Dave Ramsey Blocked Me On Twitter

A little background info: A few months back Allison and I took Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University" course at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, FL.  We were greatly entertained by his video presentations, we had a wonderful group leader and group members, and we came away from the experience with a new, fresh set of eyes to the world.  Since the class we have treated money in a very different way, being unbelievably careful in our budgeting.  I strongly recommend the course for anyone with money woes as it appears to me to be the best thing going for getting out of debt, saving for retirement, and becoming financially peaceful instead of financially and persistently worried.

But having said that, a story.

I spent the last three years of my life studying Scripture, homiletics, liturgics, exegesis, evangelism, and more at what major portions of the Christian world might call a "liberal" seminary: Duke Divinity School.  Duke's seminary is far from overtly liberal, but that's a story for another day.

There is, however, a persistent and common theme among many of Duke seminarians' worldviews.  Many who attend Duke's Divinity School (not all, just many) see significant problems with the economic status of this country. Without entering into my best impression of Michael Moore, I'll suffice it to say that Capitalism, as it is practiced in the United States, seems contrary to much of Jesus's teachings about caring for the poor. Capitalism seems antithetical to our command to care for the poor. Capitalism, as they and I see it, exemplifies and glorifies the successful ones making generalizations about the less successful, generally resulting in a lower quality of life for the less successful. Capitalism is economic survival of the fittest and fundamentally less compassionate than other systems.

Due to poor judgment (I guess) and a genuine interest in the financial woes of this country, I make a regular habit out of listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast.  For the most part, The Dave Ramsey Show consists of callers who call in and either 1) need advice on a business or how to get them or a friend out of debt or 2) a family or individual celebrating their new debt-free life with a "debt-free scream".  (I'll admit to getting teary-eyed on more than one occasion at the debt-free scream after hearing the story.)

Every once in awhile though, The Dave Ramsey Show features a belligerent and angry Dave Ramsey who counters any new measure President Obama has made. Or, if he's feeling greedy, any movement of the Left.  Dave takes it upon himself to show his listeners how "stupid" (yes, he uses the word frequently) Obama's "socialistic" ideas are. To Dave, socialism has no virtues.  Spreading the wealth has no business with he hard-earned money.

Dave started into a rant one day about how people asking for higher wages in minimum wage jobs don't deserve a higher pay--their economic value isn't high enough.  He drew a distinction between a person's inherent and economic value.  While the human has value, the market dictates someone's economic value (and therefore their paid wage).  It's free market, capitalistic jargon at its best.

I struggled here.

Someone's economic value is completely separate from their value as a human? The two are not related or interact at all? Is the proper response to the poor a lesson on their economic value? Is that how Jesus responded?

So I posted this tweet when I got out of the shower (I listen to his show in the shower):

I literally didn't even get dried off completely before Dave responded.

I was caught off guard here as I didn't expect Dave to respond. I wondered if Dave and I were referring to the same "Word."  I was imagining he meant the Word Became Flesh. Intrigued, I pressed on.

I was lost now.  There was no way he and I were reading the same Bible.  The Bible I read points to a God who came in the form of a man, in the form of broken humanity, to redeem humanity in new life through death and resurrection, to teach God's children how they were to be, and to present a Kingdom that was unlike any other. Jesus's ministry on earth dealt largely with compassion toward the poor and healing of their often sick and diseased bodies. Never once did Jesus say, "You know, you're poor.  And you're poor because your economic value isn't high enough." This just wasn't clicking for me.

I responded:

Note:  I threw in the bit about giving because I thought we could find common ground.  Dave's class encourages students to build extravagant wealth and then GIVE like no one else. Dave's class encourages his students to cut down their lifestyle to an affordable level, he says, "Live like no one else so that later you can live and GIVE like no one else."  I was attempting to throw him a good and helpful bone.

He responded:

For what it's worth, I believe the Parable of the Talents to be about discipleship in growth of the kingdom, not a study in economics (though he's not the first person I've seen point to it as an economic lesson and I doubt he will be the last).  

