Tag Archives: Christian

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Engaging the Halo Prophecy

They say that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.

And there’s a less well-known but corollary idea, that people who create realistic fictional content end up pulling their ideas from recent events.

But every once in a while, both ideas converge: a piece of speculative fiction, drawn from elements of real-life, ends up over time looking like a retroactive prediction of real-life events.

Remember how Back to the Future II predicted this year’s Cubs World Series win? I recently stumbled onto a similar phenomenon, with even bigger consequences.

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The End Is Near, Still. Yup, Still Near. Any Day Now. So … What Are We Gonna Do?

So, I grew up a music nerd.

Specifically, I grew up as a Christian music nerd, and while I know the term “Christian music” can be problematic, let the record reflect that in the beginning of this sentence, the word “Christian” is modifying “nerd,” not “music,” which means that really what I’m saying is I was a music nerd who was also a Christian.

(Lest anyone doubt my nerd credentials, I present as Exhibit A: that previous sentence.)

I listened to a lot of contemporary gospel, and to what people later in the 90s referred as “CCM” (contemporary Christian music) which means that because my parents were harbingers of diversity — or, more accurately because they were New York transplants in the Pacific Northwest and needed to retain elements of blackness in order to retain their sanity — they exposed me to the best Christian music from both white and black artists. My love for the music of Andrae Crouch is well documented, but there was plenty of Russ Taff and The Imperials, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Winans, Reba Rambo & Dony McGuire, Commissioned, Michael W. Smith, Sandy Patti, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Rev. Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir… on and on.

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God Is In The Transition.

Editor’s Note: This is the text of a sermon for the good people of Kaleo Covenant Church on August 14th, 2016. I didn’t intend for it to be a blog post, but a few people on Facebook might be encouraged by it, so here we go.

 

We’re in the middle of August.

Labor Day is just two weeks away. The summer is flying by, and then comes September, where we’re gonna hit it hard. But even though we’re not in school YET, we can kind of see the signs. There are back to school commercials on TV, football training camp is starting up, the days are starting to get shorter and shorter. We’re in what are often called The Dog Days of Summer, where most of the cool summertime activities or trips have already been taken, but it’s not time for a full-on ramp up into the fall. We’re in an in-between space.

A transition.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably sick of transitions. If you’re like me, you tend to greet any transition with the same sentiment — let’s get it on already, geez, this is taking forever!

Now, because I’m a large black guy who has been conditioned his whole life to be as non-threatening as possible, I tend not to lash out when I get frustrated (well, unless I’m behind the wheel, then all bets are off). No, when I get really sick and tired of waiting for something, my default response is not to lash out, but preoccupy myself with something entertaining to pass the time. I keep my phone in my hand, and as soon as something happens that I don’t like or as soon as I encounter something even mildly unpleasant, my first thought is, “what new games or apps have I downloaded recently? or what’s new to read on my favorite website?”

And unfortunately, this impatience with transition even extends to my spiritual life. When I’m in a time frame where I feel like I’m waiting to hear from God or I’m waiting to see God move in a particular area or I’m waiting for a specific answer to prayer, then I tend to ignore God. I tend to put him on the back burner. Not intentionally, but more like, “okay God, well I’ll check in with you as soon as I get the sign I’m looking for, and until then, I’ll be on my XBOX, mmmmkaythxbai, later gator.”

But one of the things I’m learning right now is that checking out during transitions is a mistake. Mindlessly preoccupying ourselves with trivialities while we wait in a hold pattern for God… that is a mistake.

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Hey Baby What’s Your Sign? Your Church Sign, I Mean.

So in the last five to ten years, as hip-hop culture has continued the march from being simply popular from becoming a downright universal lingua franca — and if you think I’m overstating that at all, consider that right now, at this second, The Roots are now the house band on The Tonight Show — there have been so many terrible hip-hop parodies by Christians aimed at Christian audiences.

So, so many.

Most of them were content to simply ape a few hip-hop mannerisms and call it funny because of the obvious contextual and cultural disconnect — look, it’s that violent ghetto music being performed by non-stereotypical hip-hop people! Normal people, like us!  It got to the point that even a bunch of guys rockin’ mics in an ode to Christian side hugs could get 100K views, just because the rest of the competition was so lame.

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Driving in the Spirit: Traffic Epiphanies for the Modern Christian



While vacationing in December, I stumbled upon an engrossing book with a gloriously inflated title (even longer than the title of this post):

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), by Tom Vanderbilt.

It’s a fascinating read, because it manages to synthesize mountains of research into understandable concepts illustrated with funny stories. I recommend it, if only because it sheds some much-needed light onto a subject that you probably think you understand more than you do — the way that you drive your car.

One of the overarching concepts in Traffic is that safety is a malleable concept, and that our preconceived notions of safety are often too-far removed from reality. Roads we normally consider to be safer — wide, clearly marked lanes running straight for miles and miles at a time — are actually more dangerous, because the predictability lulls us into driving faster while paying less attention to the road. Conversely, roads that look dangerous — two-lane mountain roads with no guardrails, for example — are statistically safer, because people actually have to SLOW DOWN and pay close attention.

