Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary

The PA results were predictable - and while a loss for Obama and boon to Hillary, it was also hopeful for Obama given the close results in a state full of Hillary type supporters: working class white, long time democrats, and women who lean left.
It may or may not hurt the Democrat's chances to take the White House by continuing a nasty race - I tend to think it won't hurt, as long as neither Hillary or Obama bloody one another with personal attacks too badly. However Hillary seems to be taking a cut-throat approach - in an attempt to win at all costs. The attitude of contempt is written all over her face everytime she refers to Obama. It seems to me that she is insulted by a real challenge for a position that she deems hers by way of entitlement. This is an unfortunate attitude. Even Bill has the nasty mentality going, evidenced by the recent expose on his race bating (South Carolina Primary). Even if some of the media attention sensationalized Bill's comments, he didn't do himself any favors by responding with spite and anger towards the media. The fact is, Bill made the comments out of the same attitude of entitlement that Hillary conveys: Sure, S.C. might vote for Obama, but this means nothing. Even Jesse Jackson won S.C. After all it's a state full of black people.
This is more than a tad insulting to Barack, implying that he is a two-bit candidate and that his blackness has everything with his vote getting. Assuming that everyone knows black won't go the distance. This is utter nonsense and inflammatory talk by a man who likes to self-prop himself as the "first black president." Whatever that means. Hillary and Bill need to get over themselves.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Pope

Pope Benedict was in America this week - in his words one of the most important things for Catholics to do is to be obedient to the teachings of the Catholic church. This is not a novel statement or unusual thing for a Pope to say - this is how it has always been.

I was sitting at a coffee house in my little mountain community when two elderly people sat down at a table next to me. The man was reading to his wife from the newspaper. He cited the Pope's comments to his wife with contempt and a laugh, as if it was the dumbest thing they had heard in recent memory. I thought to myself: "First, what the hell do these old people know - and do they have sufficient understanding and exposure to history, theology and the like to credibly criticize the Pope? My hunch is: hardly. Second, why do they act as if they are an authority on determining whether or not the Pope's advice is ridiculous? Simply put, they are self-advised Americans, and like so many, they seem to believe that their limited perspective is not only valid but normative. Rather pathetic in my estimation. And sad, because it is so blatantly naive. Certainly Americans have the freedom to navigate their ship through life without sound, informed spiritual advice, but most would probably not do this with their retirement account. However, when you don't have solid insight, please do not feel that you are theologically informed enough to credibly deride the Pope or the Dali Lama for that matter. To do so would be the equivalent of criticizing the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke on his financial policies - having no formal financial education yourself!

A little Catholic Church understanding:
Unlike those who follow a self-directed spiritual path, the Catholic church has a tradition and interpretation of Scripture that is not ad hoc, but has been carefully understood over several centuries. This does not mean to imply that these traditional understandings, nor the people involved are flawless in conduct or interpretation, but that there is an authority of interpretation attached to the community of Catholicism. In the realm of Christian church life in America this uniformity of tradition is unique to the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Many Chrisitian churches are led by a Pastor who is relatively autonomous, save the church board perhaps, which rarely weigh in on theological matters. Often times the Pastor is not particularly educated and in many instances shapes a theology according to his own best guesses and the whims of the congregants (read: constituents). Unaffiliated churches - often called by the misnomer "non-denominational" - function by the same self-rule that dominates the general American mentality. The thinking goes: We will do what we want to do, in the way that we understand things, and no one will tell us otherwise. If a community is poorly informed and abides by self-rule, they will in turn make poorly informed decisions. The Catholic church, like it or not, has an extremely well educated clergy from Pope, to Bishop, to Priest, and while one may not agree with Catholic theology - which is not as monolithic as many construe - at least one can know that it is informed through centuries of study, reflection, practiced tradition, and debate; and further, it is a community that interfaces with the other major religions and Christian traditions.
This is quite a contrast to the local church leader who has read and interpreted the bible with his or her own interpretation. Sometimes this leader is a relatively good one and sometimes not. However, a good case can be be made that individual reading, interpretation, and application of Scripture is not only shallow and ill informed, but also dangerous, and never intended by the Jewish faith community that wrote these Scriptures, nor the Christian faith community that grafted the New Covenant (New Testament) into the First Covenant (Old Testament).
My advice: before making criticism, be informed yourself, which usually requires, amongst other things, getting to know those who you are intending to make criticism of.

On the verge of Barbarism

I went skiing this weekend -- it was a spring ski day -- lots of sun, soft snow, and nowadays revelers who wear colorful costumes in celebration of the end of the season. I asked one man why he was dressed as he was, like some kind of blue sequined super hero with a cape -- and he said it was to appease the snow gods so that they would be as kind next year. The snow gods huh?
I was interested to note that this is a mentality (not a unique one) that is no different than the one carried by humans for as long as there has been recorded history. The mentality of the 'gods'.
I was also interested and startled by the sheer barbarism of this crowd. A certain moderate level of debauchery infused the mood of the day at Arapahoe Basin.
Two men, probaby in their twenties or thirties, carried two inflatable fuck me dolls - with all the parts needless to say. Crass. But more than that. It was not particularly out of place for the scene I was witnessing, which is disturbing to say the least. The general public has gone somewhere near the edges of barbarism. Why and how is this the case?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Entrepreneurial Church

Free Market Capital -- this is what drives the emerging church scene today in America and world wide. The new 'hip' churches are built on a business model that requires the skills of marketing majors and actors more than theologians and pastors (By the way, this has resulted in many dynamic personalities on stage but fewer and fewer well-trained/educated preachers and pastors). Being a 'church planter' requires what? The same repertoire as a business entrepreneur because the basic model is the same: Get as many people through the doors as possible. Therefore, entertainment has become the locus of the service - as opposed to the eucharist as it has been historically in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, theology/praxis, or the Word proclaimed, as it was/is in Protestant theology, represented by Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, etc.
This entrepreneurial type "church business" springs from the Protestant fold primarily, a movement originally built off the notion that the Word proclaimed is next to, if not above (in real practice) the eucharist. The preaching moment so elevated has over time resulted in an increasing amount of grand standing by one individual - the preacher. Churches with good preachers grew. Nothing wrong with this, but hearing a good preacher tickle your ears and inspire your mind is not worship of God. The service became more about one person's wit, intelligence and oratory than about worship and submission to God through the eucharist. Slowly this model has developed into something that has dropped the inconveniences of liturgy and has sought to be whatever the general public wants, which is usually entertainment and to feel good. Indeed, what the masses want also includes the important desire to belong and search for meaning. But hyper sensitivity to the masses wants, in order to draw them, has shaped a service and church movement that has fixated on brilliant marketing in order to draw numbers. As one church planter coach told me recently: "It is about getting butts in seats." Is it?
For what? So that we can peddle a load of propostitional truths as the way to salvation? Are the motives more admirable than this? Perhaps. Such as drawing people into the community of Christ and thereby exposing people to the Spirit, whereby lives are transformed both through relation with other people as well as with the Spirit of God. Sure. I hope this is so. But what seems more dominant is that the new era of Church entrepreneurs are more about being Free Market Capitalists than they are in attending to living out the Gospel. Which is what? "Saving" more souls and gaining more followers? I submit that no, this is not the primary charge of the Gospel message. For the Free Market Church, an obsession with numbers seems to be the driving force, both for financing and for accomplishing the goal of converting souls - which for some may only be an excuse on the way to building their own personal church empire.
If converting more souls is not the primary action of following Christ, what is? Obeying Christ. In part this includes evangelizing souls for conversion, but this is only one piece. And by the way, we are not the ones who convert, only the Spirit of God can do this. The greater part of the Gospel message brought by Jesus is loving our neighbor. Full stop. And this is evangelism. The basic premise is this: The Entrepreneurial Church movement is at risk of self-love and pouring energies into being more like Capitalists than followers of Christ. What is the difference and can Capitalism and following Jesus coincide? First, the emphasis of Capitalism and Jesus are different. As a Capitalist, your chief command is to follow the money and engage profitably with the economic activity and in making certain that you do everything possible to be a relevant player in it. As a follower of Christ the goal is to love neighbor - which includes everything: the environment, wildlife, your family, your enemy, etc. The motive is not profit per se.
Jesus has been and should be a stumbling block to all that is not fully in sync with the Kingdom of God. Capitalism has had a hard time reckoning with Jesus because by definition it is driven by a consumer mentality - which is quite a distance from loving neighbor as a chief mission statement. And while Capitalism and Jesus are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the elements of capitalism, I submit, are not to be the backbone of the Church movement.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jesus - in our image: Macho

I was watching a "Jesus" film the other day called Joshua, an adaption of a book by the same name by Father Girzone. The book was pretty fair as I remember - however the movie portrays Jesus the same way that so many recent films, produced by well intentioned Christian filmmakers have: As a macho man who looks as if he has just stepped out of the weight room and put on street clothes. He walks with a swagger, makes women swoon and instills confidence in men, all the while employing a gentle intelligence and ready laugh. The problem is - this kind of depiction seems to solely reflect the ambition and values of conservative christians in America. A shallow move - making Jesus of Nazareth into our own image. But then, what else would be expected from the popular evangelical church that has given us mega-sized, consumer friendly, entertainment driven churches informed largely, if not strictly by a sheltered ideology.

Day One

This is my first entry on my new blog account. Testing testing 123.