Friday, February 26, 2010

Too Angry To Be A Christian?

The Bible says that anger itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. "In your anger, do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26) Anger can be beneficial when used correctly. For example, Marin Luther King Jr. used his anger for injustice to fight for equality and peace. Unfortunately, when I'm angry instead of being productive, I end up doing a Christian Bale number.

In my anger, I do nothing but sin.

I like to think that this problem can easily solved. If everyone stopped being so doggone annoying, we wouldn't have this problem! But everyday there's always some one that will do something stupid and put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. The sad part is it's usually the least of these that get on my nerves. I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to see Jesus in the eyes of a crackhead who doesn't know how to keep quiet in a library.

Anne Lamott once said, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do." Sadly, I do the same thing. I wish God would hate everyone I can't stand. I want a God that makes Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God look like an episode of "Sesame Street."

But, no, God wants me to love my enemies. I know it doesn't mean I have to have warm fuzzy feelings for everyone, but at least enough compassion to recognize everyone as human beings. And I know that love requires action, not just words or feelings. But how can I show love to my neighbor when I want him to plant his two lips directly onto my buttocks?

What do you think? Is there a way to show God's love to my annoying neighbors? Or am I just too angry to be a Christian?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Oldest Church Member Found to Be Fraud

I am currently working on getting my older work out on the Web, and freely available as many places possible. One of the first collections I'm putting out there is Christian Obscenity, which has been available for quite sometime on Kindle and as a physical book--but never as a free download. Below is a sample from that book, which was previously published in the Wittenburg Door. If you want a further preview of what's inside, you can download Interviews with Famous People I've Never Meant, which is free over at eBook contains the Interview portion of Christian Obscenity.

And if you like free, the remember to enter the fifty dollar give away, which ends at the end of the month!

In case you are wondering why this book will be free...the short answer is I'd rather people read it free, then it going unpublished; the reality is Christian humor is VERY rarely published by Christian publishers, because it's a hard sell--too many people are easily offended by the content, which is a shame. You can probably count the number of Christian humor books you've read on one hand.

So without further ramblings, here is: Oldest Church Member Found to Be Fraud

Yesterday in Anaheim, California, elders of the First Presbyterian Church announced the sadden news that Michael C. Epson, the churches longest and most loyal member, was not a Christian.  Epson had been with the church for 70 years, and never missed a Sunday, except for the three years he had served as an Army Chaplin overseas in the Second World War.

“We suspected it fourteen years ago.”  Said church elder Ed Loren, “Ever since he (Epson) said he, ‘did not believe in God’ after he was asked to tell God something he was thankful for at a Thanksgiving dinner.”  Loren added, “At the time we thought this merely met he did not believe in God, but he believed in Christ.  We felt it was a harmless comment, and it was better not to make waves and confront him on the issue.”

The discovery came late Tuesday night.  Epson, who is 76, was asked by the youth pastor to be part of a Q & A discussion for the church’s youth group.  Epson agreed, and was asked by one of the students why he believed in Christ.  Epson answered the student bluntly, “I don’t.”

Epson came to the church when he was six after his parents had moved to Anaheim from Los Angeles.  He explained in an email that in the 70 years he had been at the church, Christ had “never come up.”  He added, “I honestly did not know that I was going to a Christian church or I would have stopped a longtime ago.  The pastors a nice enough fellow, and gives us good application for our life, but I just never knew it was that kind of church.”

Epson admits that he does know what to believe when it comes to faith.  He believes there is something, although he lost faith in God after the war.

In a phone interview, the Pastor of the church, Reverend Rick Tyson, said he was, “Shocked and saddened” by the news.  In his sermons, he said, he always, “tried to give Biblical principles to his congregation, although though he did not like to use the Bible because he felt that it took away from the authority of his sermon.”  Asked if he was going to consider changing the way the church presented itself, Reverend Tyson said, “It’s always a sad thing when we discover one of our members doesn't know he is a member of a Christian church, but it happens.  There’s nothing more we can do to prepare for these circumstances.”

Asked if he would still attend the church, Epson responded, “I've been going to the church for 70 years, and it seems silly to stop on account of a minor technicality.  If I were a younger lad then yes—yes I'd probably leave and find something else to do on my Sundays, but I'm an old man and almost all my friends go here.  It wouldn’t be right to change churches now.”

The church has had two other incidents of members not knowing the church was Christian in the past, but Epson is the first a longtime church member.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The First Step Towards Healing

I recently had the opportunity to interview activist Brandt Russo about his Operation Starvation, a hunger strike to raise $15,500 to feed starving children. Yesterday Reject Apathy--which is Relevant Magazine's social justice-themed digital magazine--published the article online, and it got some good feedback.