After crunching the data and examining the topic of driving from every which angle imaginable, one of Vanderbilt’s conclusions is that advances in technology do help, but traffic fatalities persist because people always find ways to push the envelope of socially acceptable behavior. You can post a sign and set a speed limit, but that doesn’t mean people will follow it. Engineers cannot factor in the capricious, unpredictable outcomes of human decision-making.

In an Amazon Q&A session, he sums up the human element of driving:

We make mistakes, we misjudge our abilities, we’re not as aware of what’s happening in traffic as we think we are, we act differently in different situations, we get angry over things that matter little in the long run, we’re susceptible to distortions in our sense of time, we have trouble living beyond the moment, of seeing the big picture — oh, and also, that everyone has a different opinion on who the worst drivers are and where they live…”Los Angeles! L.A. drivers are the worst… No, Atlanta has terrible drivers… No way, Boston drivers are nuts…”



Straight from the horse’s mouth — sorry Tom! — there it is.

The problem is humanity.

Being human is a condition that no government safety mandate can fix. So we all struggle in similar ways, among them being a willingness to break the rules as we see fit, while railing against the gridlock that such lawlessness inevitably produces.

Humanity, as the problem? Sounds like a spiritual issue to me.

No, seriously.

If you think I’m out of line, just try this exercise. Look up a few Scriptures that use walking as an analogy, and then exchange the word “walk” for “drive”:

“Blessed is the man who does not drive in the counsel of the wicked” (Ps 1:1a)

“I am God Almighty; drive before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1)

“If you drive in my ways and obey my statutes and commands … I will give you a long life” (1 Kings 3:14)

Feeling convicted yet?

As Christians, we ought to pay more attention to the way that we drive, if for no other reason, so that we don’t ruin our witness. (Nothing says “hypocrite” quite like a maniac driver with a Jesus fish bumper sticker.)

Not only that, but driving usually stands alone in the category of Most Mentally Demanding Activity With Unspeakably Catastrophic Potential. Unless you practice brain surgery as a weekend hobby, you probably don’t do anything else quite so dangerous quite so often.

Furthermore, I’m convinced that by examining not only our personal driving habits but also the driving cultures that surround us, we can learn and discern a lot more about life in general.

As always, the Word of God is the key.

(The IGNITION key! ** rim-shot**)

(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself there.)

* * *

Not Just A Good Idea, It’s The Law

The way we drive says a lot about how we interpret and understand the law. And the way we understand and interpret traffic laws influences the way we interact with God’s law. If you grow up in a Christian household, you are taught to obey the law as an extension of God’s authority in your life. This makes plenty of sense, especially in light of Paul’s teaching on the subject. For a ten-year-old budding believer, obeying God, the law, and your parents are essentially the same thing.

Problems crop up, however, when we reach adulthood and we do the converse — we obey God in the same manner that we obey the law.

Because how do most of us obey traffic laws? Selectively. Sure we generally obey the traffic laws. But the rules of the road seem much more elastic once you’ve been around the block a few times.

This, by the way, is part of the natural struggle when parents begin teaching their teenagers to drive. Children are astute observers, so it’s hard to make a compelling case for coming to a complete stop at every stop sign if your natural habit is to slowly roll through them.

Some of this is complacency, but part of it stems from incomplete understanding.

God’s laws are fundamentally different from traffic laws, because God is fundamentally different than man.

Traffic laws are designed to coerce citizens into order by threat of punishment by enforcement officers. If you break the law, you’ll face a sanction from the state, either as a fine, or as in some cases, incarceration. But, if you run a red light and no human (or camera) is there to record your infraction, then practically speaking, it didn’t happen.

Not only that, but traffic laws tend to change over time. Child safety devices are much more strict than they were three decades ago. Speed limits increase as more and more vehicles are designed to maintain stability at higher speeds. So if enough people think a law needs to change because it’s unfair or unsafe or unconstitutional, it will change.

God’s law is fundamentally different, because it’s not supposed to be an external code of conduct that results in right living. Christianity is more than just obeying the rules, it’s engaging in a personal relationship with an almighty God who knows far more about our lives than we can ever hope to know. This is why James referred to God’s law as a mirror… it’s God’s way of giving us tangible signs of warning in case we go astray.

God’s laws do not need enforcement, because they are inherently immutable — they do not change, because He does not change. As humans, we have the freedom to engage in behaviors that go against God’s will for humanity (as stated in the Ten Commandments, for example). But by doing that, we place ourselves outside of His will. As a result, bad things that God never intended to happen, happen.

This is the fundamental difference between God’s law and traffic law. Traffic laws can be broken; God’s laws cannot.

If you violate His law, you’re the one that gets broken. The punishment for violating a traffic law depends on whether or not you get caught. With God’s laws, there is no punishment. There is no punitive action designed to coerce a desired response. Rather, there are only the natural consequences of being outside of His will.

So, for example, God does not mete out His divine punishment upon someone engaged in an adulterous affair, simply because their choice violates the 7th commandment. Rather, He allows the consequences to unfold — in this case, a broken relationship. And it doesn’t matter if the cheating spouse is “caught” or not, because the relationship is severed either way. The very act of violating a spouse’s trust is what rends the relationship — which is one of the reasons for the commandment in the first place.

