Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Christian Style

Halloween has long been a controversial subject among Christians. Some say there's nothing wrong with dressing up and trick-or-treating, while others think it's evil because it started as a Druid holiday (although Christians took the holiday and turned into All Hallow's Eve, the day before the Day of the Dead). Many churches have come up with an alternative that preserves all the fun of costumes and candy, but without the spooky undertones: the Fall Festival.

I went to my first Fall Festival this past Sunday. It was just like the Halloween parties I went to when I was a boy; they had pumpkin carving, a pinata, a costume contest, and "trunk-or-treating" where the grown ups handed out candy from the trunks of their cars (it's much more innocent than it sounds). The only difference from my old childhood Halloween parties is there were no kids dressed as either devils or witches.

Here are few pictures:

Here's me and my pastor. Yes, folks, that's the same man I take spiritual guidance from!

Many families decorated their trunks.

The classic candid youth group shot.

Of course if the Fall Festival isn't scary enough, there's always The Tribulation Trail.

Located near Atlanta, GA, the Tribulation Trail is "an outdoor walk through drama. It portrays the end of times as recorded by John in the book of Revelation. Each scene tells the story of truth and will ultimately lead you to a time of decision. It takes approximately 90 minutes to walk through." Ah yes, nothing says Halloween than scaring people into believing in Jesus!

Or you could do what Kimberly Daniels did and write about the evils of Halloween on CBN's blog. The original article is no longer online, but according to Huffington Post, Daniels said that "most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches." Maybe that's why Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are so addictive.

However you celebrate Halloween, may it be a happy and safe one!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can You Fart in Church?

If you’re reading this because of the title, then let me put your mind at ease: yes, you can fart in church. It’s the way God wants you to relieve gas, and it would offend him if you held it in—that’s unnatural and not using your body, his temple, as it was made. Holding in your fart might even cause you great discomfort that causes you to miss the message of the sermon.

Really, however, the point of this post isn’t so much farting as it is about the comfortable nature that this thing called worship has gotten too. California is the laid back nation of the world and it’s not uncommon for people to where shorts and flip flops to church—heck, it’s almost expected. But what happens as we progressively make church more casual and comfortable?

I don’t really prepare for church; I drag myself out of bed and into a pew. Why bother dressing up and getting ready when no one else does? It’s nice being able to go somewhere where no one is bothered by how you look. But at the same time, this nature of dragging myself out of bed and into the pew also makes me unprepared spiritually. And that’s why, as much as I like the casual nature of churches today, I’m also becoming just a little bothered by them.

Few pastors talk about the importance of preparing ourselves spiritually to receive God’s message; I often wonder if they themselves have ever considered the notion. But it’s an important notion. It’s important to be ready for church because if we aren’t then half the message will probably be lost on us.

Making church casual seems to make it too easy to come to church with grudges; to be angry at people; to have things that need to be confessed, but that aren’t. Catholics, at one time at least, would have to confess their sins before going to church (it’s a bit more relaxed today); I don’t believe in the ritual of confession, but I’m highly in favor of the idea of it. I wish more churches would have a room aside for prayer, and I wish more would encourage congregates to go make use of it before entering the church for worship—to get it right with God before going to church to worship him—in this way you’ll be more open to receive anything the message that Sunday says.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Perks of Being a Christian Hipster

Several months ago Brett McCracken got the blogosphere talking when he identified a new subculture within the Church: the Christian Hipster. According to McCracken, the Christian Hipster prefers Sufjan Stevens over Michael W. Smith, Donald Miller over Joel Olsteen, and Wes Anderson over The Passion of the Christ. They are also attracted to Catholicism and liturgy, "even if they are thoroughly Protestant." Christian hipster are also wary of "weird and awkward evangelistic methods including (but not limited to): sock puppets, ventriloquism, mimes, sign language, 'beach evangelism,' and modern dance."

I know the #1 rule of being a hipster is not admitting to being a hipster, but McCracken describes me down to a T!

I think since we grew up during the age of the Religious Right and Megachurches, many of my Christian peers are dissatisfied with mainstream Christian culture. We feel like Jesus' radical message is too often watered down for the comfortable suburban lifestyle, far away from the cries of the poor and suffering--the very same people Jesus came for. Besides, even Rich Mullins hated "Awesome God!"

Of course this is probably just another church fad. Remember the Jesus People in the '70s?

