Church and State? What does that really mean and when are the lines confused? This is an interesting article from Christianity Today.
Church and State? What does that really mean and when are the lines confused? This is an interesting article from Christianity Today.
Rick has a way of boiling things down very well and I have tremendous respect for him. Yet at the same time is their a loss of much of the power, nuance and many facetedness of something as profound as worship of the God of the Universe when we attempt to analyze it in such formulaic terms. What do you think?
Well here it is. Finally something to put you in your box where you belong!
I'm kidding..a little.
Seriously--take the test.
A very interesting conversation on the future of worship and cultural engagement.
I would really recommend this to you. In combination with a Meyers Briggs type of test you can get a very good snapshot of your innate talents and tendencies. As a leader it behooves us to understand better what makes us tick and to stop trying to be someone other than who we are. The book takes you to an online test that tells you your top five out of 34 measured areas. Very eye-opening!
Hi All! I wanted to apologize for not posting as frequently as I would like. I have just begun tracking a new CD that will hopefully be out before Christmas. I would truly appreciatye your prayers for God's anointing on this project. I will continue to post as often as possible. So keep checking in!!
Prayer of 16th century English explorer Sir Francis Drake:
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing the sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push in the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. AMEN
Here is another bit of a conversation I had recently. He is very passionate about the subject. Very inspiring!
"It seems to me that when doing worship music, there are these boundaries on what you can and can’t play, and how it should sound, and how everyone expects it to sound. It seems we can’t use other types of music to praise God except for this worship “style” that’s been developed.
True, it’s sad that many groups in various genres have given those styles a bad name because of their self-glorification. But just because we’ve developed a new genre shouldn’t make it more acceptable for worship. It’s sad that we even had to make our own genre. It’s not about joining together to praise God, but HOW we worship. To some people, it’s the only way they’ve been shown how to worship, and that’s dangerous.
Now, it’s also a popular thing. We have hard rock bands doing worship albums because it’s “what you do.” They all sound the same. If they’re a hard rock band, they soften up.
I knew a band that started as a rock band. Eventually they decided to give up the ego that can go with it and just play worship music, which is commendable. But I saw them play later and they did the same thing as before, but now they don’t interact with the people they were leading, and they just plain seemed bored. They said they didn’t want to “perform or entertain, only worship.” But no one paid attention to them because they didn’t look like they wanted to be there. They were so focused on not performing, that they went to the other side of the spectrum and still weren’t focused on worshipping.
I’m not knocking worship music. In fact, I lead the music for a youth group. I feel very blessed that I have the freedom to try new things and be creative and even a little experimental in that environment. The group I lead has shown they enjoy more variety.
There is no music even involved in his worship experience. Just him, a spectacular sandwich, and God. I love Romans 12:1- Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. The Message version says So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering.
Nowhere in there does it mention playing music. That’s just one creative expression we humans do TO worship. This is ironic, because you'll notice my interests are all things music. Our music should be an outpouring of our worship, no matter what style that may be. We need to focus again on making our LIVES worship, and letting creativity flow from that, not focus so much on our worship music style and hope people find God in it."
Here is a bit of my response -
I agree about the worship music phenomenon. I am a little disturbed by the “worship bandwagon” being jumped on by just about every possible permutation of Christian artist or band. The motivations may be wholly pure. But, superficially, it looks like the trendy thing to do. As if the performance oriented music wasn’t a form of worship. I find that a bit narrow and embarrassing if it’s true. I hope I am wrong. I think we have different kinds of callings as ministers of the gospel. Some are specifically called to facilitate corporate worship. Some are called to minister through more performance oriented “concertizing” kinds of expression. And maybe some have both. They may change as the seasons of our lives change. Whatever the case may be, one is not more valid than the other. Just different functions in the body. But to record a bunch of standard worship covers in the style of your band seems a bit self serving and a little too easy, especially when worship music is particularly in popular Christian culture. If you really want to serve the body of Christ as a person who brings a corporate expression to the believer, why not write a song that gives us a fresh new voice and perspective. With all due respect to Paul Baloche, we really don’t need another recording/arrangement of “Open the Eyes of My Heart”; or “Breathe” or “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” or “Better is One Day”....etc.
