Friday, February 29, 2008

Only Visiting This Planet?



Larry Norman passed away on Sunday.

Granted, most of Larry's career was well before my time. But everyone always said he was the father of Christian rock, being one of the early Christian "counterculture" guys in music. And his influence was (and can be) found all over the musical map.

I recall Gene Eugene's death seven or eight years ago. Gene wasn't as well-known as Larry, but he was a producer and musician that had worked with a huge number of the bands that I really was weened on in the time I started finding "Christian" music I could get into, sometime in the 1990s.

It's lesser-known, underground guys like this (not that Larry Norman wasn't well known, but you know what I mean) that really had me thinking about the term "Christian music" ten or fifteen years ago. It's such a silly misnomer. There are so many churched individuals that listen to nothing but the "Christian" music stations, and "Christian" recording artists, as opposed to that dreaded "secular" music.

They also may or may not only drink milk from a Christian cow. (Was that an obscure reference?)

I do like a lot of music that fits into the Christian category. I love singing worship songs, and there are even some fantastic bands that may fall under that dreaded "Christian" label. "Christian music" isn't nearly as derivative as it was 20 years ago, although I'll admit I really can't listen to a Christian radio station very long without being annoyed at hearing the same mediocre songs over and over.

Still, though... Music isn't Christian or non-Christian. It's music.

Larry Norman was described as a "stubbornly independent artist." He made some Christians angry because he was so different than the standard "Christian singer" in the '60s and '70s. And that really makes my inner anti-establishment soul smile just a bit. He hung out with, or influenced, people from all sorts of backgrounds. McCartney. Dylan. Van Morrison. U2.

He went out of his way to reach people OUTSIDE of the church. He wasn't quite as interested in the ones sitting in the pews. They were already there. The ones that needed the help were the ones on the streets, the ones involved in drugs.

And what could be more emergent than that?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Women! Teaching in Your Church! Call the Authorities!

When I was 17, and not very smart, I dated a girl from a Methodist church for awhile.

The "not very smart" thing had nothing to do with the girl I was dating. I just wasn't very smart. Most 17 year-old guys aren't. I'll get to that in a minute.

Anyway, some Methodist churches had women as pastors. Growing up, I had always learned that this was a big no-no in churches. So some debate ensued between this girl and I. Pretty soon I even brought her pastor into the discussion, as well as some others in my church.

Yeah, like I said. I wasn't very smart. These are not necessarily the type of discussions that go over well in a teenage romance. Nothing was resolved, and obviously it did nothing to enhance my relationship with the girl.

Fast-forward 15 years to present day. I'm still in a church that frowns upon the notion of women being in teaching positions over men. It's not talked about, of course, because Big Churches don't like to put those kinds of topics front and center, for fear of offending the masses. But the leadership of the church will have to bring it up on occasion -- for instance, if a woman wants to teach a mixed-gender Sunday School class, or lead a small group, or maybe, I don't know, lead worship on a Sunday morning.

Yes, it's fifteen years later, and I'm so much more grown up. I'm an adult. Fifteen years of additional Biblical wisdom, teaching, and counsel. Obviously I should be an expert on the issue by now.

And I have no idea where I stand. The older I get, the less sure I become of the things that I once thought I knew.

    I Timothy 2:11-15:

    A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
This is nothing if not straightforward. There doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room, and that's why so many mainstream churches -- such as mine -- adhere to it. But, as I said, they don't want to OFFEND anyone. It's not like most churches have a "We are men, and all women must be silent and barefoot and in the kitchen!" mentality. It's just... No one seems to be sure what else to do about it.

So we push it to the side and hope that too many people won't rock the boat.

Churches -- and when I say "churches," my knowledge is limited to the three or four I've attended in the last fifteen years -- apply the "women teaching" passages a number or ways. The mentality seems to be thus:

  • Women can't "teach" adult men in a group setting.
  • Women can teach boys, generally up until those boys are somewhere around junior high age.
  • Women can be on paid staff of churches on certain terms, as long as, again, they aren't teaching adult men. And for some odd reason, many churches (read: mine) don't like to give out titles like "Minister" or "Pastor" to the women on paid staff.
Leading worship is another topic altogether, because some mainstream churches will allow women to do this, and some won't. In my current church, I'm fairly certain that they'd never hire a woman to be the "Music Minister."