Either way, I think I'm going to go to my local coffee shop, read Rob Bell, and listen to the Wagon Wheel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

another banned book? seriously?

(This was posted on my own personal blog, but considering the conservative Christians parents denying the book, I thought it was perfect for Disturbed Christian)

OC parents need to get over themselves. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is an important piece of American literature and because one paragraph the conservative parents are not in agreement with, they want it banned. This is Maya Angelou's story and sadly, because she didn't grow up in their sheltered homes and gated communities, they think this attested biography can't be shared. I hope my children experience life-changing books, but if this is allowed, they most likely won't be able to.
Watch the story here. It made me a little sick to my stomach.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Best Christians Movies Ever Made

Last week, I gave my list of most regrettable Christian movies; this week, as promised, is my list of my ten favorite:

Chariots of Fire
A common theme you’ll see in this movie list is, by and large, they aren’t overtly Christian or evangelical. The best way to make a movie work, in my opinion, is to give them Christian themes—make the idea subtle and not force it down a persons face. Inspire people to do better or know more.

The Chariots of Fire is a great example of the subtle approach; the story of a Christian who will not run on Sunday nearly moved me to tears.

The Agony and the Ecstasy
If you’ve taken art history, then you have more than likely seen this one; if not, it might be new. The acting is what you should expect from Charlton Heston—which is to say not very good. But the story is inspiring, the tension between the Pope and Michelangelo is fantastic, and you’ll probably never look at the Sistine Chapel the same way again.

Ben Hur
Another example of how a movie can still be great despite bad acting and cheesy dialogue. It’s hard to believe a Civil War general thought this idea up.

Luther is hands down one of the best period pieces I have ever seen; the producers made the right move picking an actor who could actually act. Yes, it’s not entirely historically accurate, but no period piece is. Things are sacrificed to help the stories pace, but the message still comes across loud and clear.

Road to Redemption
This is the only overtly evangelical movie on my list; it was produced by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. Last week, I mention the Apostles of Comedy as an example of a bad Christian comedy; this is an example of a good one.

Jesus Camp
This one isn’t a Christian movie, but every Christian in America should have to watch it. It’s a pretty good portrayal of why evangelism can even scare evangelist. I expected it to be a movie that adds fuel to the fire of why people should just say Christianity is a joke; it was actually, a pretty fair portrayal of the follies of fundamentalist Christianity, and was not trying to condemn Christianity.

Wise Blood
This is a very dark movie that probably a lot of people won’t understand (read my full review here). If you take the time to let the message haunt you a bit it might make you see the world differently. The book, as you might know, is one of my top five favorites, and the movie does a pretty good job with it. It’s nowhere near as good as the book, but what movie ever is?

It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a cheesy film, yes, but  who cares? No one does a better job instilling morals into movies like Frank Capara, and this is him at his best.

Charlie Brown Christmas
When I was young, my favorite cartoons were Peanuts and Garfield; I never really was shocked by the evangelical ending as a kid, but watching it as an adult I’m a bit surprise they can still get away with it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why U2 is the Most Overrated Band in the World

I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a lot of flack for this, since most of my Christian friends are huge U2 fans. But let me start out by saying I don't think U2 is the worst band in the world. They wrote some great songs, like "One" (a personal favorite of mine), "The Unforgettable Fire," and "Beautiful Day." I just think they're overrated, and here's why:

1. The Edge plays almost the exact same riff in every U2 song. It's good for a guitarist to have his own sound, but after a while I get bored of hearing the same old chiming guitar sound. Play some lower notes, man!

2. They only do one good album every ten years. It seems like every great U2 album is always followed by two or three crappy U2 album. Achtung Baby was followed by Zoopora and Pop, and All That You Can't Leave Behind was followed by How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon. Hopefully U2 will make another great album in the early 2010's.

3. Bono tries too hard to be the next Mother Teresa. Don't get me wrong, I love it when celebrities try to raise awareness for certain issues. But does Bono have to be a part of ever single charity under the sun? If there's a charity ball somewhere, you're bound to see Bono slithering through with his wrap-around shades.

4. No one knows who the other two members are. Okay, so there's Bono and the Edge, but who are the other two guys? I think one of them is named Larry. Which one is he again?

5. Bono has a prophet complex. Ever notice that every time he opens his mouth--whether to sing or to talk--he says each word as if it's some profound message sent from God to heal the world? Dude, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" might be a great song, but I don't think it's that doggone good!

