The Periodic Musings of Matt Davis

September 29, 2010

On Politics and the Church… pt. 2 (or God Bless America – How???)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kcillini77 @ 2:37 am

Much of what I hear out of evangelicals as it regards politics these days has to do with the notion of America as a Christian nation.  There are all sorts of websites, books, etc. dedicated to proving or denying the Christian heritage of our nation, and frankly, that’s not the debate I want to get into.

What interests me more is the prevalent idea that God has blessed America because of this national relationship.  Much of the propaganda I hear being pushed by evangelicals declares that we as a nation are losing our favor with God, and we need to get back to the ideals of the Founding Fathers.  Get back to God, or else God will not show us the favor he has shown us to this point.

Even if I were to concede that the religious beliefs of the Founders had somehow forged a special relationship between the United States of America and God, I still would find issue with this line of thinking.  Here’s why.  What are the evidences that God has blessed America?  Well, let’s see:  We are the most powerful nation in the world.  We are the wealthiest nation in the world.  As a whole, we individually enjoy prosperity and freedom to degrees that no one else on Earth enjoys.  Sweet!  America is the best country on earth – there’s no denying it.

BUT – what do the red letters of the Gospel say constitute a blessing?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:3-12, NIV)

The Gospel of Jesus turned upside down what was meant to be blessed.  The followers of Jesus shortly after his Resurrection lived in the Roman Empire, a culture that was full of many of the “blessings” of wealth and prosperity that we claim as our own today.  But Jesus didn’t consider the wealthy the blessed.  No, He would say it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  The people that Jesus said were blessed were those who would soon undergo torture and death at the hands of Nero and the Roman Empire.

In theory we (evangelicals) agree.  We applaud the underground Chinese churches and all of our fellow believers around the world who are persecuted.  But meanwhile we devote our efforts here in America to ensuring our rights are preserved.  To keeping our tax exempt status.  To posting Ten Commandments in public spaces (despite the fact that the Law brings condemnation, and our message is Jesus, not the law).

The Gospel of Jesus says that we have fallen far short of God, and that only through Christ’s atonement for our personal sin can we be redeemed.  That Gospel is the GOOD news because it means that our effort to bridge the gap to God is all for naught.  Our behavior modification and attempts to please him have failed and will always fail.  But Jesus is the answer.

So why do we, as Evangelicals, continue to propagate a message that God is angry with our country for our sins and that the only way to make sure we continue to be “blessed” by wealth, prosperity, freedom, and power is to stop sinning and have better morals?  A blessing of that sort is the antithesis of the Gospel.  It’s its own reward.  If we truly believe the Gospel is the hope for the nations that should be our primary focus – not the sustainability of our own freedom and prosperity.  If the fear-mongers are right and we are headed toward socialism, well, what are we worried about?  We may just lose a fortune – and gain a soul.

September 21, 2010

On Politics and the Church… Pt. 1

Filed under: American Church, Politics — Tags: — kcillini77 @ 9:07 pm

As you can see, I have disappeared into the quick posts of Facebook and failed to make a detailed point in about a gestation period.  That kind of fits in with having a new addition to the family, but I digress.  At any rate, there is something that I have been pondering, and I am going to attempt to start discussing it.  I don’t know how often I will get to it or exactly where it will go, but I want to get started and see.  Hopefully some of you will join along with me and we can have some degree of discussion.

I have no thesis at this point – I’m just shooting from the hip.  But the title gives you a little clue of where I’m headed.

I voted for Bush.  Twice.  I was convinced that the hope for America was conservatism – both financially and socially, and imagined everyone else to be, for lack of a better term, liberal heathen idiots.  I used to watch a lot of Fox News.  I had lots of opinions and was happy to share them. If the tea party bandwagon was revving up 4 years ago, I probably would have been on it.

In 2008, I voted for Barack Hussein Obama.  Screeeech.  What?  Did I hit my head in the voting booth?  No, at some point around that election, I moved from a passionate view of politics to a disenchantment with the us vs. them mentality.  I don’t know that I could have put it into words then, but what was most troubling to me was not the fact that America was divided politically.  Division is necessary for our two-party system to thrive.  It may be more heated now than it has been in my life, or maybe it just seems that way because of the media circus.  But that wasn’t really what led me to pull the lever for a liberal.

