interesting was the unwillingness of Obama to back down from his beliefs and convictions. Appearing in such a forum was putting him at a natural disadvantage. Obama knows that he's not going to get a lot of evangelical votes, but what this does is say, "Yes, we disagree, but if I become president, I'm not going to be a boogeyman against Christians. I'm willing to dialogue." And for the "younger evangelicals," this is a big deal. Younger Evangelicals seek conversation and discussion, especially from people with different viewpoints. And even if they don't agree on everything, they can find levels of agreement.

All in all, an interesting night that really highlighted the differences between the two candidates.

btw, there is now apparently some dispute on whether McCain knew about the questions ahead of time. He wasn't in a "cone of silence," but in his limo on the way to the church. The McCain staff says he didn't watch it.

Video interview with Rick Warren. The part about McCain and the limo starts at :55.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Back, many moons ago, when I started to write consistently on this blog, I started out writing about spiritual things. I started out writing on Fridays only and it started with just spiritual issues I was thinking about. I was reading a ton of theology back then. Almost only theology. I was reading Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, NT Wright, Lee Camp, etc, etc. I was being exposed to a lot of new ideas that were outside of my experience and I used this blog as an outlet for a lot of that and as a result got to meet new friends (both "real life" and Web friends) and engaged in some serious dialogue with people about serious issues.

For some reason though, lately, I've felt singularly uninspired about spiritual things.

I've stopped reading a lot of theology (some manner of burnout, I suppose). Church governance and organization have become less interesting to me, even with the transition that Otter Creek is going through right now. It's almost as though in the last 3 years, this focus in my life on trying to figure out what it means to live as a follower of Jesus has been like trying to drink from a firehose and I've had to recently turn it off to catch my breath.

I've been exposed to a lot of new ideas over the last few years and it's convinced me that even seeing new ways of following Christ, I have a LONG way to go. There are calls on life that Jesus makes that, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I'm a strong enough follower or have enough faith to follow. Perhaps I love this life and the things of this world too much. What I don't want is to be one of those people who sees the way things could be in my own life and then just walks away from it, but perhaps I need to be satisfied with the "baby steps" that God is helping me through and take the ones I can.

Maybe I'm more like the rich young ruler than I want to admit. Maybe I'm more satisfied with the "ease" of Christianity than difficulty of following Jesus completely and wholly.

I don't know how much I'll be writing on Fridays right now. I might stop writing for a while. Taking breaks has often been good for me at times and this might be a good time to fast for a bit.

If you're a regular reader (I'm still not quite sure why someone would be), I appreciate you walking with me in this for however long you have. I would covet anyone's prayers as I ponder these things and take a breath from pondering them.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Caption This Picture: The Equal Opportunity Edition

Caption one (or both) of these pictures! Be funny! Or, you know, mildly amusing...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Yesterday, Sheryl, Kinsey, and I went to the cemetery where some of my family is buried. We went there for a visitation for a dear saint of Otter Creek who passed away Saturday night. But while we were there, we stopped by the area where some of my family is buried.

This first one is my grandmother and grandfather, my dad's parents. I have really solid memories of them, since I was 7 and 8 when they died. They both smoked (a lot), but I always remember looking forward to going to their house (which we moved into after they died). They always sat in the same place at the old Otter Creek building and they always had Chiclets for me and my sister when we ran down to see them.

This one is my great-grandfather and -grandmother. I obviously don't remember them, except the stories that I've heard about my grandfather, mainly. He was a preacher at Otter Creek and the first one in the Granny White building. I also know that he helped found a Bible school for African-Americans here in Nashville.

It was a nice little excursion to see this and to show Kinsey a piece of our history.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kinsey's First Day: 2nd Grade

So yesterday was Kinsey's first day of 2nd grade. And as in previous years (last year), we took some pictures.

Front Porch Picture

In various stages of jumping on the porch

Organizing her desk

With her new teacher

Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 08, 2008

Sabbath Keeping

In our small group, we're reading (somewhat slowly) through the gospel of Luke. We're getting some good discussion and thinking going on, which I always enjoy.

Last week, we talked about the Sabbath keeping passage in Luke 6: 1-10
1 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

3 Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 5 Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Get up and stand in front of everyone." So he got up and stood there.

9 Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?"

10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

As I was reading it, it struck me more clearly than ever before how much like the the Pharisees we can be when it comes to our Sunday morning worship times. As I was thinking, I think I realized for one of the first times that truly, the Sabbath was not for God; it was for Israel. When you're a slave and you're given a day off every week, that's a big deal. That's a rest. The problem with it came when people like the Pharisees and teachers of the law started mandating what work was and wasn't that the Sabbath became onerous to the people. Having the Sabbath helped remind the people of God (not that they always remembered anyway), but God didn't NEED them to honor it for God to be able to function as God.

