Mark Driscoll Briefly Steps Aside to Process, Heal, and Grow

The lead pastor of Seattle megachurch, Mars Hill, provided an emotional statement to his congregation this morning. See the entire nearly-18-minute clip below:

 

I thought the statement was humble, sincere, and emotional. These are all words I would have never associated with Mark before today.

Only time will tell if the six weeks he's chosen to step aside for will be long enough to accomplish his goals. The Mars Hill elders will need time to work through all of the accusations (there are bunches) against him in an appropriate way and a heavy dose of prayer will need to go with it. 

I'm encouraged by his statement, his sincerity, and his use of this space to share this with the world. I had been hopeful that he'd address the controversy earlier than this, and it's likely that the direct accusations against him brought this to a very public head, but all things come sooner or later.

No matter your opinions toward Mark and his ministry, I encourage you to share with me in prayer for this community. Mark and I disagree theologically and socially on most details, but I find it authentic when he and his church preach about the goodness of Jesus and the necessity of pointing the world toward him. This Mars Hill community is one that loves Jesus and does something about it and for that, and their healing, I remain in prayer.

 -B

"With Every Breath We Sing"

The key line, perhaps, to Bellarive's hit worship song "Taste of Eternity" points to a relatively new phenomenon that's been occurring in our churches' worship music for the past few years.  If you're unfamiliar with the song, it might help to check it out below before moving on.

The song is simple, catchy, relatively singable, and sincere. It has everything that one might imagine that it needs for it to be 'successful' in the ever increasing worship music genre.  Bellarive, as a band, is catching on in popularity.  They're a great band with a unique sound and a strong following.  The world is likely to hear much more from them.

For fun though, let's parse the trend we see in the video above.

A trendy band, gathered in a circular fashion, singing a psalm-like text together, as one. The communal nature of the singing is evident in the group around them as well.  Many eyes are closed, hands are raised, bodies moving passionately.  The video conveys to me this: these people love God and are singing their love to God, together. This is typical of what mainline Christians are often calling "charismatic" or "evangelical" worship.  As someone who falls somewhere in between those two sides, I can testify that I find what you see in the video above very powerful.

The comparison to David's Psalms is not that far off.  Many of his Psalms are emotional.  The experience you see above is emotional.  Many of David's Psalms are personal.  This song is, without doubt, very personal (while using the pluralized first person to describe the community).  Compare this song, though, to many Wesleyan texts from the beginning of the Methodist movement.  Wesleyan hymns (written mostly by Charles, John's brother) were often very personal and often didn't use the pluralized first person (but were still sung communally).  They were, however, written on a different intellectual level than what you might hear above. Charles, after all, was interested in conveying theological insight of the goodness of God's grace and love into the text of the hymns.  It's a sung theology. This kind of singing was high on Charles's priority list.

In a Wesleyan text, you get a clear in-depth theology in the music. Above, you get a heartfelt communal response to God but you don't get a clear in-depth theology.

And so we find ourselves at the same argument that's been made for years about the state of contemporary music: there's not much lyrically there. Some even make the argument that our communal theology has become weaker as a whole in our pursuit to fall in love with God.  A summary of such an argument might be to say this: our love for God has overshadowed and replaced a deep understanding of God's infinite grace that used to be explicitly expressed in our worship music and no longer is.  Sure, Bellarive's lyrics acknowledge "all that [God] has done," but a Wesleyan text, for instance, would likely describe it in further detail.

I observe a lot of worship groups in many many different situations.  I even participate in a fair amount of them.  After all, my age group is currently leading this revolution.  I think it is inevitable that groups like Bellarive will form and shape the future of worship music in our churches.  They already are.  If you ask me, that's ok; they're a really good band. But it is undeniable that a sung theology that you might see in a hymn writer like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley is lost in most of our current music. It used to appear to me to be something the "theological astute" would argue about because they disliked the style of music.  I now see it plainly: it's simply the truth of our current situation.

A rich, sung theology is traded for an excitement in a singable melody, a band using musical elements to engage the emotions (at 2:20 you can hear the band building, the lead singer taking his melody up an octave, the band pausing for the anticipation of the coming hit on the word "sing"…it's like waiting for the drop in Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble"), and simplistic, heartfelt, personal, and emotional lyrics.

Perhaps within this movement the church is returning to a more Psalm-like (and yes, I recognize that this is a shallow and over-generalized interpretation of the Psalms) approach to worship.  Perhaps.  You might argue that this is bad.  Or you might argue that worship is once again "authentic" (as if it ever wasn't).

Imagine, though, a band like Bellarive using the musical elements that build the excitement through their musicality (that inevitably convey a strong sense of power within the music), mixed with singable melodies and unbelievably deep texts about who God is, who God is calling us to be, and what eternity really looks like.  That sort of music, that sort of movement, gets me really excited.  Then perhaps the taste of eternity, in all its fullness, might more fully be on our lips so that with every breath we could sing to the one who reveals that very fullness to us.

