Saturday, July 29, 2006

such great heights

perhaps a better question might be who doesn't want to be a superhero? stan lee (comic book creator of notable characters such as the fantastic four, incredible hulk, x-men and spiderman) is hosting a reality show for would-be superheroes called "who wants to be a superhero?", complete with a secret super-lair and personal communicators (i.e., old blackberry devices). it's basically as nerdy as it sounds (which suits me just fine!)... like most reality shows, there can only be one winner - after each episode, one contestant is eliminated.

the last challenge i saw had stan lee telling the superbunch that they would have to change from their normal clothes into their supergetup and race to a designated finish-line as quickly as possible. although they were supposed to find an inconspicuous place to change, one person changed in a garbage can (i know) and one guy changed in a grassy patch in plain public view.

anyhoo, stan had set up a little girl near the finish line who "lost" her mom, and was crying out for help. this, of course, was the real test. sort of a variation on the old "good samaritan" test which, depending on the version, has a group of seminarians being tested on or delivering a sermon on luke 10:25-37. when they arrive for their test, they are told it has been moved to another location - and to hurry up and get there already. on the way, the majority of them ignore a person who is obviously in need of help... thus failing to live out what they are in such a hurry to teach/preach...

true to form, most of the superheroes completely passed up the little girl - in one case, looking directly at her and then deciding to run to the finish line anyways... when stan lee called them out on this, most of them apologized - saying that they were so focused on winning that they didn't notice anything around them. in fact, stan lee had told the group that they wouldn't be tested on super-powers (which, despite their possible delusions, do not exist) but that they would be tested on what makes a superhero on the inside - honesty, integrity, compassion...

kind of reminds me of an old this american life segment i heard, where the narrator surveys people on whether they wished they had the ability to fly or become invisible. people thought very deeply about this issue - because it was not only the cool ability that they would have, but what it said about their character as well... flight being a noble superpower (picture superman swooping in to save the innocent bystanders) and invisibility being a not-so-noble superpower (picture... well, you get the picture)...

Friday, July 28, 2006

just gimme indie church

sojourners has a great article presenting some leading voices in the "new folk" or "anti-folk" music movement. included, of course, is critical indie darling sufjan stevens. however, lesser known artists such as anathallo and half-handed cloud are also highlighted. apart from musical eclecticism and enthusiastic performances, these artists also share faith in christ. as the article asks, "is a movement of post-punk, justice-seeking, jesus-following musicians on the rise?"

as someone whose formative years were spent in and out of the punk scene, these kinds of questions always intrigue me. i love that these artists not only create wonderful, joyful noises, but that they also embody the diy (do it yourself) ethic of the old punk scene from the 80s and 90s. the article notes, "this diy sensibility of both folk and punk has shaped a new artist collective that is creating its own networks, communities, and culture through self-promotion and distribution rather than relying on corporations."

labels like asthmatic ktty and sounds familyre remind me of the heyday of indie rock, when labels like dischord, merge, simple machines and kill rock stars were releasing innovative, inspiring music that people could actually afford to buy....

hopefully, the emerging church can continue to embody the best of this diy spirit.... where the reason we get into the whole church deal is not for numbers or "success", or even results.... where we foster small, creative communities that, against the odds, feel like they can make a difference.... where we encourage, and even equip, those with the same heart to pursue their God-given vision as well, even if we don't get the credit.

one of my favorite relics from the indie-rock days is a manual simple machines records distributed called "an introductory mechanic's guide to putting out records" - basically, the blueprints for starting your own record label (before the onset of the digital music revolution). instead of seeing other potential labels as competitors, simple machines sent out over 10,000 copies of their mechanic's guide in their brief eight-year history, to empower friends to get involved as well. a quote from the manual, "there is nothing that you can't do with a little time, creativity, enthusiasm and hard work. an independent business that is run with ingenuity, love and sense of community can even be more important than the products and services it sells... independent buisnesses can offer alternative notions of success, fame and rewards - all traits that are sorely needed in a society as consumer-focused and capitalistic as ours"... churches marked by creativity, enthusiasm, hard work, ingenuity, love, community (and a healthy dose of God's Spirit)...

