Friday, August 27, 2010

Hipster Chrisitianity: The Disturbed Christians Review

Last year Brett McCracken caused a stir when he wrote about a growing trend within the Church called hipster Christianity. I got a huge kick out of it, because he pretty much described me down to a T. Finally last month Brett's book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide came out, and it can best be described in just one word:


What could have been either a hilarious satire of a current fad, or a thought-provoking look at churches trying to be relevant to culture, turns out to be just an okay musing on elite hipster snobs. I've read Brett's stuff in Relevant Magazine, so I know he's really a good writer. This book, unfortunately, ends up being a misguided attempt to seriously examine how the Church should respond to culture.

For starters, the book starts off on the wrong foot. In the first two chapters, Brett goes through the "history of hip," which includes the French bohemian poets, the Beat generation, the hippie movement of the sixties, and the current hipster trend. I understand Brett's just trying to provide some background, but I really didn't think it was necessary. Besides, in these chapters he basically suggests that being cool is just a selfish ambition to be better than everyone else.

Things start to pick up when he talks about the Jesus People movement of the '60s, and how that led to the current hipster Christian trend. He goes on to explain what defines a Christian hipster: they prefer Sufjan Stevens over Michael W. Smith, N.T. Wright over Joel Osteen, liturgy over megachurches, and Wes Anderson movies over Fireproof. He also devotes chapters to social justice and the Emerging Church movement . . . which is where the book goes downhill again.

Brett suggests that the emerging church movement is just about making Christianity cool, and the current interest in social justice is just a fad. I disagree. While there are plenty of Christians who talk about fighting poverty but don't actually do anything about it (I can be like this sometimes), I know a lot of other Christians who really are committed to social justice. They're not trying to be hip and cool; they've actually held children in their arms as they died from AIDS. As far as the emerging church movement, while I understand why some Christians disagree with some of the theological views of Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt, they are not just trying to make Jesus hip and cool. The emerging church is about rethinking what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. I've interviewed both McLaren and Pagitt, and I feel they really are committed to being the salt and light of the world.

Now Brett does get one thing right. During the final third of the book, he talks about churches that try way too hard to be cool. We all know the type: the pastor makes awkward references to "Desperate Housewives" and Paris Hilton, the youth group has an "X-treme Faith" theme, lots of laser lights and smoke machines, etc. So how can churches be cool without overdoing it? Brett says it's pretty simple: just stay true to the Gospel.

By the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder, "So what?" Maybe he should have taken his own advice and focused more on authenticity than a passing fad.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Beating Swords Into Plowshares

(I originally wrote this on my blog yesterday).

Last night I saw something I thought I’d never see: the last U.S. combat brigade left Iraq yesterday. Here’s what President Obama said in an email statement:

"Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi Security Forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role. And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort."

Any one who knows me knows I’ve never been a fan of this war, so the only thing I can say is, “Wow! Never thought I’d see this.”

* * *

When it comes to war, Christians usually fall into three points of view:

The first is the Far-Right Winged approach. Christians who subscribe to this view believe that it is our sacred duty to invade any country we deem as a threat and attack them with everything we’ve got. The Far-Right Winger goes by the saying, “Kill everyone and let God sort them out.” If you disagree with the Far-Right Winger, he or she will call you a traitor and anti-American. This approach to war is based more on extreme politics than the Bible.

Then there’s Just War Theory. Developed by Catholic theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, Just War Theory lists four conditions that make war an ethical option:

* the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
* all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
* there must be serious prospects of success;
* the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (Source: Wikipedia)

Even though a lot of Evangelicals believed the Iraq war was just, the Catholic Church disagrees.

Finally, there’s pacifism, which is what I believe in. For a while pacifism was a four-letter word among Evangelicals; if you said anything about nonviolence, it was the same as saying, “I hate America.” But with the Obama administration, pacifism isn’t as taboo as it used to be, although it’s still not as widely embraced within the Church as Just War Theory. Most Evangelicals will say, “Well, yeah, pacifism is a nice idea, but is it really possible?”