-B

Macklemore's "Same Love"

I'm a sinner. At least, that's something I believe.

Every week, heck sometimes even multiple times a day, I pray a prayer in church that recognizes that sinful nature and confesses it before God and our neighbors. Then, as one whole body, those gathered partake in the meal that Jesus instructed us to partake in. It's a bit of grace, reconciliation, confession, mercy, atonement, and love all rolled into one mysterious experience that Christians have been sharing together since Jesus Christ himself.

We live in a society where sinfulness is celebrated. In much of the secular world, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to act in a certain way.

The only thing that holds one from acting in a completely "wrong" way is the fear of the consequences of their actions. The world acts within a framework of consequence. In example, if I'm willing to be held to the consequences of my actions...that's something I am totally ok with...then I can act however I'd like. The individual becomes the standard for what is "right." How else is it to be judged? Respect the individual because they are being themselves.

Now, look at this individualism in a different light. From this comes respect for the individual comes a respect for the unique. This, perhaps, is something a bit more modern. If someone challenges the status quo in today's society, they are looked up to for their courage and uniqueness. There was once a time in our society that if you didn't conform to the status quo (either in your very being or your thoughts and actions), you could be tried and killed.

So, to recap: sinfulness is celebrated in our society now because the only standard against which actions are judged is the willingness of the "sinner" to accept the consequences of their actions. That's the secular world. The reason that this is the judging standard is because individualism is the dominant force and uniqueness is celebrated. This is the secular world. This is the world of Macklemore's "Same Love."

Many Christians argue that this is bad. They argue that the standard against which we ought to be judged is God. The closest tangible evidence that we have of God's standard is the Bible. Hence, they argue, the ways of the world ought to be judged by what is outlined in Scripture. Since the beginnings of Christianity flowed out of Judaism and Judaism was ruled by a "Law," they argue that the words of Paul and many other biblical writers ought to hold the world to account. Paul was against homosexuality, they argue. Therefore, homosexuality in the world is wrong. It's unnatural. It's unbiblical. It's just wrong. This is a different language than the one Macklemore is speaking.

Macklemore, in his song "Same Love," argues against the "paraphrasing of a book written 3500 years ago." He argues against a church preaching hate. He argues against the idea that it's a changeable thing. He argues that the "right winged conservatives" are "playing God." The hook of the song says, "I can't change...even if I tried, even if I wanted to...my love, my love, my love, she keeps me warm." The individual wins, here. "Just be yourself," Macklemore raps.

The church doesn't speak that language and it never really has. The church has been in the business of telling an individual that how they act is wrong. That it's keeping them from God. That it's sinful. That they need to change in order to follow Jesus and live into holiness. The church speaks a language of sin. And, now, perhaps more than ever before the world is speaking a language of uniqueness. A language of the individual. A language where the understanding of something being "wrong" is reliant completely upon the individual and their level of comfort with the consequences of their uniqueness. Two different languages.

Because so many Christians today live in the "individual" world and yet still belong to the church, the conversation, the argument, goes in circles. It tears us apart, eats us up, spits us out, and leaves us for dead. The conversation even hurts souls.

How, then, to mend ourselves? Ah, yes. Remember what I said? I'm a sinner. A perpetual sinner. One who (at least) weekly comes before God to confess my own sins before I partake of the grace that Jesus conveys. Sometimes I know my own sins. I'm aware of what I've done wrong. Many times (in fact, probably more times than not) I'm unaware of all of my sins. And yet, not even knowing all that I've done wrong, I come before God routinely to confess and pray for forgiveness. I pray that I may be joyfully obedient. The best part? It's not just me. It's the whole church coming before God for such a task. The whole church coming to confess our sins and pray for forgiveness.

It seems to me that the conversation over homosexuality is not one of just individualism. It's not one of just sin. It seems to me that the conversation in the Christian church over homosexuality is both. It's a conversation over a dinner table of bread and wine, where all at the table confess their sinful nature and are gravely aware of the significance of the meal. They're aware of themselves. They're aware of their brokenness. They're aware of the grace offered to them and the call on their lives to be better.

"I can't change" the song says. "Even if I try. Even if I wanted to."

Well, then, thank God for grace. A trust in that grace might result in a holier community: a community that can understand sin in light of the individual and the individual in light of the sin.

Macklemore is speaking the language of the individual standard. The church is speaking the language of the biblical standard. If we are going to keep this issue from tearing our churches apart, we're going to have to learn the language the other is speaking and figure out a way to understand each other. I bet if we tried it, God's grace would step in and help us out. Then, and likely only then, could rappers stop rapping about how awful the church is and the church could stop condemning people with a speck of dust in their eye.

Grace has got to be the key.