It seems to me, then, that the current state of affairs as it relates to driver behavior tends to follow this general pattern:

  1. First we learn to obey traffic laws.
  2. Once we get older, we realize traffic laws are a pain in the arse to obey all the time, so we stop trying. Instead, we just do our own thing, trying not to kill anyone in the process.
  3. The only thing that keeps from abandoning the law altogether is the fear of getting zapped for a serious infraction.

Come to think of it, that’s the way most people follow God’s laws, too.

But anyone with an authentic Christian spirituality knows that it’s not just about following God’s rules, it’s about engaging in relationship with Him. As Christians, we need to be plugged into the Holy Spirit if we want to really live. We must maintain a real connection, in real time, to a real God who really knows what’s going on.

Assuming that there’s a most excellent way to live, why can’t there be a most excellent way to drive?

What would it look like to drive in the Spirit?

I’m guessing that in some cases, it might look a lot… slower.

* * *

Of, But Not In

In Traffic, Vanderbilt cites Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an English transportation planner, who, in discussing complex traffic configurations with multiple types of vehicles, makes a notable observation about eye contact:

“Hamilton-Baillie suggests that it is more than coincidental that as drivers get above 20 miles per hour, we lose eye contact with pedestrians, while our chances of dying as pedestrians if hit by a car also begin to soar dramatically… in the modern world, Hamilton-Baillie adds, this may explain why being struck by a car becomes so much more exponentially dangerous above that speed” (emphasis mine).

As eye contact declines, so does our awareness of our fellow humans. For Christians, this is not merely a safety issue; it’s a spiritual issue. It’s a matter of actively engaging in the world rather than blithely zooming through it.

Consider the nature of the car — a private space amidst a public arena (the road). As Christians, we are called to traverse this public space with grace, humility and awareness. Our behavior is supposed to stand in contrast contrast to the pattern of the world, which is to generally look out for yourself. This is why many of us like to say that we are “in but not of” the world — a phrase derived from a passage in John where Jesus is praying for His disciples.

That’s the goal, anyway. But the reality too often is the exact opposite.

We mirror the world in our driving habits; we’re myopic and self-centered, lenient regarding our own failings but harshly critical about the failings of others.

Yet we often use our cars as a safe little cocoon where we can escape the oppressive rigor of modern life. Our Christian radio stations are there to drown out any vestiges of sound that may bleed into our sealed, climate-controlled interiors.

Thus, as we drive with little regard to others around us, we are of the world, without being emotionally present in it.

This is one of the true tragedies in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We’re all used to hearing accolades go to the Samaritan who helped out the victim, but that good deed happened only after the religious people, who are charged with the responsibility of helping others, passed right on through without a second glance. The priest and the Levite might have seen him, but they didn’t really see him.

Maybe it was because they were haughty and did not want to get into something messy and inconvenient. Maybe they were just moving too fast to stop and take notice. Maybe both.

One modern equivalent to this parable would be when marginalized people are displaced from their neighborhoods because of freeway expansion. It’s been happening for years. To those on the receiving end, it’s like a slap in the face. In both cases, the poor and victimized are shunted aside in favor of the upwardly mobile.

These are injustices. As Christians, we are called to care about them.

If more people outside the church are passionate about these issues than people inside the church, that’s a sad indictment against the state of the church in America. The extent that we fail in this arena is the extent to which we fail to learn the lesson of the good Samaritan.

Driving in the Spirit means, at least some of the time, we need to slow down enough to interact with our neighbors.

And like any other example of obedience to God, it also has a bonus side effect — safety on the road.

It’s God’s version of traffic calming.

(See, who said the Bible isn’t relevant to everyday life?)

Rules Rule… Except When They Don’t



Now you’ll notice I said, “some of the time.” I didn’t say that being a Christian means you never drive over 20 mph, because if that were the case, a vast majority of Americans would be going to hell in a handbasket Honda, and fast. The fact is, there are some situations where driving 78 miles-per-hour would be less reckless than driving 20 — in the left lane of an interstate freeway, for example.

Then again, there are also certain situations where driving 20 mph in the left lane of a freeway is the safest thing you can do — like when you’re attempting to travel from Portland to Seattle and the rain and snowmelt leave several inches of standing water on the roadway, leading officials to eventually close off the freeway.

(And yes, I was on I-5 when they closed it off. It was annoying, a little bit scary, but quite redemptive. More on this later.)

So let me see if I’ve got it… you’re supposed to drive slow in general, except for when you’re on a freeway where you can drive fast, except for when it’s raining cats and dogs and then you should drive slow again?

No wonder people get in trouble on the road.

Often rules appear to be the solution, yet relying on rules only can be just as bad as ignoring them altogether.

Abiding traffic rules is not as simple as it seems, because rules are never supposed to be followed without interpretation, especially rules of the road. (This is why it’s so difficult to teach a robot how to drive.) Rules exist to guide us toward a particular way of action or existence. Attempting to follow each rule as it is written, without an understanding of the underlying principles involved, can end up creating outcomes that actually violate the spirit of the rule in the first place. (Hence this great scene from “Rain Man.”)