What troubled me the most on that day in 2008 and still continues to bother me is that as someone who identifies as an evangelical, the voices that seem to be equating or at least marrying the Gospel of Jesus with Republican Party platforms are way too loud and far, far, off base.  I heard so many statements from people that seemed to equate a vote for Obama with a vote for Satan that I just got to the point that I wanted to scream.  Most of these arguments centered on abortion and that it is a moral evil.  You can’t vote for someone who is in favor of support of a moral evil or you have sided with evil.  But the flip side of that is that no party has a corner on morality, and, even if they did, Jesus did not come to restore morality.  He came to restore immoral people to God.  We as evangelicals say our primary focus is to introduce people to Jesus.  That should be our purpose.  But instead we are trying to change the morals of people through politics, which to me is empty, hollow, and worthless.  So, my politics have veered not so much to a liberal slant as to an apathetic slant.  I don’t get too worked up about anything.  But I realize that if I’m going to call out evangelicals for abandoning the Gospel and substituting it for shallow politics, I need to immerse myself in the Gospel all the more.  So, I intend to spend some time thinking about the Gospel and how it does, and should, relate to the politics of the day.  Again, I don’t know how that will play itself out, but feel free to join me in the coming weeks.  Or maybe I’ll get apathetic again before that.  We’ll see.

Oh, to finish the story on what made me pull the lever for Obama.  I was listening to a local political talk show and a woman called in to the station.  She identified herself as a black woman and a McCain voter.  She said most of her friends and family considered her a traitor.  When asked why she was voting for McCain, she said it was because she had become a Christian and the people in her church had made it clear to her that there was a “Christian” way to vote and that was for John McCain.  The audacity of that statement made me determined to cancel out that vote and let everyone else decide the election.  See – apathy.

January 27, 2010

I admit it, I heart Facebook

Filed under: Uncategorized — kcillini77 @ 3:00 am

I was a Facebook holdout for a long time.  I figured it would pretty much be an endless barage of updates like, “eating a hamburger now”, “sitting on the runway”, or “just got off the pot – do not go in there.”  And there is a lot of that.

But since becoming a convert, there is one aspect of Facebook that fascinates me.  People can choose to be as open or closed as they want to be, but whether you are a sharer or a lurker a lot of walls come down on Facebook.  Specifically I’m talking about our tendency in “real life” to compartmentalize our friends and acquaintances.  I have work friends, relatives, church friends, drinkin’ buddies, and people that I watch Illini games with, neighbors, and acquaintances.  Usually, our relationship is defined on what we have in common.  And that’s fine.

But on Facebook, friends are friends (even if they’re really acquaintances).  When I post my theological musings, my work friends and Illini buddies see that too.  When I post my beer geek stuff my church friends see that too.  If you want to share, you share with all.  You can’t really hide who you are unless you decide just not to post.

I for one think that’s great.  I know that I may post something that some (or most) of my friends will ignore.  I might post something that they don’t care about.  Maybe they just ignore me some or most of the time.  But if they choose to read it they know more about who I really am than they would otherwise.  Sure, there’s a risk that it may lead them to make unfair or incorrect assumptions about me.  But mostly I like the fact that they know more about where I’m coming from and vice versa.  They probably think I’m weirder than they used to, but that just means they know the truth.  And truth is good.

January 17, 2010

Think you know MLK?

Filed under: American Church, Morality — Tags: , , — kcillini77 @ 11:08 pm

I grew up, to a degree, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.  I went to school with black kids and kids of other religions, and I never really thought that was weird.  I knew we looked different.  I picked up on cultural differences.  But we were friends and didn’t know much about the world that existed less than 20 years before us.

Every year we would hear a few snippets about MLK.  We would see clips of his, “I have a dream” speach.  He seemed pretty cool.

But we didn’t get it.

I have never heard a friend or acquaintance ridicule the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.  But I have heard little whispers:  You know he was an adulturer, right?  He was associated with the Communists, wasn’t he?  He picked Jesse Jackson to succeed him… and so on.  No one is “against” MLK and his vision, but many today seem more intent on pointing out his flaws than on listening to what he really said.

And so, I invite you to do this little exercise:

Read this short letter, written to King on April 12, 1963 from some concerned white clergymen.

Then read his response, Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Sure, King had flaws, like we all do.  But he had a true vision for human dignity, and was equipped by the Gospel of Christ.  Read his words.  Get to know him a little better today.

January 6, 2010

Still a hypocrite

Filed under: Confession — Tags: , , — kcillini77 @ 4:08 am

In theory, I…

…care about the homeless.

…think the Gospel is the remedy for those who are perishing and want it to be proclaimed.

…would love to spend time with elderly people in a nursing home.

…want to be a shoulder to cry on for the grieving.

…can’t wait to help you move that furniture.

…think it would be a valuable use of my time to hold the hand of an AIDS patient

…consider others better than myself.

In practice, I…

…will watch a game with you as long as you don’t block the TV and don’t root for the other team.

…would love to drink a beer with you as long as it’s not that American macro lager swill.

…want you to stop your jabbering about things that don’t interest me and pay attention to my eloquent thoughts.

…want to be fed and comfortable, and if you take care of those needs quickly I might consider tossing you a tip.