-B

If you're lost, you ought to watch this video. It's touching: http://youtu.be/hlVBg7_08n0

A Struggling Quest for Identity #GC2012

I thought about writing my reflections on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church 2012 here. I actually did write my reflections on it, for a class. Below are not those reflections. I figured that anyone reading this likely read my tweets and Facebook status updates throughout the conference's ongoings and is also likely unwilling to listen to me rant about something that to them seems trivial. So, instead, I thought I'd present what I see to be an overarching problem with the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church, as it stands today, has one large problem: it doesn't know who it is.

The UMC (then the many forms of the methodist movement and the Methodist church) was both fortunate and unfortunate to have grown up around the birth of America. This means that values based on personal rights and liberties were, from the beginning of American Methodism, engrained into who the church was. To this day, this influence can be seen. The UMC still practices ways of democracy. The UMC constantly bickers about fairness and control of leading ecclesial (church) authorities. Let's face it: the UMC is a post-Enlightenment church heavily influenced by both the good and bad of American Christendom. It is not the Catholic or Anglican church and, to a very certain extent, is very proud of this reality.

The Methodist church in America has been through trial after tribulation after trial after crisis. Methodism in America has dealt with slavery. It has dealt with civil rights. It has dealt with feminism. It has dealt, and is dealing, with homosexuality. In fact with the exception of homosexuality, the UMC has been a leading charge in America, seeking to bring personal liberties and rights to all. It's as if 'all means all' has been written into a little bit of Methodism throughout America's narrative.

But, recently, Methodism has lost its cultural footing. As a church that once pressed the westward American movement, it struggles now to gain or maintain a foothold in what it used to have significant influence on: culture.

Simply put, the United Methodist Church is not culturally relevant anymore. It's not even, as a whole, socially relevant anymore. My diagnosis, again: it doesn't know who it is.

We've seen this before. After Steve Jobs left Apple (mid 1980's), the company began a downward spiral. It produced tons of products. It ventured into commercial areas it had never been. It tried new things without worrying about quality. It forgot the mission the Steves had set out for it since the beginning: make good products. Jobs used to tell this story about when he got back to Apple (late 1990's) where he asked the employees that had stayed why they had done so. Their response? "I bleed in six colors." (A harkening to the old Apple logo) They, evidently in the minority, could still sort of remember who Apple was.

Jobs used to tell this story alongside one about how he preached the future of Apple to his employees once he returned. He said that it became clear that if it was a zero-sum game and for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose, it was clear that Apple was going to lose. "Apple didn't have to win!" Steve preached. "Apple had to remember who Apple was!" Jobs always said that the only thing Apple focused on was "making great products." That's it. If Apple was under Jobs' leadership, they would be about making great products and little else. Their identity was found inside of making great products. That's who Apple was.

To say that the UMC is not in the same place would be an effort to evade the truth. Little is wrong with the Wesleyan theological heritage of the UMC. Little is wrong with the connectional heritage of the UMC.

What's wrong with the UMC? It doesn't remember who it used to be. It has, because of its love for tradition and unwillingness to move and groove, forgotten that it used to write the American narrative before other groups. It has forgotten that it used to write the culture instead of the culture writing it. It has forgotten that it used to be full of innovation. It has forgotten that it used to be evangelical. It has forgotten that it used to be vital.

The UMC struggled at General Conference over the last two weeks to make any progress toward the future. It chose (because of a host of reasons) to maintain a structural format based off coroporate models that are now half a century old. It chose, in large part, to ignore the essential part of its future: young clergy. With the strange exception of 'guaranteed appointments' for elders, the UMC made very little progress in reshaping who it is and, because of this, must suffer the consequences over the next four years until issues can be brought forth once again.

News flash: four years is too long in today's world. Change was needed and it was needed fast. And it failed, motion after motion, amendment after amendment.

The UMC used to find its identity in strong Wesleyan theology that pushed the culture and innovated before it could. It was able to articulate new, sometimes controversial, ideas better so that the culture understood them in light of Christ rather than in pure Enlightened thought. Somehow, as a church, we have managed to live more into the Americanized version of who we are rather than the Christian version.

The church has simply forgotten who she is.

I fear it will get worse, too, as we become a more global church. As our surrounding culture begins to deal with what it means to have a global economy, it is faced with ways to run the economy. It chooses the easiest, cheapest route almost every time. What a time for the church to lead the way! Perhaps then we wouldn't struggle with the ethical violations! But, the church, forgetting that it used to shape the way, does not. And instead of the world realizing who the world is, the world simply thinks its way is normative. How sad a day.

I feared that change would not come at General Conference 2012. I feared the the church would be stuck in a rut because of its inability to remember who it is. I had little idea however about how bad it would actually be.

'Where's God in this?' you might ask. God's here. Have no fear. The Spirit is moving somewhere. But I don't believe United Methodism to be any sort of sacred thing. It can die. The Gospel will continue on. The Spirit will continue to carry it. The travesty is that the UMC actually has some interesting things to say about the Gospel.

