Category Archives: Thoughts

Too Cool To Watch The Superbowl?

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We understand that you are too cool to watch the Superbowl.

We have seen your posts, tweets and instagrams. Your snarky “Wait, there’s a game on?” quips followed by equally as creative “Sportball!” trolls have not gone unnoticed!

You have proven unequivocally that you are cooler than millions of people worldwide watching this “boring, pointless, empty spectacle.” You are not a sports worshiping, popular culture guzzling cog in the machine; we get it.

You are different.

You are unique.

You are…….. an INDIVIDUAL!

You stand out amidst the masses; you stand above the mindless consumer horde as you post selfies of your most recent Dungeons and Dragons campaign or you posing in oddly suggestive positions with your cats……in your parent’s basement.

It must be soooooooo annoying to see your various social media feeds gummed up with Superbowl references. I understand that the only recourse you have is trolling people online to put the attention on how utterly evolved a person you are.

I am aware that you are going to hate me for saying this: In this country, Football matters.

Lots of people care about it.

Many of those people are intelligent, observant folk who can even appreciate the frivolity of watching millionaires play other millionaires in a game run by billionaires while we all watch and make them richer and richer.

Yet might I state that the Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon, if you chose to live outside of it you are missing out on a deeper understanding of America, the pulse of culture, popular morality, the Zeitgeist, adverting, politics, economics, narratives and the current perception of the “American Dream” so many of us are chasing. There is much to learn from the spectacle; quite a bit to debate, digest and process. It will help you understand people today far better than any sociology or psychology book you can pick up.

There are heroes and villains on either side (mostly villains in this particular match-up). There are archetypal characters, underdogs and overlords. There are perceptions about the shifting sands of morality in our present cultural climate.

There is a deeply social, communal element to all of this. People gather socially and feast, partaking in merry-making and a respite from the trials of the workplace/reality for a bit. If you are honest with yourself you probably have something like this in your own life.

I saw a post from a young teen that read “Tonight’s game tells me that I was lied to when they say ‘Cheaters Never Win.’”

How can you tell me that this is neither important nor intriguing? This child is wrestling with a common moral standard that has been passed down to him versus the reality he perceives played out on the HD screen in front of him. This may be an existential crisis for him as he processes good, evil, integrity and character. How can these elements be so curtly dismissed?

We are all nerds for something. Bill Belichick is a nerd (an evil, evil one, but a nerd, none the less) for football. LeBron James is a nerd for Basketball. Daniel Day Lewis is a nerd for acting. Stephen King is a nerd for Literature. Kanye is a nerd for music. Kim Kardashian is a nerd for……. celebrity celebration?

Criticize if you like but please don’t believe that football is unimportant. Anything that attracts this much attention is objectively significant whether you agree or not.

You don’t have to like it; just ignore it in peace (people will respect you more).

I promise that I won’t troll your posts with negative rants about your love for 90’s Anime, Live Action Role Playing, breastfeeding techniques, Folk Music or competing Operating Systems.

The Evils of Consumerism

I like to shop…… There I said it.

Now understand that I like to shop for MY things. Not drapes, microwaves or the trendiest, newest updated iGalaxydriod 3.0 thing.
I like the thrill of the hunt; finding a rare artifact, a great deal, forging a memory of a time and place, realizing a small benchmark on this journey that I trudge through.

This time of the year bombard social media with complaints about consumerism/capitalism. Facebook is a light with hate for personal greed and corporate avarice. Granted, much of that criticism is deserved; there is no iPad nor set of discounted dishtowels that is remotely worth the life of a human being ending as hundreds of Black Friday shoppers trample them to death in a mad rush. We can all agree to demonize that orgiastic, consumerist idolatry.

I understand that it gets overwhelming at times.  It seems as if western society might as well turn the entire months of November and December into “the Season” covering everything in tinsel, draping red all over so somebody can make some green.  It can feel suffocating.

Yet I wonder if we criticize the intent of system too harshly, allowing the accounts of zealots to paint our perspective with broad strokes.

Many of the hipster posts I read about hate for the holiday greed are angrily typed on the iPhones of those employed by the faceless corporate monsters they bemoan.

Do these people realize that if nobody bought anything that they would not have jobs?

This is a flagrant theory: I truly wonder if the American Economy as we know it would literally collapse without the Holiday shopping season? Perhaps businesses both large and small need this time to make a decent wage for the workers and even their industry.