Am I being too harsh on them?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Banking on the Holy Bible

For a leather Bible.
That's it.
Just a Bible in pretty colors.
For $198

I know it's important to have a good Bible, but for that price I would be worried about writing notes in it. What's the point of having a Bible you can't beat up with notes, highlights, markings, and scratches from using it so much?
If I see a person's Bible in tip-top condition and they've had it for awhile, I just think they don't use it as much.
Is it just me or is just a little too steep?

In case you do want to splurge, buy it here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Worst Christian Movies Ever Made

I do not have high hopes when it come to Christian films; when I watch a movie like Left Behind the only thing on my mind is, did anyone think that this movie would do good? I often wonder if there’s some sort of Christian filmmaking playbook out there that says in chapter one: as long as you do it with the right intention, people will flock to see it.

There have, of course, been great Christian movies, but more often than not they’re good because they aren’t overtly evangelical—they have a Christian message/theme, but that’s not the focus of the film.

This week I’m going to list off the ten worst Christian movies I have ever seen; next week I’ll list my top ten favorite. The list is not in order; some are better worse than others, but to list which is which would be like saying, this murderer is worse than this murderer—they’re both murderers, so does it really matter whose worse?

Left Behind
Kirk Cameron should stick to what he does best: Growing Pains reunions. This movie is sad for many reasons—the biggest reason is it really could have been good; they had all the right things going for it: a sizable budget, a book with a big following, and an idea that was mildly interesting. Unfortunately, the movie was disastrous.

The movie had a horrible script and even worse actors; that’s not a bad thing in Hollywood—just look at Transformers, which also had both, but went on to become 2009’s biggest hit. Whereas most movies that had a bad script and bad acting would not show it to anyone until opening night, the marketing team behind Left Behind actually not only let people see it early, they sold DVDs before the film was released! So when opening night came around, the word of mouth was: that movie sucks, don’t waste your money—if you really want to see it you can just borrow my DVD. I remember even seeing a copy at Blockbuster's the night it opened.

It gets worse; Tim LaHaye (who also happens to be the scariest looking guy alive) sued (I believe the Bible does say turn the other cheek, but this is over a book not a cheek) the producers and as part of the settlement can option off the rights again--which means we may actually see a remake of one of the worse films ever made.

Another great example of why Kirk Cameron should stick to only doing remakes of Growing Pains—seriously, Kirk, are the Seavers getting back together one more time or what? What about a spinoff series with you and Bonner playing roommates? Maybe Leonardo DiCaprio would produce it? Doesn’t he owe you for helping launch his career?

Unlike Left Behind, which was horrible all around, there were parts of this movie which were bearable; unfortunately the parts that were outright laughable helped weigh the movie down. It was cheesy, slow, the characters were flat, and can someone tell me why so many Christian movies have to feature men who struggle with pornography? Is this really the only thing Christian men struggle with?

Amazing Grace
I think there was Christianity somewhere in this movie—it took too long to get to that message. The movie was essentially the British version of Amistad. I much would have preferred a movie about the history of the song.

One Night with the King
Another period piece that just did not work. I have read the story of Ester dozens of times; I know it well. So why did this movie confuse me so much. I had no idea what was going on for half of the movie, and the other half I was just bored to death.

The problem with this film is probably the material they had to work with. Ester is one of the shorter books of the Bible; added to this was the fact that there’s really little said about God in the entire book—the book is more about Jews as people and not what they believe.

The Passion of the Christ
If you saw The Passion the Christ there’s a good chance you saw it for the same reason a person goes to church on Easter: guilt. If you didn’t want to see a movie about some guy dressed up like Jesus getting lashing after lashing for 120 minutes this somehow made you a bad person. When I saw it, I remember hearing a woman two rows behind me wailing (not crying, wailing!) as she watched; those who weren’t wailing were giving "praise Jesus’" to the screen. I was looking at my watch for most of the film.

The oddest thing about the entire film was the ending; I wasted two hours watching him die, and only saw about five seconds of the resurrection! If a person wants to do a real Passion Play, then it shouldn’t end at the cross—the story should begin at the cross! The point of the movie was to make it clear the pain Christ experienced—but the film didn’t do it justice; there’s absolutely nothing on film that can show just how much pain he suffered.

Omega Code
This movie came out about the same time as Left Behind, and was better. But not much. I honestly can’t remember why I didn’t like it; I just remember coming out of the theater thinking, well that was dumb.