If only it could remember how to say them.

-B

 

The Greatest Love of All

I'm not one of those people who, when a celebrity passes away, writes on Facebook something along these lines, "People die every day. Why does the world stop when these overdosing celebs die?" I try not to judge people who do, but it's not something I've felt the need to say. And so, I write here not to disparage Whitney Houston's name, simply to call attention to the shaping and forming of our culture through music (which, arguably, music does).

People look up to many celebrities. Singers look up to singers. Athletes look up to athletes. Comedians look up to comedians.  Perhaps it's because they're simply good at their craft. Perhaps it's because they see a little bit of themselves, and a lot of their potential inside of the talent of these celebrities.  Perhaps it's a way to live a life they'll never have, vicariously.

I've refrained from commenting much on Whitney Houston's death. I'm saddened by the reality of her life, her dependence on substances to counteract an abusive marriage, and a talented soul lost from this world.  For many obvious reasons, her death reminds me a lot of Michael's death and that only brings sad feelings to my heart. It's such a shame.

However, I was watching YouTube this afternoon and came across this tribute by PS22 (who I have included man times here and on Facebook; I think they often do a stand up job at recreating pop tunes):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grA54mwpxPI&w=640&h=385]

 

They do a phenomenal job here and are well led.  The female soloist is something else, too.

Every pop artist has their ballad that stands out for them.  It often separates them from the rest of the artists and solidifies their place in history as a phenomenal singer. Whitney, as I see it, had two: "I Will Always Love You" and the one above, "The Greatest Love of All."

What's most interesting to me is that Whitney set a place for black singers such as Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce to become as accepted and popular by mainstream media and popularity as they have been.  Whitney came out of church, gospel-singing background and blew the world away with her incredible range, passion, and natural phrasing. She had a huge voice and knew how to use it. Her level of stardom, in many ways, is untouched.

But, if we are going to see this song, "The Greatest Love of All" as a song that was defining for her career and thereby defining for our culture, I think it's important to examine the text for what it is, especially because of its placement of a bold statement within the title. The Greatest Love of All. If that statement doesn't shock you into listening to it, you ought to wake up. The song title makes you want to listen to find out what it is she is going to define as the 'greatest love.'

She starts by singing, 

I believe that children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

I'm tracking. I agree. Show the children the beauty they possess inside? Yes, Whitney. (Whitney didn't write the song, but she's singing it so I'm going to speak as if she agrees with the text.  Especially because the story is that she fought for the chance to record it against Clive Davis's wishes.)

But then, we start to separate. She sings:

 

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

 

Pride is a weird thing for me.  Our Christian tradition teaches that pride is a bad thing. Our American tradition teaches that pride is how you get somewhere in life.  Without confidence in what you do, in America, it is hard to succeed. The song assumes that pride makes things easier.  If I'm confident and prideful in what I do, life becomes easier. This is a humanist message, not a Gospel message. This is reliance on the individual, rather than reliance on the grace of God.

 

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

 

I assume that because Whitney desired to sing this song that these lines, perhaps more than any other within this piece, resonated with her. It, to me, shows two things: a reliance on herself (obviously), and a direct rejection of any Christian role model (i.e. Jesus).  I appreciate the honesty within the lyrics, but the lyrics suggest a solution that is not Christian (remember, the tradition that Whitney was raised in) in any realm. Reliance on self? Once again, this is a humanist argument. Our hope is that a born-again Christian would have someone who fulfilled their needs, Jesus. And, with that, the Church.

 

She continues:

 

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity

 

This is almost at the crux of the song. This continues to emphasize this complete and utter reliance on the self. More than that, though, the use of the term "believe" makes this a stronger position. It may not quite reach the lengths of spirituality, but it's clear: the writer of the song thinks that if you believe in yourself and have dignity, you might not always succeed, but you will be...better. This is an American idea to be sure, but seems to stand in complete conflict with the Christian message. Indeed, Christians are to walk in Jesus's shadows.

 

But there's more to this line before we move on. I read these lines to be an "us against the world" type argument.  This is intriguing to me because that has many parallels to the argument of Christianity. We have a better way of life, you do not. Come join us and put your faith, hope, and trust in the Savior of the world. This message: if I put my faith, trust, and hope in myself...and believe in myself...then I'll have a better way of life than the world. The world may be out to get me, but that's ok...I have myself. This, again, emphasizes where the trust is placed. Christianity claims Christ. This song claims the self.

 

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

 

And here we are. The definition of the 'greatest love of all.'

 

Friends, learning to love yourself is not, as I see it, the greatest love of all. The greatest love of all is the grace of God. The grace that is poured out on a broken humanity that confesses its sins and seeks to live in communion with Christ's offering.

 

The song, for the listeners, is a lie. It spreads a reliance on humanity, on the self, and the good works of said people. It delivers a message of hope that resides completely within the self. It places trust on the individual. And because of that, it is in direct opposition to the heart of the Christian message: Jesus is Lord.