I think this whole worship music as a style is a very temporary thing. You and I both know that worship has no “style.” Style is just the cultural language in which we express ourselves. It is going to change; sometimes gradually and sometimes sporadically. When it’s sporadic it looks more revolutionary than anything. But what’s happening is the change that had been long overdue comes dramatically as the gap between cultural change and our desires to hold on to “the good old days” (whatever era you live in) stretches to the point of breaking; like stretching a rubber band long and hard enough that it snaps. When it snaps we have a brief moment of freshness as the church manages to live in it’s own time. Unfortunately, the churches habit is to sanctify and freeze this special season and create a whole new “good ol’ days” that the next generation will have to wrestle with. Have hope! You too may be your kid’s worst cultural nightmare!
I’m kidding!........sort of.
A pretty amazing article from GQ of all places! Is Christian media just a poorly cloned parallel universe of mainstream media? "If you like Pearl Jam you'll love Third Day!!" It is "a cookbook of sugar-free recipes that might help a chocoholic with diabetes." How does the world perceive the Christian pop sub-culture. Are the observations scarily fair?
A little long, but definitely worth the read.
from GQ Magazine - September, 2002
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
BUT MORE, IMPORTANT, WHAT WERE JESUS' FITNESS SECRETS? IF YOU WERE ONE OF THE GROWING MILLIONS OF AMERICANS LIVING IN THE MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR CHRISTIAN ALTERNACULTURE—IN WHICH EVERYTHING IN MAINSTREAM CULTURE GETS CLONED AND THEN BLEACHED OF "SINFUL" CONTENT—YOU'D KNOW. WALTER KIRN SPENDS SEVEN STRANGE DAYS WALKING IN THE SHOES OF THE FAITHFUL.
DAY ONE: RESOLUTlONS
Today I will pray for Jewel, the singer-songwriter, "that Jewel's artistry in music and poetry will draw her audience into an encounter with truth." Tomorrow I'11 pray for Paul Allen, the Microsoft billionaire, "that Allen and others working on the leading edge of interactive media will pursue their objectives with integrity." And later this week, in the manner and order prescribed by Praying for the Worlds 365 Most Influential People: 5 Minutes a Day to Change Your World, I will pray for Michael Crichton, the author/producer; for Jesse Helms, the North Carolina senator; and for Bill Nye, who hosts TV's Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Today I will start reading Desecration, the ninth installment of the Left Behind series, a best-selling fictional treatment of the Apocalypse that pits the heroic Rayford Steele ("original member of the Tribulation Force3 against the cloven-hoofed Nicolae Carpathia ("self-appointed Global Community potentate3. Today I will dine on foods from What Would Jesus Eat? by Don Colbert, M.D., heeding Dr. Colbert's solemn warning that "eating a diet high in salt, low in fiber, very high in fat and sugar, and virtually void of nutrients is not the way Jesus ate. Today I will ask my daughter, Maisie, 3, to pick out a video from the Bibleman series, a live-action superhero saga for kids directed by and featuring Willie Aames of Eight Is Enough and Charles in Charge fame.
Today I will plug in my TVGuardian, a handy electronic chaperone whose "patent pending, award winning technology" filters out "95% to 100% of foul language from TV shows" and replaces objectionable phrases like She's such a #%h! and Oh !t! with She's such a nag! and Oh crud!
Today I will leave behind the fallen world of secular American pop culture and enter the sell-contained parallel universe of American Christian pop culture, within which I've vowed to dwell, exclusively, for seven days and nights, watching PAX instead of NBC and letting Pat Robertson be my Tom Brokaw. But first, before I do any of these things, I will read from my new prayer book and ask God "to bless Jewel with safety, meaningful relationships" and, of course, "success."
DAY TWO: ADJUSTMENT
I wake aboard the Ark.