Things get even more complex when you add the human element.

People are unpredictable. Sometimes they follow rules, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have good reasons for not following the rules, and sometimes they don’t. The temptation, then, is to keep adding more rules and raising the ante of enforcement until the general populace will behave according to a pattern of manageable conformity.

The only problem is, this doesn’t work.

What you get is actually more chaos.



Kill, Or Give Life?

There’s a reason why the Lord limited the Commandments to ten — because anything more than ten just brings more confusion and frustration. (The American tax code comes to mind here.) There is a limit to how many rules and statutes we can juggle before we start dropping them, one by one, until they’re all over the floor.

God’s laws are supposed to be moral signposts that we can rely on to figure out where we stand in relationship to Him. But when humans decide to help God out by introducing more and more rules, this amounts to more and more signage. At some point, we become over-saturated with stimuli, and we lose our ability to discern what we should do at any given moment.

This happens in the physical world of the road, and in Traffic, Vanderbilt provides another great illustration (last one, I promise!), when he discusses the work of the late Hans Monderman, one of the world’s great traffic engineers:

If people have heard of Monderman, they tend to recall something about “the guy in the Netherlands who hated traffic signs.” But there is, in fact, one traffic sign that Monderman loved. It stands at the border of the small village of Makkinga, in Friesland. It announces a 30 kilometer per hour speed limit. Then, it says, welkom. Finally, it says: verkeers-bordvrij!! In English, this means, roughly, “Free of traffic signs.”

A traffic sign announcing the lack of traffic signs is a good joke, but it’s also a perfect symbol of Monderman’s philosophy. The sign itself is superfluous, for a driver can see that there are no traffic signs in Makkinga. After all, Monderman pointed out, what do traffic signs actually tell us? One day, driving through Friesland in his Volvo, Monderman gestured toward a sign, just before a bridge, that showed a symbol of a bridge. “Do you really think that no one would perceive there is a bridge over there?” he asked. “Why explain it? How foolish are we in always telling people how to behave. When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like that.”

Monderman’s methods were so bold that his premise was sometimes misunderstood.

It’s not that rules are bad, but rather, it’s better to promote a broader rule like “be considerate of others on the road” rather than a bunch of smaller directives posted on signs like, “turn here,” “slow down here,” “watch for pedestrians,” “yield to bikers,” etc. None of those instructions are bad, but taken as an aggregate whole, they do more harm than good. It’s much better, then, to go by the spirit of the law. “For the letter kills,” as Paul says, “but the Spirit gives life.”

Jesus espoused a similar principle when He was challenged by the local authorities of his day, as recorded in Matthew 22:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.”

Here we see a similar idea. According to Jesus, all of the Ten Commandments, as well as the thousands of rabbinical commandments that had been built upon them, can be summed up in two very simple ideas.

(Along with being a profound truth, this passage is proof that Steve Jobs did not come up with the simpler-is-better ethos.)

The biggest difference, though, between Monderman’s vision and Christ’s commandment was that Monderman put his faith in the goodness and intelligence of man, whereas Jesus made it abundantly clear that God is to be the source of all that is good, authoritative, or trustworthy.

This is where the Spirit-gives-life part comes in.


Giant Rubber Skis? No Thanks.

As a frequent driver along the I-5 corridor between Portland and Seattle, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the spirit behind all of the traffic laws, and I do my best to stay on top of the little things that enhance the overall usability of the road. I signal when I change lanes. I slow down for construction workers. I leave a lane of clearance if there is an officer conducting a traffic stop on the shoulder. (And thanks to Tom Vanderbilt, I no longer feel bad about being a late merger.)

These things I do because I Generally Try to Do the Right Thing.

Yet, sometimes my instincts fail me. Why? Because I am a fallible human being. To expect otherwise would be foolish.

The good news for me, though, is that I don’t have to rely solely on my instincts. I can listen to the Holy Spirit, because as a Christian I know that the Holy Spirit dwells inside me, 24 hours a day. (Like OnStar, but without the overbearing commercials.)

Thing is, though, I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and yet I still occasionally have a hard time discerning the difference between my instincts talking and the Holy Spirit talking.

Sometimes I don’t find out which until much later.

Which brings me back to that ill-fated journey up toward Seattle for a presentation I was supposed to do last week. It had been raining and windy all day, and I wanted to leave around noon so that I could still make it to my destination before dark.

But, true to form, I was running behind on my packing and other stuff I wanted to take care of before I left. Pretty soon, my noon departure turned to 1:30, and then 2:00, all the while I still had plenty to get done. At this point, I had a decision to make.

I could:

A) cut my losses and leave, still making it into Seattle before dark, or

B) stay and finish what I started, but not leave until closer to 5pm, driving almost completely in the dark and hopefully making it there by 8pm (my presentation wasn’t until morning).

Normally my choice would be A, because I generally try to be as safe as possible on the road, and every bit of daylight helps. But I promised my wife I would tidy up the living room and take care of some of the dishes I had left in the sink from days prior. So for once, I took the nobler path, and hoped for the best.