 

"But Bryant," you say. "This song was written by someone struggling with cancer who may or may not have been a Christian. She was in the midst of a crisis and writing honestly about where to place her trust. In her against the world, she finds the strength within herself to survive. How beautiful of a message?!?!"

 

I respond: This is not a beautiful message. And it is in direct conflict with where we should be.

 

The movement towards a trust in the individual rather than a higher power is a move that the Enlightenment granted humanity and may never ever be able to be taken away. Songs like this destroy the Christian message and focus: Christ. They enable humans to understand that they're able to battle whatever they're fighting (whether it is cancer or something less tragic) simply by believing in themselves.

 

The Christian Scriptures teach us that when humanity ran from God and placed their hope and trust in other things it always went worse than if they had placed their trust in God in the first place. This is a message that obviously wasn't written into Whitney's narrative, because I imagine this song would have struck a different chord with her than it did.  It's sad. And, inevitably, the trust that Whitney placed on herself and the things of this world came to cause her death. It's sad, very, very sad.

 

I do believe that children are our future. If we teach them well and let them lead the way, we are in for a wonderful ride. But, the beauty within them that this song talks about OUGHT to refer to the beauty that God placed in God's children, not the beauty within their humanity. Humanity is fallen, God is holy. Only a trust and belief in God can give true hope and love. That is the greatest love of all.

 

Why does this matter? Because music shapes our culture.  Therefore, music shapes us. I'd prefer that Christianity define "The Greatest Love of All," not Whitney. 

 

Lord, help our unbelief.

 

-B

Emulating the Greats

Adele is, without a doubt, the best artist of 2010 and 2011. She's had nearly half her album 21 hit the top of the charts and it seems like everyone everywhere has at least heard about her canceled tour because of the strain her voice has been under.

Everyone seems to be covering her now. I've shared some of my favorites on this blog.

This kid below evidently won Austrailia's Got Talent. I found the video when I was bored on YouTube. Skip forward to 2:00 to see him actually sing.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UuolIZlEyg&w=640&h=385]

 

The funny thing is, I actually don't think he's that good of a singer.  Sure, he's far and away better than I was at that age and is far and away better than probably 100% of his peers, but he's pitchy on most of the songs I've heard him on, and they tend to all be a tad too big for his voice.

It's true that he has a huge voice for a 14 year old.

But there is one thing that he has that I think of as enviable. Listen to the way he emulates Adele's voice. It's incredible. He gets her accent (much different than his Australian accent), he gets her voice pronunciation, and he captures he presence inside of the piece, though it's not her singing it...it's him. It's remarkable really. Listen to Jennifer Hudson pop out of this one below.  Again, skip the crap at the beginning.

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wupr-p96i68&w=640&h=385]

 

He's actually a really good singer, despite what I said above. I find it most remarkable that he is able to contort his voice to the style of the original artist in ways I could never dream to. It's an incredible talent.

He's also like the Australian Justin Bieber, except that he can sing.

 

-B

Jesus > Religion (?)

Give the next four minutes to this video, even if you have already seen it. It's best to watch or read things several times in order to think critically about them. And, strap in, this is a long post. I hope you enjoy it, though.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY&w=853&h=505]

It's been 'liked' on YouTube over 160,000 times and 'disliked' on YouTube over 19,000 times. It's been shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube time and time again. Most commentary thus far has been divided as to whether or not this 'message' is acceptable. Herein lie some of my thoughts. Feel free to read them, wrestle with them, agree or disagree with them, and challenge them. This is an important topic for our time and we would do well to approach in this conversational way.

I remember going to a Big Daddy Weave Concert. I love them. Soooo good. And they began singing a song, one they covered from another worship artist, "Fields of Grace." In Big Daddy Weave's version of the song resides a line that goes like this:

There's a place where religion finally dies.

And I remember Mike Weaver (the lead singer) prefacing the line by saying, "This is my favorite line of the song." The spirit in which it was sung now seems strange to me. I once was sold on the concept of "relationship, not religion" but I'm now more convinced that that notion cheapens the Christianity that both Jesus and Paul called for.

Which leads me to this somewhat bold statement: The man in the video was too caught up in praise given to him for his skilled rhyming that he forgot to actually check his statements and definitions for consistency.

The problem with the video above is that it seems to go one way...and then another. He claims that Jesus and Religion are on opposite sides of the 'spectrum' but he also points out that your religious affiliation on Facebook doesn't make you a Christian. Wait, what? How are these tied together?

It becomes necessary to define 'religion'. (Good rhetoric makes use of loaded, ambiguous terms like 'religion' and, well, 'Jesus' because you can begin to redefine them in your own way in order to make a point. Not defining them within an argument not only makes the problem worse, it threatens to destroy the terms entirely.)