God, have mercy on me!!!

January 3, 2010

Are we saving the planet or worshipping it?

Filed under: Environmentalism — Tags: , , — kcillini77 @ 11:22 pm

“Our Great Mother does not take sides; She protects only the balance of life.” – Quote from Avatar.

My wife and I recently went to see Avatar in 3D.  It was the first movie we’d been to in about 7 or 8 months, and it cost us $30.  But we got free babysitting, so we went.  The visuals were amazing and I’m glad I had the experience.  But I had a hard time ignoring the environmental propaganda rampant in the film.  The premise of the movie is that the Earth has been ravaged by humans, and in the pursuit of more precious resources the U.S. Marines are apparently traveling to another planet to take their natural resources by force.  “We have killed our Mother,” and our species is ready to kill another planet.  But fortunately we are foiled by a consortium of the planet’s natives (who love and worship their Mother) and some likeminded earthlings.

Listen, I am all for the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). We are stewards of the planet God’s given us, and it makes no sense to waste our resources.  I support curbside recycling programs, and am a strong supporter of the glass recycling program started by some of the principals at Boulevard (Ripple Glass).  I’m not convinced that we are on the brink of losing countries to floodwaters, but I think moving away from fossil fuels as much as possible is a great thing.  So I am firmly in the camp of trying to avoid needless waste and harm in our environment.

But it seems to me that those who seem to have the biggest voice in the green movement aren’t coming at it from the mindset of being a steward of God-given resources.  Listening to some of the extreme voices, the view of our relationship with the earth more closely resembles a parasitic than a symbiotic one.  If all was as it should be we wouldn’t even be here – we are an accident of evolution and are in many respects simply a drain on the Earth.  Hence, we are Her subjects and should defer to Her in all instances.  That, my friends, is worship.  It is placing the Earth in a position of God, and it is idolatry.  It is in clear contrast with the God of the Bible who claims to have made us in His image.  The self-loathing put forward by the extreme elements of environmentalism is not healthy, and we need to recognize that it is being fed to us.  It was a little over the top in Avatar, but I see it more subtlely elsewhere.

I was watching an episode of Handy Manny on the Disney channel with my son the other day.  Manny was asked to build a bike path around a lake, and when he surveyed the land he was to build it on he saw a turtle digging a hole to lay its eggs.  Manny was concerned that when the eggs hatched the baby turtles wouldn’t be able to make it to the lake if the bike path was in the way.  Moving the path the other direction was out of the question, of course, because he would have to cut down a couple of trees, which would also be wrong.  So, they decided to build a bridge (over land) so that the turtles could reach the lake safely (and then promptly be eaten by predators, but that wasn’t addressed).  It’s a cute little story and no one wants to intentionally kill turtles (unless they’re making a tasty soup).  But in practicality a bridge would be a huge cost on the taxpayers for the sake of saving a few turtles.  Kids don’t know that, but when they have these nice little stories embedded in their brains over time, it’s not farfetched to see them strapping themselves to a tree at some point in the future.

I’m not banning Handy Manny or the Disney Channel.  I won’t refuse to see any more James Cameron movies.  I just think that as we consume media, we need to think about the implications.  The Earth needs our attention, but it doesn’t need our worship.

November 11, 2009

Save the Hymnals

Filed under: American Church — Tags: , , — kcillini77 @ 2:10 am

I made a comment recently on Facebook based on our experience visiting churches and the way I said it in the limited text field there seemed to be misinterpreted.  So let me use a little more space to give some insight into my thoughts.

It seems that in the non-liturgical churches that we have been visiting,  the default mode of singing seems to be what is commonly classified as “Praise and Worship” songs.  This is nothing new – it’s been the trend for decades.  But the fact is that most of these songs are written by Pentacostals or some other breed of charismatics.  Nothing at all wrong with that.  The words they have penned fit well into a charismatic service or into an individual time of worship.  But I cannot bring myself to mouth words like “We lift up our hands” or “As I kneel before you” or “I dance before you now” when I am not doing it.  I pay attention to the words I am singing, and if I’m doing what we call “worship” and lying in the process, I personally feel disingenuous at the least.

Much of what is called “praise and worship” these days is filled with allusions to the singer’s present mental state, feelings, and actions.  I have no doubt the writer felt or was doing these things as the song was penned, but I just don’t feel it makes sense to use it in corporate worship unless the congregation is such that they are inclined to such feelings and actions, as you see in charismatic churches.