Then this morning I checked the website to see if I received any more comments. There was a comment that read "To see Brandt's latest project, click this link." I click the link, and it was a picture of Brandt naked. Since I was at work, I quickly clicked away. I couldn't investigate it, so I just dismissed the commenter as a troll. About five minutes before my shift ended, I checked the website again, and there were a few more comments. Two of them said nasty things about Brandt, and the third one was from Brandt himself.

He said that he's been struggling with pornography addiction for years, and it was time for him to get help. He also wrote about it on his Facebook page.

After dinner I checked my email and saw that Brandt sent me a message on Twitter. "Did they seriously delete the article?" he said. "I'm sorry for all of that drama, dude." I checked the website and sure enough, the article was gone. One of the Relevant editors emailed me and said they took the article down because they didn't want to start a flame war: one half calling Brandt a fake, and the other half defending Brandt. I emailed him back and said I understood. Then I emailed Brandt and told him I'll be praying for him.

On one had I'm kind of disappointed, but on the other hand I admire Brandt for being so honest about his struggle. I can understand where he's coming from, too. Many times I've felt like I had to put on a mask and pretend that I have it all together. Meanwhile my dark secrets eat me up inside. Guilt and shame torture me day and night. I feel like I'm dying, but I don't want to say anything, because I'm afraid of being exposed as a liar.

But confessing is the first step towards healing. When Jesus said, "Ask, and you shall receive," He wasn't lying. In those dark moments when I'm at my lowest and I"m on my knees begging for help, I hear that still small voice saying, "I'm here." And then the healing begins, slowly but surely.

I pray for Brandt and his healing. It's a shame all this had to happen at once. But hopefully now he can get some help.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Did God Win the Super Bowl?

Spoiler Alert: If you do not wish to know who won the Super Bowl, don’t read the two paragraphs below the image.

Several times a month, I teach computer classes at the library I work at; these classes are usually full of middle class workers who are trying to figure out how to use a computer, so they can find a better job. It’s not uncommon to tale to see a laid off person, who has worked in the same position for twenty years, who is now suddenly exposed to a new workforce industry that they do not understand.

It is in these classes that I meant the man who, for ambiguities sake, I will call Library Patron. Library Patron is a middle class male in his fifties who lost his job and does know what he’s qualified to do. The trouble is his job has been outsourced, as have all others in the industry. He never went to college, and had been in trouble with the law as a youth, but his life was turned around and he is now a born again believer.

The man, for whatever reasons, feels obliged to tell me his testimony every time he attends one of my classes; usually it’s while I’m cleaning up the class, and I don’t pay a lot of attention to what he’s saying. Last month, however, he said something I couldn’t ignore; he said, “I really think that if the city of New Orleans finally asks for forgiveness, God will let them win the Super Bowl.”

I didn’t get mad at the man; I got mad at whoever put the idea in his head. It’s easy to stare at the man and think what an insensitive, arrogant, jerk. But as I stood there listening to him ramble about how everything that’s happened in New Orleans is all because God was mad at them, it became clear that he didn’t come up with this all by himself—he had help in the form of so-called Christian leaders—AKA, Christian Talk Radio.

There are a lot of really smart Christians out there; a large number, however, were like this Library Patron. Middle class Americans, who are passionate, but inclined to believe whatever their church leader throws their way. That doesn’t make them bad Christians. What’s disturbing, however, is the number of leaders who prey on people such as this man. Media empires are built within the Christian marketplace with people like this man in mind—average Americans who work so hard they don’t have time to study God’s word when they get home, so they rely on things like the radio to educate them. Only instead of educating them with goodness, they are telling them things that give Christianity a bad name.

It’s alarming to turn on Christian radio and hear people that sound just like public talk radio—rage filled people, who scream about how bad the world is; but these people are worse—they use Christ’s name to support whatever nonsense they’re talking about. I’d be curious to know how much of Christian talk radio is simply about how to do good, and how much is about how this world has gone down the crapper and it’s up to Christians to get people to repent by telling them how sinful they are.

I know there are people who become believers because someone told them they were sinners or asked if they knew for sure that they would go to heaven; most people seem to become Christians, however, by simply watching the way someone lives and coming to the conclusion that they want to live like that also.
The Saints won the Super Bowl; does that mean that God willed it (no doubt because of all the prayers Kim Kardashian said for Reggie Bush)? That New Orleans has redeemed itself and made it worthy of the coveted crown? That come Mardi Gras, Angels will be dancing in the streets? No—I’m pretty sure it just means they played better.

I don’t know if God cares about sports, but I’m pretty sure, regardless of how he feels, he doesn’t change the outcome because the Bible clearly says that he does not show favoritism.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mindy Smith: My Favorite Christian Singer

I don't really listen to "Christian music," because frankly most of it sucks. There are of course some exceptions--I love Derek Webb, Sara Groves, and Jon Foreman's solo stuff--but for the most part Christian music is basically a carbon copy of whatever is popular, with the word "Jesus" replacing the word "baby." Instead, I gravitate more towards secular artists that have a lot of spiritual themes in their music. One great example is Mindy Smith.

