Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More truck monkey!

Here's the link to even more trunk monkey especially have to check out the alien one...

"I don't do probes..."

The trunk monkey???!!!

Now, why haven't I seen this before? This is the funniest thing, maybe ever!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The conundrum of all change agents...

The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today the papers are full of memorials to Dr. King, and rightly so. Few people have truly allowed the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus himself impact how they affect change in the world, working from the position of servanthood and nonviolent stance for truth.

I'm not a fan of political leaders and candidates preaching from church pulpits. In this year's race, religious progressives are having a stronger impact on the race than in the past, where it's mostly just been religious conservatives. I wouldn't want to see the progressives make the same mistakes as conservatives by having their cause tied to closely with the Democratic Party.

Having said all that, Barack Obama preached yesterday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. My friend Texas in Africa has the full text of the speech here, and it's worth reading regardless of how you feel about politics.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

God as con man

Leadership Weekly has a great article here on the deeper meaning behind God's trickery. Interesting read.

I first discovered Hosea's "I will lead her into the wilderness" verse (Ho 2.14) nearly 10 years ago when my pastor and friend left the church he had started and I had joined to help. I spent 6 months as the interim pastor, and preached extensively about God's leading into the deserts of life. We don't often understand his movement, his leading. His purposes are often probably totally different than we think, and honestly probably even different than the ones we look back on in reflective moments years later. We just may not know. Period. But the desert can be a good place.

I spent 20 years in El Paso, so I know.

The Privatization of Culture Part Deux

There is a multitude of impacts that culture privatization has on the US. Certainly we see it in politics, in entertainment, in economics. But I think the most devastating thing for the message of Jesus has been the impact on religion, especially the "christian" religion.

USAmericans are religious people. 86% believe in God. Huge numbers attend religious services every weekend. And while there is no question that religion is less of a socio-cultural influence than it was say 50 years ago, I would still put it in the top 2 or 3 cultural powers.

However, Jesus didn't come to establish a religion, even the "christian" one. So Evangelicals, responding to the privatization of cultural expression (among other things) have pushed for certain religious symbols and expressions to be unprivatized: prayer in school, "under God" on the pledge, nativity scenes, etc. We look for political candidates who thank God, entertainers who praise God. We allow just enough "God" to get back into public that we've created a caricature--not unlike those drawings of my kids when we go to Sea World--and that caricature has come to pass for the real thing. So "god" becomes an important aspect of the US allowable public expression of culture.

But it ain't God.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Privatization of Culture

In talking about my last post with a friend, we discussed the difference between what Donald McGavern talked about in the pivotal book "Understanding Church Growth" as planting and building churches that reflect the cultural aspects of a people group versus the niche-marketing of many American evangelical churches.

There is one large cultural aspect that is not often discussed in the Evangelical US world--mostly because it is not much discussed in the broader US world either--and that is what my friend called the "privatization of culture." By and large, Americans demand (sometimes subtly, sometimes overty) assimilation to certain cultural norms. Those could be as big as language, perceived work ethics, and relationship styles; and as small as public mannerisms and modes of dress. This is one of the key reasons that Hispanic immigration is a big issue. Moreso than the immigrants of the past, Hispanics tend to keep their cultural distinctives when they come, assimilating at a slower pace. There are some churches that attract people from different cultures, and again, that's a far sight better than the country club deal. But does that truly make a church multicultural, in the sense described in Revelation, or do those people who do come simply understand that they need to become a part of the dominant culture? Are they people who have already committed to assimilation, or are already assimilated? I would submit that they are at least assimilated in one key factor--economic--if they attend and stay at the typical USAmerican Evangelical church. Like my bro-in-law stated in response to my last post, the biggest cultural obstacle most churches never cross is the level of wealth one. But there are a lot of cultural baggage issues, and unless someone sheds their baggage that isn't like the dominant culture of the church they are attending, they aren't going to stay and may not even be welcome.

