Tag Archives: 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.


Free

I recently took a trip to the store. It was really weird. I left my phone at home. It was really nice.

There was no concern of a friend calling me needing help. There was no, “pressure” to stay connected. There was no nervous checking of my phone for updates or notifications. I was actually present and attentive to my immediate surroundings. The breeze was slight, the sun was setting. I noted the smell of the asphalt and trash in the parking lot.

I highly recommend taking the time to spend time away from electronics. Enjoy the actual physical world in front of you. Not just the representation of it in pixels, or the physical plastic, metal and glass object we call our phones. They seriously aren’t that interesting.


Redeeming Black Friday

Redeeming Black Friday

                Black Friday does ruin the classic ideal of Thanksgiving being a nice meal with friends and family for those that begin lining up at stores at 5pm on Thursday evening. However, I do not want to give the impression that those who do such things are horrible stuff focused people. Besides many people, including one of my cousins, love the rush of trying to find the deals. It is their “sporting” hunt. Rather than shooting birds, they try and nab the deals. So for the shopping lovers, here are a few tips on how to redeem the shopping holiday.

                First, when you are out shopping smile and say hi to others. It is amazing how something as simple as a smile and “hello, how are you doing?” can change a random persons day for the better. You can even step it up by asking, “who are you buying for?” and following that up with, “what do you think they will think of the gift?”

                Second, be thankful. Thanksgiving is about being thankful. It used to be thankful for not dying and having food. Now we can be thankful that we do get to buy stuff. You should remember that there are people who are less fortunate than you and donate to Operation Christmas child or some other holiday giving, like buying a goat for a village through World Vision. But, you should also be thankful for the stuff that you do have. Denying the blessings that you have received is not the best way to remember or help those who don’t have the same blessings. Enjoying them is.

                Third, have fun with the process of thinking of others and buying them gifts. Get creative. Think of ways of gifts that will make memories.

                Finally, while you are in the checkout line standing in line after line, think of funny stories to tell or memories from seasons past. Sharing stories is one of the most powerful forms of connection and hope (if you tell it well). Be vulnerable, give it a try.

 


What We Watch

Part of engaging culture as Christians is finding out how culture affects us, and acting counter culturally to that. A second part is making sure that we are not partaking in culture in such a way that it hinders our Christian walk. Everything we listen to, watch, and read will affect how we think. How we think will affect our actions.

Subtly, the culture you engage will begin to infiltrate your mind, for better or for worse. For instance, in the short documentary by Jean Kilbourne
, Killing Us Softly (warning, mature content), Jean shows how even just the advertisements that we visually consume can affect every ones views of women, both the way men view them, and the way women view themselves.

She draws strong correlations between the advertisements in a society and the number of cases of eating disorders and self image issues. She shows how consistently in advertising women are presented as sex symbols, victims, prey, objects, and finding value in their relationship to men, not on their own. Where there is no mass media, there are drastically lower numbers of eating disorders.

Advertisements also affect how we think about manhood, womanhood, parenting, children, ethics, morality, sex, vacations, rights, and more. Therefore, we must be careful as to what we consume. Now, we may not be able to avoid all billboards, commercials, and Facebook advertisements, but we can choose what television shows we watch.

The television series, The Big Bang Theory, Community, My Name Is Earl, Friends with Benefits, How I Met Your Mother, and others all devalue the importance and sacredness of sexuality. Sex is a commodity, sex is cheap, sex is between any two consenting adults without repercussion (At least in the movie, Knocked Up, the movie is about a pregnancy after foolish choices).  On a short note, our society does not understand sacredness of any form, and certainly not when it comes to sex.

My primary point though is that whether we like it or not, these shows are going to affect how we think and therefore how we live. Is it then worth it? Is it worth it to watch programs that consistently portray life contrary to biblical principles when there are many other good shows that do not. One could watch, White Collar, or Sherlock

(BBC. Really, you absolutely need to watch this, if you gain one thing out of my blog I hope it is that you watch the BBC Sherlock starring, Benedict Cumberbatch), or movies like, Valkyrie,
, Howl’s Moving Castle any from the Marvel Universe and others.

I am not saying that we cannot watch anything that contains ideas contrary to Scripture, (each denomination would, in their opinion, need their own Hollywood!) but we must be careful and we must remember that self control, and personal sacrifice  are part of the Christian walk and more important than our own entertainment.


Marvel Comics and Binding Stories

The ancient myths of the Greco-Roman and Norse God’s were shared in order to show the listener how to live. It showed them how to behave in society. It demonstrated the relationship between men and women. It explained why the weather changed or why catastrophes happened. It explained the motivation for wicked deeds and what honor is. They also helped to hold together the whole of society. Since everyone in a society knew the same stories and lessons from the stories, it added a thread of commonality.

Joseph Campbell spent most of his life studying myths. His goal was to find the common threads in myths around the world. One of the themes that came up in most cultures is the quest of the hero. A hero overcame obstacles in order to become the person he needed to become. He would prove his worth, his place in society, become a man etc. These stories showed young men what they were supposed to do to become a man (women were often left out or given secondary roles). The quest could include defeating a monster, traveling to a distant place, or often a death and resurrection.

In America, we have many movies, but we have few stories of lore to guide the young generation in how to live. We have historical figures, like Davy Crockett, George Washington, Daniel Boone, and Martin Luther King Jr. but they are given a cursory telling at best. I am rather disappointed that such fantastic historical figures are not held up as bedtime and campfire stories. However, I am very thrilled that the United States is starting to tell stories of its own mythical heroes.

Our American Heroes are comic book heroes. Currently the comic book industry that is dominating the market is the Marvel Universe. Marvel is the company that has produced the heroes known as, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, Ant Man (who is not like an ant in the same way that Spider Man is like a spider) the X-Men and many others. For many years, comics and baseball cards were what young boys would spend their allowance on every week.

Until the release of the recent blockbuster hits, Marvel Studios was slowly going under. Comic book sales were down and their profits were disappearing. Now bought by the Walt Disney Corporation, Marvel Corp. is taking the United States Culture by storm. With no signs of stopping the production of their main heroes, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, as well as planning to continue to add more Marvel heroes. Marvel is a major force in shaping our thinking. This is especially true because now they are making good movies. Through the flop of the Hulk films, the mediocre Fantastic Four, and the dismal falling of Spiderman, it seems that Marvel is learning to make good movies.

These good movies are not just fun to watch, but they are actually beneficial for our American character and culture. The marvel heroes, who will be the subject of the next several postings, are teaching young people the importance of right over might, relationships, honor, personal growth, learning from mistakes, and good choices.
The marvel movies are also so wide spread that they offer a semi common thread to the USA. They give an actual story to follow, and not just the commonality of consumerism, hard work and baseball.