i remember the willingness of bands like braid, endeavor and back of dave being willing to drive for hours and hours for no pay to play a show for a small handful of kids - all because it was for a good cause.

i think i'll go listen to some unrest...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

i will follow

does mtv play, um, music anymore? it seems like the bulk of their programming these days centers around the young, rich and bored (e.g., laguna beach, my super sweet sixteen, etc.). or, as one commenter wryly noted, the progams belong to the faux-hawked and orange-skinned. critiques aside, my wife and i stumbled across a program the other day that has us pretty hooked (hey, it's summer and lost doesn't start again until october!)...

on why can't i be you, a person approaches someone else he or she admires and asks to spend the next 48 hours with that person, learning about whatever qualities had initially been attractive - e.g., being outgoing, funny, unique, etc. it might be the awkward pause between the two people that starts each episode, or the slow, frustrated head-shaking of the host as he observes the often-difficult transformations, or just the goofiness of watching both people come together at the end wearing the same outfits to discuss their experience with the host, but this show has been providing hours of brain-numbing fun for our household...

while i don't want to be one of those pastors who turns everything into an illustration (and not to be a pastor who tells embarrassing stories about his family - so hard!), i can't help but catch a glimpse of how discipleship could work as i watch this show. i mean, wouldn't it be amazing if our faith in jesus was so profound, powerful and attractive that total strangers would approach us and want to know what makes us tick, and how they can live their lives in the same way? the fact that the two people on each episode must spend 48 straight hours together says something about the nature of friendship and transformation - it requires a serious investment of time, and can include some awkward moments, even disagreements. and, while there some overtly didactic moments ("if you want to shred as a snowboarder, you have to just go and kill it out there, dude"), most of the learning happens through observation and close proximity.

i don't mean to suggest that this show is a perfect analogy for discipleship. after all, the "teacher" receives $1000 for agreeing to participate (although, i suppose a church could go ahead and try that method anyhoo)... just a couple of thoughts - especially since "discipleship" is often reduced to a 12-week course taught in a church classroom (as i have done in the past)...

i'm intrigued by the use of 80s new-wave songs as titles for current things ("why can't i be you" is a cure song), especially among christians. i wonder if the good folks over at youth specialties have a special arrangement with depeche mode - does ys have to pay royalties for titles like enjoy the silence and everything counts? i wonder if any customers were surprised to hear larry hampton's voice instead of robert smith's when they purchased just like heaven? i think i'll write a book on relationships and community-building one day called people are people, of course.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

until the end of the world

other than depression and horror, how should i, as a christian, feel about the situation in the middle east? sometimes it feels like enough to make phrases that i love, such as love wins! and rescue is coming feel trite and meaningless. how do you explain to people whose entire neighborhood has been levelled that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives? worse still, how do you explain to those same people why so many of those who seem to bear the name of Christ have such enthusiasm for war?

although i should have put two and two together, it took an email in my inbox to wake me up for just a moment. it came from world vision and it reads, in part:

Dear Sponsor,

We value your commitment to sponsoring a child in Lebanon. Your generous, faithful support means so much to this child, family and community.

You've probably heard in the media about the renewed hostilities in the region. Our field staff have informed us that your sponsored child's community is directly affected and responding to families displaced by the fighting. We're grateful to hear in the latest report that your child is safe — and will do our best to get more information as it becomes available.

we have been supporting a child in lebanon for a couple of years now, but only now is it dawning on me that his family is in imminent danger. while we've never visited our sponsor child or anything like that, we have his photograph on our fridge - so we see him everyday. what a hardened heart i have, that it takes putting a face to the conflict for my heart to be genuinely moved.

it saddens and frustrates me that there are those christians who, in their misguided, apocalyptic, left-behind fervor, actually welcome violence and conflict in the middle east. i'm pretty sure jesus had a couple of things to say about his return, and none of it involved lahaye, jenkins or corny, straight-to-video sequels.

sojourners offers a couple of more thoughtful, God-honoring responses we might take toward this conflict:

  • Be consistent in denouncing the violence of both sides - especially when it is deliberately aimed at civilians (or targets where great civilian "collateral damage" will be the result).

