Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fun: Superman vs. Batman

Superman and Batman were so excited when they heard they were going to be in a movie together. Here's what happened the next time they had coffee together.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Telemarketers and the Blind Spots of Grace

I had just graduated from my high school and was excited to go to the college of my dreams in three months. So, it was time to find a summer job. I stumbled over a classified ad in the newspaper (remember those?) with openings for over-the-phone sales representative positions, but, in my haste and excitement in getting an interview, I didn’t yet realize the concise (and maybe a bit over-simplified) term for my new potential job. I was going to be a telemarketer.

“We don’t cold call,” my supervisors kept emphasizing all throughout training. Our call center served a few client organizations, all of whom had lists of people to call who already had connections and associations with said organizations. We weren’t picking random phone numbers or citizens to call, so, technically, we weren’t “cold calling.” Therefore, the chances of ending up on the phone with an angry and insulting person were supposedly decreased. 

But said connections and associations were sometimes very loose. Just because you’re an alumnus of a large state university or the member of a diocese doesn’t mean you’d be thrilled to get a call from a complete stranger. Many calls were tough to handle. Some of them I can’t re-type the hard-to-forget and insulting words here. I did enjoy taking surveys on behalf of colleges for high school upperclassmen, (that way, in their parents’ eyes, I quickly got promoted from “scum of the earth” to “hope for their kids‘ future”), but this was my emotionally-draining life, five days a week, that summer.

I wanted to quit. Almost everyday. Badly. My parents encouraged me to stick it out for the summer. That job paid for all my college supplies and the experience on my resume helped me quickly land a lucrative on-campus job at my Christian school, calling alumni, updating info and fundraising. Surely, when calling alumni of a Christian school, my chances of ending up on the phone with an angry and insulting person are further decreased, right? Thankfully, with my now alma mater, I’m proud to say yes. But with the Christians in general? Not so much.

The thing is that I’ve written and spoken to various pockets of Christian communities in my travels before about the idea of being gracious to telemarketers. I speak of my own experience, and about how telemarketers aren’t all sadistic dinner-interrupters that get paid high commission and have a lot of power over their own employment. Telemarketers are just trying to make a living until the internet and other forms of automation take over. Otherwise, why would they keep a job that’s so hated by pretty much everyone? When I speak about this, there’s never been a  response that showed any hint of a remotely changed heart. In fact, it usually just turns into a sharing time of funny prank stories and other “hilarious” or horrible exchanges with those “annoying” and “mean” telemarketers.

As Christians, we worship and follow a man who took gracious and conversational initiative with annoying and even very offensive people: beggars and cripples that disrupt the sight of beautiful and holy buildings with their peddling, demon-possessed boys that disturb the peace, tax collectors that have impoverished families with their greed, Roman officers who represented the current oppression, outspoken crazy zealots and lowly Samaritans. The list goes on, yet we can’t show any grace to a single soul who called at a “bad time”? (Admit it. There is no “good time” to talk to a telemarketer). That doesn’t seem right.

So what should we do when a telemarketer calls? As a pastor and a former telemarketer, I’m certainly not advocating you need to buy anything they sell. What grace looks like in these circumstances is quite simple.

First, don’t hang up or pull some type of prank. Not only because it’s rude, but because the telemarketer will call back eventually, as you ended the call on what the telemarketing agency could only determine as a note of uncertainty. They never heard a “yes” or “no.” Second, decline their offer gracefully. They don’t run the business they’re calling for, so they likely have nothing to do with whatever disappoints you with the business (or even with the fact that they’re calling you). Just let them know you appreciate the offer, but you’ll have to decline. If you want, you can then nicely ask them to take you off whatever circulating “call list” your name is on. (Also, there’s a lot of telemarketer-blocking technology out there for you to employ, so you’ll eventually run out of excuses).

That’s it. Seriously, that’s all it takes to make a working telemarketer’s job a bit easier. Any type of encouragement (non-financial, mind you) would make their day.

