4 Ways to Excercise Your “Fear Not” Muscles

If all you do is watch the news, then there is a LOT to be afraid of in 2014. The real problem isn’t choosing what to be afraid of, it’s trying to figure out what you don’t have to be afraid of.

FearNot


The big news is that, according to Jesus, you don’t have to fear anything.

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Survey: What Do You Think About Church/Non-Profit Giving?

I would like to thank you in advance for helping me with a bit of research. This is not an exhaustive Barna poll, it’s just 5 simple questions (with 2 additional demographic questions). It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes of your time.

It would also be very helpful to me if you would share this survey using the share buttons above or below this post.

Again, I am so grateful for your time. Thank you.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Why I (Am Trying to) Quit Saying “Oh My God”

Recently, my family and I were driving around town on errands and I heard, from the backseat, my youngest daughter exclaim, “Oh Em Gee Oh Ess Aitch!” (OMGOSH) I was thrown by the unfamiliarity of the phrase, but it got me to thinking: Why didn’t she just say “OMG?” After all it’s popular enough. For that matter, why didn’t she say “Oh My God?”

OMG


It occurred to me that we have been habitually reinforcing in her young mind to follow, as well as to respect the spirit of, the Ten Commandments, and one of those is, of course ‘Do Not Take God’s Name in Vain.”

I have argued, before that far too many people take this commandment the wrong way. After all, God’s name is not “God” right? It’s Who He is. He IS God. His NAME is something else altogether.

Sparrows and Faith

Some days it’s hard to be motivated. Anyone who is, essentially (or truly), self-employed can tell you that. Even if every aspect of everything you do is 100% your one and only passion, it is sometimes difficult to stay focused. Some days, I admit, I am less than thrilled with myself. I become riddled with the thought (if not outright convinced) that I’m not good enough, or my passion isn’t enough, or I’m doing the wrong thing, or… You get the idea.

The point is, I sometimes feel inadequate. I try to rid myself of that, and then I see this guy:

When he woke up that morning he had a headache.

When he woke up that morning he had a headache.

Yeah, that’s a guy leaping from a boat to stab a whale with a spear. On this planet, that’s a thing. That happens on normal days. That guy is amazing!

Now, I love whales. I love dolphins. I love cetaceans in general. They are my absolute favorite animals. Yes, I’m glad that whaling bans exist. I’m not for indiscriminate killing of whales. (Disclaimer done)

That man is part of the whaling town of Lamalera in Indonesia. The international whaling ban doesn’t apply to them. Partly because when a whale is killed every part (every part) of it is used for food or resources that sustain the entire town, and, partly, because whaling in Lamalera look like this:

TRADITIONAL WHALE HUNTING STILL GOING ON

and like this:

TRADITIONAL WHALE HUNTING STILL GOING ON

And not so much like this:

whaling_4

or this:

japan_whaling_ships

The point is, when I first saw that first picture and I discovered what it was, I felt intimidated. You have to remember that most of the whaling process in Lamalera is about waiting and hoping for just the right set of circumstances.

The hunting party waits on the shore for a whale to breach the surface or to send up a blowhole spray. They then get in their boats and paddle, yes paddle, out to where the saw the whale and hope to see it again. If they get close enough, one of the harpooners (that guy up there that puts John McClaine to shame) takes his bamboo spear and leaps into the water and, hopefully, spears the whale without getting the smackdown of a lifetime by the whale’s tail.

If he is successful, the whaling party then has to endure the whale going nuts by the aforementioned tail-thrashing (a move that can easily destroy boats) or diving deep into the water (in which case, the boat goes bye-bye as well). If the boat is destroyed, the members of the hunting party who have survived swim to another boat and climb in. Needless to say the whales don’t go down without a fight.  There is one account of a whale destroying two of the boats and pulling a third as far away as Timor. (Here’s a rough map.)