The old Ark, the biblical Ark, constructed to save the chosen from the Great Flood, had two of every creature in existence. The new Ark, the cultural Ark, built to save the chosen from the Great Media Flood, also has two of everything I'm learning. You say you're a Pearl Jam fan? Check out Third Day. They sound just like them--same soaring guttural vocals, same driven musicianship, same crappy clothes, just a slightly different message: Repent! You say you like Grisham- and Clancy-style potboilers! Grab a copy of Ted Dekker's Heaven's Wager--same stick-figure characterizations, same preschool prose, just a slightly different moral: Repent! Your kids enjoy Batman, you say? Try Bibleman. Same mask, same cape, just a slightly different...
That's the convincing logic of the Ark: If a person is going to waste his life cranking the stereo, clicking the remote, reading paperback pulp and chasing diet fads, he may as well save his soul while he's at it. Holy living no longer requires self-denial. On the Ark, every mass diversion has been cloned, from Internet news sites to MTV to action movies, and it's possible to live inside the spirit, without unplugging oneself from modern life, twenty-four hours a day.
After a wholesome scriptural breakfast of unsweetened wholegrain cereal, I start my morning with a holy workout based on a chapter from Dr. Colbert's book, "Did Jesus Exercise?" It's a question I never would have thought to ask, but in Ark culture there's a fundamental presumption that if one squeezes the Bible hard enough it will yield practical guidance on any topic, from personal finance to toilet training. And lo, it appears that the Lord did have a fitness program: Many days he walked "between ten and twenty miles" and thus "certainly was engaged in aerobic exercise." As I walk, I listen to music over headphones, a convenience unavailable in Jesus' time. The CD is the sound track from Extreme Days, a Christian movie for hyper suburban teens that was released last fall. According to a slick promotional video hosted by a bouncy-breasted blond veejay (she's a virgin, presumably, but just barely), the story of Extreme Days involves "five friends forever changed by a journey to the threshold of life and sport.... [They'll test their will and skill with the best extreme-sports athletes in the world." Skateboarders for the Lord, in other words. The sound track includes a range of acts-Audio Adrenaline, P.O.D., PAX217--from the born-again-rock scene's "alternative" department. They're not that bad. They're not bad at all, in fact. Because their lyrics are mostly unintelligible, there's no way to know they're even Christian, really. And yet, in the same way one sensed that groups like Abba were singing in a language they didn't speak, one detects a certain falseness in these bands' sound. They're trying too hard, somehow. They have the formula but lack the flair. They're straining at carelessness, but deep in their hearts they do care, one suspects--about their fans, their message, their authenticity. Bottom line: They sound a bit like foreigners--highly talented Asian prodigies whose governments have equipped them with guitars and trained them in some elite punk-rock academy.
These new Christian bands rock like Americans play soccer: skillfully but somehow not convincingly.
Or maybe it's the power of suggestion that makes the stuff seem counterfeit to me. At the Family Christian Store in Bozeman, Montana, the multimedia spiritual emporium where I bought the CD and my other Ark supplies, a poster above the music racks matches name-brand acts from secular radio with their closest sanctified equivalents. For the atheist teen who has suddenly been converted and wants to carry into his new life as many of his old attitudes and tastes as he can safely manage, such a chart would prove helpful, I imagine, much as a cookbook of sugar-free recipes might help a chocoholic with diabetes. For me, though, the chart confirmed a preconception that Christian rock is a cultural oxymorona calculated, systematic rip-off, not a genuine surge of inspired energy.
After my walk, I turn on the computer to survey the day's news, a morning ritual. Today, though, instead of going to the Drudge Report or NYTimes.com, I call up the home page of Crosswalk.com, the all-purpose Christian Internet portal whose NASDAQ symbol is AMEN. Crosswalk.com is a Net within the Net, where vulnerable children and sensitive adults can surf without fear of predators and porn.
