Monday, November 30, 2009

Busy Day, Busy Week

You may have noticed I did not post last week (or perhaps you didn't), but, being Thanksgiving, I took the week off. Today I am enamored with graduate school application.

Many of you probably know the dire state of public libraries (if not you can read about it here.........mcsweeney's link); this has left me in this unfortunate position of trying to figure out what I will do next year if it continues to get worse (or even if it stays the same).

For many years, I have considered the idea of returning to school to get my MFA--a quite backwards idea considering I've already published a book and currently teach writing; this year the idea of it has been louder in my head than ever because it will offer two years to get away from worrying about income and just write--and hopefully it will all be better when I'm done with school.

My chances of getting into any of the programs stand at just below 1%, and even if I do get in, I'm not certain I will even go.

And so that is what I'm working on today, and that is why this post does not fit the normal tone of this blog.

With any luck, I will return to the regular post next week...

Friday, November 27, 2009

When Black Friday Comes

"It's the holiday season, so woop-de-doo and hickory dock"--Andy Williams

Yes folks, it's that time again. The time for cheesy TV movies, pointless debates about the phrase "Happy holidays," and grown ups fighting over a laughing Elmo toy. It all starts today with that wonderful day all retailers anticipate . . . Black Friday!

A couple of years ago when I was working at Pier 1 Imports, I had the unfortunate privilege of working on Black Friday. My heart goes out to everyone working in retail today. (Special prayers are welcomed for my fiancee Amy, who has to work at Babies R Us today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Fortunately not everyone celebrates the day after Thanksgiving by stampeding over shoppers to get that best buy. Buy Nothing Day is the anti-Black Friday when anti-consumerist activists do not spend money on anything for the entire day, not even a tank of gas. I'm pretty good at sticking to Buy Nothing Day, although last year I did buy some toothpaste and facial soap from CVS last year during Black Friday. I'm against extreme consumerism just as much as the next person, but I also don't want to have bad acne and halitosis.

My friend Chase Andre is doing something interesting called Operation: Black Friday Takeover. He and some friends gave bottles of water to people standing in line to get inside the stores. Then they collected the empty bottles, and will recycle them and give the money to Charity: Water. Stay tuned and I'll let you all know how they did.

All this does get me to thinking about how I've been spending my money. Lately I've spending lots of money on music, especially since now I've discovered it's cheaper and easier to just download albums from the Internet. But it all adds up after a while, and besides I'm not really supposed to be spending all this money on myself this time of year. So I'm going to make a conscious effort to watch how I spend my money. I'll try to get into the habit of asking myself, "Do I really need this, or do I just want it? Is this going to make some one else happy, or just make me happy?"

So I hope everyone else reading this will look past the extreme commercialization of what used to be a religious celebration, and remember the true meaning of the holiday season. Oh great, now I sound like one of those cheesy TV movies!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is the Prosperity Gospel Responsible for the Crash?

"DID CHRISTIANITY CAUSE THE CRASH?"

Definitely grabs your attention, doesn't it? However, the title of this month's Atlantic's cover story is a bit misleading. Writer Hanna Rosin does not blame the current economy on the teachings of either the Bible or the Church. Instead, Rosin examines how the economy might have went south with the help of a fad that many Christians denounce--the Prosperity Gospel.

The article mainly focuses on Casa del Padre, a Latino church in Charlottesville, VA, and their pastor Fernando Garay. On any given Sunday, Garay (a former loan officer) preaches that God is willing to shower true believers with great abundance. Like many other prosperity gospel preachers, he urges his congregation to aim big, regardless of their income. "If you can't afford a house you shouldn't buy it," says Garay's wife Hazael. "But if the Lord is telling you to 'take that first step and I will provide,' then you have to believe." If you don't, it's a sign of disbelief.

While Garay claims that the recession did not affect his church, many other churches aren't so lucky. According to the article, "most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona--all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis." Also, at one point the article mentions that apparently Wells Fargo had the idea to send sales officers to church-sponsored "wealth-building seminars" and tell the churchgoers how they could buy new homes.