Once the whale is successfully subdued, the other whalers jump in to the water (remember, they aren’t even near the shallows yet) and begin hacking at the whale with knives and machetes. That kind of bloodbath is exactly the kind of thing that the local sharks lust after.

Once the whale is killed, the hunters drag it back to shore singing a song of thanks and apology to ease the whale’s departing spirit.

I mean… COME ON!  THAT is a hard days work!  What are my petty struggles of writing books, editing audio, preparing sermons, etc. compared to that guys work day?

But then I remember something.  A verse that has confronted me as much as it has comforted me over the years:

Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31

God knows my troubles. He knows my name. He has numbered the hairs on my head. I am important to Him, and that means, and this is really the point, every one of my petty struggles is important to Him.

That’s true for you as well.

So, when I consider that truth, suddenly that Lamaleran whaler becomes a source of inspiration for me.  Yes, my troubles and struggles are real to me and to God.  But because He cares for me, I don’t have to be afraid to face a problem that seems so much bigger than I am.

Like that Lamaleran whaler, I just have to grab my spear and jump.

Question: What is it that keeps you from jumping? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Personal Revolution

phoenix-from-the-ashesEvery now and again, I’m invited to churches, small groups, and retreats to speak on the general topic of marriage. I’m always nervous when this happens.  Not because I don’t like talking about marriage, but because I think it’s so very important that husbands and wives rightly understand marriage and relationship issues. My prep is always the same. If I’m speaking on a familiar topic, then I spend the week prior in review and prayer.  Is there something that I have in my notes and/or outlines that isn’t correct or that I have come to have a different better understanding of, or is there a new way to explain this point or that point?

Additionally, I spend quiet time every night in the week prior and the entire morning/day of the event listening to one album. An album written and recorded in 1990 and released in 1991. This album:

LoveLife

That, friends and neighbors is, arguably, my favorite album of all time. (You can buy your own copy of Love Life here.) At the very least, as I mentioned, it’s my “go to” album when I’m in a “let’s think about marriage and relationships” kind of a mood. I mean, look at the tracks:

Track 1: After Lovin’ You – A great feel good track to open this album of love songs.

Girl, we’ve been together for a long, long time,
I don’t see that changing, at least not in my mind,
So if we fuss and fight, don’t dream that love is through,
I could never love another after…after loving you.

Track 2: What’s It Like In Your World? – A good song about the need for openness and honesty.

You don’t have to ever pretend when you’re in my company,
You’ve got to know I will not turn and run from you if you practice honesty.

Track 3: Forgiveness – This is one of the tracks that still resonate with me. It’s as fresh and true today as it was the first time I heard it.

Well, I want things to be right,
Can’t stand the tension between you and me,
Every dream, every longing, takes a backseat to this,
Only one thing gonna set me free.
Oh, I believe there is one thing we need more than to be understood or be known,
It’s our need; a true, undeniable need,
For me and for you, this is our need: it’s forgiveness.

Track 4: …. We’ll get back to this one…

Track 5: Another Woman In Tears – Read the description for “Forgiveness.” Ditto.

A woman needs your time not just your touch if you want her to feel safe and sound,
Anything less and you can count on this: trouble’s gonna come around,
A woman’s more than flesh in a dress, more than a happy bride who’s been heaven sent,
One day you’ll come home to the kiss of indifference and wonder where your happy bride went.

Read that again… Best opening verse ever. EVER!

Track 6: In The Light – This is probably the song you know from this album thanks to DC Talk’s cover from their album Jesus Freak.

Oh, what’s going on inside of me? I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions that I’m still a man in need of a Saviour

Track 7: There Was Love – This is just… so good.

There have been days when I thought that I was through,
And when I cried, I know love cried too,
Love as I know it has always existed, even when I foolishly resisted.

Track 8: I Would Go Crazy – This is my wife’s favorite track. Probably because it has that hot Spanish flavor.