Before I can find the morning headlines, I'm snagged by an ad for Pura Vida Coffee, a mail-order outfit that donates its profits to Central American children's ministries. They even have their own coffee on the Ark! There's no harm in that, of course, so I order a pound and feel a virtuous shiver, a passing glow. Can buying sundries score me points with God? If so, I wish there were Christian gasoline too--Christian tube socks, Christian printer cartridges!
Here are the day's big stories according to Crosswalk.com:
CHURCH PREPARES COURT FIGHT TO SAVE LAND FROM DEVELOPERS. PASTOR FINED $1,000 FOR REBUKING LEWD WOMAN. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN JEOPARDY IN GEORGIAN REPUBLIC. GOD AND GUINNESS" REACHES OUT TO POST-MODERN GENERATION.
It's not exactly CNN, and I find this refreshing. I'm burned out on bad news. As a member of the post-modem generation myself, I also support people's right to shape reality in whatever way they see fit. A world in which rebuffing lewd women rates a headline-a world in which lewd women get rebuked at all, a world in which the word lewd is even used--must be a cozy, reassuring place, and it doesn't surprise me that some should choose to dwell there. I'm tempted to hop off the Ark and check the real news, but why break the spell, why shatter the small-town silence? Instead I do the paternal-Christian thing and ask my daughter, whom I've prohibited from watching secular children's TV this week, to join me for a viewing of Bibleman: Conquering the Wrath of Rage.
"Who's Bibleman?" Maisie sneers. I'm taken aback. She's only 5, and she's never sneered before.
"That video you picked out. You want to watch it? It's like that Spider-Man movie you've probably heard about." She shakes her head and toddles off to her room. Despite the videos colorful, jazzy packaging, she has sensed the whiff of uplift in its title and wants no part of it. She'll break down soon, though. A few more days without Disney or Nickelodeon and Bibleman will look pretty good to her.
A few more days without sugar, salt, major-label music or mainstream news and I bet it will look pretty tempting to me too.
DAY THREE: APOCALYPSE KITSCH
I sit in an armchair and open Desecration (subtitled Antichrist Takes the Throne). What I don't understand about these Left Behind books is how there can be so f--ing many of them, given that their subject is Armageddon. How long can a writer drag out the Second Coming? Even a trilogy would be a stretch, but ten novels going on eleven, all huge sellers, with no final volume in sight? I smell a con.
But that's because I've failed to realize this: On the Ark, the End of the World is never ending, because it's the only dramatic game in town. Drop the curtain on the Apocalypse and there are no more stories--the party's over. Which means the art of Desecration, and of the Christian thriller in general, is the art of the stall--of giving the reader a sense of forward motion without moving things any closer to a conclusion. This task is complicated by the fact that the genre's basic principles rule out new suspense. Since the heroes are assured of going to Heaven, it doesn't really matter if they die, and since the villains are bound to bum in hell, it doesn't matter if they win. Which they won't, of course. The Bible tells us so.
So why am I still reading? It's a mystery. Desecration's dialogue is preposterous ("In all candor, Anika, our intelligence reports indicated that we might face more opposition here, in the traditional homeland of several obsolete religions"), and its situations; and episodes develop in a pell-mell, miscellaneous cascade, careening from Jerusalem holy sites, where Ultimate Evil haunts the ancient shadows, to the family rooms of average midwestern homes, where true-blue Americans with names like Ray battle the Beast using laptops and ham radios. No, it must be the freakish tone that holds me: part Marvel Comics ("Mac jumped out and realized his front tires were on the edge of the gigantic crevasse") and part Sunday sermon ("We often wonder, when the truth is now so clear, why not everyone comes to Christ"). Who'd have thought such styles could ever be united? It's the prose equivalent of a sideshow monster: a snake with fur or a dolphin-flippered lady, unbearable, repulsive, yet irresistible. I decide to make this an all Armageddon day, so I pop in a tape of Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, starring Michael York as Stone Alexander, the Antichrist, and Michael Biehn as David Alexander, the straitlaced American president who opposes him and also happens to be his brother--a touch that suggests that Doomsday by itself is not sufficient but needs a soap-opera family angle too. After a brief intro by Hal Lindsay, a leading doomsayer from the 1970s and proof that a Christian can cry wolf for decades on end and still not lose his audience, the movie deals its familiar hand of cards. As in the Left Behind books, the Antichrist is an oily Eurotrash bureaucrat whose globalist rhetoric masks his raw ambition. His cosmopolitanism marks him as the Evil One as surely as David Alexander's Yankee bluntness shows he's a born lieutenant of the Lord. Does this come from the Book of Revelation? Of course not. The folks behind Megiddo and Desecration may pose as scholars of biblical prophecy, loading their products with murky sacred symbols and fancy numerological allusions, but at heart they're cornpone vaudevillians.