  • Pray for the emergence of new political leadership on both sides - both of which seem bereft of creative, courageous, moral, or even pragmatic leadership.

  • Challenge any religious voices that seem utterly one-sided, completely neglecting the suffering and legitimate grievances of both sides.

  • Pray for new ways for Christians and our churches to join our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters in finding real and practical solutions for a just peace in the Middle East where two states can live with security and democracy.

  • And pray for better solutions than endless war to solve the real threats of terrorism in our world, because if we fail, all of our children will be at risk.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

there's no other way

though i'm still not completely sure about the working-out of these thoughts, several books i have been reading lately seem to be converging into one serendipitous stream (why can't these kinds of moments land me a spot on jeopardy, or this show?)...

mclaren's secret message of jesus, claiborne's irresistible revolution, and peterson's living the resurrection each deal with unique themes and topics and, yet, each contains similar ideas regarding the true nature of the kingdom of God...

just as some have sought to bridge the red/blue political divide with a "purple" middle-ground, so are some believers wrestling with the implications of the kingdom of God - is the kingdom of which Jesus spoke simply the post-death eternity His believers will experience (the sweet by-and-by)? is it the so-called "social" gospel that deals primarily with societal problems in this world (the here-and-now)? is there some kind of third way?

in other news, we're getting ready for our youth summer retreat. theme, location, dates... it's all being worked out... but at least the important stuff has been taken care of. rebreakable boards shall be thusly distributed as prizes of awesomeness to the winners of yet-to-be-determined retreat games & activities. back in the day, one of my co-pastors and i gave out a riverdance vhs as the top prize. while we were in stitches, the student was unmoved. he gave it back to us. perhaps i will report back in a couple of weeks, a couple of rebreakable boards richer.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


mr. yuk was a character created by the children's hospital of pittsburg to prevent kids from getting into potentially hazardous situations at home. so, for example, parents would put a mr. yuk sticker on that bottle of draino under the kitchen sink so that little bobby would not drink it.

but, man, the psa they came up with. it's probably the craziest, and scariest, psa ever. i think it goes beyond "scared straight" into trauma territory. a sample lyric: "home is full of bad things that can hurt you very much"... yikes. after watching the ad, i might sleep with the lights on. watch for yourself. if you dare!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

texas never whispers

just got back from a couple of retreats... one in seattle and one in dallas. retreats can be such spiritual highlights for many people, and it's really a privilege to be a small part in that. however, retreats also remind me of how my heart has been moving more & more toward the importance of walking with God in the ordinary & everyday... experiencing God in the highs (and the lows) is important and necessary, but i think lasting transformation of our heart & character happens when we learn to seek Him in the boring old routines of our everydays lives...

retreat themes are great. i've seen all kinds - ranging from the goofy ("hello, my name is..") to the simple ("first love") to the just plain theologically wrong ("jesus is my security blanket"... no, seriously). my friend's church in seattle settled on the theme "24" to reflect the heart of learning to walk with God 24 hours a day - not to compartmentalize our faith, but to allow Christ to be the foundation for everything....

speaking of 24, how about all those emmy nominations? i'm not sure if this past one was my favorite season, but that scheming president turn was pretty great tv. i wonder why lost was snubbed, though? i suppose lost might have suffered from some kind of sophomore slump this season, but it was still pretty compelling stuff. i wonder how much they'll pull back the curtain on the island in the next season. on one hand, it's kind of nice to get some concrete answers so that we're not frustrated all the time (try watching the prisoner!)... but on the other hand, things can definitely turn downhill after revealing too much (see x-files).

anyhoo, i'll never forget these couple of retreats - if only for the crazy skits the students created. more than one featured jesus and satan fighting. but not the old-school, carman-type boxing match... no, it's been updated for the zoolander set, with jesus and satan breakdance fighting. one skit in particular has the jesus-character take off his shirt within the first four seconds. so wrong on so many levels....