You may remember her song "Come to Jesus" from a couple of years ago:

Even though her lyrics are explicitly Christian, she doesn't fully fit into the "contemporary Christian" label because she doesn't do "praise and worship" anthems. Instead, she writes from the point of view from a regular person trying to make sense of this crazy world. You know, real life.

My favorite song by her is "Out Loud:"

Hey friend why are we always hiding
It's no wonder why we're sinking down
Why should we stand in lonely shadows
With so much light around

Hey friend why are we always crying
So many tears are gonna dry us out
Whatever their selling we've gotta stop Buying
Cuz our pockets are empty now

And I've thought about it
And I've prayed about it out loud, out oud
And we can talk about it
We can pray about it out loud, out loud

Hey friend why are we always fighting
Who's left to hit when everybody's down
We know we're afraid but love is trying
To save us anyhow

And I've thought about it
And I've prayed about it out loud, out loud
And we can talk about it
We can pray about it out loud, out loud

Any time we need a change, need a change
A few things, a few things
I think its time we need a change a few things, a few things

And I've thought about it
And I've prayed about it out loud, out loud
And we can talk about it
We can pray about it out loud, out loud

Go check her out if you haven't already.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On Fundamentalism and Reconciliation

As you know, I am not a big fan of fundamentalism. To me, it's theological school yard bullying. However, sometimes my hatred of fundamentalism makes me do stupid things, like hurt people.

First, let me start with my definition of fundamentalism. To me, a fundamentalist is some one who thinks that their interpretation of the Bible is the infallible word of God. Folks who believe that they're always right and if you don't fit into their cookie-cutter image then you're a bad person. Those judgemental, holier-than-thou, authoritative, pious, "I'm right, you're wrong, get used to it" folks. In the words of Barney Frank, trying to have a conversation with them is like arguing with a dining room table. I'd much rather have a conversation, and rethink a lot of the things Christian culture usually takes for granted.

(Of course when I say "a lot of the things Christian culture usually takes for granted," I am NOT referring to the three biggies that are, to me, the fundamentals and Christianity: the Divinity of Jesus, His atoning death on the Cross, and His resurrection.)

Maybe it's just my rebellious punk rock nature, but I always like to question things. If I don't ask questions, how will I know that what I believe is legit? How can I separate what's really biblical and what's just a man-made doctrine? With fundamentalism, however, there is no room for questions. Either you accept everything they believe and fit into their little mold, or you're not a true Christian.

I'm the first to admit that I am not perfect. I know I'm messed up. I know I haven't gotten it all figured out. I'm still learning, and I'll always be learning until the day I die. Yeah, I make mistakes along the way, but I keep learning. Don't make me feel like a piece of crap just because I haven't gotten it all together.

Having said all that, though, sometimes I falsely accuse people of being fundamentalist nut jobs. Sometimes I get so angry that I say things that are mean, hurtful, and unfair. I'm so defensive that I refuse to let down my guard and really listen to what the other side has to say. Even though I'm always saying both sides should talk to each other, I secretly don't believe it.

I've been hurt by Christians in the past, but that doesn't make it right for me to attack people. It's like the bullied becomes the bully, and then the cycle continues. I need to learn how to stop the cycle, listen to the other side, and make peace with others.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Easiest 50 Bucks You’ll Ever Get (closed)

Update: to be clear, the $50 is not to support anything or anyone. It is open to everyone and you will not be accountable in anyway for what you do with the money. The selection will be completely random.

A few weeks back, I announced that this blog was going to experiment with a real paying contest.

Today is the first one, and it’s a simple one at that.

We are going to randomly give away 50 dollars to one reader.

It would be nice to hear that the winner did something nice with it—treated a few homeless people to dinner, bought groceries for an unemployed family, or donated to someone going away on a mission trip. In truth, however, we are not holding you accountable to what you do with it. So that means if you spend it on clothes for yourself, no one except you will know.

Should you find any meaning in what you did, we’d love for you to write about it…but again, that is not required.

What do we ask? Just comment below—say anything you'd like. If you mention this giveaway anywhere else (twitter, your blog, etc), give a link in your comment where you did it, and we’ll count your name twice. This is a Christian-ish blog, but you don’t need to be one to win—it’s open to everyone.

Other rules…comment only once...unless, you blog or twitter this link, the comment again and say where you did it. Also, we pay via Paypal, so you need to have an account with them to receive the money if you win. That’s it.

The contest will go until the end of the month. It officially ends 11:59pm on February 28. The name will be picked using One lucky winner will be announced in March. We’ll announce the winning user name on this blog, so check back in March to see if you were the winner, and we’ll have information on how you can collect.