As the evidence mounts that Megiddo's cosmic climax will be a dud and necessitate a sequel, I find myself pitying Michael Biehn. Biehn is your typical Christian-movie star: a semilegitimate Hollywood leading man (remember Navy SEALS?) who hasn't been seen much for the past few years and appears to have weathered some crisis or tribulation that has dimmed his good looks without completely wrecking them. Because his role in Megiddo has no substance, what comes through most clearly in his numb performance is his gratitude for finding work mixed with his self-hatred for taking the work.
Biehn has plenty of company, of course. Ark culture is all about the comeback and the redemption of the mainstream hasbeen. The music aisle of the Family Christian Store features a number of John Tesh CDs. The former cohost of Entertainment Tonight has rebranded himself as a composer of inspirational music. In his photos, he's a praying man's Michael Bolton, all stuble and jawline and long–if thinning–blond hair. He's just the type church ladies go nuts for: a sort of macho eunuch. Burt Reynolds comes in a Christian version now, too. In Waterrproof, a weepy melodrama about forgiveness and spiritual growth, he plays a crusty Jewish deli owner who's shot in a holdup by a troubled black kid. The air of studly mischief that made Burt famous persists, but only faintly, subliminally. Once, long ago, he sinned, but now he's harmless.
I suspect Christian movie fans love to witness such neuterings. You thought you were such hot s--t, I hear them thinking. Look at you now--you're not even allowed to cuss!
DAY FOUR: REVELATION
Eating as Jesus ate, I have lost one pound. I can't bring myself to pray for Jesse Helms. The ending of Desecration was a cheat. Maisie still refuses to watch Bibleman.
When I'm depressed, I drive, and I'm depressed today so I set out for Bozeman, thirty miles away, to fetch more Ark supplies. On the way, I tune in to Christian radio, and the moment I hit the right frequency, I know it. There's a curious hush in the announcers' voices, as though they're broadcasting from a library, and though the top-of-the-hour news report is heralded by a dramatic burst of music not unlike those used on secular networks, the stories that immediately follow deal with abortion and pornography instead of politicians and celebrities. There's news from Israel, reported straight, but I detect an agenda between the lines--the correspondent is hoping to remind me that suicide bombings mean the End is near and it's time to get my life in order. Fair enough, but I need no reminding. What I need is a little meaningless entertainment.
The station--one of those disembodied jobs that's beamed via satellite from a distant headquarters--serves up a relentless series of buzz-kills. A man discussing the war on terrorism, which is depressing enough, digresses into a rant about damnation and how the real terror threatening the world lurks inside the sinful human heart. A therapist specializing in relationships instructs the wives out there to bow their heads and pray for a spirit of obedience. A rambling sermon about generosity loses itself in an endless and painful anecdote about a mentally retarded busboy who toiled at a truck stop to buy medicine for his sick mom until he fell ill and was hospitalized himself.
An odd sense of dislocation comes over me. I'm floating out of my Ford and into space. Secular radio, with its sports and weather, grounds one in a specific time and place — it's rush hour, the Vikings play the Rams tonight, tomorrow it will be fair to partly cloudy —but Christian radio bypasses such trivia, conjuring up a vast eternal void in which titanic forces of good and evil struggle over man's immortal soul. Who cares if it's sunny or rainy? Details, details. Who cares about traffic conditions? The Lord is coming!