At the end of the article, there's no clear answer as to whether or not the prosperity gospel played a hand at bringing down the economy. However, I'm sure it didn't help things, either. If last year's crash taught us anything, it's that for too long we've been spending more money than we have. The pastor should be a voice of reason in a world of mixed-up values. But with these prosperity gospel churches, people are hearing the same message they would hear from Jim Cramer: buy it all now! The only difference is the prosperity gospel throws in religious guilt; if you're not prosperous, you're not a good Christian.

What do you think? Do you think the prosperity gospel had a hand to play in this mess?

Monday, November 16, 2009

And You Call Yourself a Christian? Really?

Did you hear the one about the US preacher in Arkansas sentenced to 175 years in prison for abusing young girls?

If there's a poster child for this blog--a person who shames the name of Christianity, he would definitely make the cut (you can see his photo below if you want to make him a poster child)

His name is Bernie Hoffman (AKA Tony Alamo) and he was accused last week of marrying several women when they were minors (amongst other things). In his defense he said that he was, "just another one of the prophets that went to jail for the Gospel." Because, you know, the Bible says go forth and have sex with little girls.

If all he was doing was having sex with little girls, I guess you'd just call him normal (at least for a cult leader--if you are the leader of a cult, it's sort of expected that you do perverted things...I'm pretty sure that's why people become cult leaders)

But Alamo was a bit weirder...When his wife died in 1982, Alamo claimed that she was going to be resurrected, so he kept her body around: for sixteen years! What's more, he actually left it on display for everyone in church to see for six months! Note to reader: if your pastor has his dead wife on display this Sunday because he claims she will come back from the dead, YOU ARE IN A CULT!

Alamo's lawyers wanted the judge to have sympathy and let him off the hook because he was old (in his 70s) and sick (he has diabetes...a life threatening condition that can be aggravated if ganged raped in a prison shower).

I'm really getting tired of people who don't think they should be held accountable for what they did simply because they are old.

Fortunately, the judge did not pity Alamo. So Tony Alamo, if polygamy is what you desire, then I hope gay marriage is allowed in whatever state you end up going to prison, because it looks like that's where you'll be staying for the rest of your life. 


Friday, November 13, 2009

Lessons Learned from Carrie Prejean

If you're on my Facebook friends list, you will know that I am not a fan of Carrie Prejean, a.k.a. Miss California. It has nothing to do with her views on gay marriage. The reason why she gets under my skin is because, to me, she comes off as being a moral crusader shining the light in a darkened world, but time and time again we keep finding out that's not the case.

Shortly after the infamous "opposite marriage" quote, several pictures of Prejean posing scantly clad, a big no-no in the pageant rules, were released. Then this past week a homemade sex tape featuring Prejean allegedly . . . ahem . . . going solo . . . was brought to light, forcing her to settle her court case with the Miss America producers. She said that the video was shot when she was 17 and it was just for her then-boyfriend. But as said ex told TMZ, she was really twenty.

And then came the Larry King interview:



My new favorite train wreck!

Now with all these new revelations about our favorite opposite marriage advocate, you'd expect me to rip her to shreds. But you know, in a way I'm like Carrie Prejean. I sometimes wear a facade to make people think I'm sweet and have my crap together. But the truth is I'm not. I've got a beam in my eye just as much as the next guy. I have my own personal hang-ups.

So while I am still not a Carrie Prejean fan, I can't really say much, because technically I'm no better.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Best Christian-ish Books I've Ever Read

A few weeks ago, I created a list of the best and worst Christian movies ever made. If you love lists, then you'll love this post because I'm going to do it again--but with books. So sorry if you don't like lists.

This list is also to make you aware that DisturbedChristians is starting to review books on an irregular basis; if you are interested in review books, then shoot me an email and I'll see what I can do (like all DC writing jobs, they are non-paying, but you will get free new books on an irregular basis)

I won't be listing my list of worst books, but you can probably gather they are basically any book that become so popular that mugs, t-shirts, and blankets are created to let everyone know how great their message is (i.e. The Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, Case for Christ just to name a few)...and it's not like those books are a bad thing--I just find that they are usually copying ideas of other writers and aren't very original. Except for Left Behind which is bad on so many different levels.

Keep in mind that the presence of a book on this list does not mean it's a literary classic--it's just a book that changed the way I felt about something and  made me a stronger Christian. Also, I call it "Christian-ish" because some of the books are more about religion or Judaism than Christianity. So without further interruptions, here is my list of top 11 favorite Christian books (in no particular order).