It seems to me that this man considers 'religion' to mean: a facade that followers put on that masks their spirituality. He's not even close to suggest this. Get religion out of the way because JESUS is what is so important. He seems to be saying that you don't need religion if you have Jesus. In fact, he blatantly says that at the beginning of the piece. He says,

What if I told you that Jesus came to abolish religion?

(I desire to respond: I'd tell you that you were wrong)

If anything, I think, Jesus came to reform religion. Jesus came to correct religion. Jesus came to show humans how to live life. This was a large part of his ministry on earth, including his preaching. Jesus did not come to abolish religion, he came to serve religion. In one sense, he came to serve as a means of growth throughout that life.

So truly, 'religion,' for Christians, is the means by which we worship God and grow further in the likeness of Christ. Religion encompasses sacraments like communion and baptism. Religion involves a confession of sin. Religion encourages prayer. Religion encourages accountability. Religion is a way of life, and a way to grow into a Christ-like life.

Now, his courageous testimony is notable and honorable. I always am moved by people who had a huge transformation toward Christ-like living in their lives and are willing to speak openly and honestly about it. BUT, because he has this...he operates out of a mindset of grace.

Truly, surely, GRACE is a large part of the Christian story. Paul tells us that we are sinful people, in need of grace. Theologians have told us throughout time that that sin is covered by grace. Though it's disagreed on exactly HOW that grace functions, all Christians agree that the life of Jesus, the death on a cross, and resurrection have something to do with the grace required for eternal salvation. Even our friend in the video remarks that salvation is not based on "my merits, but Jesus's obedience alone." AND HE'S RIGHT.

Jesus's obedience to do the will of the Father, to face death, has a great deal to do with our salvation. This, I believe, is true. And I can't name you a Christian who thinks that YOU can earn YOUR OWN salvation. That idea was pretty much outlawed in Christian circles a LONG time ago.

But, he's still confused.

His points are right. We do need grace. That has been taken care of. Christians should live holy lives, not just consider themselves saved because of their Facebook information. Christians should tear down the facades. Christians should be open and honest. Christians should practice grace.

BUT THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT 'RELIGION' IS!

That's the calling Jesus placed on us through his preaching. That's the call Paul placed on us through his letters. That's the calling our pastors place on us every Sunday. Religion, the practice of worshipping and becoming more Christ-like, is defined by all these things that he outlines. Religion is not just perfume on a casket, it is the burial ceremony and the tears shed for the loved one.

So, you've probably reached the same point I have.

He's a good poet. Spoken Word is popular now. Rhetoric is easy to come by with ambiguous language. Good speakers can catch and win over a believing audience just by the tones of their voice.

But this does not excuse us from watching our words.

Statements are bold. And when they're attached to art, they become MORE powerful.

Definitions are important. Because we use them to communicate effectively.

So 'religion,' as it stands, maye be a used up, dried out word that offends people. And...perhaps we need a new word. But people, good people, Christians in fact, use the word 'religion' to speak about how they're growing into a Christ-like life.

And so to make a statement that Jesus > Religion is simply unfair. Jesus and the Christian religion are intimately tied together. Religion is a way of life. Religion is the VERY thing this man is calling for. Jesus did NOT hate religion. Religion is a means to Jesus, and if approached in that way, those liking and disliking the video can actually come upon common ground.

Wouldn't that be wonderful?

As a writer, I can relate to this guy a lot. I often write papers that make awesome points that contribute to the exact opposite of my thesis. I end up at the end of the paper saying, "Wait, where'd I go wrong?"

I just tend to think that this is dangerous for the future of the Church. Influencing this many people and convincing them that 'religion' is wrong is scary. Very scary. We do need Jesus. But we also need prayer. We need accounable discipleship. We need confession of sin. We need baptism and communion. These are elements of religion that most in the Church are unwilling to let go. Because, for them, this is where Jesus is. This "Jesus and Jesus alone" mindset is ok, but only if religion gets included in the definition of 'Jesus'.

-B

On PS22 and Music

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZnSwGCliB8&] If I had one criticism of PS22 and their teacher, it's that he is probably not teaching proper singing or performance techniques to them at a young age. Its common thought that this creates 'bad' habits that will influence the art in a negative way, later.

I was thinking that as I watched this.

And then I thought, "so what?"

There are probably many many children singing in children's choirs around the globe inside of Universities, etc. that don't enjoy the music they sing. I think I'd argue that that fact is more destructive to the art than something like PS22 is.

When musicians come to hate music, it might be one of the saddest days on earth.

If anything, performances like these are creative, unique, and stretching across boundaries. Right? I can see some of these kids rushing over to their friends' house after school and being super jazzed to load up YouTube and show their friends what they did at school that day.

These are kids. And they're excited about what they're doing.

That's the future of America, I think. Creativity is key. Technology (because it is simply an embodiment of creativity) is key. Fine arts (because they are simply embodiments of creativity) are key. The study of maths and sciences (because they are products of creativity) are key.