I'm amazed that regular listeners can bear such weight, yet I've spoken to some who find it soothing. They say Christian radio makes them feel cocooned, particularly when they play it in the car. It's Babylon out there, corrupt and dangerous, but they drive right on past in their little rolling tabernacles.
One must grow used to it. Maybe after a while the buzz-kill becomes the buzz.
But I need a break. I skip the Christian store and stop at a supermarket for some junk food. Standing in line with my chips, I pick up a National Enquirer without thinking and binge on forbidden Hollywood scandal. It's silly stuff but exactly what I need. And then I turn a page and understand, utterly, profoundly, and in my gut, why so many people seek refuge on the Ark despite the copycat music, crappy fiction and fifth-rate performances by third-rate actors.
Before me, so raw and obscene that they look sticky, are enlarged color photos of the Columbine crime scene taken just moments after the shooting stopped. A teenage boy's skull leaks brains onto the floor next to a blood-smeared black rifle. He has a face, but it's like a McDonald's hamburger in cross section–more ketchup and cheese and special sauce than meat. Even harder to look at is the bland school furniture. It wasn't designed to shield sophomores from shotgun blasts. I put down the tabloid. I feel infected, soiled. A week ago, I could have handled this image, but my spell on the Ark has weakened my immune system. Afterward, at the Christian store, I put on headphones and sample a track from the latest John Tesh CD. It's not any good, but considering what I've just seen, it could be worse, and right now that's good enough.
DAY FIVE: GOD'S COUCH POTATO
Despite my invitation to pop some popcom and curl up together on the sofa for a big Saturday night of Christian television, my wife and kids go to bed early. I'm not surprised. Courtesy of Falwell and the Bakkers, Christian TV has a lousy reputation, even, I bet, among a lot of Christians. Between the nonstop frantic appeals for funds and the apoplectic praise-athons, it throws a lot of heat for a "cool" medium. Or at least it used to. It's changing now--blending into the mainstream, as the music has. That's a shame: I miss those frenzied traditionalists. Like the old-style gospel singers, the classic televangelists were geniuses, inimitable products of a culture that stood as a rival to middlebrow mass taste and didn't try to beat it by joining it. Now, instead of soaring, perspiring rants staged amid profusions of potted lilies and amened over by bouffanted grandmas who seemed about to either cry or come, you get shows like the Sky Angel network's Ten Most Wanted–a low-voltage rip-off of those MTV music video-countdown programs. The twentyish host has a fuzzy soul patch, a grungy plaid shirt and a shock of spiky hair that like most Christian versions of "downtown" style, is years out of date and ever so slightly too clean. Plus, his earrings look suspiciously like clip-ons.
Both of the videos I manage to sit through–by Gibraan, a black rapper who seems to lack his race's stereotypical gift for rhythm, and by 12 Stones, a gang of mussed-up white boys whose sisters are probably standing just offstage mixing pitchers of Country Time lemonade for when the guys knock off–are set in what seems like the same abandoned apartment building. Its broken windows and peeling paint presumably stand for the sinful human condition that teens today are struggling to transcend.
An ad comes on for a pro-life pregnancy hot line, and then it's back to the shaggy veejay, who drops his rebel pose, earnestly asks his young viewers to come to Christ ("call 877-949-HELP") and then slips back into jive talk for the sign-of: "Thanks for hangin' wit' me. I'll see you guys later." Such lame mimicry is the curse of most youth ministries. I start changing channels, looking for fire and brimstone–healings, tongues, exorcisms, spectacle–but wimpiness reigns in the Kingdom of the Lord. A lot of Ark TV, particularly on PAX, seems to consist of nothing but reruns of Murder, She Wrote and other shows aimed at the nursing-home demographic (like that one in which Dick Van Dyke plays a crime-fighting pathologist). There's nothing particularly Christian about such programs, but insofar as they feature extremely old people using their wits to bring younger folks to justice, they do radiate a diffuse conservatism. Then there are the specifically Christian shows, such as Touched by an Angel, whose soft-core, herbal-tea spirituality meld old-time religion with the New Age. I catch one on PAX--Twice in a Lifetime, starring Mariette Hartley as a grown-up '60s hippie chick who, way back when, betrayed her longhaired boyfriend in order to please her crusty Republican dad. The plots of these tearjerkers are all the same: Someone screws up very, very badly and then, with the help of a kindly intercessor from outside the space-time continuum, is granted a do-over, which the person aces. Of course, the whole agony of moral choice is that do-overs aren't possible on earth (unless you're a Hindu or a Buddhist), which makes these shows meaningless as religious instruction, if not heretical. Also, I find their stories hard to follow. There's always one being who's visible to some people but not to others (or not at the same time), and there's always some tricky problem that results from leaving the present to tinker with the past.