Telemarketers are one of many blind spots of grace for Christians. We stand out when it comes to our theological views, political stances and cultural practices. But what about when it comes to how we treat our serving waitresses, cops who pull us over, customer service representatives, drivers who ignore the speed limit, and a host of other people who disagree with us, are “under us” or even wrong us? We tend to act like just a normal, depraved self-centered human. And that’s not right.

I was blessed in my years as a grocery bagger, cashier, telemarketer, waiter, coffeemaker and window-washer (most of the jobs I've had) to have occasional customers (sometimes Christian, sometimes not) who were gracious and encouraging to me on what was sometimes a truly emotionally-draining and even depressing day on the job. I was even handed encouraging Christmas cards, saying Jesus loved me. I can tell you that such grace and encouragement goes a long way with people that don’t remotely expect it, and even lends opportunity for fellowship and evangelism.

Let’s stand out by bringing grace and encouragement to the blind spots. You’d be surprised at what could happen.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Has Dr. King's "Dream" Come True?

From Ed Stetzer:

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. We know the familiar refrain from his speech delivered 50 years ago today in Washington D.C.
The speech lives in American lore like few others. If there were a Mount Rushmore of speeches, it would likely join Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, FDR's speech to Congress after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and JFK's inauguration speech as the most heralded and familiar in American history.
But has the dream come true?
We have an African American President. We've had African-American cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices, Oscar winners, Nobel Peace Prize winners, star athletes, astronauts, and titans of business. These positions were likely pipe dreams for those participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on that historic day 50 years ago.
For many, Dr. King's dream has come true.
Unfortunately for many more, the dream has not come true.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Weeping for Miley Cyrus

Here is a meditation from Trevin Wax on what was, sadly, the most emotionally-invested event of our country yesterday, more so than the massacres in Syria, the unrest in Egypt, the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the wildfires in Yosemite, etc.

It's a gracious and almost compassionate post. And as a father of two young daughters (4 and 3 years old), this article struck a few chords.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Was "The Legend of Zelda" a Christian Game?

I might be a hopeless, nostalgic Nintendo boy when it comes to video games. I prefer Mario to Master Chief, and Tecmo Bowl to Madden. Turns out that one of my fellow video-gaming seminary alumni is co-running a blog and co-writing a book on the integration of faith and video games called It's Not Just a Game.

They recently wrote about Link, from The Legend of Zelda (I never really got into RPG's) as Nintendo's possible first Christian hero (even before Bible Adventures?).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Fun: Denzel Washington's Guarantees

I like Denzel Washington, and I think he's a good actor. But maybe one of his future film directors should forbid him from saying the word "guarantee," just for one movie. You know, to mix things up . . .

Thursday, August 22, 2013

De-Swaggered Christian Cultural Influence

Here are some very wise words from John Piper's recent blog post. A surprisingly old blog post, but very applicable thoughts nonetheless.

"The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don’t own culture, and we don’t rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and long-suffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Preview of Gungor's New Album

Gungor, the creative neo-folk band based in central Wisconsin, is releasing a new album late September as they begin an intercontinental tour. You can catch a preview of its title song "I Am Mountain" here and pre-order it on iTunes. "I Am Mountain" involves more surprising and pleasant jingles than their popular "The Earth is Yours," as well as strings, synth pop, toms and even seemingly tribal melismatic chant. If the rest of the album as half as creative as this song, we could be in for a real treat.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tip at Your Top After-Church Restaurants

Here is the list of top restaurants for churchgoers' Sunday lunches. I haven't ever regularly gone out to eat for Sunday lunch, but I found some surprises on the list.

