A New American Dream?

“What is ‘an American’? Do we have something important in common, as Americans, or is it just that we all happen to live inside the same boundaries?… We talk a lot about our special rights and freedoms, but are there also special responsibilities that come with being an American? If so, responsibilities to whom?” – David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

As Americans, we put a lot of emphasis on personal freedom. Living in Arizona for 11 months has made me realize this all the more. They love their freedom down here. They don’t want any constraint. People want the freedom to do whatever they damn well please, regardless of the consequences to everyone else. For instance: It is legal for anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit — that’s just the freedoms we’re entitled to as Americans!

It’s gotten to the point where anything that hinders the dominant culture’s freedom in any kind of way is an affront to their American citizenship. I say dominant culture because this freedom does not extend to the GLBT community to marry or really any other minority culture. As long as your white and male and have never been accused of being anything else, you’re free to pursue your highest ambition — and carry a concealed 9mm without a permit to boot! Here’s what we need to realize.

When we are “free” to join the rat race of ambition in America, we’re not really free at all. It’s at that very point when we’re most enslaved.

I think we would be better served to create spaces where people can exist outside of the rat race. Where your material possessions, job title, or social status doesn’t matter, but you’re freed to just be a person, to be you.

Mother Teresa used to say that the physical poverty of the East was nothing compared to the psychological poverty of the West. 

Physical poverty can be addressed. It can be seen. Psychological poverty, spiritual poverty, is much more slippery.

When we put our freedom above the freedom of our neighbor, we’re in deep psychological poverty. But what if we had spaces where we could be free of that? Where we could be free from our relentless pursuit of the “American dream” — or our highest ambition? What if we had spaces and times during our week where we could give all of that up and enjoy a glass of wine with friends? Or what if we could go out into nature and enjoy the beauty of a lake, forest, ocean,or  mountain?

It’s in the beauty around us that we find the grace to survive. And it’s in that grace we live. That’s my vision for a faith community: a group of people that doesn’t exist for the pursuit of some higher pleasure — be it heaven, eternal life, an experience of ecstasy, or an escape from the weekday rat race.

But what if a faith community — or what if a renewed America — was the place where we could check that crap at the door and learn how to be happy living in the moment with the people we love?

That’s a freedom worth fighting for.

Cheers,
Eric 

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When Bad Tornadoes Happen to Good Christians

A good way to start this might be to say that tornadoes have terrified me for a long time. I was at a sleepover in middle school when everyone else was getting ready to watch the movie “Twister”. My heart started to race. I knew that if I watched that movie, I would have terrible nightmares. I fought hard for a 50th time through “3 Ninjas”, but no such luck. I didn’t even want to watch a movie about tornadoes because I always feared being caught up in one.

Tornadoes don’t scare me in the same way they did when I was younger. But, as we’ve seen these last few days, they’re still happening and they’re still destroying. The recent storms in through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky have put huge numbers of people in the midst of the storm.

One way to respond to this, is to blame the people who have just been savaged by these storms and claim that it was some sort of divinely-guided weather judgment. John Piper takes this route. Yesterday, he wrote:

If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command…. God’s will for America under his mighty hand, is that every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every person of every religion or non-religion, turn from sin and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.

I have a number of problems with this. But I think this viewpoint is a symptom of a much larger problem. When we view God as a being who controls every tiny action that happens in the world, then this is where we end up. God sent these tornadoes down because these specific people were so sinful that they needed to be taught a lesson. So God killed 39 people and destroyed countless towns, homes, and lives.

This is one of the most damaging and destructive views I have ever heard.

Weather happens. Anyone who has taken 8th grade Earth science knows that. The weather doesn’t change because Jews or Muslims exist in the world. (Lest we forget that the title of God’s people was bestowed on Jews in the first place.)

This is the type of Christianity that actively detracts from our 21st century world. There is no need for me to tell you why we shouldn’t embrace a 4th century worldview. The world isn’t flat. The Earth is not the center of the universe. And God doesn’t make the weather.

To suggest this is not only embarrassing to religious people around the world, but it’s pointing a finger at the tens of thousands of people who have just had their lives destroyed and then saying that they deserved it. It’s tragic, hurtful, and actively detracts from the kingdom of God.

God pulls life out of death. But She doesn’t kill someone to do so.

Cheers,
Eric

(Yeah. I did the passive-aggressive refer-to-God-as-a-she thing. I’m still a little offended by Piper’s comments from 2 weeks ago. Lord, have mercy.)

What We Have Gotten Wrong About Faith

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.” – Flannery O’Connor

I was in Barnes and Noble last night perusing the Christmas deals (like ya do) and I went to the “Christian Inspiration” display table set apart from the rest of the religious books as the “bestsellers”. There was the typical Joel Osteen, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyers on the front side and then around back was all kinds of paraphernalia for this book Heaven is For Real. Now, admittedly, I have only read the first chapter of it (as that is all I could get for free on my Kindle).