Prayer - by Ole Hallesby
I read this book in college. I had grown of Methodist, and partly because of this was never really taught how to pray; I could recite by hard classic prayers in the Christian canon, but the thought of praying in a group frightened me. Prayer is a classic book that shamefully many people have not only never read, but never heard of.


Grace at Bender Springs - by Vinita Hampton Wright
I stumbled upon this book while writing a thesis paper on contemporary Christian literature. I had been under the impression that Christian fiction could not be good (at least modern fiction); everything I found was either cheesy historical romances or cheesy end times thrillers; then I found this book. This is the first book by Wright. The two books that followed in Velma Still Cooks in Leeway and Dwelling Places are actually better, but I put this one here because it was the one that first introduced me to the author and made me place hope that there were Christian authors writing about real issues in the church--like depression, addiction, and ultimately redemption.You can read a profile of the author here.

Just As I Am - by Billy Graham
Many of you know that I committed my life to Christ when I was young at a Billy Graham crusade in Anaheim; partly because of this, I have always been fascinated by Graham's ministry. It should be no surprise that this book is on this list. The book is not incredibly well written, but what really impressed me with the book was I felt like it gave me an inside look into history. Graham has meant more influential people than probably anyone else alive. This book gives insider stories about basically every President sense Kennedy.

In His Steps - by Charles M. Sheldon
Over 30,000,000 copies of this novel have been sold, which makes it one of the bestselling novels of all time; oddly enough, it's a bit forgotten today. The book coined the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" (no that didn't start as a bracelet...the bracelets just made it popular again). As you can guess by the phrase, the plot of the book centers around the idea of asking what Jesus would do before doing anything; it's a simple message, but equally a powerful one.

A Handbook of Theological Terms - by Van A. Harvey
Unless you are a theology student, you've probably never read or heard of this book; I am not a theology student, but I love theological words and the history behind them.

J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ - by Roger Steer
I enjoyed this book, but I'd actually recommend any book about J. Hudson Taylor. If you never heard of Taylor he is remember for being one of the greatest missionaries to China; what's more important than this, however, is how he served. During the time, missionaries would enter a country and treat the gossip like it was something you could believe in so you can be more white. Taylor went to China and lived like the Chinese--he dressed like them, ate with them, and immersed himself in their culture in a time when this just was not practiced.

Mere Christianity - by C.S. Lewis
I really don't need to explain this book because almost everyone whose reading this blog knows what the book is, and has probably read it. It almost singlehandedly started modern Apologetics. More people today read The Case for Christ which is a shame, because that book is basically just a copy of what Lewis did, but poorly wrote.

The Literary Structure of the Old Testament - David A Dorsey
If you want to know why this book is so great, read my post last week.

The Other Bible - Willis Barnstone
Dan Brown got one thing right: there were other books around about Jesus; where Brown got it wrong was that this was a new thing. The study of the Bible's so called Other Works got big a little over a 100 years ago. This book is one of the better collections of these books. While the works are not what I'd consider great, they can be appreciated from historical level. Some are ridiculous, but others offer true inside to the what people believed 100 to 200 years after the Jesus rose again.

The Prophets - Abraham J. Heschel
This is one of the best historical books written about what it would have been like to be a prophet.

Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind - Joyce Meyer
I like this book because of it's subject: spiritual warfare. It's a subject that is often not talked about, but it really should be.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Don't Mess with the Osteen!

One of my favorite bloggers Matthew Paul Turner recently got into some trouble after writing a hilarious parody of the new Joel Osteen book It's Your Time. Normally, I would post a short excerpt, but you really need to read the whole thing yourself. No excerpt can do it justice.

Unfortunately Turner ruffled quite a few feathers. The most vocal being a commenter who calls him/herself "Concerned with you being a douche:"

Joel Osteen is bad news. No one who reads the bible is gonna disagree with that.

That being said, what are you trying to accomplish here, or with the christian chirp tirades, or really with anything you do.

You are an embarrassment to the faith that you claim. You are no different than Joel Osteen. You aren't creative. You offer no theological commentary. You offer nothing for someone who desires to follow Christ. In fact, your "humor" looks nothing like Christ. Its degrading. Demeaning. Immature. It does nothing to build up others, to critique in love.

