Category Archives: Influence of Culture

Muslims, Fear, and the Church

My passion is helping to connect the church to the world. Unfortunately the church has stood with many parts of culture that are fundamentally against Christ. These are often subtle and we miss them. I am thankful for several of my good friends outside of the Church to remind me of how we are, or are not, portraying Christ.

The gospel and Christ’ calling is more about what we are supposed to ‘do’ than it is about what we are ‘not to do’. My next several postings will be on the church as they can more effectively live out the gospel as a positive endeavor, rather than a negative calling out against something.

I was outside of a church recently when I was approached by a young-ish man. He loudly pronounced that he was not a threat and he dramatically emptied his pockets of his cell phone, wallet, and keys. Threw off what could be called a jacket and tossed down his hat and proclaimed that he was harmless to everyone minus an upside down cross tattooed on his neck. I ignored the gesture, ended my phone call and introduced myself. His name is Jason. He was drunk and coming off of a meth high.

He felt the need to proclaim that he was not a threat because he had been called an ‘Arab’ ‘terrorist’ or ‘Muslim’ before. Normally I would have glossed over this. But recently I read an article by Aziz Ansari giving a brief overview of his experience with racial and religious tensions. Although he himself is often greeted in the street by individuals wanting an autograph (he plays tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation). His immediate family on the other hand has experienced a much different response. They are often called terrorists, immigrants, told to go ‘home’ and other rude or fear inducing public remarks. Specifically he details the fear he had for his mother’s safety just after the attacks in Miami.

He specifically details in his article that Donald Trump’s campaign has increased the fear and tensions he has perceived. Whether it has increased or just brought to the surface what is already there is irrelevant. There is a systemic problem as it relates to the church. This hyped up fear of terrorism and Muslim extremists is pushed mostly by right wing conservatives. A vast majority of whom are Christians. What I want to focus on, and I pray that my reader can readily listen, is the Churches response to Muslims and Arabs in our country.

Here is my central point: Christians should never in any form be a part of spreading fear. There is no Scriptural basis for fear within ourselves or spreading fear to others. Specifically, we are called to only fear God, and to be a neighbor to all we come across.

Muslims should never reasonably fear for their safety from Christians. Even if a terrorist is a terrorist that claims to be a Muslim, what have we to fear? We have Christ who conquered death. Should we spread the fear of God? No. We preach Christ, him crucified and risen again. Fear is not of faith. Christians live by faith. If we perish in the process of spreading Christ’ love, then so be it.

The same is true of homosexuals, transgendered, hippies, pot heads, metal heads, nymphomaniacs, strippers, gang members, prostitutes, pimps, etc.

The Church as God’s voice to the world needs to be a place of safety for all others, with self-sacrificing reasonable caution. Should a twelve year old girl have spoken with Jason? Of course not. But any other college or high school male could have. If I become a victim of a very small pool of people intending violence at a church, then so be it. Christ calls us to fear him alone, so let it be far from the church to cause people to fear anyone but God.


Justifying Fashion for the Church

Often in Christianity we have to categories. Those things that are sacred, and those items that are secular. Recently I have been seeing more and more how this dichotomy is dangerous and even harmful to the Christian church. There are many perfectly good enterprises that are given up in pursuit of a life that is only sacred.

                God created a world for us to enjoy. We are called to follow Christ wherever we are at. Are plans are to be committed to the Lord whatever they are so long as they are in the character of Christ. When looked at this way, there is a great deal of life that is free to be enjoyed that is normally considered secular.

                Fashion for example. I have had the past had a great deal of difficulty spending money on anything related to clothing. I am more than my clothes and none of it will fit me for very long anyway. I never knew what to do with my friends who invested in a hundred dollar pair of pants, or three hundred dollar shoes. We are very quick to judge this as a waste of money that could be given to the poor.

                But, even a slight comparison to our other judgments will find this lacking. Do we judge the individual who spends three hundred dollars on a ski trip? Or buys a car with leather seats and A/C instead of a minimalist design with no power windows or air conditioning. Do we judge the one that remodels their kitchen? I have never heard of that. These are all things that are ‘expected’ as normal and good. But the judgement is arbitrary.

                Furthermore, I categorize fashion and clothing as one of the arts. How we dress and present ourselves can be as much as a form of art as a canvas. Matching colors, styles, seasonal clothes all with your particular body type in order to convey an image is an art. Especially if that dress conveys an image of your personality in line with who you are. I would be curious to see a fashion guide based on personality.