You're entitled to your own favorite restaurant on this list, as long as you take time to be Christ-like to the restaurant staff and the other customers. Sometimes, Christians are known as the impersonal cliquish patrons who bombard restaurants for Sunday lunches and don't tip.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Fun: Prayers God Doesn't Answer

From Jon Acuff:

1. Prayers to beat Candy Crush levels.

2. Prayers that Chipotle will stop charging for chips.

3. Prayers for a part 2 of Newsies.

4. Prayers that the person you cut off on the way to church doesn't attend your church too.

5. Prayers that the queso won't run out.

Click here for his explanations. Any you want to add?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Things I Learned From Not Seeing "The Book of Mormon"

Let me make something clear. I haven’t seen Stone/Parker’s “The Book of Mormon,” nor do I intend to. I’ve never enjoyed a full episode of their popular animated sitcom South Park. I know I stand out from at least some of my peers on this, but I’m just not into forms of raunchy profane humor (with a touch of gory slapstick on the side) that’s not printable in mainstream newspapers. It’s just not my thing. 

But I’ve been curious about the faith-culture ramifications and reception regarding “The Book of Mormon,” a multiple-Tony-awarded musical from the creators of South Park. I read the plot synopsis (don't plan on and wouldn’t recommend seeing the show) and have tried to follow its reception. I recently noticed the ads plastered all over Chicago’s buses, and as soon as they’re finished there, they’ll hit the road for the play’s second national tour.

The plot focuses on a couple of aspiring Mormon missionaries from Utah who, curiously, end up on a long-term mission to Uganda, where they deal with a host of physical threats and relational problems (including some issues of selfishness and immaturity between the two missionaries themselves).

The Church of Latter Day Saints has supposedly had “measured” response to this popular, well-reviewed and sacrilegious musical dramedy, named after their holy book. Even as someone who has extreme theological disagreements with Mormonism, I feel a bit sad at their mockery and caricaturization in this play. 

But the biggest takeaway from the plot synopsis for me is the (purposeful?) contrast with well-dressed, thin-tie, door-to-door Mormon evangelists (likely how Colorado-natives Stone/Parker and many of us prejudicially picture Mormons in our minds) and the impoverished residents of the pillaged and raped villages of Uganda. Stone and Parker put together a seemingly implausible and unexpected pairing of door-to-door U.S. missionaries (working mostly, if not only, for inward theological-doctrinal change) and real world problems.

But should such a pairing be so implausible and unexpected? I don’t think so. Churches are to be (and have been) engaging needs beyond the spiritual of local and global communities, expecting integrity in their leaders. 

Just a few things I learned from a play I didn’t (and won’t) see. And you shouldn’t either.                

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ashton Kutcher's Surprise Speech

I was told to watch Ashton Kutcher's acceptance speech for the "Ultimate Choice Award" at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards, which aired on Fox this past Sunday night. Amid a bunch of borderline annoying and disruptive screams of adoration, and other award recipients whose current work is (my opinion, sorry to say) a bit kitschy and only appreciated by teens (this is why I said "I was told to watch" this earlier, as I wouldn't normally make time for this particularly award show), Ashton Kutcher accepted his award and made a speech that surprised many people, given what's known of modern pop culture (and the onscreen characters Kutcher portrays). Kutcher exhorted good work ethic, wholesome and generous character, and building lives that contribute to cultural flourishing.

Kutcher was born and raised in east central Iowa, where I graduated high school, so his name was celebrated there not too long after Kurt Warner (another name of eastern Iowa pride) led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl trophy. Thus, I'm familiar with the two high schools he went to, and all eastern Iowans are familiar with the giant aromatic General Mills factory in downtown Cedar Rapids, where Kutcher worked to pay his tuition at the University of Iowa (go Hawks!). 

So, props to Kutcher for promoting such values that he learned in good ol' eastern Iowa. In what could be his breakthrough as a dramatic actor, Kutcher portrays the late Steve Jobs in his upcoming biopic.     

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars"

I might be adding this my bookshelf soon. In the same vein as John Piper's "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals," Stephen Miller writes to worship leaders to be counter-cultural and combat the natural (and sometimes idolatrous) pedestal upon which they get placed in a church. This book (at least in part) confirms my hunch that worship leaders of the (near?) future will be demanded more pastoral (and less rock star) qualities. This way, we're drawing people into the church family through creativity and community rather than imitated pop fads. Here's a sample paragraph:

"With the amount of church plants budding across the globe, continual training as to why and how the church gathers to worship will be needed. The more theological our gatherings are, the more missional they will also become. When a pastor considers who will lead his congregation in song, Scripture reading, and prayer, it’s vital he choose someone who is qualified. Worship leaders should be as equipped to defend sound doctrine as well as they sing it." 