DAY SIX: DECEIVED
It confused me at first, but I think I understand now why my book on praying for powerful people targets Bill Nye of Bill Nye the Science Guy. It's because he talks to children about dinosaurs.
Fundamentalist Christian children's media is preoccupied with dinosaurs. The monstrous lizards and their fossilized remains represent a big black buzzing fly in the wholesome lemonade of creationism. If you lose a bright 5-year-old on the dinosaur issue--and what bright 5-year-old isn't mad for dinosaurs?--then you may lose him on the God thing too, or at least on the Holy Bible-as-perfect-truth thing. Then again, if you win the kid over on the dino stuff--and it's best to start this effort early, before a school trip to the Smithsonian saturates the kid's spongy brain with lies--then you've opened a hole in the fortress of his intellect wide enough to drive the Rapture through, or maybe even the theory that the Beast is somehow using grocery-store bar-code scanners to brand people with magnetic 666s.
As luck would have it, I finally persuade my daughter to join me in some Christian-TV viewing just as one of the ' dinosaur shows starts. Maisie loves ancient reptiles. She sits up straight, her right hand motionless in the popcorn bowl. For a 5-year-old, she's a prodigy on this subject, able to pronounce the word Cretaceous and hip to all the latest hunches and theories about the abrupt demise of pterosaur. She favors the killer-asteroid scenario but is open to extinction by natural climate change. I've taught her well.
But incorrectly, I learn. Through a combination of patronizing slapstick and earnest pronouncements from middle-aged male authority figures, the program proceeds to reeducate my daughter on the following points: (1) Dinosaurs are just 6,000 years old, since Earth itself is just 6,000 years old and both were breathed into being at the same time. (The figure is arrived at, it's explained, by adding the ages of all Adam's descendants down to Jesus and then tacking on the next 2,000 years.) (2) Dinosaurs and people once coexisted, as evidenced by biblical references to "Behemoth" and other massive beasts. (3) There were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark but, due to space limitations, only little ones, which accounts for the survival ofthe crocodile and the fading away of diplodocus. (4) The carbon-dating process is a farce. It just is. (5) Scientists who dispute these facts are really not scientists at all, since the definition of science is truth seeking and the whole of truth is in the Bible and either most of these eggheads haven't read the Bible or they have and they've consciously rejected it. (6) Science is really a religion, taking on faith what it purports to prove, while the Christian religion is really a science, which means that when you have a question about T-Rex you should visit your pastor, not the library. (Even better, avoid the library altogether--a kid can only get into trouble there.) I steal a quick look at Maisie's wondering face. She's buying this new line, I fear, and I don't blame her--the image of dinosaurs living next to people is a natural fantasy for kids. It makes for great cartoons. It also, if you truly believe in it and you share this belief with the wrong person, can keep you from ever getting into Harvard except on some special affirmative-action program for underprivileged Caucasian hillbillies. "We're turning this off," I tell Maisie. "Can I watch Rugrats?" "Only if you forget you ever saw this. By the way, the prayer for Bill Nye is as follows: " 'My modest little goal is to change the world,' says Nye. Pray that science education will engage both the imaginations and the spirits of students." That's code for this: I'm a forgiving person, you atheist bastard, so I'm giving you one last chance. Change your tune about the dinosaurs, or don't blame me when you wake up in hell.