And that was that.  Dave, I'm assuming, added me to his increasingly popular "blocked" list. I can no longer follow him and I assume that any @reply to Dave's account will go unseen when coming from my account.  One short seemingly harmless conversation in which a student of Dave's decided that he didn't quite agree with Dave and Dave decided that he never wanted to hear from that student again.  A relationship ended over a disagreement and nothing more.

I learned two things:

  1. If you disagree with Dave, you're no longer a friend of Dave.
  2. Dave doesn't even believe what he says he believes.

Regarding #2, to close.  Every single time a caller calls in to Dave's radio show and asks how Dave is doing, his go-to response is the same: "Better than I deserve".  If Dave is really doing better than he deserves, how can he be so territorial with his own money? He's unwilling to live in a society where the poor can be helped by society at large.

The gospel writers put it this way when they quoted Jesus, "You can't serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and Money."  Dave is attempting to do both.  But in the process, he's devoting to one and disposing of the other.  Just as Jesus predicted.



UPDATE: Due to overwhelming and unforeseen interest in this post, I've been fortunate to receive some copy editing from a good friend, Mat Hotho.  If you're rereading this article and things seem smoother, thank him. Thanks to all who have been interested;  I greatly appreciate your support and critiques.

The Death and Life of Kennedy and Christ

As the time has been leading up to the 50th Anniversary of the death of one of our youngest Presidents, I've been thinking a lot about how I "remember" JFK.  I can't, after all, actually remember JFK; I wasn't alive during his time on this earth.  But I took enough history courses and read enough books and watched enough documentaries to "remember" his legacy. It's sort of like a child "remembering" their baptism when they were baptized as an infant; they can't and don't actually remember it, but they can still remember it.

As I began reflecting on what I know about JFK, I realized that a majority of what I know about his Presidency didn't have anything to do with his leadership.  Frankly, when it comes to US history, I'm far more fascinated by the Civil War and World War II than I am the Missile Crisis, and I'm often frustrated about the anti-communism (little c emphasized) sentiment in America that resulted from that time period. Kennedy, as a President, is something I know little about.

I do know some information about his death, though.

Perhaps it's because his death was so dramatic.  Perhaps it's because we have video testament of the moment he was shot (we don't have that for any other assassinated President), perhaps it's because he's the most recent Presidential assassination in America's history, perhaps it's simply because he's a Kennedy.  I don't know why, but I know more (and frankly, care more) about Kennedy's death than his presidency.

Don't be fooled, America does too.  We are this week remembering the 50th anniversary of his death.  We didn't celebrate the 50th anniversary of his election. Years and years of speculation and fact-proofing have gone into theorizing about whether or not Oswald acted alone or if the entire thing was a government ruse. The drama of it all causes us to remember Kennedy's death more than his life (with the one notable exception of our fascination with his mistresses).

It occurs to me that this might be the case with Jesus as well. One look at the vast array of contemporary worship songs will make that point clear: Jesus's death on the cross and that unbelievable image of self sacrifice for the benefit of humankind is one of the prime pieces of material for Christian story-telling (especially in music).

But is that right and proper in and of itself?  Surely God's work in Jesus of Nazareth to save all mankind through the atonement for sins is an incredibly important part of the story, but is it right to focus so heavily on that while neglecting the other pieces of his life?  Is it right to, within the music we sing, focus so heavily on Jesus's death? What might his life show humanity about who God is and what God has called us to do and, perhaps more importantly, who God has called us to be?

It is dangerous to focus so heavily on the death of Jesus if the cost is that the life of discipleship is lost and forgotten in the midst of the drama. In the midst of a dramatic death, it can become far too easy to overlook the blameless life of Jesus the Christ and his ministry, for instance, to the poor and marginalized.

So too would it be improper to focus solely on the life of Jesus, ignoring the grace that was laid upon humanity through Christ's death on the cross. As many theologians have argued many times before, the wholeness of God is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that wholeness is compromised if one focuses so heavily on one portion of that person and ignores the other.  The fullness of God cannot be interpreted without the fullness of Jesus being recognized.

In America, we focus so heavily on JFK's death because it changed the nation and carried its own fair share of drama with it.  But part of that drama was who he was.  His death, his assassination, cannot be understood apart from his life.

Jesus's death changed the world too. But it ought to be acknowledged that his death cannot be understood in fullness without the telling of his life either.  This is why, perhaps, our four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) focus on the entirety of Jesus's being in their retelling of the story that changed the world.

It's important that Christians don't get too caught up in the drama of Christ's death that they miss Christ's ministry in life.  It's important too that Christians don't get caught up in the ministry of Christ's life that they miss the grace which is Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.

One without the other is incomplete.


God's Not Dead

Sometime soon a new movie will release. It's named after a song that originally held a different title and features a band that only licensed the song; they didn't write it.

The movie "God's Not Dead" is named after The Newsboys (but really, you can't have The Newsboys without Peter Furler, can you?) cover of a Daniel Bashta song which was actually made famous at Passion one year (I was in the room for its debut) by David Crowder. Crowder debuted it (if Daniel Bashta's twitter feed is to be believed, he was unaware of the song being used) as "Like a Lion." To the best of my knowledge, Bashta's recording of it wasn't even publicly released yet. He later came out with his own recording, but it was Crowder's use of the song that made it popular in worship circles. Our praise band did a tour of sorts in the summer of 2010 and we closed every night with the piece.

I say all that because The Newsboys changed the title of the song when they debuted it. Instead of "Like a Lion," they called the song "God's Not Dead" which, to be fair, is the prominent line in the piece.

But then they debuted a music video for the song which prominently featured newspapers with the headline "God is a Myth" changing to
"God's Not Dead" by the end of the video.  The song, once proclaiming a message of resurrection and revival within one's life of faith and using the helpful metaphor of Christ's resurrection from the dead to do so, has been repurposed by The Newsboys marketing team to stand for an argument for God's existence against those countering such existence. I like Michael Tait (and I was so glad they invited Kevin Max to provide vocals for the bridge...hearing Michael and Kevin's voices together is such a treat for a true dc Talk fan) a lot and his music has served as an inspiration to me for years, but this song has now been repurposed and this changes the implications.

Repurposing is ok, I suppose. After all, there are many within the world who do claim that the existence of God is folly and that faith in something that doesn't exist is a waste. There are voices among us that claim that Christianity is all made up. So, the necessity of fighting against those voices is easy to see for an Evangelical; the voices threaten my very reality.

But there's a trend here and I think the use of language is dangerous. Within the very-well-produced-for-a-Christian-movie's trailer, appearances are made by actors like Dean Cain and TV personalities like Willie from Duck Dynasty. The trailer portrays a student whose philosophy professor makes him write a paper presupposing the deadness of God. As a Christian, the student is forced to defend his faith within the classroom by putting God on trial because he, as a Christian, must prove God's existence. He, as a Christian, is being persecuted by the professor.

Persecution is the point here, isn't it? If you read through the film's Facebook page, you'll get that feeling. "Share to prove them wrong" or "Share if you're not ashamed" light up the main feed. Of course, like sheep, the film's many fans share and share and share and share. Because the liberal world is trying to tell us that God doesn't exist. Because we are being persecuted.

The problem with this is that this language is difficult to repurpose without consequence. Philosophers and theologians HAVE put God on trial before. Some posited that God died in Auschwitz. Blacks in America doubted the reality of a good God because the white plantation owners understood the slaves as being provided BY God. Many many bad things have happened in God's name since Christ's resurrection including persecution after persecution.

And so, if persecution is the point, what does it mean to portray that in a film with a bunch of white middle class Americans trying to fight the liberal academy by proving God's existence? Who do we think we are to even come close to knowing what TRUE Christian persecution is? We can't. We can't. We can't.

So the song "Like a Lion", intended (clued in by its naming by Crowder and Bashta) to serve as a recognition for an inner revival for the soul gets repurposed by the Evangelicals to prove God's existence and in the meantime shows the Evangelicals cards completely.

The song begins, "Let hope arise and make the darkness hide." This hope, as we understand it in Christ Jesus, is a hope that defeats death and sin. The darkness to be hidden is the sinfulness of our own actions.

But in this film, in the Newsboys interpretation of the song, and in the Evangelical mindset, the darkness is the Liberal Left.

The cards are completely exposed.


Change, Community, Communion, and Curation

It often seems unnecessarily radical to change one's ways of doing things.  When systematic ways are changed, either by brute force or previous failure, many many react negatively.  This is happening in Congress as the GOP-controlled House fights against the already-lawful-and-upheld-by-the-Supreme-Court-as-constitutional Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It's something different, very different, being treated with hostility because of its difference and perceived (and somewhat realistic) hardships.  

Difference and change are difficult for so many to comprehend.

There are viable reasons for this. Many arguments made against Obamacare are valid and backed up by numbers and inevitable cost to typical Americans. In many ways Obama will take more money from each American in order to make health insurance for all Americans a reality.  It is very different from how America has traditionally treated her citizens since her beginning.  Valid concerns are heard, but change keeps on trucking.

The thing about change, historically, is that it is easily delayed but essentially unavoidable.  It only can be re-steered to go in the "proper" direction. Change is inevitable; direction of that change is somewhat controllable.

[Quick change of scene.] 

As a United Methodist, I have a common joke I make about our church: we are always 20 years behind.  It's only a joke but it strikes a strong chord on the reality guitar.  Take contemporary worship music for example.  Simply put, the United Methodist Church, for better or for worse, ignored the contemporary worship scene for years upon years.  "Contemporary" worship music pushed through the evangelical and hippie-ish movements in the late 60s and early 70s and began to refine itself in the mid-late 80s and early 90s.  Evangelical churches (read: non-United Methodist churches) were often the first to jump on board.  There might be many reasons for this, of which the fact that many of those churches do not submit to any larger governing body ought to be at the top, but evangelical churches by and large beat Methodists to this punch. United Methodists have moaned and groaned about how badly the music is written and how non-theological the lyricism is ever since, but the general public has seen some churches grow and some die.  United Methodist churches have been on the dying side of things far too often.

We are late to the game and they seem to be "winning." How to combat this then? Well, of course: We have to raise our numbers so that our church doesn't die! We must start a contemporary worship service! How then do we do that?  Well let's look at some resources.  Where are these resources?  Oh great, there are tons of resources available!  There is tons of music available! Who is providing this music? Oh! The Evangelicals. Great!  Let's hire a worship leader!  Great! Most of the good worship leaders are at the evangelical churches, so we'll get the pretty-good ones.  They should be able to lead the United Methodist Church into the next generation of worship! Great! This is going to be so great! 

And, what do we end up with?  We end up with a church whose tradition of well-written, theological singing is nearly lost because in the switch to the new medium/genre, we picked up someone else's tradition and theology simply because it was already there for us. We blindly took the cookie left for us without considering the consequences. Change came and we got on board and took the road-too-often-traveled without considering where it was taking us.

20 years behind, then, may mean that we need to curate a bit more than we'd expect.  What's the trade-off of simply using someone else's work?  What's the trade-off for our congregations and disciple-building? Have we fully examined this change, its constant insistence upon itself, and where our destination lies?

The same has happened in online communities.  Online communities, if you can believe it, are old now.  They began, essentially, with the advent of email and have continued to be refined and refined over time. What one sees in Facebook, and all Facebook is meant to be, is simply and refinement (albeit a very well done refinement with its share of quality innovations) of the original idea of communicating and communing online. Online communities may seem like a new thing to people (and maybe especially to United Methodists) but they're simply not.  Hey, United Methodists, you're late again.

And so we pick up where we left off. Many non-UMC churches are offering well-done online churches in which a church attendee can log on, converse with a online pastor, watch the worship service, and even pray online with the guidance of the pastor.  The difference is, of course, one doesn't feel the pastor's hand on your back as you pray; she's generally miles away from you.  This sort of idea isn't new, it's simply new to United Methodists.  A popular church in Florida is doing just that (a high school friend of mine is heading it up...you can check it out at www.engagemenow.net).  

The new conversation (happening right now in Nashville, TN) is whether or not United Methodists ought to offer the sacrament of Holy Communion over the internet.  Practically speaking, it's exactly as it sounds.  The viewer (and I use that term intentionally) provides their own bread and grape juice (or wine), while the pastor blesses the elements through your computer or TV screen.  It's along the same lines as that pastor praying over you but without being able to physically feel their presence...except it's with the sacrament of communion.

Perhaps this is an controversial concept to speak about because many of the other churches don't hold communion (Eucharist) in the same regard as United Methodists (or, if we're speaking honestly, maybe many of them actually hold it in HIGHER regard simply due to their insistence on the frequency of participation in Eucharist) . In other words, maybe Methodists are trying to graft United Methodism onto a medium and evangelism technique that someone else, someone different than us, already created. The difference is that the penalty for moving in that direction on that road of change is a loss of traditional practice that has been important to Methodism. In my mind, it's not much different than us trying to sing that one song and trying to change the lyrics because the song is so...like...Calvinist. We couldn't write a comparable one!  We just have to graft Wesleyan theology onto whatever trends come because we were late to the game and not innovative enough to pull ourselves out of the hole.

Goodbye, Wesleyan sense of community.  Goodbye, Wesleyan understanding of Jesus's presence in the Eucharist and the necessity of physicality for incarnation to be experienced.  Goodbye, sung Wesleyan theology with an emphasis on the unending and unchanging love and grace of God. 

I'll maintain until I die that change is inevitable and good in this world.  But, change comes with responsibility.  Change comes with the need for curation.  Change also comes with the need for innovation and outside-of-the-box mentalities. And, while all those seem so poorly connected, it is indeed necessary that they all work together cohesively so that the good parts of what we have are not lost. The danger of Calvinistic theology creeping into Wesleyan churches--even if only through the music--is, and has been, upon us.  The danger of cultural definitions of "community" and "experience" is creeping in on us and our livelihood is at stake.

Online communities are coming.  The challenge and calling is there for churches to attend to.  People want religion and they want to be online.  Ignoring it seems silly and simply jumping on the bandwagon blindly seems sillier. Change is necessary and inevitable.  Curation and innovation are necessary and often forgotten.

Let us not be so persuaded by a new movement that we forget who we are.  Maybe, just maybe, we can feed a need within our society in a new and better way.



The Church and The Gym

I once heard a pastor compare joining a church to joining a gym.

I grew up in the church. I was a good little Baptist boy, baptized at a relatively young age, who sang in the children's choirs, youth choir, youth praise band, and yes, when I was empowered, the big church praise band. My family went, primarily, to the contemporary service as my parents were actively involved in the planning and execution of it. Church was fun. I enjoyed going and I can't remember a time in my life when I gave me parents a hard time about going. I was into church.

Moreover, I spoke the language. Christians who are deeply integrated into the life of the church likely know exactly what I'm saying. In the church, we talk about things that the outside world isn't too concerned with talking about. We talk about grace, holiness, and judgment. We sing songs directed toward and about Someone not of this world. In the church, we speak a different language. As a kid who grew up in the church, I spoke the language. I knew what to do and when to do it.

Growing up I wasn't particularly concerned with athleticism (shocker, I know). I was an inside kind of kid who enjoyed watching sports but was pretty awful at participating in them. I was awkward and uncoordinated, generally lazy, and with that I never had the determination to get much better at any athletic activity. After all, to this day I struggle with keeping my heels on the ground during a squat because I've lived my life walking around on my toes. I even have students who recognize me across campus because of the way that I walk. Needless to say, I was never an athlete.

Recently, I've joined a CrossFit gym. It's the first gym I've ever joined and I decided to pay the outrageously high monthly fee just so that I'd force myself to go. Now, I live on a college campus with a more than adequate gym--that I technically pay for--and I can count on one hand the amount of times I've actually gone to it to workout. I pay for CrossFit. Today it was snowing and it was a 10 minute drive to CrossFit. I went to CrossFit.

Gyms scare the hell out of me. There, I said it. When one goes to a gym, they encounter a different kind of person. They encounter a person who is big, strong, and intense. They encounter a place of judgment. (If you can't dead lift 300 lbs, you obviously don't belong here.) Or, maybe we should say that that's the place that one encounters in one's mind. For me, at least, that intimidation factor and my own self consciousness of my awkwardness is what created a 6'2" 230 lb individual. It created a person with a resting heart rate way higher than it should be. It created a person who is generally depressed and ashamed of their body. It created a person who stopped taking care of themselves. I gave up. The intimidation of the world of fitness was far too overwhelming for a weak soul like me living inside a weak body. In my mind, it was just too much to take.

I even bought P90X online because I figured I could work out in private where the intimidation simply wasn't there. I never made it through even half of the P90X program.

Last month, I joined CrossFit. CrossFit is one of the hardest workout programs out there; it doesn't matter how strong you are, it will kick your butt. You know what I discovered? That gym that intimidated me for so long? It's not reality. This morning I worked out with women that must have been well over 60 years old. They couldn't lift much and they sure couldn't do lateral jumps over a bar, but they were there and they worked hard. And yeah, the guy in front of me looked like he could bench press an elephant, but who cares? The intimidation factor went right out the door when I first went to CrossFit because I realized that there are people of all shapes and sizes there, all on different levels of fitness, all working toward the same goal: to do better than they did last time.

Yeah, awkward me can barely bench press the bar. And yeah, I get some weird looks when I get to the bottom of the back squat and literally can't stand up. Yeah, my push presses barely get my elbows straight. But the only time the coach has yelled at me? When I apologized for not being able to do something. I met a group of people who want me to succeed no matter how bad I am at it. I met a group of people who are so diverse, not only in their age and background, but in their fitness level. Once I realized this, the intimidation factor of working out began to fade.

I can't help but think that that's how the church is to outsiders. In their minds, it's got to be as intimidating as a gym is to me. People, so far along in their progress (toward holiness), speaking a language that only they think, who are intense about everything they do in that realm. I can only hope that there are some new Christians who walked into the Body of Christ because their friends said they should and hoped for the best. And, when they came, they met a group of real people, all at different points on their journey, all working together in their path toward Christian perfection and hoping to do better than they did last time.

In the midst of a time when the church seems to be dying, gym membership isn't. People are learning the gym language. Less people are learning the Christian language.

As Christians, we have to opportunity to learn from such a trend. Gyms work to make themselves less intimidating so that more people will get excited about taking care of their physical bodies. Churches might do well to ponder this model.

How can we, the Church, work at conveying who we are (a disciplined set of believers who, while admittedly speaking a different language, are wholly excited to welcome others in so that they too might get started on their path) in a positive light? How might the world see our community? How might the world see our accountability? How might the world see Christ's love through us?

CrossFit doesn't apologize for who it is. It's hard. It's a lot of work. It takes discipline and practice. And yes, there is a new language to learn.

If the Church is going to get serious about evangelism, I think it is time we work toward that end by beginning to understand how the world sees us and figure out a way that the world might understand the gospel message through our presence rather than being completely overwhelmed by the intimidation of such a presence. That, to me, is how the Church's evangelistic mission might better be lived out in the world.

The Church can welcome others in without apologizing for who it is. But, in today's society, it's going to take a bit more work. Don't worry though, my guess is that it will be worth the investment.