I remain inventive with you as my incentive, in the midst of all this foolishness and craziness, and such,
I taste of the essence as I practice the presence of you in my life,
In a world known for turning glory into shame, I am so grateful love knows my name.

Track 9: Kiss Me Like A Woman – This is the track that sold me. The story goes like this: In early 1992, I developed a friendship with a girl who worked in a Christian Music store. I was just discovering the world of CCM and was kind of… what’s the word?… underwhelmed with the quality. I asked her why it all sounded the same, and “can’t any of it be… I don’t know, funky?” This is the track she played for me and… just…

Hello, baby, this is your lover speaking,
Just as I promised you I’ve been saving my affections for the beauty of one,
One more time, show me how love is done,
Before we set the house on fire let’s take the time to build desire.

Kiss me like a woman, baby, and I’ll love you, love you like a man,
Love is a language we were made to understand.

We can lie naked and unashamed, made one by divine connection,
It’s good to know there’s a sacred trust when you give away your affections.
It’s a beautiful place to be when you can trust each other completely.

Kiss me like a woman, baby, and I’ll love you, love you like a man,
Love is a language we were made to understand.

I want my children to know what is pure, what is lovely, what is right,
That the intimate moment is beautiful in God’s sight (that’s right)
Well, it’s a good and right thing for a man to say…

If I had to sum up this album in one song… yeah… that one…

Track 10: When I Stand With You – A perfect song to close this love fest, by acknowledging where love comes from and what I life blessed by God’s love will ultimately lead to.

When I stand with you, Lord, I will not be alone,
Together with the multitude, I’ll stand before your throne,
And when I stand with you, Lord, perfect I will be,
When I stand with you, Lord, in glory.

The point (for this section anyway), is this… BUY THIS ALBUM (and any other Charlie Peacock work you can get your hands on. Oh… You may have heard of a little band called The Civil Wars.  Yeah, he’s their producer.)

Track 4… also know as “The Point”

Track four of the album is a song called “Personal Revolution.”  Yes, I’ve heard it before. A few times. I like it. But today, I heard it for the first time.

Freedom from the past didn’t last through time,
Things don’t change, because I pretend they’re fine,
Do I flip a switch to give myself a happy life; to be a happy man, in a happy home with a happy wife?

Jesus, if you came to give life abundantly, then how do you respond to all the pretense that you see?
Do I break your heart by all the faking that I do?
There are so many places I haven’t let you into.

I’m so tired of all these easy solutions,
I can’t stand it; they’re nothing but denial,
I think I need a personal revolution,
How can I expect the heart to sing when I don’t let the soul ever feel anything?

I share this with you today to publicly declare that this is my plea and my pledge.

Paul wrote about this.  In Romans 12:2, Paul encouraged believers to “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I like how the CEV puts it:

Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.

We have to be transformed from our past, our old life, our corrupt way of thinking. The revolution happens when we give up control of ourselves and put ourselves in the transforming hands of our Heavenly Father. When the change begins, our old self dies and, like the phoenix of legend, we rise from the ashes of our past and live the life of the new creation.

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

My Prayer

God, create a revolution in me. No more pretense. No more faking. God help me take the mask off and keep it off. Make me comfortable being open, honest and as completely transparent as I can be with anyone, anywhere, anytime, not for my benefit, but for your glory.


Question: Are there times you just feel fake with God, yourself, and/or others? How do you deal with it? DO you deal with it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

U2, Apple, and You Too

Without question you’ve seen it, either in your Facebook news feed, or somewhere else online. It’s been everywhere It’s worded a lot of different ways, but it comes down to this: “Apple secretly downloaded U2’s new album to your phone and every iPhone in the world without your permission. Don’t believe me? Go check your music.” Then followed by the inevitable response: “Oh, so creepy. Technology has too much power.”

iPhone No Entry

But here’s the thing. It’s probably all your fault in the first place. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

Are You Chasing the Right Rabbit?