And so when I cringe to see the kids moving their bodies so much, I have to stop and think..."how proud are these kids of their work?" or "how much will the enjoyment of this experience influence their lives in the future?" You can experience the excitement within the last few seconds of the video. Sheer joy.

Because in the end it doesn't matter if they're singing Mozart or Lady Gaga (though it might be nice for them to understand both forms of the art); they're singing. They're practicing. They're performing. And they're enjoying it.

And, better yet, they're doing what they do...well. We don't have enough of that in today's world.

It's cool stuff. It really is.

-B

I really don't like the song that much, despite its catchiness. Gaga wrote the song with her dad taking shots on the piano after her grandfather died. I just don't, quite...get it. It doesn't speak any sort of message that I would consider life changing, and I don't think the lyrics are very poetic at all. Also, the music video was ridiculous.

Regardless, though, the act of singing it is moving something inside of these two groups. It's weird to think that something's moving inside of these groups when the lyrics to the song suck. But, you know, perhaps that speaks to the power of music within the soul. It probably does.

TSO's 'Christmas Eve Sarajevo' performed by Andrew Boss

A fellow music major of mine from undergrad plays Trans-Siberian Orchestra's 'Christmas Eve Sarajevo' by ear on the piano.  Andrew is a top notch player and does a fine job at picking out these sort of things.   Imagine you're listening to him play it on a giant Steinway or Bösendorfer for full effect.  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uuu0oBNGKFc&w=640&h=385]-B

On Rick Perry: A Response to His Latest Commercial

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PAJNntoRgA&w=640&h=385]Mindblowing.  Truly, mindblowing.  I find myself resonating with many conservative ideals from time to time.  Many of my close friends and loved ones are Republicans, and adamant Republicans at that. If you hang out here much, you'll find that I waiver on 'sides' and try my hardest to be charitable to each side.  I'm not always very successful at it (and my critics might say I'm never so) but that is often my intention.  We are all flawed humans.   But this latest bit of nonsense is out of this world. Out. Of. This. World.   I didn't like this guy before, but I'm now convinced: he's scum.   Let's tear apart this commercial, shall we?  

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian," 

Great, Rick. A few things:

  1. This statement only works in places where Christianity is under attack and the majority of the population does not claim to be Christian (more on this later).
  2. This "I'm not ashamed" nonsense was cool back when the lead singer of the Newsboys was bald with an accent, not black. Give it up.
  3. We're electing a leader.  Lots of leaders are Christian.  How does this separate you from the other dogs in the pack.  Are you a super-Christian? If so, you should have mentioned it here.
  4. Bleh.

but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country 

Rick, IF your argument, as it seems to be, revolves around Chrisitianity not being prevalent enough in American society, THEN you can't start off with the phrase "you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday."  Rick, American Chrisitianity is built around communal worship. If you're going to throw that out, you're left with a bunch of people who believe in "Christian ideals" who don't know what "Christian ideals" are...BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT IN CHURCH. Please. At least say something like, "Those of us in the pew every Sunday understand what this country needs."  At least that'd be consistent.  

when gays can serve openly in the military 

Oh, come on. Let's say you think being gay is a moral sin.  And you believe that America is a country based upon this moral teaching. And...IF you believe that, you're STILL not going let them serve their country, like any other American?  You need people to fight for you, and you're being picky? What does their 'immoral way of living' have anything to do with their patriotism and willingness to give their lives for others? What, Rick? Why? Because other soldiers were homophobic?  DIDN'T WE GO THROUGH THIS FOURTY YEARS AGO?! And...the way you say "gays" is shameful.  These are people who feel different, outcasted from society.  Many find a voice within that, but they're still often shunned.  You don't pronounce "Republicans," "soldiers," "Christians," "Texans," or anything else with the same tense voice. If you win, you're not setting yourself up for a unified country, you're setting yourself up to be hated by most.  Phenomenal leadership skills, just phenomenal.  

but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. 

He gets something for prayer, because I'm lazy. I don't even know what the legal situation is for prayer in school because it seems so different depending on who you talk to.  I thought about looking it up, but it wasn't worth my time.  Kids openly celebrate Christmas all the time.  The whole country celebrates Christmas, whether they attach the name to it or not. Stop with the hounding, no one is taking your Christmas away except for Target, Macy's, Walmart, and Toys R Us...who are stealing Thanksgiving while they're at it, too. OH, AND WHAT DOES YOUR CHILD'S PRAYER LIFE HAVE TO DO WITH SOMEONE SERVING IN THE MILITARY?!?!?!?!  

As President, I'll end Obama's war on religion. 

Bahahahahahahahahaha.  Obama has a war on religion? What?  That doesn't even make any sense. Obama is a Christian.  And even if he WERE a Muslim, he'd still be religious. Capitalism has a war on Christmas, and possibly religion because of the mindset it encourages.  Obama, does not.  