DAY SEVEN: SAVED
Even the mouse pad I'm using comes from the Christian store. It features a quote from Hans Christian Andersen printed on a snowy olde-time Christmas scene rendered by Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light. You've seen his stuff: wee little button-nosed children, frisky dogs, a diffuse golden glow that drips from everything as though somebody spilled a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's. It's not even good kitsch--it's too slick, too savvy somehow. Ark culture is mall Christianity. It's been malled. It's the upshot of some dumb decision that to compete with them–to compete with N'Sync and Friends and Stephen King and Matt and Katie and Abercrombie & Fitch and Jackie Chan and AOL and Sesame Street–the faithful should turn from their centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music and those outsider paintings in which Jesus has lime green bat wings and is hovering lovingly above the Pentagon flanked by exactly thirteen flying saucers, and instead of all that head down to Tower or Blockbuster and check out what's selling, then try to rip it off on a budget if possible and by employing artists who are either so devout or so plain desperate that they'll work for scale.
What makes the stuff so half-assed, so thin, so weak and cumulatively so demoralizing (even to me, a sympathetic journalist who'd secretly love to play the brash contrarian and rate the Left Behind books above Tom Clancy) has nothing to do with faith. The problem is lack of faith. Ark culture is a bad Xerox of the mainstream, not a truly distinctive or separate achievement. Without the courage to lead, it numbly follows, picking up the major media's scraps and gluing them back together with a cross on top. You like this magazine--you like GQ Then check out New Man, "America's #1 Christian Men's Magazine." Subscribe to Time, you say? Give World a chance. The covers are almost identical.
Bibleman, however, stands alone-a pearl in this vast pile of lukewarm mud. Maisie and I finally watched it together, father and daughter, the way it was meant to be, and damn it if Willie Aames of Eight Is Enough hasn't pulled off a wily deconstruction, as clever in its way as Rocky and Bullwuinkle, of all the clunky old superhero clichés. He's a guy in a mask who instead of socking people stands stock-still with his slushy gut sucked in, squares his not-broad shoulders, faces the evildoer and bores him into submission by quoting Isaiah. That's it. That's his superpower: the ability to compose at will tidy chapter-and-verse-packed sermonettes that send the villains into instant comas and, if you think like a college professor, subtly parody piety itself while also signaling to Willie's old mainstream costars that though he's doing Christian stuff these days, he's smarter than all of them and he'll be back. I'm serious: This Bibleman show has layers.
It's bedtime now. Tomorrow is a new day. Off the Ark and back onto the sinking ship.
But first, before I sleep, a prayer for Jewel: Do whatever it takes to get back on top, my dear, but don't go "Christian." They have their Jewel already. I forget her name, but I saw her on the CD rack, and the chick is your twin, only prettier, and a virgin. •
Jim Henderson: Jim & Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation About Faith, Churches, and Well-meaning Christians
I loved this. Provocative in our thinking about peoples first impressions of our churches. What do they see and perceive from a single Sunday morning visit? Should that impact how we represent the Gospel in an hour once a week? (****)
Rob Bell: Velvet Elvis
Great book. I would love to see more from Rob. Very insighful and fresh from and innovative and young master teacher. Highly recommended. (*****)
Donald Miller: Blue Like Jazz
I want to buy a case of these and give them to friends. Donald has a way of articulating the way many of us have felt in the church. A very rich, funny, and poignant read. (*****)
C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity
Life changing for me. I started reading Lewis in college and have been extraordinarily impacted by him. He has been something of a spiritual Father for me. My first glimpse at intelligent and articulate Christianity. (*****)
Erwin McManus: The Barbarian Way
I always enjoy Erwin's perspective. A great read on unleashing your faith! (****)
Brian McLaren: A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN
Although I don't alway agree with Brian as he is so deliberately provocative. This book did some necessary re-wiring for me. (****)