Thursday, May 31, 2012

House Votes Down Ban on Gender-Based Abortion

          Supposedly, a bill that would ban abortion based on gender, got voted down today in the House of Representatives. I don't know if the bill's victorious opposition has something else in mind in the future to address the issue, but, regardless of political stake, we need to continue to pray for wisdom for our leaders and act in love, grace and support to those considering a visit to the abortion clinic. 
          Meanwhile, I'm still trying to understand some things. Namely, if gender-based abortion is legal, and abortion and infanticide are blurring into the same level of moral questionability, then why would documentaries like It's A Girl! be remotely disheartening?    

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Communication Ethics for the Church?

          An obvious example of "unethical" communication is your typical Abercrombie & Fitch store. Why does a store that sells clothes have so many pictures of models with so few clothes on? Because they're not advertising the functionality or appearance of the clothes, but the public image and intangible attractiveness that supposedly comes with the clothes. One only ought to offer what they're certainly guaranteed to provide.
          But do churches, Christian organizations or individuals do that? Sometimes.
          For example, I once stumbled upon a copy of the Amplified Bible. I have no problem with the concept and purpose of the Amplified Bible. It's actually been one of my sources for corny jokes (e.g. "Turn your Bible down! It's too loud!"). However, the Amplified Bible shouldn't be toted to give the "full meaning" behind the original languages. More meaning? Sure. But scholars have been searching for the full meaning behind the original languages since the ancient manuscripts and it hasn't quite been found yet.
          What are your thoughts? Do you know of any ways we, as a Church and as individuals, can improve our communication ethics?        

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Contemporary Advice to Christian Graduates: Shelve Your Dreams, Serve Others for Jesus

          I remember my high school graduation ceremony. It took place in our Iowa town’s little indoor stadium. I was happy to, for the first time, not be seated in the concert band and have to continually repeat the last half of “Pomp and Circumstance” for 15 minutes. But I was, however, required to sing a cheesy song in the choir with all the other seniors. It was an attempted tearjerker tune that thanked teachers/parents for all their work and encouraged graduates to go and live their dreams.
          An energized and now-qualified pursuit of individual dreams (mostly including the American Dream) has been the dominant theme in graduation ceremonies. But, last spring, a New York Times editorial attempted to dethrone it. Due to the economic climate and impoverishment our country is facing, it seemingly argues that high school graduates ought to think even more selflessly. They ought to spend less time and money learning and fulfilling their own desires (vocational, educational, etc.) and more time involved serving communities in some way. Simply put,  shelve the American dream, see a need and fill it.
          This was his advice last year, but it’s still relevant, as I’ve been reading subsequent articles about the growth of jobless college graduates and doubts of the necessity of a bachelor’s degree. So, as the high school graduates (of the next decade or so) try to navigate the economic climate, it could be that the theme of graduation ceremonies might trend a bit from fulfilling individual dreams to fulfilling others’ needs.
          But the latter should always be the dominant theme, at any stage in life, for someone striving to be like Jesus Christ.
          When we look at the New Testament’s Church, each Christian was his/her own lifestyle missionary, and evangelism and discipleship weren’t left only to the leaders and the seemingly gifted. Everyone brought in their whole paycheck (no matter the size) so that no fellow Christian would be in need. They spoke and lived charitably against abortion, gladiatorial barbarism, racism, and on behalf of oppressed women. They never retaliated persecution, and lived exemplary lives of virtue, discipline, Truth and love. 
          The Church was their first family. Their earthly family, friends (and enemies) and co-workers were now their “mission field.” Their purpose was now the Gospel, and their hope was in the promise of Heaven. All dreams of vocational fulfillment and earthly prosperity, while still sought (and sometimes maintained) could only be a distant second.
          Graduates, as you enter your independence, you can certainly pursue vocational skills to your liking. But, as followers of Christ, you have a more sacrificial but glorious purpose. I hope you realize that earlier in your life than when I did. If you’re moving to a new region, don’t just find a church. Be a part of a church family.
          This hurting world needs Christ, and He needs to you to help spread His grace, Truth and love.     