Fast forward to mile marker 68… it’s pitch black, raining cats and dogs, and through the blurred visage of my windshield I see a sea of red.

Brake lights.

Briefly, I shudder.

Another accident? Geez… we’ve all been driving too fast in the rain. Slowing down will help us all.

As I got closer, I could see the road flares, the orange cones, and the emergency vehicles that normally mean an accident has taken place. The only thing I couldn’t see was wreckage. And then I noticed.

Waitaminute… ALL the lanes are closed? What the… ?!?

I had no choice but to follow the stream of traffic off of the freeway, where I learned of the flooding and road closure from a convenience store clerk who had her hands full trying to explain the situation to dozens of irritated motorists. (“I guess we’ll just have to party here tonight,” she said. “We’ve already got the snacks!”)

My first response was disbelief, because I had never seen an interstate close because of rain. Snow and ice, sure, but rain?

My second response was frustration, because I knew if I would’ve just left the house sooner, I would’ve made it through with no problem. Choosing option B ended up with me missing my presentation. That part sucked.

My third response came while I was driving back to Portland, and it was a mild sense of relief. Just because I could’ve made it before the roads were closed doesn’t mean something bad wouldn’t have happened to me on the way. I thought back to a comment I heard a Drivers Ed instructor make when I was in high school:

“It only takes an inch of standing water for a car to hydroplane, which is fancy word for waterskiing without a boat.”

I’d never been waterskiing before, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to try that way.

But my fourth response happened the next day, after I told Holly that I felt a little bit guilty because I know I could’ve left earlier and still made my appointment.

“Yeah, that’s true,” she said. “But then you’d still be stuck there.”

She was right. The interstate was closed for three days, and I had another three-day journey due the following week. If I would’ve left when I planned to, I would’ve spent eight days away from home.

It was at that point that I realized… picking option B wasn’t just my instinct.

It was the Holy Spirit.


What Does This All Mean?

I was drawn to Vanderbilt’s book because in it, I found more evidence of Biblical truth in action.

Sometimes rules can be helpful, but sometimes they’re not. What’s more, we need more than rules to live by. We need understanding. We need relationships with one another. Most importantly, we need a relationship with God.

I recommend Traffic, but what I recommend more than reading it is embracing the conviction that precipitated its existence – the need to examine one’s self and surroundings. I’m convinced that nothing innovative, revolutionary or legendary ever happened without someone asking the questions, “why are things the way they are?” and “is there a better way?”

Finally, I offer an addendum to a time-honored axiom.

My mother-in-law used to tell my wife Holly when she was little that couples who are thinking of getting married should first be forced to tile a bathroom together.

In our first year of marriage, we never had to tile a bathroom together, but we did move across the country, taking a few days to drive from Chicago to Portland. So I offer the multiple-day road trip as a worthy substitute trial.

Because trust me… you haven’t seen how a person really lives, until you’ve seen how they drive.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.

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The Upside Down Kingdom Does Football


If you’re tired of giving the regular answer, and someone asks you what Christmas is about, you can tell them that sometimes it’s about football.

(And not the Charlie-Brown-and-Lucy kind either.)

Some people refer to Christianity as a backward religion, but I prefer to think of it more as an upside-down kingdom.

Obviously, I’m not the first person to coin such a phrase, but sometimes I think it just fits. Because, when you get right down to it, Christianity at its core tends to run counter against everything this world tends to stand for. And sometimes the contrast is downright startling.

Like, for example, this story, brought to the masses by Sports Illustrated’s ESPN’s Rick Reilly. I’m not usually one to prop up the work of a mass media juggernaut like ESPN, but in this case I think this story deserves all the hits it can get.

Suffice it to say, though, it won’t make everyone happy. I’m sure that Christopher Hitchens could read Reilly’s piece and think, those dumb Christians… they can’t even figure out which side they’re on. And in a way, he’d be right. Most of the time, we don’t.

But every once in awhile, we figure it out, and the results are priceless.

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Don’t Just Do Something: Experiencing God In Snowpacalypse 2008


(My apologies to a commenter at Eugene Cho’s Beauty and Depravity, from whom I so judiciously ganked the term “snowpacalypse” … considering all the hysterics from Seattlites and Portlanders who aren’t used to a ton of snow, it just seemed perfect.)

First, I offer a passage from the latest edition of Experiencing God, a Bible study that I have recently embarked upon:


Don’t Just Do Something

We are a doing people. We always want to be doing something. Every now and then someone will exclaim, “Don’t just stand there; do something!”

In contrast, I think God is crying out to us, “Don’t just do something. Stand there! Enter a love relationship with Me. Get to know Me. Adjust your life to Me. let Me love you and reveal Myself through you to a watching world.” A time will come when doing will be called for, but we cannot skip the relationship. The relationship with God must come first.

Truer words have never been spoken or read, especially for me in this time.

Most of my heroes in the faith are men of action, people who identified injustice and were led by God to do something about it. People like my friend Kevin Bruursema, whose heart for God is the engine that turns his holy motor. (As an aside, doesn’t Holy Motor sound like a Christian metal band?)

I am reminded, by this Henry Blackaby passage, that action is always a byproduct of, rather than an avenue toward, relationship with God. And this truth has been made real to me in a very practical way.