Have they considered that it can be a very good thing to support artists, authors and markets that we enjoy, because without financial backing they would cease to exist? Before you complain about the ads during your favorite show, or the cost of your friend’s Netflix membership remember that without that “price”, the service you desire ceases to be. The free market is a fickle place; many are left destroyed and forgotten in her wake. Yet she may be a necessary mistress, providing sustenance in this symbiosis.

She needs us and we need her.

I have hundreds of books in my personal library, I never walk out of Barnes and Nobel empty handed. This may be a stretch: I believe that I am responsibly living out the golden rule when I make these purchases. “Do unto to others as you would them have do unto you.”

Subjectively, if I ever get something published would like you to buy my book (if it strikes your fancy). It brings joy to my heart and food to the mouths of my children when you buy one of my T-shirts. Buying things is not necessarily evil. It can be good.

I support the print industry. I support the collectible industry. I support the shrinking Christian heavy music scene (hang in there Project 86 and Demon Hunter!). They have enriched my life, they make me happy and I don’t want to see them go away.

Shopping

I also support a child in a third world country (his name is Davidson) and systematically, cheerfully give to local non profits.
I gleefully enjoy intentionally supporting markets that I believe in.

Am I a consumer? I guess.

I view myself as more of a supporter. May I be so bold as to deem myself a collaborator?

Can we find community among the consumerism? It may need to occur creatively and deserves thoughtful intentionality. Some distinct boundaries need be erected (in my opinion if you can’t buy it in cash, don’t buy it but that’s a topic for another time).

Support the market; cast your vote on who survives and who does not.

Be responsible and charitable.

It’s not all bad.

Ferguson

Does anybody else out there think that social media and both the liberal and conservative news giants have made a steaming mess of the Ferguson situation?

Confusion wrapped in opinion coated with bias, slathered in “click bait” with a dash of sensationalism.

I believe only God knows what happened that day, at this point.

This is sad on every level. Racially, nationally, legally.

Praying that nobody dies tonight in Ferguson. Praying for grieving parents and communities. Praying for an officer whose life will never be the same. Praying for a nation with red in her ledger. Praying for the oppressed, the down trodden and the systematically abused.

237

237 kids.

I run this unmanageably large youth event each year that continues to grow more sizable, encompassing students from all different walks of life, communities and contexts.

The event is an all nighter, running 12 hours, from 8pm-8am Friday into Saturday morning. We pack the kids into Buses, head off to Cosmic Bowling, then have a massive lock in at the church, filled with caffeine, video games, billiards and various other eclectic elements.

For the 8th year in a row everybody from our youth ministry comes out for it and they bring a friend. Kids mark the date on their calendars 6 months in advance, parents plan vacations and birthday parties around it. The excitement is electrifying and inspiring.

237 is the highest total that we’ve ever had at any single church event. Breaking records, making connections, seeking to do good in the lives of students and our community.

All night, among the mass of humanity (and distinct smell of what we call “Teen Spirit” I couldn’t shake a feeling of incompletion.

There was a void.

Despite the 237 I was haunted by the few who were not there. Faces missing from among the numbers.

I just kept replaying all the names of the kids who should have been there in my head, wondering why they weren’t present. Some of the explanations could have ranged from normative teenage apathy to the downright nefarious.

I am well aware of my psychosis and insatiable nature; yet I still wonder; is this how Jesus feels?

Being a shepherd, having 99 sheep yet obsessing over that one lost one; the one whose absence could be attributed to apostasy.

I know how a shepherd feels, sitting among the safe masses, yet wondering about that lost lamb out there isolated, alone and tired.

There are ravenous wolves outside, salivating at the mere thought of tender lamb-flesh.

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How to Avoid Rape

During the course of a heated discussion that I was moderating concerning sexual ethics I asked my eclectic group of college students a pointed question: “Would you rather be shot in the head and thus die, or be raped yet live?” There were roughly 20 students in the discussion, 10 of which were female. Each woman emphatically stated “murder” without a moment’s hesitation to the befuddlement of some of the men present.

For women, rape is the apex of fear and terror, a violation of the body and soul.

My mind started racing that night after the meeting. As a male I always seek to “fix” things, to give advice and help others avoid pain and misery. I asked myself “rape is so terrible, how can it be effectively avoided?” Filled with arrogance and misplaced zeal I started constructing a thought process; some steps that I could offer females to help them avoid rape.

Then I heard their stories.