So how do people debate this whole "women-teaching" topic?

Here is one side you might find interesting. Starting on page 179, check out the chapter entitled "What Does It Mean Not To Teach or Have Authority Over Men?" This logical and well-researched argument holds that the restrictions from I Timothy 2 are permanent and authoritative for the church, in all times and places and circumstances.

And a seemingly opposing view, which is also well-written and well-researched, is here. The discussion on the I Timothy passage begins about halfway down the page.

A number of counterarguments have been made, from the culture of the first century church, to the original audience and how the Greek was used and translated. Logical, understandable arguments, that have me shaking my head and saying, "Yeah, I can see that course of reasoning." But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "We're still having to try awfully hard to disprove something that is written out in black and white."

Here's what I wonder: Why does Paul make these statements? Why does he, in one instance, say that in Christ there is no male nor female, yet here he gives such huge restrictions upon women? What about the different spiritual gifts that Paul talks about elsewhere? Can't women have those gifts? And what's with the "women will be saved through childbearing" in verse 15? Doesn't that contradict numerous other passages about how we will be "saved"?

Much has been written about this topic (and I'll admit I only skimmed the articles I linked above). I still don't know where I stand on the issue. The I Timothy passage seems straightforward to me -- even regrettably so -- and I'm not sure I could come up with a good, Biblical argument that perfectly refutes those verses.

Yet in the larger context of things, it just doesn't always make SENSE in my mind. In the vast majority of scripture, we tend to equate the words of the author with the words of God. But this is one of those passages where it seems to come from a very HUMAN vantage point. Granted, my understanding of God is very small, and very finite. But I still have a hard time grasping why God would tell us that.

Of course, this is the reason that Teh Interwebs was invented: So that we could debate and argue about it here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Experiential Worship

Here's an excerpt from the introduction in the book "Experiential Worship" by Bob Rognlien (www.experientialworship.com). Has anyone read this book or ever heard of Bob Rognlien?

Owning Up to Our Present Story

Biblical worship is a life-changing encounter with God himself, moving us to give all that we are back to our Creator. However, we realize that these kinds of encounters are best-case scenarios and do not reflect the effect of typical worship services today. Even if we do occasionally witness key turning points taking place during our gatherings, far too rarely do we see in the lives of those who worship regularly the incremental changes that constitute an ongoing process of spiritual transformation.

In the majority of our churches, life-changing experiences, even incremental ones, are more the exception than the rule. If we are honest, we will admit that our services can easily slip into meaningless rote, driven more by habit than spiritual passion, and that many people attend every week and leave unchanged.

This worship impotence is not due to lack of effort. Most of us put tremendous energy into planning and leading meaningful worship experiences. Many are willing to make sacrifices and endure criticism in order to create an environment in which people can worship God and be touched by his Spirit. But for all our effort, the lack of actual changed lives can be a crushing disappointment to those who give so much. [ed: AMEN!]

The way out of this predicament is to rediscover the wide range of historical worship traditions and learn how to connect them to our emerging culture. We are in the midst of nothing less than an epochal transition, a tectonic social shift, a cultural revolution that is birthing a world we call “postmodern” because we can only describe what it is not. [ed: I think this is very eloquent and well said] Like fish unaware of the sea they swim in, we have often planned and led worship without recognizing the impact of our changing cultural environment. But now the currents have shifted. No longer is the water flowing in the direction of the traditions we inherited. If we do not learn to navigate these new waters differently, we will be swept away by this relentless tide of cultural change.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Jesus Pooped

When I first became a believer at the age of 18 I can remember some of my new Christian brothers and sisters sharing their "life verse." I never had a "life verse" as I thought the whole book was probably worth mentioning, but I felt the need to come up with one anyway, just to mess with people (in retrospect, it was probably a bad idea). I decided on Deuteronomy 23:12...
"Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself."
Many of you have heard what is referred to as "the shortest verse in the bible,"
Jesus wept. (John 11:35).
It's actually quite profound if you think about it. God in the flesh cried. He wasn't a Vulcan that suppressed his emotions because it gave him greater control. He cried when he learned of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. He wept when he saw how upset Mary and Martha really were. He was really human--which also means that he ate, slept, had a runny nose, suckled at his mother's breast, had skin rashes, urinated, threw up...and defecated.