Today is the eighth straight day of snow and subfreezing temperatures in the Portland area. I am not unfamiliar with such weather after spending eight years in Chicago, but this kind of heavy snowfall almost never happens in the urban centers of the Pacific Northwest.

This time of year, most of the conversation I have about weather usually consists of bragging about how people here don’t know how to operate in snow, how after an inch or two the whole city shuts down.

Only this time it’s not an exaggeration. After almost a foot of snow in the last 24 hours, the city really has shut down. And the most visceral part of that shutdown was that yesterday morning, we canceled church.

Yes, we canceled church. And we weren’t the only ones. Most of the churches in the area canceled service.

On a normal week that would actually be a relief for me, but this week it was particularly sad. See, yesterday was supposed to have been our big Christmas service. We had all kinds of special music planned, and a little pageant for the kids. It was going to be the highlight of the season.

Only, it never happened.

Yesterday, during a time of pensive contemplation, Holly mused that maybe this was God’s way of telling us we all need to slow down. Maybe He’s trying to humble us. She thought of James 4:13-15 (rendered by Eugene Peterson’s The Message):

And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

Even though service was canceled, I headed down to the church anyway, because I’m sorta stubborn like that, and I wanted to be there to greet anyone who didn’t get the word of our cancellation and trekked out in the snow anyway.

(Plus I wanted to have fun doing doughnuts in the church parking lot.)

While I was there, I had a lot of time to think.

So much of what I’ve been trying to do for God has been so fruitless. My motive has been good, but I’ve just gotten into the habit of hunkering down, squaring my shoulders, and soldiering on in the work of the Lord. Preparing music, scheduling rehearsals, sending emails, making phone calls, following through on action items, et cetera, et cetera.

As our church has gone through so much drama and decline, I think I was partially motivated by the desire to provide a seasonal respite from the neverending church drama. No matter how bad it gets for our church, went my thinking, the least we can do is do Christmas right.

But in the end, my specially-arranged Christmas music (including a hip-hop rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) was no match for a foot of snow blanketing the metro area. Apparently, God had other plans.

One of the best things about twelve inches of snow (and still falling!) is that the monumental effort required to go anywhere provides a disincentive for running errands and scurrying about. Weather like this beckons us to just sit, and be calm, be thankful, behold the beauty… to just be.

This, I am stubbornly and painfully learning, is where God wants me right now.

So despite my pride at finally putting chains on my Pontiac for the first time, I will resist the urge to go out just because I’m not afraid of driving in the snow. I will be satisfied with loving my wife and taking some time for introspection. I will learn my lesson and be grateful for the humbling experiences God has blessed me with.

I will sit and be.

And I will experience God in the process.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.

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An Open Letter to A Young Republican

(By the way, this isn’t just one of those generic open letters aimed at anyone who fits the description. There is an actual young Republican that I tried to engage recently in conversation surrounding these issues, but his lack of response to my questions and continued rhetoric on his blog afterward have caused me to believe that he is not interested in dealing seriously with these particular issues. This saddens me. Yet it is my hope that there are others who share some of his convictions who might wrestle with these questions, and in so doing, enrich the current wasteland of political commentary with honesty and sensitivity, two facets in short supply in the blogosphere.)

(Also, I realize that I’m going to throw around some generalizations. I’ll qualify them here and there, but my sentences are already long to begin with, so just bear with me. I try not to get too bogged down in politics, but I just couldn’t keep silent any longer. This post has been a long time coming.)



To A Young Republican,

Congratulations.

Your political party, left for dead by many pundits even before the primary season started because of its affiliation with our once-popular current President, has managed to get back into the game, big time.

The addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket has re-energized the red-state faithful, many of whom wouldn’t have ridden the bandwagon for John McCain alone. I’m quite sure that you, like me, have more than a few misgivings about the candidate you’re standing behind, but the competitive nature of politics has a way of causing us to suppress those misgivings for awhile. As the thinking goes, if my guy is going to be attacked left and right by the opposition anyway, there’s no point in me piling on and doing their work for them.

This, along with many other tenets of conventional political wisdom, scares me to no end.

Not because it means that more people have rallied under the banner of McCain/Palin and that means the GOP might win the race, though that would sadden me somewhat.

No, the thing that most distresses me about the current political landscape as I see it expressed by people in your shoes, is that I feel like I should hate your guts when the truth is that I hardly know you.

You might be wondering what I mean.

Allow me to explain.

Lately, I’ve seen a boldness come over you and your peers. It’s a boldness that borders on belligerance. It seems to come from a collective sigh of relief that finally you have a candidate (or co-candidate, as it were) that can steal some headlines from the celebrity of Obama, which is no small feat. And in one sense, I find this behavior to be mostly harmless. If more young people are getting excited and engaged in the political process, I generally see that as a net plus, regardless of which side they land on ideologically.

And even though I’ve seen several high-profile Republicans (including Rudy Giuliani, and Sarah Palin herself) take some cheap shots, that doesn’t bother me that much. I mean, we are still talking about politics. And as any good Chicagoan will tell you, politics ain’t beanbag.