Is there a way to celebrate and practice true multicultural community? From the standpoint of public, consumer-oriented church programming, I'm not sure it can be done.

I would also submit that the "predominant obstacle" to doing this is almost always the predominant culture. This is vividly displayed in Kenya right now. I think it's one of the reasons that for 2000 years Christianity has thrived in places where it is not the dominant culture and struggled when it actually becomes so (yes, I'm sure this statement is simplistic, but worth thinking through...). So yes, here in the US, whatever American culture is (I'm not fond of "Anglo" but have yet to find a good sub; even "American" is not too good, considering that every other country in North and South America does not like USAmericans usurping sole use of that word) is the primary obstacle. No matter how hard we try, non-conformity to the USAmerican cultural values is ostracized.

The really bad stuff happens when the dominant culture's values are equated with God's values--the typically pattern when Christianity becomes the dominant culture of a people-group. Jesus' message was about so much more than getting your sins forgiven. When he talks about the kingdom of heaven he's challenging the cultural values of the kingdom of earth--even the American ones, and even (maybe especially!) the religious ones--when they function according to the world's system. Jesus came not just to destroy sin's power over my life/death, but to destroy systemic sin as it operates in the world, and this includes the tribalism of Kenya or the US.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What's the model for the church?

A good friend and missions pastor at my church wrote some thoughts before Christmas:

Subject: Reaching the younger generations

A friend was telling me about going to a Christmas concert recently at one of the more traditional churches in town to see a friend who was involved in the production. He said everyone was dressed to the max and most of the crowd was over 60 and the music was targeted at that audience. My friend, a visitor to the church, said he couldn't find a seat. He was there plenty early but everyone had programs, coats and various articles of clothing strewn about to save seats for family members and apparently whole Sunday School classes. No one said much to him and very few stayed around after the program to fellowship. Based on my friend’s experience, it doesn’t seem like the church was much concerned with the visitors or the lost but mainly interested in pleasing their members.

It reminded me of the experience on our recent vacation cruise to the Caribbean. We were with mostly older people (older than Barbara and I and that is old) and had the same kind of trouble finding seats at the big shows. It dawned on me how much the traditional churches and cruise lines have in common. Like many churches, the cruise experience has stayed virtually the same for the past 50 years. And like most churches, the cruise ships are filled with mostly older people. Until just recently on most all large cruise lines there has been a strict dress code for the meals at night and always two formal nights when you absolutely had to wear a coat and tie. The shows generally were song and dance type of entertainment, to suit an elderly audience. Most of the shore excursions catered to the older crowd also. I don't know if the ships just program for the elderly because the elderly are more inclined to cruise or younger people don't cruise because many ships seem to cater only to the older crowd. But it has been my experience that 80% of those on the cruises are retirement age and up.

But that seems to be changing. Barbara and I were curious about a cruise ship line that we noticed in the Caribbean that we had never seen before. It was the Ocean Village line. I looked them up on the internet and found that they are a new cruise line targeting the 30 - 50 something age. I found it interesting that the cruise line business is just now making an effort to reach out to the younger generations. The Ocean Village line has no dress code for meals and no formal nights at all. The shows have more rock bands and comedians that appeal to the younger group. The shore excursions are more about activities than site seeing.
I can see the traditional cruiser complaining about how the cruises are changing and just going to hell. But the cruise line knows that there should be no reason why younger people don't take cruise vacations. They are a cheap, convenient and very practical way to vacation.
Theologians also know that the young need Christ as much as the old. They have asked some of the same questions about why so many churches have so few young people. Do young people stay away from church because the church caters so much to the older generations or do church leaders feel compelled to program for the elderly because their members are mostly old?

Grace Point is much like the Ocean Village Cruise Line. We purposed several years ago to reach the young and hopefully we will continue to be a vibrant church that is open, evangelistic and concerned about those who do not know Jesus Christ. There is a reason for our style of worship, the encouraged casual dress and the application oriented preaching. We want to reach the lost and the next generation of Christians. Let’s continue to strive to be a church always willing to change its methods without ever compromising the message of the Gospel.