And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

I just finished a course in American Christianity.  Yes, we, like ALMOST EVERY NATION AND COUNTRY TO EVER EXIST have some sort of a religious heritage.  But, I doubt that that heritage is the same that you think it is, Rick.  Read a book.  In America we don't believe that our religious beliefs should be imposed on someone else if they don't believe the same thing. We believe that everyone should worship in the way they so choose. We believe that sometimes you may feel as if you can't be as outwardly 'religious' as you might so choose, but we agree upon that so that the religions you don't impose their beliefs on you.  We keep peace that way, like humans should.   

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again. 

Wrong. Self-centered greed, a fight for the American Dream, capitalism, striking first with annihilation bombs, being separated from the rest of the world, strong leadership (unlike you), continuing attention to education, innovations, and fortunate historical circumstances made America strong. As a Christian, I believe that faith is enough.  But, I'm convinced that the ways that you and I define faith are different, Governor.  

I'm Rick Perry and I approve this message.

Well, there's that.   -B

I Hated the Organ Because Of Church (A Confession)

I grew up in a contemporary church world with music played by guitars and four chords.  I went to traditional services and hated every minute because they were 'boring.' As I've matured, I've realized that I disliked many of the hymns not because of their content (although a lot of the language no longer makes sense in today's context) but because the way we sang them was...painful. I've listened to countless arguments on why contemporary, modern music doesn't belong in worship context and I've expressed via this blog before that I think those arguing that are wrong.    I've kind of looked down upon the organ as a legitimate instrument for much of my life. They were expensive (I once heard someone arguing for traditional music yell at me for my use of a Taylor guitar because it was 'lavish'), hard upkeep, and generally boring to listen to. I thought of them as the 'old way,' once used to decorate unnecessarily lavish sanctuaries and provide a huge sound, one that is getting closer and closer to being able to be replicated digitally. And, we can conquer their original purpose with audio amplification.    They were cool I guess, but the church ladies never let me play it, so I had a bad taste in my mouth. You had to have the special shoes. Ugh.   I guess I just thought they were antiquated.    Duke's Divinity School is incredibly fortunate to have a stellar organist in David Arcus,and I've spent time in very traditional services at Duke enjoying his art.   

This guy below, though, changes the game. 

 

I seem to remember being shown something by this guy a ways back, but his art is indescribable here. Watch this three times to get the full effect. 

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygb-IQNUCJI&w=640&h=385]Don't miss his CBS (old) appearance either. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3ApgF2s3LQ&w=640&h=385]-B

"The Sexual Orientation of My Parents has had ZERO Effect on the Content of My Character"

Zach Wahls, a 19 year old student raised by two women, speaks out about his upbringing and prejudice in allowing at couples to marry, and supposedly, adopt and parent. He is remarkably well spoken, detailed, logical, charismatic, and passionate.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMLZO-sObzQ]

It often occurs to me that changes in culture (whether good or bad) are almost always led by passionate, charismatic leaders who have enriching, yet different, ideas and can articulate it in a clear, concise manner.

It seems to me like Zach might be just the type of leader the cause is looking for. He's young, articulate, and experienced.

Don't miss his appearance on Ellen either.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOeGgvfcxcQ]

He's a quality speaker and his thesis is an interesting approach.

I don't care what "side" of the issue you consider yourself to be on; as Americans, I believe, we have a call to fight for equality of all. And as Christians, we have a call to fight against injustice. So, we must ask ourselves, even in the midst of the morality question, are we supporting or fighting against injustice and inequality?

What a tough subject. We need more articulate people, like Zach, on both sides.

-B

15-0 @ Maui Invitational

In case you wanted to relive it, dukeblueplanet always does a nice job. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXJQXjhuxmI]

Tyler's shot was epic, even the fourth time watching it.

-B

Shame on You, UC Davis Police

I know little context regarding this situation. But I watched this citizen-recorded-synchronized-from-several-cell-phones video.

The video is incredible.

I know two things:

This is police brutality.

This isn't America.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO4406KJQMc]

Shame on them.

-B

Duke Music and Arts Festival

Watched this while I waited in the Detroit airport to get to St. Louis.

Raise your hand if you didn't realize that Kara DioGuardi was a Duke Alum.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZBn_oDvUXg&w=640&h=385]

Don't miss Andrew Rohm, a Wesley student, playing the Bari Saxophone at the end.

-B

Goodson Chapel's New Cross

Great video of the new cross recently installed in Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity. It was a neat experience to watch the cross be lifted up and talk to the men making it happen. With commentary and explanation from the cross designer and our Chaplain, Rev. Sally Bates.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMsLvtjjKjI]

Next time you're in Durham, make sure to stop by and see it.

-B

AutoTuned Siri

Ever wondered what Siri would sound like AutoTuned. Wonder no more.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53my-LM23wI&w=640&h=385]

Funny work. Catchy progression.

-B