This kind of emotive faith doesn’t do much for me. It seems to only offer comfort to the comforted. We focus so much on the afterlife that we neglect to do the work of God in this life. Any faith that doesn’t say “Take up your cross and follow me” isn’t anything I want to be a part of. We think of following Jesus only in our expectation of the still waters and green pastures of Psalm 23. We fail to realize that if we actually follow Jesus, it will be far less comfortable than that.

Now, far be it for me to equate a person’s faith life with the types of books they read, but I think it certainly impacts it. You are what you read. By all means, if you are afflicted and need comfort, read something that will give you comfort. I’m not that sadistic. But for a lot of us, myself included, our faith only grows by being pushed and stretched. I doubt reading Heaven is For Real or Every Day a Friday really pushes you beyond the call to simply have more faith.

For a lot of us, the answer to a lot of life’s (more troubling) questions isn’t “if God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it”. But the answer to many of life’s questions can be found in the ancient command to “take up your cross and follow me.”

Cheers,
Eric

*I don’t mean any offense to people who have read Heaven is for Real and found a lot of encouragement in it. I’m sure it’s a very encouraging book. I only say what I say because I think we can do better.

The Anatomy of a Tantrum

This past weekend, we had a Christmas party for the youth at the church I work at. Lots of food, games, ugly Christmas sweater contests, Christmas songs, a White Elephant gift exchange… All the makings of a wonderful party. And it really was a great time. But there was something I noticed in the wake of the White Elephant gift exchange. People were pissed. Like go-in-the-corner-and-pout, throw-things-at-other-people-because-they-got-the-present-that-I-wanted pissed. This said something loud and clear to me.

We’ve completely lost what Christmas means. And this is NOT going to be a “he’s the reason for the season” post because God knows we have enough of that [stuff] around. If we didn’t happen to live in a country where Christianity was normative for so long, we’d be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter solstice or any other of the many holidays that are celebrated worldwide.

So when we hear all of this Fox News “War on Christmas”, how-dare-anyone-wish-me-happy-holidays [stuff] going on in the adult realm of things, it’s not hard to see where these kids get it. Not indicting any particular kid or parent, just painting in broad strokes here. But it’s basic psychology that kids pattern behavior off the adults they witness. So when kids are literally beating each other because they didn’t get what they wanted out of a gift exchange at church, it has to make you wonder if we’ve lost our way completely.

SO… in place of entitlement and belligerence this holiday season, I’m proposing something a little different. Humility and gratitude. Christmas is a time when God goes so entirely outside of the box and, in such a game-changing act of humility, would dare to become human in order to suffer with us. This took place long ago and still has power to impact anyone, regardless of nationality or birthplace.

The most important thing to remember, nobody is “taking the Christ out of Christmas” for antagonistic or malicious reasons. They’re merely mentioning other December celebrations as a way of including everyone in the festivities.

And that’s okay.

Cheers,
Eric

[The ideas for this post were prompted by my own reflection on my experience this past Friday, while also coming across a great post from Rachel Held Evans. Check it out for a slightly different approach to what I’m talking about here]

4 (of many) Things Wrong with Rick Perry’s Abysmal Ad

Within the last week, Rick Perry has managed to stir up a lot of controversy with a new ad he has released declaring war on Obama’s war on religion. There are a number of things wrong with Perry’s ad, and I am here to point out a few of them. Just so we’re on the same page Here’s a full text of the ad, just to catch people up. (I’m posting the text of the ad because I refuse to post a video link of that garbage on this site.)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.

As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

I’m Rick Perry and I approve this message.

Here we go.

1) We need to stop declaring wars on emotions and concepts. Obama doesn’t have a war on religion. He’s the Muslim with the controversial United Church of Christ pastor, remember? That’s like doubly religious. Wars have real enemies. The wars on religion, drugs, terror etc are insane because their target is amorphous. In my opinion, wars are the last thing Perry will ever look to end. Which brings us to…

2) There’s something wrong in this country when gays CAN’T serve openly in the military. The object of someone’s sexual desire does not hinder their ability to serve and protect this country. It’s like saying all left-handed can’t serve in the military (not a perfect metaphor, but close). In the end, when you’re in battle, it just does not matter who the other person goes home to at night.

3) Your kids can pray in schools all they want. This whole thing about how kids can’t pray in school is absurd. Of course they can. The law you are thinking of simply states that teachers are not allowed to lead the class in prayers. Which is fine, and do you know why? Because…

4) This whole thing is about respect. You know what doesn’t contribute to the overall respect for people? When a candidate who is supposed to be a leader, spouts a philosophy of “us vs. them” politics which fundamentally divides. As someone who is going to be a pastor, I whole-heartedly agree that faith can make us strong. But faith that is belligerent in the face of such blatant disrespect makes us all weaker.

So Mr. Perry, Governor Perry… do us all a favor and leave. Ride off into the night. Tuck your tail between your legs and get out of public discourse. Because what you’re saying is not good for anyone. Much less Christians.

Cheers,
Eric

Also… how funny is it that he’s wearing the same jacket as Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”? You can’t make it up.

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