I don’t believe that we will ever see total world peace in this current world; that won’t happen until Jesus returns to fully restore creation However, I think that the Bible is clear that as followers of Christ we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). One of my favorite passages comes from Isaiah 2:3-5, which is a prophecy about Jesus:

Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Some might think Isaiah was only talking about the Second Coming, but did you notice the part where he says, “He will teach us His ways so that we may walk in His paths?” To me, that indicates Isaiah was talking about Jesus when He came to earth the first time to establish His Kingdom. So that means we don’t have to wait around in order to have peace; we can work for peace right now.

Now, like I said earlier, I don’t think we’ll have perfect peace until Jesus returns. But I do believe it’s time the Church took Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence seriously, and start working to make the world a more peaceful place (with the help of God, of course).

(Photo credit: Kosmos Journal

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mormon Mondays (on Tuesday): Vacation Break

I've been busy not reading about Mormon history and whatnot, but I haven't forgotten about the LDS. I may do a Mormon book review for my next post, or not. I haven't decided. In the meantime, here's a great place to get your hair cut, and a catchy little song that you'll be humming all day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Best Buy Takes on God

First the Naked Cowboy of Time Square sent a cease and desist letter to the Naked Cowgirl (believe it or not if you want to be a Naked Cowgirl (or Boy) you have to buy franchise rights from the Naked Cowboy), and now Best Buy has sent a cease and desist letter to a priest for putting God's Squad on his car door. Enough with the lawsuits's not like he was claiming God would fix their computers. Last I looked, parody isn't a crime...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Embracing the Other

I originally wrote this on my personal blog.

Maybe it’s just me, but I keep seeing this fear of “the other” in Christianity. By “the other” I mean any outside person or group of people that’s supposedly coming to take away our freedom and outlaw our religion. Nine out of ten times its an irrational fear, but it’s still there.

For example, ever since the 9/11 attacks the American Church has taken it upon itself to declare a holy war against Muslims and Islam. Not against Islamic terrorism, mind you, but against Islam itself. Take for example the recent ruckus over the Mosque being built near Ground Zero. Newt Gingrich said there shouldn’t be a Mosque built near Ground Zero as long as there are no churches in Saudi Arabia. But there’s just one problem with that logic; Saudi Arabia (correct me if I'm wrong) is run under Islamic fundamentalist law, while here in the States we have the First Amendment which prohibits any religious discrimination.. Then there’s the church that plans to burn Korans this September. If Christians want to reach out to the Muslim community, I don’t think burning their sacred book is going to help. In fact, I think it will stir up more hatred towards the West.

Then there’s immigration. While I understand the concern about undocumented immigrants, sometimes the conversation goes beyond illegal immigrants. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I’ve heard Christians complain about how “the Mexicans” are taking over everything. They never say “the illegal immigrants;” they say “the Mexicans,” as if everyone from Mexico has this agenda to screw us gringos.

And then there’s the gay community. I can understand moral objections to gay marriage*, but sometimes the debate goes beyond morality and scripture. I’ve heard a lot of anti-gay marriage activists say things like, “Gay people are going to recruit your children,” “We’re going to lose our freedom of speech,” or the classic, “This will destroy the sanctification of marriage for good” (as if two strangers getting married on a reality show is perfectly alright). These arguments are based more on fear than fact.

So how should the Christian respond to “the other?” Or, to quote the old wristband, what would Jesus do?

First, we need to remember “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT). Our biggest threat is not the homosexuals, or the Muslims, or the Mexicans, or the liberals, or any other group of people . . . it’s sin. Period.

Second, we must see all outsiders as human beings. "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9, NIV). Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I love that quote, because the more I get to know people, the more I realize it’s true.

Third, we need to remember 2 Timothy 2:24-25: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” When we disagree with people (gays, Muslims, etc.), we need to do so with gentle words and actions. We need to let them know that they are loved.

There’s a Sara Groves song I really like where she sings, “Loving a person just the way they are is no small thing/ It takes some time to see things through.” And indeed it does take time to see past our prejudices, but it’s worth it.