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

          Below is the video we showed in our church yesterday for Memorial Day. Thanks to all who have served or are serving!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Fun: The Ol' Fashioned Church Sign

          Found this on the blog of a former mentor from Iowa. Of course you can make your own church sign online these days. It's a test of a church's communicability. Some sign messages are purposefully punny, while others just do announcements. Others fail miserably.        
          This one, I thought, is funny. At least to those familiar with true snowfall.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Wife On Stress

          Shameless plug. Don't know how many of you know this, but my wife, Christina, is a popular blogger who has gone to conferences and been asked to post for a few organizations. She just came back from a "early pregnancy" leave, and is starting a little series on stress.
          I think, especially in ministry and parenting, that knowing what stresses you and how you (and your body) handle stress is one of the top priorities in helpful and practical self-knowledge. It's a journey that she and I are both currently undertaking and we recommend you take it too.

          "Anxiety and stress have unfortunately been a constant companion in my life. I know all too well how to live in survival mode without really being able to enjoy my life. I never want to go back to the unhealthy pattern I was in. I had to sit down and think through what is actually making me the most stressed." 

          You can read the rest of the first entry here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gungor, the Concept Album and Worship

          A colleague of mine from a church plant in the East Coast posted an article by the creative Christian singer/songwriter, Michael Gungor (who I still have yet to get to know), about how the "concept album" can save worship music.

          "I don’t think most Christians today give much thought to the overarching stories that form not only what we claim to believe but how we live in the world. So, we wanted to try to be more intentional about the larger context of the individual songs. We wanted to move away from the more typical pop Christian method of trying to create the best short, inspirational sound bites we could, and instead try to create an experience that immersed the listener into a cohesive narrative of some kind."

          You can read the rest here.
          From my rock band years, I do remember the term "concept album." Gungor has some very good points, but they seem only applicable to the "listening" worshipers. If Gungor's good ideas want to be applied to the "sing-along" worshipers in a Sunday morning setting, there'd likely need to be some compromise on song time-length. And songs would need to be singable by the common congregant. (The latter compromise was actually a charge by Wyclif, who rightfully thought the complex, challenging and melismatic choral works of the Renaissance were a bit too hard for a born-again peasant to sing).
          Thoughts? Is/should your church's worship (be) a story or a sound byte? Something inbetween? 

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Tebowing" Included in Madden '13

          According to the creative director, there will be Tebowing in Madden '13, the up-and-coming entry in the popular series of football video games. I'm curious if anyone will object unless there's some type of of nod to other religious beliefs as well.
          It is interesting, though, that there's will be a button you can press in a video game to make your controlled digital image of a football player, of all things, pray. Tebow's arguably made a bigger splash with this than when he appeared on the cover of NCAA Football '11.
          Madden '13 will be released in August of this year. We may learn before then who and when can do the CGI "Tebowing."

Contribute to Crossway Books?

          I thought I'd help spread the word about a matching grant opportunity for Crossway Books. They're a publisher of books by Wayne Grudem and Duane Litfin, and their office is right across from where I hopped onto the Metra to Chicago as a kid. Please consider supporting them!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Fun: Thank You Music Videos

          Some churches have creatively made music videos to thank their volunteers. Here's one from a friend at a church in Fargo. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Toast to Adoption

          Adoption is, perhaps, one of the most symbolic yet underrated ministries of all time. Last night my wife and I watched a documentary on the hundreds of thousands of infant girls in China who face abandonment or death due to the one-child policy and the cultural preference for boys. (As a sidenote, we need to pray for the churches in China as they deal with the one-child policy’s effects, such as sex slavery). This documentary also included footage of American husbands and wives waiting to meet their newly adopted Chinese daughters for the first time. The reporter called it “the most emotional workday of her life.”
          For those who see God as their Father, the footage should be powerful, because that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did for us. He rescued us, helpless and mismatched as we were to Him, from a dangerous and tragic future. He took us under His roof, declared us as His family, giving us loving and gracious provisions, all the while working to redeem our heritage from its faults.
          I am very proud of the disproportionate amount of initiative my church family has taken into the ministry of adoption. For a church our size, we have many couples that have adopted kids or are hip-deep and passionately into the process of adopting a young child in need. Some from Russia. Others from Haiti, Africa or China. Some of them have written journal articles or even created blogging spaces just for this journey. If you’re interested (and with their permission), I can connect you with the links.
          In the meantime, I’d like to raise a toast to the ministry of adoption. Please pray for all those called thereof. Whether it’s adopting a child in need or raising your biological children in a gracious and edifying manner, this is how we help reject the global injustices against to children and follow one of Jesus’s surprising charges to his disciples.    
         Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Matthew 19:14

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Freud's Last Session in Chicago

          I was at an exhibit about the life of the late and great C.S. Lewis recently, and noticed a small flyer, informing that the play "Freud's Last Session" was coming to Chicago.
          Along with "Screwtape Letters" (with the popular Bible orator Max McLean) and some of The Chronicles of Narnia being made into film, one could argue that C.S. Lewis, almost 50 years after his death, is making more of a splash into the media and the stage.
         Granted, C.S. Lewis's works (and most likely "Freud's Last Session") are not explicitly didactic and they may not contain an altar call, but they are quite edifying thoughts and I'm happy they're finding their way to more ears.
          Let me know if you want to do a road trip to Chicago to see the show. I'm totally half-serious.    