Confucius (or, possibly, Ovid, some random Roman, Cossack, or completely underrated human – but certainly I’ve heard Michael Hyatt say it a hundred times) said, “Man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” This is an easy thing to say, but a difficult truth to apply.

Last night, I confessed to my youngest daughter that I sometimes worry that I have chosen the wrong path, or that maybe I should have stayed in my pursuit of a particular vocation. When she asked me, “Why?”, I told her this old proverb and said that sometimes I worry that I’m just chasing either too many rabbits or the wrong ones altogether.

I shared this story with a dear friend of mine this afternoon (you should go check out her blog right now… I mean, in a minute when you’re finished here). She reminded me that no matter what rabbits you chase, you know for sure that there are some that need to be tended. Spouse, children, family, home, and, most importantly, your relationship with God. Then she sent me this picture (she made it) that I want to share with you.

Truth

Don’t let discouragement get you down. God knows what you’re going through, and He is glad to give you wisdom.

But, remember, you don’t need any special wisdom to make sure you’re always chasing the right rabbit.

Question: What rabbits are chasing? What rabbits have you ignored? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Dirtiest Word in the Bible

When I was a kid, there always seemed to be that one kid who knew where all the “good parts” of some books were. Of course, looking back, they were rarely the “good parts’ but were really just the “dirty parts.”

shocked-baby

For the uninitiated (and some Christians can count themselves among that number), the Bible has quite a bit of NSFW content. I mean, if you dig through there (and, really, you barely have to dig), there’s some racy, gory stuff in those onion skin pages.

3 Warnings for Teachers

Alright, it’s confession time: I fought God tooth and nail against my calling to preach. I just refused. The list of reasons are long and varied, and the story is, mostly, entertaining and informative, but my last hold out was a little verse in the New Testament book that bears my name.

judgement copy


As you can see in the picture above, the very first verse of the third chapter of James is a stark warning to teachers. Today, I encountered someone who reminded all too clearly of the danger of being a teacher. His name: Justin Lookadoo

The Two Phrases That Kill Churches

It’s never fun to talk about topics like this. But it’s even less fun to sit in a conference room, or on one end of a phone meeting and hear someone say these deadly phrases.

nuclear_warning_signs_04_vector_0


I’ve sat with more pastors, boards, and committee members than I can tell you who have held on to one of these phrases, and it has always led to a painful “come-to-Jesus” type of realization, at best, or, the complete destruction of a ministry, at worst.

A Simple Truth

I was once talking with a dear friend who is not a believer (or, at the very least, had lost faith in God). We were engaged in a fairly intense conversation about truth (“What is true?” “Is there one truth?” … That kind of thing.) when she said in response, “I just can’t believe that, and I could never believe in a God who would be like that.”

It’s the kind of statement that can shut down the conversation. I didn’t know how to respond, but, as Jesus promised in Luke 12:11, it turns out I didn’t have to come up with something clever. Because the above statement landed in my head (and has become a constant refrain in my life). When I said it to her… She just started to cry.

Pray for her. Pray for me. Pray that the seed will take firm root and bear fruit.

I’m excited to be speaking on topic as important as Pentecost. I hope you can join me!
The True Miracle of Pentecost

Date: June 7, 2014
Time: 06:30 pm
Event: Second Harvest Ministry Center Saturday Evening Worship
Topic: The True Miracle of Pentecost
Sponsor: Second Harvest Ministry Center
Venue: Second Harvest Ministry Center
Location: 1533 South Lee Hwy
Cleveland TN 37311
USA
Public: Public

I am excited to be speaking at Peerless Road Church’s quarterly “Parent Talk.” It’s such a privilege to be able to help empower parents to protect their kids.

Date: May 28, 2014
Time: 06:45-08:00 p.m.
Event: Parent Talk
Topic: Parent and Guardian: Be Your Child's Cyber Safety Net
Venue: Peerless Road Church
(423) 303-2680
Location: 3301 Peerless Road NW
Cleveland, TN 37312
Public: Public

What I Believe

I once got into an exchange on Facebook that was troubling to me: not because of the content as much as due to the fact that the conversation made me realize that I had never expressed to this particular friend what are my specific beliefs. Now the context of that conversation is far too much to post here, but I thought it might be prudent to answer the question here for you.