*Personally, to quote Judge Vaughn Walker, I think “a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.” But that’s just me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mormon Mondays (on Tuesday): Five Famous Mormons

Marie Osmond

Marie Osmond was a member of the ridiculously wholesome family group The Osmonds. As probably the world’s sexiest Mormon, she is responsible for more soiled sacred garments than any other Mormon in history. She had a huge solo hit with her version of “Paper Roses,” and also hosted a variety show with her equally toothy brother Donny. Apparently the country music community had a hard time accepting her due to her faith and her extreme wholesomeness. In a community that worships hardcore drunkards, she was an odd duck. Plus, her faith was different and scary. It wasn’t until she went through a divorce that country music fans decided that she was alright. She was also on Dancing with the Stars, and did a dance where she was dressed up as a doll. Her appearance was so frightening that it would be understandable to imagine her serving a dead rat to Joan Crawford.

Mormon cred status: Questionable

Her first hubby was a BYU baller and they were married in an LDS temple. However, they got divorced, which of course is frowned upon by the saints. She got hitched again to some other guy, also in an LDS temple, and then got divorced again. She also has a lesbian daughter who’s been living with her girlfriend for a few years, and I think we all know the official Mormon position on gays. Therefore, I label her status as questionable, regardless of the millions of bucks her and her family dumped into the church due to tithing.

Mitt Romney

Politician and probably the slimiest man to ever run for president. Mitt was the governor of Massachusetts and in that time passed a health care reform law. He later screamed until his head nearly exploded about the Obama health care reform, which was as similar to his own health care law as Romney’s appearance is to a slick Herman Munster. Romney also rocked the 2002 Winter Olympics when it was sucking up cash like a black hole, and somehow managed to make the event turn a $100 million profit. Romney’s presidential campaign was one of the most pathetic in American history, and every attempt he made to fit in with the GOP status quo made him seem like that obnoxious teen who hangs around with a group that clearly doesn’t like him, even though he says and does things that the group is supposed to like. He’s also known for taking a photo with a black family and saying “who let the dogs out?”

Mormon cred status: Delicious

He was a missionary in France for 30 months, and later expressed his disgust with the country in an attempt to be more likable to the GOP, even though they officially stopped hating France at that time. He also gave several speeches on his faith in order to be more likable to voters who are afraid of Mormons. He is probably one of the most well-known Mormons walking around today, but his sliminess is off-putting to many people. Or maybe just me.

Orson Scott Card

Best known for his Sci Fi novel Ender’s Game, which is supposed to be amazing. That and the sequel Speaker for the Dead won the Hugo Award and Nebula Award, which solidified his status as a geek icon. He wrote the novelization for The Abyss, which is odd because I’ve always assumed that only hacks wrote novelizations, not award-winning authors. He also does an editorial called Uncle Orson Reviews Everything, where he, um, reviews everything. He has used this editorial to smack down J.K. Rowling as being a money-hungry harpie and to celebrate the death of the Star Trek franchise by saying that the only reason why so many people like it is because they are science fiction newbies. He is also a “Democrat” who loved George W. Bush almost as much as Zell Miller and voted for McCain in the ’08 election. Also, he really, really doesn’t like gay people, and thinks that people only become gay when they’ve been abused/molested as a child.

Mormon cred status: Action-packed!

Homie’s a descendant of Brigham Young, graduated from BYU and was a missionary in Brazil. He has also written a decent number of LDS fiction, as well as a ton of works on Mormon scriptures. His Mormon cred is damn-near spotless, except for the fact that he’s one of the judges in the Writers of the Future contest, which is funded by the Church of Scientology. Regardless, the fact that he’s descended from Brigham Young pretty much seals the deal, even though there’s probably half a million people out there descended from Young.

Glenn Beck

Morning zoo shock jock and political commentator. Glenn Beck, while stating numerous times that he’s just an entertainer and doesn’t require people to check his facts, is nevertheless a hugely influential conservative pundit who believes that Barack Obama is forming a secret underground black army, even though he hates both white people and black people. He believes that we are becoming a socialist country, and that he will be assassinated for his beliefs. He has written a bunch of books, and even rewrote Thomas Paine’s classic Common Sense. His TV show was the highest-rated on Fox News, which sounds impressive until you realize that home videos of fathers getting hit in the nuts get double the ratings on other networks. Also, at one time he called the wife of a competitor live on the air of his radio show, and made fun of her for having a miscarriage. All in all, a delightful man.

Mormon cred status: Maybe legit?