Stay tuned for other contest!

Also, missionaries (and friends of missionaries), don’t forget you can also email us about sponsoring you by going to this link.

And Video Gamers, don't forget about the 25 dollar gift card for reviewing Dante's Inferno.

Good luck!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Play a Video Game, Get $25

If you are a video game fan and a Christian, you are probably aware of the upcoming video game "Dante's Inferno" available on PS3 and Xbox 360 on February 9.

I'd like someone to review the game for this blog; I'm not going to buy you the game, but if you write the review then there's a $25 Amazon Gift card with your name on it once you turn the blog in (on top of this, Amazon will give you $10 off your next game purchase if you pre-order from them.)

I'm looking for someone with some knowledge of the book, and would be able to offer some comparison between the game and the book. I'd also like someone willing to speak of the Christian subtext (or lack thereof), and briefly discuss whether this game makes hell seem fun. It only needs to be 500 to 750 words.

The game is rated M for mature, so you need to be over 18.

If your interested, send an email to with the subject "Dante's Inferno." Make sure and let me know if you've read the book in your email.

Monday, February 1, 2010

ChurchTunes: An Interview With Steve Jobs

A few years back, I wrote a faux interview with Steve Jobs for The Wittenburg Door. For one reason or another, it never made it in the magazine, and I forgot about it. Last week, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, it made me start thinking about that fake interview, and I found the old draft still in my email. It's as relevant today as it was two or three years ago when I originally wrote it, so I'm posting it below. Enjoy!


Steve Jobs has made a business selling computers, music, and videos; now he's out to sell church, and he tells us about it in this interview.

What can you tell us about Apples new project that's codenamed "ChurchTunes"?
It's revolutionary and full of the energy, style and glitter that makes all Apple projects the envy of all your friends and neighbors.

But what exactly is it?
It's my masterpiece. I call it "God in a box."

God in a Box?
Exactly! Now ask how it came about!

Okay, how did it come about?
Well I was sitting in our conference room sort of bummed out. I mean where do you go from iPod Video? What's left to do? My people saw I was bummed out so they say to me, "Stevie why the gloom face-iPod sales are through the roof and you have it all." And then it hit me. I didn't have it all. I thought back to when I was a little kid and my mom said to me, "Only God has
it all," and it came to me--I needed to control God. Then I'd be happy.

How exactly do you control God?
I don't control God--not that I haven't tried--he's simply can't be bought. What we do instead is give people the idea that God is in the box, and all they need is the box to be happy.

So are you selling an idea or a product?
All good products are both ideas and products. ChurchTunes will essentially be a one stop device for all things tranquility. Not only will it play any song, from rock to rap, tranquilly, it also convert all of your home videos and photos to peaceful settings. You may have thirty minutes of video of  your son kicking the cat and screaming at the top of his lungs; when you play it back on ChurchTunes it will look like a waterfall.

And peaceful scenes and songs is all people will need to be happy?
Of course not. That's why we're still selling iPods and iMacs.

How will you convince people that this church in a box is better than the place of worship they currently attend?
Well first of all most people don't attend church on a regular basis, and second we have something churches will never have-we have marketers. Commercialism is a vice more powerful than any church.

Do you fear a backlash--that perhaps people will say you're trying to control too much?
I'm not doing this for power. Let's be perfectly honest here--I'm doing it for the money and nothing else.

Okay, fine. Let's get back to the actual product. You say it will give the illusion that there is harmony?
Not the illusion. It actually converts.

It seems a bit manipulative. You're making people happy by creating a peace that didn't exist before?
Isn't that what churches do? They make people happy by showing them something they didn't see before? I'm simply putting commercialism in religion. Is that so bad?

It kind of is. What other religion is out there for profit?
Scientology for one.

Pretty sure they don't consider themselves a religion. Perhaps we should get back to your own well being. What makes Steve Jobs happy? Is this a product you would use to obtain happiness?
Making investors happy is what makes Steve Jobs happy.

So what's next? Assuming this does well, where do you go from there?
There will of course be a series of versions with increased capacity, followed by several versions that are as thin as a pencil. After that the skies the limited. Ultimately, I'd really like to see a version that distorts all reality, so there are no bad thoughts.

Kind of like an imagery world?
We need to get out of this 'imagery' way of thinking. It's real-all of it. It's not a false reality--it's an enhanced reality.

Can there really be a world where there is no bad? We have to experience bad to know what good is don't we?
But we have experienced bad, so now we can experience good. The whole point of living is to find away to create a positive universe. And get me more money.

Speaking of money, how much will this new gadget cost?
That there is the real beauty of this! We're establishing the Apple Corporation as a religion, and when you buy ChurchTunes it will be considered a charitable contribution.

I pretty sure that's illegal?
Not when your Steve Jobs! When your Steve Jobs nothing is illegal!