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Special Personal Announcement, pt. 2!

So . . . the picture should say it all.
          I'm very pleased to have, as Tom Wilson would say, another member of my family with which to cover myself in steer blood and chant in the corner of a majority female-populated house. My wife will likely blog about this tomorrow at MommaDayByDay. Might want to check it out.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Visual Art Ministry in Philadelphia

          I had the opportunity to visit my alma mater this past weekend, and they were promoting a form of visual art ministry currently taking place in Philadelphia. Known and sometimes chuckled at by its Greek origins as "the city of brotherly love," there are now displays of Scriptural love all across the city.

          From the artist:
          "For this project I lined up square panels of reclaimed scrap wood, each with a letter cut out like a stencil, spelling out the text quoted above. In some places, long stretches of the text were visible. In other places, passers-by only saw a word, a phrase, or a sentence or two. The text was repeated along an approximately six-mile journey starting in North Philadelphia and ending on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania."

          You can read more about it and see photos here. It's a creative way to bring Scripture into the public square.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Skit Guys' New Mothers Day Video

          Below is the Skit Guys' new Mothers Day video. Enjoy, and Happy Mothers Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Fun: The Vikings' Happy Future Home

artist's rendering of new Vikings stadium for 2016,
found on Minnesota Public Radio
          I've diverged from theology, worship and culture on this blog on occasion and written twice before about the Minnesota Vikings' stadium situation and the possibility of them moving to Los Angeles. I'm thrilled to continue this subject in a Friday Fun post, because the issue is over.
          That's right. The Vikings are staying in Minnesota, and my fanhood is no longer up for free agency.
          I still remember when I got to have the best experience any Midwesterner could have: I went to a Vikings playoff game in January of 2009. The cyborg Adrian Peterson scored two touchdowns, and the panoramic image of the purple and gold warriors on the field was better than any HD TV could do. But I noticed a pamphlet for Minnesota Momentum, warning that the lease on the Metrodome would be up in 2012. I did notice the inside of the Metrodome was particularly small and run-down, and here I was (with a lot of other Vikings fans) taking the bus to my cars parked at the Mall of America.
          During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, we were all distracted by glory and Favre drama to worry about the stadium situation. The issue came front and center in January 2011, and I thought I'd have to be patient and that it'd be settled by May of 2011. Then Minnesota's government shut down. Then opposition and complications arose within the government. A lot of highs and lows happened for the next year.
          "Honey, would you really want to raise our daughters as Bears fans?" my supportive wife asked. (Becoming Packers fans is a non-starter). "I don't think I really like Jay Cutler." I would have been happy to become a Bears fan, but my Vikings fanhood predates my Chicago roots.
          But yesterday, the government approved partial (minority) funding of a $975 million for a stadium on the site of the Metrodome with more parking. This stadium can (and will) also host a lot more than Vikings games (e.g. high school championships, Final Four, Super Bowls, etc.).  
          It's so wonderful that the Minnesota Vikings are better-equipped to be the most charitable and overall best NFL team around. So, to all Packer fans, Bear fans and Lion fans (even the bandwagon-ers), rest assured that the good ol' NFC North and its rivalries are here to stay.
          And, to those of you who are disappointed, what's also remaining intact is the Vikings' record of 18 NFC North division titles. Sorry. Well, not really.
          So yeah, I'm happy. This sports-related euphoria overshadows the Bulls' and Blackhawks' early exits from the this years' playoffs, the Sox's and Cubs' current inability to maintain a winning record, and the idea that the Hawkeyes might have missed the window to the Rose Bowl. Really, I'm good.      