The floodgates opened and student after student came and talked with me after that night about how they had been molested, raped and violated. Some had put themselves in compromising situations or sought to dress in immodest fashions, yet most of them had not; my preconceived notions were shattered. I was overwhelmed. As I became more entrenched in their stories, their pain and anguish I began to empathize with them on a deep level. Their tears became my tears; I began feeling their hurt, violation, shame, suffering and disdain. I became so angry, with no practical venue to get it out. I knew some of the guys who did these things and contemplated for a moment vigilante justice, seeing as the legal system just wanted to keep these girls quite when they came forward and tried to blow the whistle.

Initially I tried to look for patterns and similarities, yet as I heard their tales I realized the only consistent theme:

A man who views women as mere objects.

I became painfully aware that we live in a rape culture, a world of power, submission and secrets.

When you pull back the curtain you can see that there are many who view these girls, these women…..our women as soul less husks existing for their own pleasure and joys, as sordid as those might be. We discover that they will go to great lengths; invest time, energy, money and more to bring about their sick desires. Rape is the epitome of selfishness.

Then we find that rape isn’t just relegated to women. Little boys are being abused as well, being assaulted and broken by ones who often times should be protectors. Nobody is “safe.”

Rape has always existed, it is nothing new yet I would argue that contemporary rape is fueled by a 10 billion dollar a year industry that devalues and exploits people.

Porn rapes the soul of the user and the used and perpetuates a world of fantasy that too often times becomes reality as it shocks and tears at our morals, violating what makes us human. It reduces people to fleshy objects and liquids; steamy, filthy organisms drowning amidst the law of diminishing returns.

We see it everywhere in our contemporary media and storytelling. Rape is often used as a plot device in popular culture, meant to stir up emotions and further character development, yet sending conflicting messages as even protagonists are committing such vile acts (Alan Moore, Robert Kirkman and George R. R. Martin to name a few).

How to avoid rape?

I grew up on a farm. When I was very young I remember playing with an odd mechanical contraption with four prongs that would expand when you clutched the handle. It was lying in a box full of tiny, thick, green rubber bands. As I was playing with the apparatus, my uncle, the owner of the farm walked by and I whimsically asked him “Uncle Dan, what does this tool do?”

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He laughed and calmly said “It turns a bull into steer.”

I had no idea what that meant at the time so I kept playing with the odd do-hickey and the funny green rubber bands. If only I would have been able to read the crudely scrawled label that read “castrator.”

If you rape, you should be made into a steer.

Send a message on a macro level that rape will not be tolerated, for those who rape and those who consider it. A shameful, visceral message that hits home, that causes any creature with testicles to wince and cringe.

Ask 10 guys which they would rather face, murder or castration?

I bet they pick murder.

You ARE what you Fantasize About

In October we put the Masks on. Young and old alike slip into different costumes and attires, some more ornate than others yet all with the intent of becoming somebody who we are not for a brief moment of frivolity and escape. We laugh and giggle as we attend the parties, walk the streets and revel in the differentness of the moment. We get to be somebody else for a few seconds, appearing as another of our own choosing.

What if we weren’t becoming somebody else? What if we were more accurately expressing who we really are? What if the mask we put on was more of a complex portal peering into who we truly wanted to be?

I think back to my early Halloween costumes. Various super heroes, each year’s get up determined by the stage I was in and the feeble materials I could weave together to construct my disguise. I remember a year that I dressed up as Zorro, wearing a black garbage bag as a cape and my father’s black cowboy hat. I painted on a massive mustache and wrapped a piece of cloth around my head with two poorly placed eye holes cut into it (I could barely see out of that thing). I grabbed my plastic sword in my right hand and giant eagle bag in the left as I rushed out of the house to trick or treat in the cold of October (finding out that garbage bags do very little to insulate oneself against Western PA’s frigidity).

As I grew older, during tumultuous teenage years I would brandish a brown trench coat of my father’s, tie a piece of fabric around my head pushing the bowl cut flowing locks out of my eyes and carried a bo-staff I had broken off from the big sycamore in the front yard. I had whittled away at it with my pen knife making it as straight as I could, covering it with black electrical tape. A few playing cards later and I would be Gambit of the 90’s X-Men fame.