Most well-meaning baby boomers have already seen how divisive and ugly political races become, so it has become social custom for them to simply avoid talking about it in polite conversation. If you don’t bring it up, they won’t either. Not belonging to that generation, though, you and I tend to play by a different set of rules.

Generations X and Y tend to, according to my anecdotal evidence, wear their politics on their sleeves. In some cases, it’s a logical and systematic expression of their core beliefs about life and humanity. But for many of us, it’s more fundamental than that… on both the left and right, we younger adults often ride our respective political bandwagons as a statement of identity. More than just believing in certain ideals, we belong to groups of people who are passionate about the same things we’re passionate about.

So we dig into politics with the same zeal and passion that we give in other areas of our life, if not more so. It becomes a part of our identity, like the brands that we consume or the sports teams that we follow. (It’s no wonder the whole Democrats-are-Macs, Republicans-are-PCs meme is still popular.)

And realizing this helps me to understand why so many of you absolutely despise Barack Obama.

It’s because his political ascendance happened so quickly and so dramatically that even before he declared any official candidacy, his media coverage far exceeded the substance of his overall political achievement. Riding mostly on the strength of his ideas, his charismatic personality, and the cultural and historical significance of his biracial heritage, he managed to parlay a few lucky breaks into a seat in the U.S. Senate, and now he’s poised as the frontrunner to become President.

Is it jealousy? Yeah, there’s probably a little of that.

But I think it’s mostly disdain for the culture of celebrity that has surrounded his candidacy for so long. The Hollywood endorsements, the will.i.am tribute song, the endless parade of T-shirts and trinkets with his name plastered all over them. I’m sure by now someone somewhere is selling Barack Obama waffle irons, where you can pour your syrup over waffles stenciled with his high-wattage smile, and melt little pats of butter that spell out ‘YES WE CAN.’

It’s a little much, I agree.

So combining that with his stances on abortion and gay marriage, his opposition to the Iraq war, and other hot-button issues… it all equals a candidate that you love to hate, even more so than Hillary.

And like I said before, if this only had to do with politics, it wouldn’t bother me that much.

The problem is that many of you, dare I say, most of you, are Christians. And many of you are Bible-believing, sanctified, blood-bought evangelical Christians, which means you’re not shy about making your beliefs heard in the public square.

And those beliefs, specifically the theological ones that differentiate Christian faith from all the other faiths out there, are beliefs that I share. So I think it’s great that you want to advocate for a candidate that you interpret as representing Christianity as you know and understand it. In your mind, you’re doing your part to advance God’s kingdom.

And trust me, I’m all about advancing God’s kingdom.

But it seems to me that, in your zeal to elect the guy you want in office (McCain), it’s not enough to argue that your guy is better. No, you’ve got to tear down the other guy in the process.

Which, again, is not that big a deal if all we’re talking about is politics. Laker fans don’t care if I call Kobe Bryant a diva or a Jordan wannabe… they know that’s what opposing fans do. So I don’t mind that you want to tear Obama down in the public square. As American citizens, you have a right to do that.

As Christians, however, you have a responsibility to hold a higher standard of conduct. Name-calling, spreading false rumors, and fear mongering may be standard behavior for political strategists, but Jesus told us to, you know, love our enemies. Even our political enemies.

So the fact that you don’t seem to be doing that particularly well makes people take notice, especially people who don’t know God like you do. And no disrespect to all the Dallas Mavericks fans, but if even Mark Cuban thinks that politics have gotten a little out of control, then something is very wrong.

Now I know I’m risking looking like a hypocrite here, because many of you might be wondering why I never took the time to defend George W. for the merciless pounding he’s been taking from the left. Where was the call to civility then, you might be asking.

Well, you’re right. I’ve been guilty of the same offense. I’ve chosen to selectively follow God’s will and leading based on the convenience of my politics. And since Bush is easy to make fun of, I didn’t stand up for him at times when I could have. I chose to ignore that whole passage of Romans 13 that talks about how God has ordained certain authorities to be over us.

But… and no offense, fellow Democrats, but uh… it’s a little different when Republicans do it, because the GOP is supposed to be the party that upholds Christian values.

I mean, I know Barack said that whole bit about how “we serve an awesome God in the blue states” during his coming out party in 2004, but I don’t think most of America was really picking up what he was laying down. Liberal Democrats already have the reputation of being secular, immoral, and Godless.

And frankly, even though it saddens me to see liberal bloggers, pundits, and journalists engaging in the same name-calling and fear-mongering, it doesn’t surprise me that much. The prophet Jeremiah (no, not that Jeremiah) told us the heart of man is deceitfully wicked. So when you have a population of people that is, by and large, without the truth of God as we understand it, what should one expect?

But you, on the hand… you guys are supposed to know better.

And I think that if you really understood how much some of your actions help push people away from God instead of drawing them back to God, you would do things differently.

Now as we watch the rest of the drama unfold in this march toward November, I honestly don’t know who is going to win. At this point, I could see it going either way.

But do me a favor, okay?

Regardless of who wins, lets cut out all the vitriol. Lets do our best to keep it about policies and principles.

And lets agree to respect the office of the President, regardless of who actually occupies the Oval Office.