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Truth, Beauty and an Introduction to Kitsch

          When it comes to Truth, I am an absolutist. I believe that all Truth is found or derived from a proper reading of the exhortations, stories, wisdom and values of the Bible. But when it comes to art, I am a pluralist. I believe that there is more than one type of “good” art and that there’s more than one way to evaluate it.
          Enter kitsch. Understandably, it’s not a commonly-known word. Its definition is “something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste,” (according to Random House).
          So kitsch is not just defined by its creator, but by its recipient. Whether it’s a certain medium, socio-political or philosophical stance, or any singular aspect to a work of art, it’s all recipients want, even to the point where real Truth and beauty may not even matter anymore. Kitsch is something that both Christians and non-Christians can and do, unfortunately, subscribe to.
          We can often find kitsch in cliche slogans, bumper stickers, and all over “shared” images of “life lessons,” petitions and agendas on Facebook. We hear words of kitsch spoken on talk shows and in some sermons that are more so pop psychology or tradition-oriented than Scripture. We find kitsch written in books on an equal shelf in bookstores (both Christian and Barnes & Noble) as the good stuff of Truth and beauty. And then there’s music, where it’s all about what sells.
          Kitsch is a threat to truth/Truth, because truth/Truth is mostly boring or painful, but never popular. Kitsch is a threat to beauty, because creativity, innovation and originality don’t always sell. Currently, it helps to oversimplify complicated socio-political and theological issues, discouraging wisdom and grace and encouraging anti-intellectualism and prejudice. There’s no longer productive conversation and debate, but only cheap (and sometimes crude) witticisms and fights on Twitter.
          As Christians (and others, too!), let’s not rely on kitsch, no matter how agreeable and inspiring it may be. Let’s set Scripture as the source and standard for truth/Truth, and let’s strive to appreciate the beauty of creativity of and for the Creator. In doing so, we can wise and gracious bearers of Truth and beauty.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Video on How NOT to Worship

          Interestingly enough, sometimes it helps the strive toward vision, discipleship and even unity to witness a good example of what not to do. What is in your head and heart when you worship? Enjoy this video? 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Half-Defense of Millennials and the Underestimation of Personal Pieties

          A friend of mine posted a recent article from The Atlantic by an author and psychology professor named Jean Twenge who argues, with some statistics, that millennials aren’t the good-willed and charming hipsters that many (to her seeming frustration) make them to be.
          You can read the full story here.
          Twenge starts off the article by illustrating the extreme differences of opinion and statistical interpretation on millennials. She then starts to debunk the positive literature by pointing out that their authors did not compare their findings (only in some cases) with previous generations (but . . . where did the “rise” come from, then?). Twenge uses the next few paragraphs to confidently introduce her studies and an overview of her studies: Millennials are me-centered. Now, I imagine there’s a spectrum between unhealthful selflessness and severe egoism, but not to Twenge. 
          It’s the next paragraph that Twenge, I think, misinterprets and misapplies some data. She concludes, for example, that since there’s, seemingly, little-to-no civic/political engagement by millennials, they must not care about social problems and aren’t the freedom fighters that Generation We claimed. Does she realize that a) Generation We was released during/after the historical 2008 election, and 2) social problems can be combatted outside of civic/political involvement (e.g. the increased volunteering that she keeps downplaying)?
          With a few more paragraphs of interpreting data that, naturally, would land millennials in the middle of the aforementioned spectrum when it comes to environmentalism and charitable employment, Twenge continues to attack the supportive authors of books on millennials and question their approach.
          The penultimate paragraph is where Twenge’s argument is the weakest. She states that the book Millennials Rising is correct about the decline of “teen pregnancy, early sexual intercourse, alcohol abuse and youth crime” in millennials, but she believes those issues are “tangential” in their contribution to society. Seriously? A generation that strives for sexual monogamy, alcoholic sobriety and general lawfulness won’t affect anything at all?   
          Twenge concludes the article by admitting that she has been asked why she has such a “negative” view of young people, but she tries to shift potential ire and blame to the facts and says that understanding the words of millennials (namely, I imagine, the answers on surveys) is how we understand culture. 
          Myself, I’m an older millennial (the type that didn’t grow up with the internet and smartphones) and a product of public education. I’m not going to argue that my generation is a group of Good Samaritans or political freedom fighters about to change the world.
          But, when it comes to evaluating an entire generation, it isn’t as simple as Twenge makes it to be. She attempted to measure intangibles, she seemed to miss other factors and cultural changes between generations (e.g. the impact of technology, mass media and globalization), and she underestimated the surprising cultural impact of so-called personal pieties. I wouldn’t call millennials Generation “Me” or “We.” Or any one-word description.