What I Believe


So, here are some bullet points. These, for me, are essentials.

That Time I Almost Broke My Back… Tonight

Tonight, after leaving work, I had what can only be described as an epic fall onto hard concrete. Here’s what happened…

Cuidado


If you are at all familiar with the entrance to NCCOG that is on Magnolia, across from the Lee University School of Music, you know the breezeway and railing that is beside it. My daughters wanted to show me how they could get up on the upper concrete from the street. Lyric, just did a steady climb, but Liliana grabbed the top rail and jumped up while holding on. I was very proud of them both.
That’s when I uttered what have been the last words of many men stronger and braver than I…

I think I can do that.

Why I Refuse to Work Miracles

Scotty_JefferiesTubeFor a long time I have been one of those people that takes what comes and tries to make the best of it. In my work, this meant receiving an almost impossible request and doing any and everything to make it happen, even if it meant ignoring my own needs, the needs of my family, the demands of my health, etc. to get it done because “it has to get done.”

Now, deadlines are one thing. Sometimes, those things happen. But a deadline is simply a term that means “this is when the work must be finished.” It does not, contrary to popular belief (and my own usage many times), mean “have the work finished by this time or you’re dead.” I held to this poisonous notion for so long.

I have received requests to get work done before. The time frame given was one that I knew was impossible. The people asking should have known it was impossible. However, more often than not I did whatever it took to get the job done out of fear that I would lose my job or that I might not seem indispensable.

I will tell you a vaguely worded story about the worst it ever got. I was on a deadline for a production, and the producer had failed to solidify things in an early enough time-frame. A lot of decisions/changes (that should have been made months prior) were made at the last-minute, and I wound up sleeping at my office, away from my wife and children, for five days. I’m not talking about a little out of town inconvenience. I’m talking about living 45 minutes away from the building where we were rehearsing and where my office was, but the workload thrown on to me in the last week was such that the hour-and-a-half commute would have made the deadline impossible to meet. I simply needed that extra “day” of work.

So, I stayed up late into the night in my office working, and when I couldn’t work anymore I lay down on my floor and slept. A few hours later I would wake up and start again. Surely, this proved not only my ability, loyalty and dedication, but that I was an indispensable member of a team, right?

Just over a month later, I was fired.

Now, I know things now that I didn’t know then, and my release had nothing to do with my performance, but other internal issues. Still, at the time, and even now though in a less severe way, it stung fiercely.

Why do I bring this up now?

Yesterday, I was editing a podcast episode for a client. He was interviewing Dr. Lois Frankel who wrote the book, “Nice Girls Still Don’t Get The Corner Office.” I must confess, when I read the title and show notes for this episode, I was less than enthusiastic. But it didn’t take long for me to become completely absorbed in what she was saying because I saw myself in every one of the “mistakes” (her book lists 133 mistakes that women make in business) she discussed on the show. Then I heard her speak to me directly. Well, not really, but she might as well have been. It hit me so hard I immediately composed a tweet (ever have one of those moments? Of course you have.) Later, I searched and found this:

Your boss asks you to do the impossible. You figure getting it done is the way to get ahead. Right? Wrong. Being a miracle worker only begets more requests to perform miracles; and every time you do, you raise the bar for yourself. You’ve heard that old adage—don’t work harder; work smarter? Well this is what it means. Next time you’re asked to move a mountain, say, “I’d be happy to do that. Let me tell you what I will need to make it happen in the timeframe you have requested.” … Miracle workers may get canonized, but they don’t always get recognized!

Did you read that?

Miracle workers may get canonized, but they don’t always get recognized!