American Carol
To be fair this isn’t a Christian movie—it’s a conservative movie, which sort of makes it Christian. I remember hearing some of the actors explaining that they wanted to do a movie that was a conservative response to all the liberal propaganda out there. This movie is just flat out sad. Every joke is forced, every parody is pathetic, and it just made me feel really bad for Charles Dickens (the movie is loosely based on Dickens’ Christmas Carol)

See my review here.

Apostles of Comedy
This movie was an instant play on Netflix. I gave it ten minutes to prove to me that Christian comedians are mildly amusing. Ten minutes into it they had proven one thing: Christian comedians are not mildly amusing. The jokes were beyond cheesy. It seemed like they were afraid any joke that had vaguest reference to dirty socks would be too risqué. If you want Christian humor, direct your browser to the Wittenberg Door Magazine (which sadly, at least until they can get funding, is no longer.)

Bob Dylan - 1975-1981 Rolling Thunder and the Gospel Years
Bob Dylan, in my opinion, recorded one of the greatest gospel records of all-time; it’s the record that turned me on to Dylan in the first place; unlike many Christian records with fluffy lyrics that simply imitate whatever band is hot in the secular world, Dylan’s album can stand on its own. The sound is fresh even for today, and the lyrics are deep, sad, and redeeming.

It is for this reason that I was so eager to see the unauthorized documentary about Dylan’s gospel period. This documentary, though promising, spends too much time talking to people who don’t even seem to know anything about Dylan—and they combine it with lousy photos. My guest is since it’s unauthorized they had little to work with—everything was off limits. Perhaps Dylan will open up a bit more about this period when he finally scribes the next volume of Chronicles.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is the Bible too liberal?

At first I thought this was a joke. But after Rod Dreher, Andrew Sullivan, and Huffington Post wrote about this, I'm afraid this is true.

Several members of Conservapedia are going to make a Conservative Bible.

According to Conservapedia, their Bible translation will go by ten guidelines:

1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop; defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots"; using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

Really? Really???

According to Conservapedia, many of our favorite Bible passages are actually corrupted liberal translations of the original text. For example:

The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34: "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'" Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.

But isn't that verse also in the King James Version? So are they saying that the evil liberals have been corrupting God's Word since the 1600's? Man, those lefties sure are crafty!

Maybe it's just my own "liberal bias", but it seems like this Conservative Bible doing exactly what it accuses the Left of doing: distorting the Bible to fit its own political agenda. On the bright side, this and The American Patriot's Bible will make great Christmas presents for the far-right-winger in your family!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being Obnoxious in the Name of Jesus

Ok, you caught me. Every once in a while (as in every Monday night) my evenings are spent with Tyra Banks and a handful of young wannabe supermodels, via America’s Next Top Model. Some people prefer gossip sites, or other forms of bad tele, but it’s a combo of hormonal women, fashion and Tyra all in one, and my Monday’s nights can’t lose. After a few seasons, the models all look the same after awhile- tall, Bambi eyes, gorgeous contoured faces and attitudes that can cut you in half.

A few weeks ago, one of the episodes included, Amber as the young 18 year old Southern Californian who caught my attention. Not only did she have the harsh annoying attitude, but when I actually heard the words "Jesus loves you" on a reality television show, I felt like I was watching a car flip over and over. It was horrifying but just like reality TV, it was so deliciously entertaining.

I was offended at first. "This crazy girl does not represent me", and "I can't believe she is not being sarcastic." The other models were of course turned off by the Jesus spews, but they were mostly turned off by the emotional rollercoaster that was Amber. In a great mood, she was the evangelical young woman of God with crazy in her eyes. In a foul mood, she was the young evangelical young woman of God with crazy in her eyes. Do you see the pattern here?
I suddenly remembered why I was so intrigued by this crazy girl. Amber reminded me a lot of myself when I was 18, and most younger Christian "born again" girls. Loud, obnoxious, and base all our Christianity based on emotions rather than the Truth. I don’t speak for everyone, but for the most part, I’m sure we can all admit at one point in our growth with God, it has been more about how we feel rather what it really is.

Once a born again Christian goes through the emotional process of becoming "born again", no one can deny the feelings involved. I remember the night I gave my life to Christ (again), and my parents surrendered their mischievous teen hellish daughter to the hands of camp counselors who do not get paid enough to deal with demon children like me. Cue the worship music, the bond fire, the devastating testimonials from ex-prisoners, the hormonal teens and the hour long prayers. It was not a moment I regret giving my life to the Lord, but in all honesty, I wish I would have been more stable about it. I had a choice to make, and I chose to follow Christ that night, but it was not how I would have wanted it. Some campers took it as an opportunity to focus more on God, I (and the other part of the camp) took it as another way to get more dramatic about something.