It doesn't sound right, does it? But the other day as I was thinking of the idea of Jesus pooping (why? I don't know), I was reminded of that weird little verse and some of the rest of the chapter. Imagine a passage where both defecation and nocturnal emissions are mentioned in one fell swoop:
9 When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure. 10 If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. 11 But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp.

12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. 14 For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.

If you have trusted in Christ then you now have the Holy Spirit (also God--but God in the Spirit) living inside of you. It's not just God walking around the camp as in the Deuteronomy passage. He's with you everywhere and he's shared your earthly vessel. He knows what it feels like to weep...to go through puberty...to laugh...and even to feel alone. This is the Jesus that I want to get to know more.

--Big Doofus (Rog)

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Hollywood Emergent

Back when I was in late high school and early college, I decided I wanted to make movies for a living. Or maybe TV shows. Or work in radio. Something telecommunications-related, at the very least. What did I know, I was just a teenager.

But whatever it was that I would be crafting, it would be something decidedly Christian.

Telling someone that you are going to make movies is one thing. Telling someone that you are going to make Christian movies is something entirely different. It's more likely that you'll get some snickers. And maybe a well-timed Kirk Cameron joke.

The problem with "Christian" movies is that, of course, a piece of film can't really be "Christian." It's kind of like that other mass-market misnomer, Christian Music. A G-D-Em-C chord progression is neither Christian nor secular. Someone might write a song with lyrics that speak of Jesus, and we might even sing hymns or worship God with our voices. But a song, like a movie or a painting or a sculpture or a piece of toast, cannot really be "Christian."

Ah, see, but the artist, the creator of that movie or song or painting? Of course, *that* might be a Christian. Or it might not.

Most of us know that what is being passed off as Christian film these days is generally pretty much crap. Granted, there exists a bigger market for that type of thing than ever before, and the movies are probably much better-made than they were 30 years ago. But still, come on, let's be honest.

Crap. Direct-to-video crap.

And a lot of what has come from the "Christian" production companies in the past decade have just been rip-offs of more recent blockbuster successes. A lot of apocalypic thrillers or Bible-as-a-code dramas that either seriously lack any mention of Jesus, or present a false gospel altogether.

But what do I know. I don't really watch any of it. When I get together to watch movies with guys, we end up watching Fight Club or Shoot 'Em Up or films about mutated zombie sheep.

What I have noticed, however, is that there are a ton of mainstream (or independent) films that present perfect opportunities to discuss Jesus and/or Biblical themes. And I'm not just talking about The Passion. I'm talking about The Matrix, and its obvious Messiah themes. I'm talking about The Simple Plan and its overt discussion of materialism and how it affects our real-world relationships. Or Frailty and how we discern "voices from God."

How about something even more direct, like The Apostle? Or The Last Temptation of Christ?

The running joke about the "Emergent label" is that everything is a "conversation." It's about living missionally, baby! And to an extent, this is true. Opportunities for Biblical conversation abound in everyday life. Yet sometimes we miss it. Instead of looking to create relationships and have a conversation about life and Jesus and God's creation, we sometimes think it's too much work. Wouldn't it be easier to just invite them to church?

Anyway, I'm in my 30s now, so my chances of moving to Hollywood to make movies is pretty slim. The opportunity passed me by.

But yet, everyday, there's an opportunity for topical discussion in even the silliest of films.

What films have YOU seen lately that are heavy on the symbolism? What movies do you think inspire The Conversation?