                Finally, how we present ourselves is important in ministering the gospel of Christ. Just as overtly expensive clothes can make those who are less ‘fortunate’ feel bad, so too cheap of clothing can cut off certain peoples. If you want to minister to the wealthy or LA and Hollywood culture, you had better dress like it. Clothing can also spark conversations.

                Use your money wisely, and follow Christ. In some cultures, it is considered rude not to wear your best. We are the ones that have to look at you all day, not you.


Busyness

In modern America there is a fascination with being busy. Individuals will take on work, hobbies, sports, church, and try to have relationships all at the same time. Even those who are not over achievers and try to at least appear and sound busy. It is bragging rights to say that you worked fifty hours a week are in school and still have time to iron your clothes.

But what are we as Christians supposed to do in this culture? Where do we put Christ? Is he part of our bragging rights of reading our Scripture every morning as part of a routine? Attending church services and bible studies. Helping with a kids service and still attending other services in an effort to be busy for Jesus seems to be common for the Spiritually dedicated.

Jesus took time to leave the crowds and pray. He listened to the Father and spent alone time with Him often. Not on a schedule or routine but on a basis of relationship.

One side affect of all of this busyness is that we schedule God to just one part of our day. We have a morning prayer time or bible reading. We have church on Sunday and bible study on Tuesday. This is far from the faith of relationship that we claim to profess. It is kind of hard to swallow that we are willing to die for Christ and plan him into specific parts of our lives.

I posit this response. That regardless if we are busy or not that in addition to any sort of scheduled time, for I will not deny the importance of planning time with those who are important to us, that we should also practice a daily listening and attentiveness to the working of the Holy Spirit. We should definitely set aside time with no schedule. A prayer time with no end date such as the evening before you can sleep in or before a day with no plans. But also, that we should slow down or stringent busy faith and just start allowing Jesus to work in every part of our lives. From the calendar to the rush out the door for work.

When we do this then we may begin to fill our time with more important things. For me, the leading that Christ has given me is to write. So I write this past my planned bed time (my new planning on goals I will speak of later) not to be busy but to carefully do what I feel the Spirit calling me to do.


Over-stimulation of Imagery

Using images and symbolism in order to engrain a new way of thinking into our heads is one of my favorite approaches. It works better than just telling yourself to do something. It also is a lot more interesting and can become very creative. For example, imagine a samurai, in full garb and sword drawn surrounded by enemies. He is however next to a koi pond and cherry blossoms are flying through the air. He is not in a tense fighting stance, but standing calm and relaxed, and smiling slightly. Now that is peace in the midst of chaos. Be the Samurai. Don’t stress, don’t prepare once the battle has started, just do.
Depending upon your ability to imagine, and your familiarity with the concept of peace in chaos, this could be a very good image to bring to your mind in the middle of stress. Pictures carry a lot more weight than words at times, and bring in one more of the senses in order to try and connect the person we want to be with the one that is.
Images are also used for creating passwords. Imagine a tree, next to a boulder, next to an oddly bent light. The password is ‘tree.photon?’ where the light is shaped like a question mark. Now this could be made as complicated as you like.
However, this method is becoming weaker and weaker. As you go throughout your day you are going to run into countless images. Many will be normal, billboards with a face on it, but others will be odd drawings or graffiti. The problem that poses for us is that it makes each individual image more difficult to remember. The brain naturally partitions things as important or unimportant, as standing out or plain. The more images you have running through your head, the less any one of them can take up significance or stand out.
Using images to spur us on towards success, becomes less and less effective. I have no application, just an observation. I am sure the over stimulation of images has other affects, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Do you have any ideas?


“The Innovation of Loneliness” A Commentary

I digress today from the question of, “Are People Worth It” A friend of mine shared a very interesting video on Facebook today which is worth going over.

The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen on Vimeo.