You are a bain on a movement of Christianity that has given my life new purpose. You are an asshole, MPT. I cannot believe that you've made me side with Calvinists, Fundamentalist Christians on Chirp, and now Joel Osteen.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

(Apologies to those who are sensitive to strong language and bad grammar. These aren't my words.)

While I understand this person's concern, it's strange that some one concerned about Turner being a douche would act like one himself. Kind of defeats the purpose, y'know?

I personally saw nothing wrong with Turner's post. It was calling out false teachings in a humorous way, just like here at Disturbed Christians.

Of course now every time I see Osteen, I always think of this hilarious video:



If you get a chance, go check out Turner's blog. And remember, controlling your weaknesses is an important part of controlling your weaknesses!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Bible is a Myth & Other Things You Will Never Here in Sunday School

Some people will find this statement shocking: The Bible is a myth.

I remember one of the first times I actually heard someone say this was a teacher in college; he said it to get everyone’s attention and to sound controversial. It worked. Several people sat a little straighter and one even raised their hand to object. It was the first time I had heard someone say it, but not the first time I had heard about it—I had read several authors make this same point, which is why I knew nothing about the statement was even remotely controversial. If anything it was a cheap trick.

A myth is not fiction, and yet for some reason the word implies this to many people. A myth is a legend. Out of my own laziness, I’ll skip putting a scholarly definition here and in its place insert one from the Internet which is basically the same definition you will find anywhere:

Myth: A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes. (Source: http://www.answers.com/topic/celtic-mythology)

Simply put, a myth is a legend that is passed down, and that’s essentially what the Bible (at least the Old Testament) is: a passed down legend.

I wish they would teach the Bible as a myth in church, because studying the Bible as a myth will take you down a path that is even more incredible and even life changing: studying the Bible as a literary work.

The Bible is also full of parallels and symmetry. My favorite book is Genesis which has the craziest literary construction of any book ever wrote. What do I mean by parallels? Look at the "Tower of Babel" (Genesis 11:1-9) and match up the letters—see how they link up:

a. introduction: all the Earth had one language (11:1)
b. people settle together in Shinar (11:2)
c. resolution of people "come let us..." (11:3-4)
d. CENTER OF STORY: God discovers the plot (11:5)
c. resolution of God "come let us..." (11:6-7)
b. people disperse from Shinar (11:8)
a. conclusion: all the Earth now has many languages (11:9)

Do you get the feeling that person who wrote the book knew what they were doing? Then there's also the creation account; look at the order of how it says things were created:

a. light
b. sea and sky
c. dry land
a. luminaries
b. fish and birds
c. land animals and humans
d. Sabbath

Here's another...it's the story of Abraham and the promise of a son (Genesis 12:1-21:7):
a. introduction
b. Abram lies about Sarai
c. Lot settles in Sodom
d. Abram intercedes
e. promise of a son
f. Ishmael's birth
g. CENTER: God's covenant
f. Ishmael and Abraham circumcised
e. promise of a son
d. Abraham intercedes
c. Lot flees Sodom
b. Abraham lies abouut Sarah
a. conclusion

Entire books have been written about the literary structure of Genesis alone; if you really wanted to dissect it, it would take years of scholarship--and it's a pretty short book.

It’s just Genesis though, right? Nope. You could do a parallel like that of the ENTIRE Bible. You can even do it of the least read books. Take Deuteronomy…

a.       God’s Awesome acts at Mount Sinai (Deut 4:1-40)
b.      Given of the first tablet (Deut 4:41-5:33)
c.       Lessons from God’s past and future care (Deut 6:1-25)
d.      CENTER OF STORY: Completely destroy the Canaanites (Deut 7:1-26)
c.   Lessons from God’s past and future care (Deut 8:1-20)
b.   Given of second tablets (Deut 9:1-10:11)
a.   God’s Awesome acts in Egypt and wilderness (Deut 10:12-11:32)

There are hundreds of books out there if you want to know just how intelligently constructed the Bible is. I recommend The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis – Malachi by David A. Dorsey to give you a start. What the Bible says is important, but how it says it is important too—which is why just once I’d love to hear a preacher give a sermon on it.