As I look back on those costumes I realize that they said something about my heart at the time; a thermometer dipped into my psyche. When I was very young I wanted to be a dashing hero, potent and wise, saving the day and disappearing into the night.  I was not very brave, in fact I was downright cowardly, I dreamt of being the opposite. During my tumultuous teenage years I wanted to be a smooth talking ladies man who was charming and confident. The mere thought of talking to girls put my stomach into knots, the acne, braces, thick rimmed glasses and deep lack of anything that resembled self esteem or confidence constantly reminded me I was indeed nothing like Remy LeBeau.

Gambit David

I desperately desired to be these symbols as I was hilariously lacking their attributes. On lonely bus rides to and from my prison known as school I would imagine myself to be these heroes, decimating my foes, winning the woman and righting all of the perceived wrongs in my tiny little world.

I believe on a heart level, what we dress up as, what we fantasize about is more real to who we are than almost any other factor. Consider how limited we all are by our genetics, environment and resources. Would Bruce Wayne be Batman if he wasn’t a Billionaire son of an ambitious doctor, who experienced the death of his parents at an early age? Who would Peter Parker be if he were not bitten by a radioactive spider? Even to some extent who would Peyton Manning be if he were not Archie Manning’s offspring, growing up immersed in every element of football. There is a sense of fate and destiny in all of those stories, fixed outcomes that many of us just don’t have the gifting to achieve.

But we can do anything in our minds. Any. Thing.

In our fantasy worlds we can be anybody we want to be, that is why it’s is so appealing. We can get utterly lost in it, burning through hours playing role playing games, reading comics and watching movies. But does that make it any less “real.”

There becomes this expectation that during our culture’s month long celebration of Halloween (or all year long at Comic Book Conventions) you can dress up as anything and it really has no bearings on who you are, you’re just having a little bit of fun. That is why if you head to a costume shop of any kind you will be assaulted by all of the sexy outfits that exist. Sexy Nurse, sexy fox, sexy cow, sexy serial killer……

There is a desire to be sexually adventurous at least for one night, at one event. It really doesn’t mean anything does it?

People think that they are dressing up as somebody who they are not; yet in reality they are probably showing us more of their true selves more than they realize. Just the selves they would be if it weren’t for those pesky societal norms and moral expectations levied against us.

It becomes scary when our true selves become obsessed with the dark, with vengeance with killing maiming and devouring (most of our first person shooter game). Let’s be honest our fantasies can take us to some chilling places. If I were to plug a flashdrive into your brain, download the content for a day and upload it to Vimeo (let’s be honest, there’s not way we’d get that stuff past Youtube’s filters) how would that make you feel?

Ask Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold if their fantasies ever became realities. Don’t know those names? Does the word “Columbine” stir up any memories?

Chilling thought huh?

From my understanding of Scripture, when Jesus tells us if we lust after a woman we are committing adultery with her in our hearts, or when we hate our brother we are guilty of murdering him he is not merely making life harder on us; heaping more archaic rules on our weary shoulders. Jesus is pulling back the veil and showing us the reality of the human soul. He is showing us that our true selves is that which we fantasize about, that which we would do if only we had the resources or if nobody else was looking.

No affair starts without a fantasy, no murder without hate. It doesn’t have to go that far to define us. May our heroes be true, may our true selves seek to do good. May the intent of our hearts be to strengthen and protect.

It says much of us if when we desire to be Spider-man giving it all, Superman swooping in and Captain American standing up for what he believes in.

God looks at the heart.

Our Masks are portals into our soul.

Mark Driscoll vs Rob Bell vs Francis Chan

Farewell Mark Driscoll.

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As a young and sometimes angry pastor I have been saddened with each toss and turn of the waves in the ocean that is the drama circulating Mark Driscoll’s demise. I really liked the guy. I was introduced to the testosterone filled, Seattle megachurch pastor by like minded friends about six years ago. Driscoll was raw, cutting edge, controversial and theologically conservative. He said many creatively hard things that I wished that I could blurt out to my congregation (yet never uttered due to fear of repercussion and reprimand by my authority).  He was the toughest pastor I had ever downloaded. He spoke difficult truths that I would grapple with like a UFC fighter caged with diligent, savvy opponent. There were however, moments listening to Mark’s tone and delivery where I thought to myself “Wow, it would be hard to work for Mark, it seems like he can be very mean at times……I bet he’s overly stubborn/opinionated.”

I knew that many people didn’t like Mark. That fact fueled my interest in him, as it did the thousands who were downloading his podcast and buying his books, not to mention attending his church, Mars Hill.