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Glenn Beck is sober, and believes that his conversion to the church is what helped. This was after he did a tour of churches, and a friend convinced him to visit his Mormon church. Beck loved what he saw so much, especially how peaceful everyone looked, that he got baptized into the faith and is currently loving it. He even recorded a CD/DVD on his conversion called Unlikely Mormon. In it he remembers how cruel he was in the past, and how he once fired someone for not bringing him a pen. He starts crying as he recounts this, which would have a much larger impact if he didn’t cry about everything, including the time he didn’t get a side of bacon at IHOP.


(This isn’t my blog, and I promised Scott to keep my entries as PG as possible. So here goes)

Belladonna is an adult movie actress, famous for having known many, many, MANY men. She began her career knowing men when she was 18, and her enthusiasm for the job helped her gain popularity. Not only that, but her enthusiasm was also reflected in how extreme her movies got, where she would not only know men, but know a bunch of random objects as well. She later appeared on the ABC news show Primetime where she recounted the horrors of working for the industry. At one point in the show she broke down in tears while discussing a prison scene in one of her movies where she was forced to know a large number of costars at the same time. This resulted in a boom in popularity, with many questionable types becoming instant fans. It was later discovered that the above-mentioned prison scene was actually her idea. She retired briefly, but as any dedicated actor knows, it’s hard to stay out of the business you love. She is also a big fan of yoga, which explains A LOT.

Mormon cred status: Cha-ching!

She lived briefly in Utah and was apparently raised as a Mormon. I have no idea how deep and hardcore her faith was/is, because the information available online is scant. She mainly uses it as a way to discuss her early life, and the idea of a sweet, wholesome Mormon girl becoming part of this business is a selling point almost on par with her crying on TV. I’d write more, but my research on this entry is distracting me and I think I need to take a break for a few minutes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Church Fail

All I can say is I hope this image is photoshopped...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Revisiting Jonathan Edwards

I first read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" when I was 16. We were discussing Puritan-era American literature in English class, and Jonathan Edwards' infamous sermon was one of the pieces we looked at. At the time I was the kid who was always listening to Marilyn Manson and bashing organized religion, so the Puritans provided plenty of evidence to back up my "Religion = Bullsh*t" philosophy. And boy did I have a field day with Edwards! I thought it was the most self-righteous holier-than-thou piece of crap ever. Even when I became a Christian a year later, I still held Edwards as an example of all that was wrong with religion.

A few years ago, I noticed something strange: Jonathan Edwards became popular again! With the rise of the so-called Young, Restless, Reformed movement, Christians began reading old-school Calvinist theologians like Karl Barth, Charles Spurgeon, and Edwards. You even saw some kids wearing "Jonathan Edwards Is My Homeboy" t-shirts (pictured above). I wondered if maybe I was wrong about Edwards, so this past week I picked up A Jonathan Edwards Reader from the library.

Turns out he's more than just a doom-and-gloom preacher; he was also quite the philosopher and theologian. For example, there's "The Freedom of the Will," one of his most famous works. It's not an easy read (most philosophical/metaphysical books aren't), but the ideas in the book are intriguing. According to Edwards, we are free to choose based on what we most desire. Unfortunately, since we are sinful by nature, we don't desire the things of God, so we are unable to choose good on our own. It is only through God that we desire godly things, and are therefore able to choose good.

Which probably explains why I keep effing things up!

There's also the sermon "A Divine and Supernatural Light," where Edwards explains how true knowledge and revelation comes from God alone, and not from mere human understanding. Which is kind of an ego-bruiser for me because, in my post-Enlightenment mind, I kinda like to think that I can/have to figure all this stuff out on my own. Thanks be to God that I can't!

Of course Edwards had some whacked-out ideas, too. In "Notes on the Apocalypse," for example, he suggests that the Pope is the Antichrist. Then there's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which, reading it now, isn't as bad as I remember it, but some of the language is a bit over-the-top:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

Boy, ain't that a good pick-me-up!