I would argue, though, that this book could/should be read by churchgoers and people that hire worship leaders. Upon graduating from seminary, my resume was passed over several times during the next year in favor of worship leaders who had experience I did not: in a touring band or a recording studio. And this is still a problem for those whom I help find paid positions in worship ministry. As a worship pastor, this is a sub-cultural change I welcome, but I don't think worship leaders alone can make it happen.

You can read the rest of the review here.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foodie Culture and the Poor

Thought-provoking article from a pastor in Richmond.

"Richmond, where every week is Restaurant Week." So quipped Michael Philips, a Times-Dispatch reporter, delivering what may have been the soundbite (pun intended) of the night. Philips was noting how restaurants in Richmond and other cities develop prix fixe menus to showcase local cuisine while also donating a portion of each bill to nonprofits combating hunger. Philips and others touted Richmond's food scene for offering a diversity of food, often served in fun and compelling venues. Our food scene, the team insisted, should be celebrated, expanded, and leveraged to attract more young professionals to Richmond.
The Public Square was reporting results from a survey. They were sharing "what is" rather than "what ought to be." And I appreciate a dynamic food scene as much as the next guy. I love to eat. I look forward to trying new restaurants. I spend hours each summer in my own "urban garden." I even pickle. But I'm left feeling that building a city's identity around a dynamic food scene—which, let's face it, tends to cater to largely white, middle- to upper-class professionals—is an undernourished vision of what makes a city truly great. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Scopes Trial and Hollywood's History

I had a frustrating experience in public high school because of the teaching of evolution, but it wasn't in biology class. My literature class read through Inherit the Wind and then watched the film as part of our agnostic teacher's seeming agenda for Romanticism and anything non-Classical. And, somehow, due to my supposed acting skills and/or my unofficial appointment as the class's "Bible spokesman" (perhaps more so the latter?), I was assigned the play role of Clarence Darrow's representation in this little reader theater, while my teacher played William Jennings Bryan's representation, despite my refusal to say the four-letter words in the script.

Last month was the 88th anniversary of the historic trial that inspired Inherit the Wind, and Joe Carter posted some historical facts about the embarrassing trial that got mostly ignored in the trial's subsequent skewed and caricatured re-tellings.

Sadly, it's one of many significant and culture-defining stories of the past that will likely spend centuries misunderstood because social media kitsch and popular film hold more sway on our common understanding than academia. (I wrote about this earlier). Why read books about history when you can watch movies?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Fun: How German Sounds

This video has been making a few rounds. Now I understand the one quote from Amadeus, "German is too brute for singing." Of course, any language will sound brute if you yell with a gravelly voice.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Millenials and the Church: Conversations Continue in Circles

Rachel Held Evans, a grassroots-style author and blogger, recently contributed to a piece on CNN about why Millenials (claiming to speak for them, just like Crumpton (apologies for a few words in the linked article), who, in my opinion, deserves more critical response than Evans) are leaving the Church. As always, there's a plethora of responses from pastors and other Christian bloggers from different parts of the theology-and-culture spectrum. Justin Taylor joins the party and keeps a partial link list here.

As a supposed Millenial myself, also a pastor, I still feel the whole conversation is going in circles. Evans, in part, seems to say to the Church, "Stop being so consumer-driven and give Millenials what we want." Respondents to such critique are being too vague and unhelpful in their advice: "Uncool is the new cool." Others are unwilling or unable to see the time-boundness of their church practice and communicate the transcendence of the Gospel and biblical living to the next generation, in this case, a seeming "self-entitled" generation. In my opinion, the actual ministries that are truly making a difference in the lives of many Millenials are rarely mentioned or promoted by any of the aforementioned, and they're sadly rare.