Have a merry and Christ-filled Christmas. And bring your unchurched friends to our Christmas services. They are designed for them.

Here's my response:

These are good thoughts! I have been out of the country during the holidays, and only now getting a chance to dialogue a little about what you say here…No doubt the Ocean Village Cruise Line is a great model for reaching my generation with cruises! I’ve only been on one, and it was a lot of fun, but it sounds like I would really enjoy Ocean Village!

Some questions arise for me though when we compare the two cruise line models to the church. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the GP model is vastly superior to the country club model of so many churches in the US today! But some of these questions still nag at me, and I’d love to hear your and other’s thoughts:

How does a church decide what its target audience is going to be? Is the selection of programming for 30-50 year olds with kids mean that churches are excluding those outside the target? Certainly these are the realities of the business model that you are talking about, commonly called “church-growth”. If you market a product to the young, the old won’t want it. If you market for adults, teens and tweens won’t want it. Etc.

Should we band together as churches, and everyone pick a different market? GP can have the 30-50 group, but someone else has to take the 55+ group, and someone else the 20s, etc. Or should individual churches try to offer something for each group (probably a challenge for the average church)? What about different ethnic groups, or different languages; can we market something for everyone (okay, that would be challenging even for large churches!)?

And probably my most naggiest question: how come so many evangelical churches in the US, especially those who have the church growth model, end up picking middle-class families 30-50 as their target? How come the business-like church growth model doesn’t have a lot of examples of working among the working-class poor? Does the model work without funding?

It seems to me that models are used to get people in the door, or not. But only authentic community both attracts and keeps people in a church. “Look how they love each other” was the lost person’s exclamation of the early church. Is there a model for that?

Welcome Home!

Man! (Please read as a genderless expression...)

Am I glad to be home. The family spent 3 great weeks in Argentina over the holidays. Here's the highlights and lowlights, in no particular order:

  • Argentines know how to eat, and how to drink. Every good Argentine home has a parrilla. That's a grill for cooking on, but I hesitate to compare it to anything in the states. It's huge, huger than Texas size, capable of cooking two pigs at once. Entire pigs. I was there, I saw it. And when you order parrilla in a restaurant, you get tons of meat (including things like kidneys and molleja) for a fraction of what you pay in the States for half the food. And the wine--especially my favorite, Malbec--available at every meal and every corner store. [Interestingly, there's very little incidence of drunkenness in Argentina, even though wine is consumed in many homes, even the Baptist ones. But that's another post.] Parrilla for 2-3 people was 50 pesos, about $18US. And a bottle of decent table wine in the kioskos was 5 pesos--$1.80!

  • I'm not a great beach person, but it's pretty cool to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's on a beach. I've got the best winter tan ever!

  • I read James Michener's "Texas" during the trip. Wow. I now know where a lot of my Texas co-dependencies come from. Great book!

  • 9 hour flights are no fun in coach.

  • Miami has to be the worst airport in the US.

  • Truco is the greatest card game ever. Kind of a combination of spades and poker, it involves lots of bluffing, and bridge players will think that it has cheating built into the rules, as there are standard signals to alert your partners what cards you have. The only problem is the signals are the same for everyone, so your opponents can steal your signals if you're not careful.

  • Berisso, the suburb of La Plata where my father in law is from and where we stayed a couple of days, is an hour south of Buenos Aires. It's about the same distance south of the equator as San Antonio is north, with about the same climate. So January there is like July here. And very few people have air conditioning. My family doesn't. So last week when the heat index was 42C (108F), it was hot!

  • Alfajor chocolate is the greatest candy bar in existence. Hands down. I brought home 4 cases to prove it.

  • Argentina is a great country. But there's no place like home.