Overall, though, I wouldn't consider Jonathan Edwards my "homeboy," but I do have a lot more respect for him.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mormon Mondays (on Tuesday): Two (or more) Girls for Every Saint

The Latter-day Saints have had an odd relationship with polygamy, which is understandable when you see those currently practicing it. If the LDS is your friendly, clean-cut neighbor always willing to do good and give a helping hand, then the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the creepy uncle with a mean face and grabby hands. The main church did away with polygamy when they wanted Utah to gain statehood (by way of a divine revelation), and many Saints who love polygamy just weren’t having that. They saw the revelation against polygamy as a cheap political maneuver, and decided to take all their toys and go elsewhere. Strange thing was, even though they superficially did away with polygamy, some in the main church were still taking part in plural marriage, which proved to be embarrassing later on when they were called on it.

Anyhow, today the main LDS declare that the FLDS are not “mormons,” which strikes me as odd. I know that the FLDS doesn’t follow the mainstream LDS, but by believing that the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, doesn’t that kinda make you a Mormon by default, without all the gross stuff that the FLDS decided to tack on after that?

It does make sense that the main church would want to distance itself as much as possible from the FLDS. They’re not just creepy...they’re downright nightmare inducing. They have their own towns, where the cops are part of the church (making escape impossible). They encourage keeping women in line and obedient by all means necessary, which naturally means savage beatings and mental degradation. Old men in their 70s can marry (and therefore, of course, have frequent sex with) young girls ages 14 and up, thus destroying their chances of ever having a normal sexual life. Girls are taught at an early age, at home and in school, that men are their masters, and being disobedient is a sure ticket into the tortuous pits of hell. They’re told to “stay sweet,” no matter what. Boys suspected of being gay are thrown out of the community, literally. One time a large group of boys were rounded up and dumped off in some area, told never to come back. Teachers are allowed to smack their students around and humiliate them in class, and don't lose their jobs even in the rare instance where parents complain about it. This isn’t even mentioning the strange animal sacrifices and reintroduction of blood atonement that Warren Jeffs promoted.

Would this have been avoided if the main church kept polygamy? Does polygamy naturally lead to abuse towards women? I don’t know. I know that the FLDS can get away with this because they are their own self-contained community, and therefore can enact all kinds of crazy laws due to divine revelation. The strange thing is, without all the abuse and creepiness, I understand why the FLDS exists. Polygamy was a divine revelation given to Joseph Smith, it’s in the Doctrines and Covenants, and Brigham Young promoted it with the same kind of intensity that Apple used for their iPad. And yeah, when it was done away with by divine revelation, it does seem a bit convenient that it was something they needed to do anyway to appease the government. Either God is rather flexible with his divine orders, or some major religions function exactly like any other political group. Once the message no longer sticks, do away with it and try another angle.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Appetite for Apocalypse

The end will one day come. I don’t know when. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. But it will.

I was reading in Leviticus this past weekend (yes, I consider reading from the Old Testament a pleasure read...I am not joking.), and it happened to be the big sex chapter--that’s Leviticus 18 if you aren’t familiar with it. To many Christians, it’s the gay one--the one that says a man should not lie with a man in the same way he would lie with a woman. That’s only a part of chapter though. There’s all kinds of twisted sex acts in this chapter--people who have sex with their sisters, their mothers, even their pets.

When I read this chapter I can’t help but think of the end. The biggest theory around regarding end time prophecy is that we are indeed living in the end because of the moral code that civilization as we know it seems to lack. How many times have you heard the doomsday theory supported by the fact that Homosexuals can get married, or because of the smut on TV, or because of the way teens act?

Leviticus 18 makes me wonder how different times really are. If there’s a law in Leviticus about people having sex with their animals, then chances are people were probably having sex with their animals!

There’s actually a theory floating around that every 100 years people get more worked up than usual about the end of the world, and there’s a rise of cults that center their doctrine around end time prophecy--something about a new century brings out the doomsday in people.

Of all the things Jesus talks about, I always found it curious that homosexuality wasn’t one of them...or anything many Christians would define as “sexual sin”--it certainly was going on in the Roman was abortion on that note. My belief is because  it’s not sexual sin that gets you into hell, rather it’s the lack of a relationship with God.

It’s disturbing that people would much rather believe that sexual promiscuity is what is the leading sign that the end of the world is near. I believe the clearest sign that we are all doom is when people can’t find anything wrong with the world--that’s when it will come like a thief in the night...

For your amusement, here is what Glenn Beck thinks about the end of the world: