Archive for November, 2008

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Letter From 2011 (part 2)

This is the second part of my response to a fictional letter recently posted online which outlined a vision of the America well on its way to ruin just four years into Obama’s presidency.  I felt somewhat compelled to respond to the letter’s sense of hopeless and to the quiet idea that if we don’t have “our guy” in the White House, we have lost something of our cause.

So, just as was the case with the last installment, I am writing a fictional letter  of my own; also from the future (2011).  My piece is not a defense of Obama so much as it is a call to a more Christian handling of politics and history… one rooted in hope rather than fear.

Because of the length of the total piece, It will be broken it up into a three parts. Here is the promised continuation (part 2) of the “Letter From 2011″…you can find the other installments under listed under “Letter from 2011.”

Religious Speech in the Public Square
Earning the right to be heard” has become a mantra of sorts among mainstream christian communities.  With the slow passing of the voices who had previously represented christendom on the public stage, the Church’s marginalization has been read quite differently.  Gabe Lyons’s followup to “Un-Christian,” a book he wisely titled “They’re Not Listening,” helped frame a more complex and still more complete picture of dialogue between the religious and non-religious.  “One can only instruct and lead a person so far as that person knows he is loved,” Lyons writes “That same principle is true of our culture and our world.”  As uncomfortable as the notion has been, we’re learning that we are marginalized because we have not loved well.  As Lyons writes it, 
“Our case is no less urgent, the Truth no less compelling… but we must attend to our posture, our position and our authority, which we do not have by rights… we must earn it.”

Many campus ministry organizations on college and high school campuses have become centers for transformational social action.  This shift away from prosthelization has left many hard-line evangelicals worried, particularly those who have held to the compartmentalization of religious practice; those among us who have yet to see the deep ties between evangelism and social justice or social activity and personal worship for that matter.  In an unfortunate example of this misunderstanding, my eldest son was recently met with some hostility at his youth group stemming from an event his Social Justice chapter put together in conjunction with the Muslim Students Union.  The groups teamed up on a Saturday morning for what they called a “Beautiful Day” project.  They had compiled a list of simple maintenance projects they could do at their campus (painting, planting, trash-pick-up, etc… ) and about 40 of them worked an afternoon at the campus.  One of the other parents pulled him aside after he talked about the event at youth group and reprimanded him for his “partnership with Muslims”; telling him that he had “compromised the Gospel” or something along those lines.  J____’s answer was perfect: “If you knew any Muslims yourself, or had ever picked up a piece of trash from my school’s campus, I might be more interested in your opinion.”

Abortion
In the area of abortion, it seems that we continue to take a step forward and another one back; much as it has been for decades now.  Optimistically, there has been a movement to meet in areas where we see eye to eye and can work together and while there is still a goodly sized faction on either side who are still more interested in locking horns with each-other than accomplishing anything, I’ve been personally inspired by the way leadership and the christian community has helped to build bridges for people to cross.  We’ve seen a slight decline in the number of abortions nationally and a greater decline globally as conditions of extreme poverty have been greatly improved, most dramatically in nations such as Brazil, Russia, China and India.

It is from this link between global poverty and abortion is where I’ve seen the most powerful activity in christian leadership.  As the younger populace has been mobilized to give themselves to the cause of Justice and Compassion, something has shifted in their hearts in the area of abortion.  Case in point: recently, a popular young blogger calling himself “Icarus” posted a piece entitled “A Consistent Ethic Of Life.”  He points back to a lot of Pope John Paul II’s writing around Catholic Social Teaching but ultimately tells his own story about his desire to defend the rights of poor and oppressed children leading him to make a case for the unborn as well.  It’s a story shared by a much larger populace than you might imagine.  The commitment to the preservation and defense of life, beginning for many with social justice, has extended to the unborn.  This larger sense of the sanctity of life has birthed a cohesive story among our young, prophetic brethren.  It is a story the culture at large has been intrigued by; as they are less putt off by the old hypocrisy of a Pro-Life platform that had consistently included a support of a nearly blind system of capital punishment and a general lack of sensitivity to war.

Television
Hulu and other media services have forever altered the way we watch television.  Not to mention entertainment software like Boxee.  I know very few people who haven’t made the switch to one or another of the new generation media.  YouTube’s launch of their own television service has been met with a flood of users as well as advertisers which has opened the door for creative new programming models.  Not only has the shift meant a greater consumer control in general, it has also meant a greater content control for parents.  Even ad spots between segments are cleaner and more appropriate to the demographic of each user and in some cases is decided by the user’s preferences upon registration.

Speaking of television, you’d be interested to know that season 10 of “24” got really weird again.  Jack was once again exiled for punching the president in the nose but ended up in Belgium this time, where he found himself wrapped up in some kind of waffle-smuggling thing… Last night, he actually shot a waffle in the leg… it had no information.

Another interesting note on entertainment: The porn industry has been rocked by what is being called the “New Feminism.”  Women in droves have turned out to rail against the exploitation of their gender.  Internet campaigns, conferences and rallies have served to make theme “Take Back Beauty” one of the more visible and recognizable slogans in pop culture.  Some very unlikely hollywood personalities, women and men, have become the campaign’s face.  It seems to be taking some effect, as well.  Ad agencies have shown clear trends of moving away from the use of big-breasted women to sell products; bending to the pressure applied by masses upon masses of these angered and enlightened women.  The sexual “expression” that was at one point seen as feminine empowerment has been turned inside out.  It’s been quite a sight.”

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Letter From 2011 (part 1)

For any of y’all that missed it, a prominent figure in christian leadership recently wrote a vision of the future four years into Obama’s presidency.  It is a bleak picture.  As I read the letter, the word “hopeless” came to mind several times.  Now, I will seldom begrudge anyone their political opinions, even though I may strongly disagree.  That said, I do begrudge the use fear to influence behavior.

In the preface to the original letter, the Apostle Paul is referenced, which led me to seek the words of Paul, myself.  Reading some of the most quoted words the apostle ever wrote (1 Corinthians 13:1-15), I was struck by a kind of newness (as often happens with Holy Text).

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part,.. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

A vision of the future is hardly a vision of clarity as it is possibility.  Now, the original writer does preface his dark vision, saying “This letter is not “predicting” that all of the imaginative future “events” named in this letter will happen. But it is saying that each one of these changes could happen”  But that leads me to the last bit of Paul’s instruction in this area:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

While the greatest of the three remaining principles or ideas is love, hope, nonetheless remains.  Hopelessness is not a characteristic of the christian life; nor a christian vision of the future.

There is quite a bit to the letter, so I will post in in parts.

This is part 1:
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Dear friend,

I just got back from singing the National Anthem at the ball-game.   Boy, the A’s look really good this year.  Trading Chavez looks like the best move Beane has made since picking up Holiday a few years ago.

I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat every time I sing that song, particularly seeing the way citizens over the past few years have really grown into being “the home of the brave”… taking more and more ownership of their families, communities, neighborhoods and cities; becoming less dependent on political or even religious machinery.

That is perhaps the most striking change since the ’08 election: the level of citizen involvement.  Specifically the involvement of large segments of the populace who had previously thought themselves unwanted by or excluded from the process.  I’m not just talking about minorities, although that’s a story by itself.  What has moved me has been the sheer numbers of young people; college, high-school and even younger, who have committed themselves to social and cultural renewal both globally and locally,… man, it’s hard to paint a picture anywhere near as striking as reality.

Of course, the Dems wants to claim this energy for its own but it had roots far deeper than Obama and the DNC.  Admittedly, Obama’s presidency has continued to be a driving force behind public involvement.  After the election, Hope In Action clusters formed all over the US, mainly made up of and led by folks who had volunteered on the Obama campaign originally.  The service programs Obama’s office offered gave some structure and direction to the energized masses, but the heart to serve had been shaped by much more than peoples’ political orientation.

Same Sex “Marriage”
After the uproar in California over proposition 8, there grew a greater and more tragic divide between the homosexual community and the Church, or at least much of the Church.  Court case after court case, protest after protest, the violence (sometimes physical) was embarrassing and damaging to the image of the people of God and to the health of our nation.  Much of the same activity continues to make headlines.  Even this week, a protest outside one neighborhood church turned ugly.  Now, depending on the news source, the story of who started the fighting differs.  What is certain is that this was one more example of a method which soon must pass.

There is still so much healing to be done, but we are seeing pockets all over where this healing is starting. The question many started asking from within the Body was “Is there a more compelling way to make the case for marriage?  Why does this have to look different than the case we make for any other facet of the christian life?”

The fears of some among us that same-sex marriage would “unravel the fabric of our nation” have gone rather conspicuously unmet to date.  Now, while multiple court cases in multiple states have yet to be settled and I am rather certain that this conversation/argument will go on, yet we’ve seen very little evidence that the doomsday scenarios will play out, particularly in public ed, where educators have resisted any suggestion that redefinition of “family” or “marriage” is ever going to be part of the curriculum.

Ultimately, the hope on both “sides” has become the same; that the government would get out of the business of marrying people and dole out “unions” only.  I used to think this was only a matter of semantics, but I’ve learned that words carry deep meaning both culturally and spiritually.

One of the harder aspects of the turn America has taken in this area has been the deep disillusionment among christians regarding the State’s concern for religious matters.  Few recognized how deeply seeded the nationalist sentiment was in the heart of our faith; how closely we had drawn the parallel identity of “American” with “Christian” and how confused our allegiances had become. It has been painful for many to have that seed removed and among them there are those who have abandoned the faith overall.  That said, many have called it an “awakening” of sorts.  I tend to agree.

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On The 1st Day Of Christmas…

A few years ago, after my first two years on the road, I put together a batch of songs in something like protest of the direction “devotional music” had taken.  I felt that the overproduced and at times self-aggrandizing industry model had all but choked the humanity out of artists songs.  So the Untitled EP was my best response to the madness.  I never really expected the recording to do much, but I have found that, quite to the contrary, many of my listeners prefer the Untitled EP for its very rawness.

Similarly, a few years ago, Amy and I took a long hard look at the way we went about Christmas and promptly vomited egg-nog all over the needless crap we’d purchased for others as well as what we’d received ourselves in celebration of the poorest King who ever lived.  (That made it tough to take some of the sweaters back; Apparently Macy’s has some strict “no vomit” clause regarding clothing returns… Whatever.)

Now, I could go on about the subversion meaningful Christian culture by consumer culture for pages and pages but instead, you can read it in my new book “Things I Would Have Told You For Free,” available NOW at Amazon for $19.99… Just kidding… I’ll not go on because we all know that Christmas has been hijacked and flying off course for many, many decades now.  Instead, I will share more about my personal response, both as regards devotion to the One whose birth turns History back to rights and to the celebration of that Blessed Birth itself.

First, I’ve become a fan and supporter of projects like The Advent Conspiracy.  This kind of philosophical revamping of Christmas has set me free to see Jesus and celebrate my fellow mankind throughout the holidays.  Visit the Advent Conspiracy on this wonderful tool, the internet (sometimes mistaken for a series of tubes).

Second, in the spirit of the Advent Conspiracy, Amy and I spend several weeks leading up to (and then the entirety of) Christmas day with 1500-2500 of our city’s working poor, volunteering with a program called Christmas For Everyone… because it is, isn’t it?  rather than just for those who can afford it?

Lastly, on an artistic level, I’ve taken to recording very simple versions of classic Christmas songs each year (this is year two) and either adding my own touch to the arrangement or tacking on a newly written portion; making the songs my own, shaped to my heart and mind in the way that reflects the Incarnation each song proclaims.  I’ve uploaded a pair of such songs to the MySpace and Facebook pages.

Now, I don’t at all intend to shove some moralist hogwash in your face about the evil of the Market; I don’t really believe that as I’ve noted elsewhere.  Instead, I wanted to share ways in which I have been practicing the “upstream swim” as one who lives in a direction that is contrary to the world I am called to live in and love.  I honestly believe that the generosity displayed during the holiday season unique and beautiful; it just needs redirection and redefining.  Then again, don’t we all?

I hope you enjoy the songs and hope you enjoy the nearing Christmas season as well.

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Purge

Following up a post from a few weeks back I dove into my closets and drawers for what has become a relatively common practice here in the McRoberts household: the purge.  This is an oddly life-giving discipline for me, unlike the discipline of self-flagellation, which is always such a bummer.  It always gives me great pause to find so much unused or unworn still in my possession.

So, without going into much more detail, here is a list of the items I deemed purge-worthy, mainly insofar as they were clothes I do not intend to wear.

5 collared shirts, 3 pairs of jeans. 1 pair of slacks, 1 swimsuit… (really just don’t like the water), 2 sweatshirts (hooded). 6 pair of shorts (WHAT? I don’t even remember purchasing TWO pair of shorts?), 14 pair of socks (not including a few unmatched loners) and… ahem… 26 T-shirts (TWENTYFREAKINGSIX!!!)

Now, as often happens in a purge, I also discovered (or recovered… or re-discovered… ) a few things as well.  This tends to only add to the strange guilt and confusion stirred by number the items in the “out” pile to begin with.  Nonetheless, finding older and useful things can be a joy.  Among these this time around were

A t-shirt I had created on CafePres, some really tacky Christmas socks (just in time), a pet we thought we’d lost,  secret passageway to a world I’ve never known, inhabited by a talking lion… weird… and finally what appears to be a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (perhaps I should call someone? But who?)

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Song of the Week 11.3.08

Joshua James’s “Dangerous” is this week’s song of the week.  “The Sun Is Always Brighter” is another recording that informed the vibe of Deconstruction, though clearly not as informative as Rick James’s “Bust’n Out.”

I like the way Joshua’s songs are served by his recorded performance; that the performance of each song becomes integral to the song itself.  Many of Bob Dylan‘s recordings are this way.  It will be interesting to hear his next release which is supposed to have a bit more drive to it.