And lets not view the President simply as an extension of the party to which he (or she) belongs, but as a three-dimensional human being with flaws and hopes and bad hair days just like the rest of us. Because it’s a lot harder to demonize someone you can identify with.

And if we can all identify with a figure as polarizing and controversial as the President of the United States, then maybe we’re not as far apart as it seems.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.

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Links to make you think: Campaign Edition


I try not to let this blog get too political because I don’t want to be known as a stooge for either the left or right (masthead notwithstanding).

Mostly, I just like to get people thinking.

So here are a bunch of pieces I’ve read lately that have really got me thinking.

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Lord, Save Us From Your Followers: Film Review

There are several reasons why I went back and forth about whether or not I would even do this review. It was getting to the point where I was arguing with myself about it:

Come on… you haven’t posted anything in forever.

No… it’s late and I have more important things to do.
Okay, but remember the Augustine quote? Remember how fired up that got you? That’s the kind of stuff worth writing about.

Is it worth being late to church over?

Maybe, maybe not, but if you put it off now, you’re never going to get to it.
So what… Dan’s Merchant’s stock is hot right now, all kinds of people will be and have already reviewed Lord Save Us. In another week, there will probably be four or five great reviews that you’ll be able to link to.

And none of them will be from me.
Since when is it all about you? Grow up already.

After awhile I realized that arguing about it was probably more time consuming than the review itself. Thus, my first instincts won out and you get to read this.

Lord Save Us From Your Followers is both a film and a book, both of which bring an entertaining look at the cultural divide between evangelicals in America and the scores of Americans who can barely understand, much less stomach, their methods.

Its breezy, irreverent tone evokes a Michael-Moore-meets-Donald-Miller kind of thing. If that last sentence smacks of lazy cult-hero-comparison, it is… but only because it’s so easy. Not only is director Dan Merchant clearly influenced by both, but he directly references both.

That Merchant is from Portland, my hometown, is not surprising. Only someone in an extremely liberal coastal metropolis like Portland would possess the requisite balance of moxie, humility, and offbeat nuttiness to make the film entertaining while still keeping an even moral keel. It’s clear that Merchant wants to entertain, but not at the expense of promoting understanding.

This philosophy contrasts with what I call the Dave Chappelle Syndrome (alternately known as Aaron McGruder Syndrome) whereby merciless depictions of a subculture’s worst elements are justified by the creator identifying with said subculture — i.e., ‘I can make fun of Black people because I’m Black.’ This mentality, when carried out to the nth degree, creates a double standard and restricts conversation more than it promotes it, because people outside the group will complain that if they tried to say the same thing, they would be crucified by the P.C. police.

In Lord Save Us, Merchant wisely avoids this. His genteel sense of sportsmanship keeps Lord Save Us from spiraling into mean-spirited caricature by doing things like taking shots at both Left Behind and The DaVinci Code in the same breath. This means that the film should reach a relatively wide audience, even if constituents on both sides of the issues will come away feeling like he didn’t go far enough.

The director begins the film with his own story of Christian upbringing, in order to establish the impetus for his journey: to examine what’s behind society’s apparent rejection of organized Christianity, despite its overwhelming belief in God. To achieve his goal, Merchant travels the U.S. in search of answers to his sub-titular premise (“how the gospel of love is dividing America.”)

What results is a thorough explanation of how Christians get it wrong, followed by several compelling examples of what happens when Christians get it right. He does this through interviews with theologians, politicians, and policy wonks, interspersing them with man-on-the-street Q&A and a few memorable vignettes recorded during his travels as a bumper-sticker-wearing conversationalist.

My personal highlights were the opening Augustine quote from Tony Campolo, the “Culture Wars” game show, and all of the Al Franken material. I was surprised by how gentle and humble Franken came off in this documentary, contrasting so heavily with much of the strident rhetoric of his counterparts on the conservative side.

If there was anything I didn’t particularly like, it was Merchant’s overly conciliatory tone at the conclusion of the film. Throughout the film, many of his subjects repeatedly referred to God or Jesus Christ as being about love, which is definitely true. However, he does little throughout the film (other than a humorous look at historical names of cities) to demonstrate that his enemies in the faith — those Christians making the church look bad — have legitimate motives, even if their methods are suspect.

Thus, his pleas for tolerance and universal love come across to me as being a little too Pollyanna for my taste. Not punctuating the film with stronger statements about truth or objectivity may have been a move calculated to maximize positive response with secular press and promote healthy conversation between enemy combants in the culture war.

If that’s the case, then I applaud his decision to be strategic. Others might wonder if all his time spent with non-believers has weakened his grip on the truth. To each his own, I guess.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear — if this film continues to build word of mouth buzz through private screenings in churches, then Dan Merchant will join Donald Miller (“Blue Like Jazz”) and Paul Young (“The Shack”) in an exclusive club of Portlanders who moonlight as countercultural icons of authentic Christian spirituality.

If history holds to form, the leftist Christian movement will build, and then in thirty years my children will have another iteration of the establishment to rail against.

Lord, help us all.

[Big-ups to Cole Brown at Red Sea NE for the screening.]