The mistake that we as Christians can make is making our worship services as restrictive. Are there aspects of things that should be done "decently and in order"? Sure, but if our times of worship become as onerous as the Sabbath became, if they become as much a hindrance to us, then we can lose focus on why we go on Sundays (or whenever).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

YouTube Thursday: Every Step You Stand By Me

About three years ago, I went through a kick where I loved mashups. For those of you unfamiliar, mashups are taking two separate songs and mixing them together to form one song. My criteria was fairly stringent. I had to know at least one of the songs and the mashup actually had to be good. Fulfilling these criteria proved more difficult to meet than I'd thought, but I found some good ones:
  • I Wanna Dance with Some Bono - U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday mashed with Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance with Somebody
  • Oops Slim Shady Did It Again - Eminem's Slim Shady mashed with Britney Spears' Oops I Did It Again
  • Booty-stitious - Destiny's Child's Bootylicious with Stevie Wonder's Superstitious
  • Owner of a Lovely Butt - Yes' Owner of a Lonely Heart with Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back
And a bad ones like the Chariots Killed the Radio Star - Vangelis' Chariots of Fire with The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star.

However, one of the best ones I found was this one which is a mash of Ben E. King's Stand By Me and the Police's stalker hit Every Breath You Take.

Still one of my favorite ones. Now, if I could just find a good mash of Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure with Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby.... Seriously.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Barack Obama Is Not the AntiChrist

On occasion, I'll listen to a midmorning conservative talk show here in Nashville. We'll call the host Mike.

Yesterday, there was an author on talking about the Obama cult of personality. And he literally said that he hasn't seen stuff like Obama's power over people since Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini. (palm to face)

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening and they played Obama's speech in Berlin and Mike would make commentary during the speech on occasion, making comments like "Is the running for president of the world?" and topping it off with "I seriously think he might be the antichrist." (Head into steering wheel)

OK look. I understand that conservatives don't like Obama because, well, they're conservatives. They accuse him of socialism and playing the race card and being an empty suit and many other things like that. And that's fine. Unfortunately it's par for the course.


When you bust out the mass murdering dictators card and when you lay down the dispensational eschatology (belief that the rise of the antichrist will bring about the rapture and Jesus' return) on a candidate, you've gone past political commentary into the realm of the unChristian. Which is important, because Mike claims to be a committed Christian who is outraged at how the "radical homosexual left" is tearing down the fabric of society and that he has to fight for conservative values. And apparently part of being a committed Christian is tearing into Barack Obama when he mentions tire gauges and the environment (I think that's in the book of First Hezekiah).

Look, I don't agree with everything Obama espouses or everything McCain talks about. I'm not even sure how much I trust how much either of them are saying, since I tend to not trust politicians when their mouths are moving. But even if I were in the sludge pit known as conservative talk radio, to compare someone to Hitler or say that they could be the antiChrist is beyond the pale. If you want to talk about a cult of personality, compare them to FDR or JFK or RWR (Ronald Wilson Reagan [wait, each of his names has 6 letters in it: 666; maybe Reagan was the antiChrist {j/k}]). If you want to say that someone is more interested in the opinions of the world than those of the United States, say that. But calling someone the antiChrist... It was mind blowing.

Besides, Obama can't be the antiChrist; his last name isn't Carpathia.

Addendum: Apparently, I'm way behind the curve on this Obama=AntiChrist thing. Check out these Google results for Obama antichrist.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wha? Huh?

Seriously, school starts next week? Where did the summer go? It feels like it was just a month ago that we were heading out on our jaunt across America but that was really 2 1/2 months ago? That's not right.

Monday, August 04, 2008

B.J. Mpofu

Yesterday, the incoming president of the World Convention (Christian - Churches of Christ - Disciples of Christ) B.J. Mpofu of Zimbabwe spoke at Otter Creek. I found it encouraging on a couple of levels.

1) That OC would be associating with a larger worldwide group of believers and followers within our own movement.

2) I think it was great for us to hear from an international perspective. One outside of our walls and even the conclave of Churches of Christ that we have here in Nashville.

If you get a chance, give it a listen here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Summer Time

I don't know why but for a lot of my life, summer time has always been a "down" time spiritually for me. Ever since high school, where the fall and spring could really include times of feeling "close" to God, summer hasn't been that way as much.

That's part of the reason why these "spiritual" posts on Friday's (a schedule I've had since I began this blog several years back) haven't been as long or as thought out as previous ones. Part of that too is because I'm not reading as much spiritual or faith based writing as I have in years past. I almost feel like I ingested so much over the last three years or so, that I almost gorged on theology and so I've taken a bit of a break from that reading and listening as well.

And maybe part of it too is that the details and minutiae of faith don't interest me right now as they have previously. Part of me just wants to say, "Just live it out. Just try to be like Jesus."

I'm sorry if these posts haven't been as thought provoking or conversation stimulating as they might have been in the past. Perhaps they will be again soon.
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