In the video Shimi talks about the effect social media has on loneliness, or better yet how social media can increase our loneliness. He provides some very interesting points, and I would like to take some of them just a little further.
Shimi mentions that social media is used to choose how we are perceived. Since everything is not done in real time but can be edited and changed, it can create a gap between who we really are and how we are trying to be perceived. This has some merit. Those who do try and change how they are perceived are not living honestly and even if they feel connected are alone because they are not known. (I find the notion of living honestly as a requirement for friendship and intimacy as to basic to argue here). But I find that most people on social media are pretty good at typing stuff off the cuff without editing it and letting their true selves out.
The issue of social media communication lacking the real time constraint I believe is only part of the issue. Carefully to editing material can be the real us we are trying to be and thus a real aspect of who we are. If we take time to edit grammar and what we say carefully, that is part of our personality if done right. The bigger issue is relationship communication in time and space.
Real interactions happen in space. Conversations through social media do not. I am all for conversations. I love a good conversation and that is my primary way of relating with and loving others. However, social media conversations lack the physical side of relationships. We are physical beings and our bodies carry a great deal of the relational burden. Our bodies are supposed to respond alongside our minds. Text carries mostly a mental response.
When I say something to you I am intended to illicit a response from you and I have a goal in mind for communication. I want you to laugh, empathize, share the feelings of my experience etc. I expect to see you smile, laugh, squirm or cry. I can see, hear, and sometimes touch your response. If I type something, I can’t. I am solely reliant upon my imagination to imagine your physical response. Which history tells me most humans imaginations and understanding is often flawed.
When we simply type something, we get less experience with others humanness. Our physical bodies and reactions are very important, and not having that causes a gap in our relationality. So I end with a challenge. Next time you want to like something, call a friend and tell them what you think or why you like something. Next time you want to leave a quick comment, go hang out instead. Let me know what happens.


Instant Gratification and Relationships

This blog is short because it has been on my mind, but I am not very adept at the topic, so I want to know what you think.

US culture has a systemic problem with immediate gratification. This issue goes beyond ADD. We desire instant gratification in all areas. We can get our relationship fix through Facebook chat updates. Text someone or call them immediately. Magazine adds advertise, “Six pack abs in one week,” “Summer body in 5 weeks or less!” “Develop monetary freedom today!” and on and on.

Most disturbing to me is the instant gratification desired in relationships. We can get our relationship fix through Facebook chat updates. Text someone or call them immediately.  We do not have a tempered patience or commitment to go alongside our relationships. This can cause the quickly moving and changing relationships that are usually painful and sad and not fulfilling. When we are no longer getting our ‘fix’ from the relationship, we move on to the next one. We want the gratification of friendship now. I fear for the generation that does not understand the long term commitment of lifelong friends.

What do you think are the problems that arise out of relationships that are based out of a now gratification?


Humor and What We Watch

                Here is a conversation I have had with multiple unrelated people.

Me: “So how was the guest speaker?”

                Person who must not be named: “Good”

                Me: “What was it about?”

                Person: “Uhm, well. The Christian life… and such.”

                Me: “What about it?”

                Person: “Uhm, well I don’t really remember.”

                Me: “Then how do you know if it was good?”

                Person:“It was funny. J”

               

A comment that I used to make about programs like, The Big Bang Theory, and How I Met Your Mother,

                Me: “I know it’s pretty crude, I don’t recommend it.”

                Good friend: “Then why do you watch it”

                Me: “I know I know, but it is sooooooo funny!”

 

                The UnHoly Grail of Humor

                Last post I talked about choosing what we watch and how it affects our mind. Everything in culture affects us, whether we like it or not. So why do we as Christians often allow ourselves to watch or be around negative influences? Often times the excuse is humor. “It is so funny!” is used to justify why we watch material that is on the edge, at best. “There is nothing funny out there that is clean.” Is claimed as an excuse; a really poor excuse at that.

                Is humor worth spoiling your mind? My answer is no. When we laugh, we are more likely to remember what was said. Also, we let our guards down as to what is said. We laugh; we don’t critique. Because our guards are down, we just subconsciously learned something. Now it is not that one joke can’t just be a joke. A joke may be harmless, I will be quick to point that out. But often, when it comes to television programs, it is never just one joke. The humor on television programs usually remains fairly consistent in their content. That way viewers know, to some degree, what to expect.

                All I mean to say here is that when you are choosing what to watch and what not to watch do not let humor influence your decision. If a program is unwholesome, it is unwholesome; humor doesn’t make up for it.

                Also, remember that there are plenty of programs that were funny without being crude just a few decades ago. Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, The Munsters, I Dream of Genie (I am talking purely humor and ignoring her choice of garb at the moment), The Adam’s Family and others. Hollywood primarily produces movies and series that make money. If we as Christians want more comedies that are not crude, then we need to not watch ones that are crude. May, just maybe if all 246 million Christians in the United States[1] only watched good movies and television shows, just maybe Hollywood would change. Will you put your money and time where your faith is?


[1] Note, I don’t find this number very accurate or convincing. The 64% that claim being affiliated with a church (9% less than the 246 million listed) seems a bit more accurate.