After coming home, I was on such a Jesus high. I sold my secular music to the local record store and bought every Christian CD targeted to teens then. I decided that fashion was a way of the world, not the way of God, and decided my friends were not just good enough to help me in my walk. After a few weeks of reading my Bible daily, attending youth group weekly, leaving the life of secular music and television, abandoning my worldy friendships, my parents evil planned worked. That is until one morning I was bored with it all. I was bored with the Supertones on constant repeat, I was bored with my lame goody church friends, I was bored with Scripture, I was just tired of “being a Christian”. I became aware that I was a dramatic angsty girl with too much to live for in just khaki pants and turtlenecks. I wanted to have absolute freedom and somehow I got the impression that freedom was not Christianity, at least not man-made Christianity.

The problem with the Rosie Riveter, Obama type "We Can Do This", or "Yes, We Can" emotions fall flat once they melt away. It took years to finally come to have a good relationship with my thoughts and feelings, to actually want to read my Bible rather than having to feel forced to read it.

God didn't make us as robots, He made us with dangerous emotions such as anger, jealousy, joy, fear, sadness, and passion to name a few favorites. After so many meltdowns and dramatic moments in my life to grab attention, quiet confidence speaks to others more than loud Bible verses. Amber reminds me that yes, she may still be growing wherever she is (she didn’t make the second episode) but God speaks truth to us in unexpected moments, like friendships, and quiet moments and most importantly, love.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Most Controversial Thing That Dan Brown Never Wrote

I have not read Dan Brown's "Lost Symbol," nor do I have any intention on doing so. As a comparative religion student in my younger years, I had mild interest in "The Da Vinci Code," but I found the book to be wickedly overwrote, and not really all that controversial--he was writing about so-called shocking revelations that had been know facts (as myths or historic accuracies) for over hundreds years. Still, the librarian inside me can't resist reading the reviews just to see what the books all about.

The book appears, at least from the reviews, worst than any of the others; that's not a surprise. What was at least a small surprise (although it really shouldn’t have been) were the number of people on places like Amazon who had started what almost appears to be a ministry to get people not to read Dan Brown. It's obvious by the reviews that they have not read the book; they write a paragraph or two about things that are in the book, and then conclude with a paragraph that says things that are not in the book; I am pretty sure they are trying to scare Christians who are trying to decide if they should read it.

One person says that not only does Brown say, without a doubt, that there is no God, he (Brown) also concludes that man can become God. First off that doesn't make sense--how can there be no God if man can become God? If man can become God, then how can there be no God. But that's beside the point, because the book doesn't even make this claim!

I imagine that there is a entire group of Christians who are reading the book with a pen in hand to take notes, so they can cite verbatim things in the book that are anti-God.

What’s disturbing is the extent that Christians can go to elaborate things that really aren’t even bad to strike a little fear into a person; post-modern evangelism seems to, at times, be more about scaring you into believe rather than proving truth by simple acts of love.

The message of Christianity should be an easy one: love. But instead of promoting the simplest message known to man, Christians often find themselves in the world of trickery; the people in the reviews for Dan Brown are obviously followers of the trickery message, but it’s everywhere in evangelism. How many times have you had a person offer you money, only to look down and see that it’s not money at all—it’s a Bible tract! That’s a nice message Christians are sending: sorry you’re broke and have no money, but as a believer in Christ, I’d like you to have this Bible tract that I hope will give you comfort when you have to go home to your family and tell them that once again there’s no money for food!

There are no tricks in the Bible; I get tired of all the tricks Christians have made up to scheme their way into people’s hearts. If a message is true, then there’s no need for trickery.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Permission to Speak Freely

Have you ever wanted to say something to either your pastor or members of your church, but were too afraid? You aren't alone.

Last week Anne Jackson launched a website called Permission to Speak Freely where you can finally say whatever you wanted to say to the Church. You can either create a postcard (a la Postsecret) or send an email. "The purpose of this movement," the website says, "is simple: To share the confessions received from the website, as well as a collection of Anne’s own essays on fear and grace to show you that you’re not alone."

Here is a sample of some of the confessions so far:

Click here to learn how to contribute.