And when I survey the congregation, I see on other faces much of what I feel.  There is not much participation regardless the style of music.  So why are we spending 30-40 minutes standing up, a few people mouthing some words, while the band tries to get everyone into a certain frame of mind?  My theory is this – most people have at one time or another had experiences where they “feel” close to God or in what has been described a worshipful state.  Many people have them often, and that’s great.  When they are in that mindset, playing a praise song can further the experience, and there’s a desire to replicate that experience in church.  And there is a small minority that is brought to a sense of elation or a feeling of closeness to God on a regular basis during what has become the evangelical worship service.  They continue to tell the church and the worship leaders to bring it on and then some.  And the less vocal segment of the church population doesn’t complain – either out of a thought that they SHOULD be more engaged during the worship service or just a desire to not raise a fuss over nonessential issues.

But church, like Jesus Himself,  should be a place for people to come as they are.  Good mood, rotten mood, in love with God, angry with God, in a worshipful state or nursing a hangover and wondering who it was they woke up next to.   So the goal of any music that is used in the church, whether it’s acoustic guitar, or acapella, or old school organ, or rockabilly, or death metal should be to proclaim the greatness of God and the Gospel.  There should not be a pressure to be in a certain state of mind or to reach a certain state during the singing – just to adore Him.

If you look through the old hymnals that are mostly gathering dust, MOST (not all) of the songs fit this bill.  There’s a lot less said about what we’re doing or how we feel and a lot more said about who God is and what He’s done for us.  And you don’t have to use an organ to sing them – it doesn’t have to be dry and boring.

I don’t have anything against using a song written last week.  I’m not saying we should only be using ancient songs.  But I think those who choose the music for their church should spend a lot more time looking at the words to the songs they are having the congregation sing.  My litmus test would be to ask the question, “Are there statements in this song that refer to my actions or feelings and could not be stated in honesty by me on any given day?”  If the answer is yes, it’s not necessarily a bad song, but throw it out of your corporate worship.  And the sooner the better.

September 17, 2009

I hate all your show

Filed under: American Church — kcillini77 @ 2:06 am

Jon Foreman’s song about says it all, and it’s the reason we are very close to pulling the trigger on leaving our church.  The final straw came this week when, after a rousing rendition of “Living On a Prayer” our pastor asked us how many churches in Kansas City we thought started off the day with Bon Jovi.  I wanted to shout out, “Probably a lot, since singing formerly popular songs in church is the latest trend!”

Here’s the thing – I’m not prudish on music by a long shot.  I love rock and I find many “secular” songs to be more Jesus-centric than many “Christian” songs, so the use of any music that can help us glorify God in worship is alright by me.  What bothers me to no end is the fact that “worship” in most churches is truly a concert, with all eyes on a celebrity.  Our church of thousands spent almost TWO YEARS scouring the country for the “best” worship leader they could find.  The people who ably filled in during that time were obviously not quite good enough to cut the mustard long term.

Trust me, our dissent is not with the people or personalities involved.  It is the very soul of the church that is seeker and growth focused.  The trend is making our collective American church shallow and predictable – a regurgitation of our culture in the name of reaching others.  We’re done with it.  We know it’s going to be hard – we don’t want to flee back to tradition for tradition’s sake and start attending a church where families have their own pews.  But the church-growth paradigm has run its course in our family.  Please be praying for us as we make our slow transition.

August 27, 2009

Spokeswoman for the Far Right… Carrie Prejean

Filed under: American Church — Tags: , , , — kcillini77 @ 11:52 pm

I read in the paper today that Ms. Carrie Prejean, ex- Miss California, will be speaking Sunday at First Family Church in Overland Park.  Full disclaimer – I have all sorts of issues with First Family Church, but this post is not about their congregation in particular.

The very idea that a woman who said in a beauty pageant that marriage should be between a man and a woman would become a Christian celebrity with a speaking tour is utterly laughable.  This is someone who had a conviction and spoke her mind.  Good for her.  But this is a person who, prior to being thrown a ridiculous question in a glorified swimsuit competition did not have any kind of platform from which to speak.  She’s no theologian or, more importantly, proclaimer of the Gospel.  She stumbled upon a role of being a mouthpiece for the Far Right.

Funny how most fundamentalist churches who are inviting her to speak would probably have been pointing a finger at her for being an object of lust parading around on national TV in a bikini prior to her revelation that she is against gay marriage.

The Church has one message.  It’s the Gospel.  I’m a screw-up, you’re a screw-up, and we can NEVER stop our sinning.   So to reconcile us to God because he loves all of us so much, Jesus paid for it.  Period.  That’s GOOD NEWS.  That’s the Gospel that the entire Bible points to.  Any time churches spend on dictating morality to the rest of the world is truly wasted time.

If you want to give your pulpit over to someone on a Sunday, give it to someone who’s serving the poor.  Give it to someone who’s loving gay people like brothers and sisters.  Don’t give it to someone who supposedly took a stand for morality by being against something.  Because we’ve had enough of the Law.  We need the remedy.

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