I watched the recent circus unfold online this year with bated breath. All I had to do was google Mark’s name and the floodgates would burst open with various articles published 5 hours ago, updated an hour ago with the latest news surrounding the scandals. With all of the attention Mark was receiving you would have thought that it was a “Ted Haggard” sort of scandal or worse.   The hits just kept coming. There were the plagiarism accusations, the use of church funds to inflate sales of his controversial new book, the unleashing of crude forum posts Mark had written 14 years ago and the various elders and staff who were crying out in unison that they had been personally bullied/verbally assaulted/ignored by Mark.

When Matt Chandler turned his back on Driscoll; kicking him out of the Acts 29 network I knew things were bad. Matt and Mark were friends.

It would seem that Mark’s “death” was one of a “thousand paper cuts.” It wasn’t one “big” sin such as adultery or murder, no it was a whole bunch of little ones, building over a lifetime, accentuated by Driscoll’s massive reach in contemporary culture and status as a “Rock Star Preacher.” Granted the bloggers and liberal and conservative social media that Mark had openly, creatively criticized so long finally found a way to chip away at his defenses, hit him when he was most vulnerable and bring the giant to his knees.

I can’t imagine the misery Mark is living in right now, watching his 14,000 person church shrink to 7000, having to lay off numerous pastors, his name and legacy indelibly stained and having to resign from the church that he loved so very much as his enemies, both Christian and Other laugh loudly as they watch the once proud pastor brought low. It’s not like Mark was spewing heresy or anything along those lines…..

Which brings us to one of Driscoll’s nemesis’s, a man who also ruled an entity known as Mars Hill (the two churches are so different it’s comical, yet the similarity of their leaders demises is deeply ironic) the bane of conservative Christianity: Rob Bell.

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I remember liking Bell in college, he was far cooler than I was, or ever would be. Everything thing about him screamed “I’m here to chill.” His voice passionate, his tone mesmerizing and his thoughts so deep and poignant, you could chew on his words for weeks. He verbally crafted pictures of Jesus that seemed so real, you thought the son of God was about the reach out and take your hand (then lead you to a Starbucks around the corner and passionately discuss social justice and the environment with you).

Yet Rob Bell flew too close to the sun and dreamed a bit too much. He asked some questions (which led to answers) that scared many people. “What if God’s love was so irresistible that everybody would turn to Him even after they are dead? What if nobody is in Hell? What if Love Wins regardless of what we believe in this life?” The one that haunted me was when Bell questioned the existence of a personal Devil, leading us to believe that Satan is a myth or at best a metaphor.

In the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse Christians were pulling his books off the shelves (to ban not buy), breaking their replica Rob Bell Hipster glasses and turning Bell into a Christian culture joke.

Rob has since made public declarations about his feelings and convictions concerning various subjects near and dear to conservative/orthodox Christianity’s heart. He’s just come down on the opposite side, causing himself to become more estranged and reviled. Rob resigned from his Mars Hill (he’d probably tell us that it was amicable and mutual, but nobody reading this article is that naïve, correct?)

Farewell Rob Bell.

All of this is sad. It would seem that there is a mysterious force assassinating our “Rock Star Preachers.” It used to be that you had to sleep with your secretary, or snort a line of coke to fall from your perch as one of Christianity’s biggest and brightest. Is there any way to keep ones legacy intact in the upper echelon of contemporary Christianity (Joel Osteen fans be thee warned!)?

Well…….let me introduce you to Francis Chan.*

*No really; once at a youth event I had the privilege of introducing Francis to over 2 thousand people. It was a great moment; he’s an awesome guy.

Hello Francis Chan.

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The author of “Crazy Love” a book so simple yet so profound there’s a real chance it may make a practical difference in your life.

A man who has made millions of dollars off of that book……..and he gave it away.

A pastor who had a huge church yet stepped down, of his own will, at his own time, with his legacy intact.

Do you know what he did?

He left to go serve in the inner city of San Francisco. To downsize and to radically give everything he has away, as he strives to live in true accord with the teachings of Scripture.

Francis isn’t perfect and I’m sure he has his faults that those close to him are deeply aware of, yet this guy just might be onto something. He may have realized that the fame, the status and the fortune would eventually devour him.

Perhaps Francis is on to something.

We are too frail to fly that high, the smallest errors can build and if we want to exist as heroes we must live among those we seek to serve. The “Rock Star Pastor” may share similarities with the Tyrannosaurs Rex; they are big, loud and deeply interesting yet ultimately their destiny is extinction.