I will always work hard. I will always do everything I can to make a deadline. But I simply refuse to work miracles. From this point on, I will live and die by my triangle of choices.
Pick Two Poster

#004: How to Have Your Best Year Ever [Podcast]

A very wise man once said, “By setting an intention, you set the course to achieving it.” That wise man is my friend, Michael Hyatt.

5 Days Color Logo

Michael has created a product called 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. He designed it to help you get clear on your goals, discover what’s holding you back, and show you what you need to make progress today.

Click to Listen

Play

#002: What Is the Day One Philosophy? [Podcast]

Sometimes we live in the failures of our past, and sometimes we seek out our validation from past victories. But do those past failures or successes really matter?

iStock_000017537849Medium

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com

How you view your failures and successes matters, of course, but I believe there is a better way to live; one where you are informed by these events, but neither defined nor confined by them.

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#001: Answering the What [Podcast]

How appropriate is it that this podcast is launching at the beginning of the calendar year? I am so excited to bring you the first episode of the Day One Podcast

Day One Podcast Art

Have you ever been on the receiving end of news so shocking that it shook you out of your lethargy and into a life change? That’s what I share with you in this episode.

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Podcast-less

Well, my friends, as of 1:34 am Monday morning, I am still waiting for iTunes to approve my podcast feed for this show. I have one in the can waiting for you, and I will probably record one on the way up to an appointment at the hospital tomorrow. Thanks for coming along with me on this ride.

Day One Podcast Art

I do want to give one quick tip this week for those of you considering dieting/weight loss…

It probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had to try to do this around Thanksgiving/Christmas. HOWEVER, it can be done! I’m living proof.

That said, I also have a confession: I ate about 1/4 of a blueberry biscuit today (Sunday). It’s the Pillsbury Blueberry biscuits and the thing is they stopped making those for years (the last time my wife and I found them was in 2002! 2002!!!!), and they really are/were some of my favorite things ever. I just couldn’t resist. Well, of course, I could have, but I didn’t. And I can try to justify it any way I want (it was only a little bit, etc.), but that’s not even the point.

Today I made a mistake (more about why it was a mistake in the actual podcast), and tonight I own it. No regret. No self-defeating words. No overblown condemnation. I did it. I shouldn’t have. Period. But that was today…

Tomorrow is Day One!

Question: Did you blow it today? Yesterday? Last week? How did you recover? DID you recover? Leave a comment and tell us about it. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

The Beginning

So, it hit me tonight: Today is the first day, James. It’s time to start moving.

Day One Podcast Art

Here are the bullet points:

  • I will be getting a gastric sleeve surgery in about 12 days.
  • I have a few health problems (most of them are not caused by my weight, but in fact have caused me, for many years, to be almost completely unable to lose weight).
  • I hate that it got this far without my, or someone else’s, intervention.
  • I am grateful to my doctor who found the problem and gave me hope.
  • I’m scared.

UTC, Free Speech, and Stupid

I don’t often do “current events” type commentary here, but a local event has triggered a lot of very strong reactions. Many of my friends at UTC (some of whom are not believers) have asked me questions about this situation, and, as the answer is universally applicable, I thought it would be a good idea to address it here.

Pictured: One of the Reasons Jesus Wept


Chattanooga, TN – On November 15, Cole Montalvo, a UTC student was arrested for disorderly conduct. That’s not so unusual, right? A college student making a little ruckus is not really newsworthy. What made this topic leap to the front page, though, was the reason he was being “disorderly” in the first place.

A female “Christian Evangelist” has been… preaching, I guess???, on the campus of UTC for a while. Reports are that she has been “haranguing students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.” Due to incidents that occurred during previous visits, the University erected a perimeter of orange cones around the “evangelist.”

There are two things that make this story sensational: 1) A 3:58-minute video of the arrest was released on YouTube, apparently shot with a cell phone, titled “Police brutality on UTC campus” (be careful. This video has LOTS of NSFW language and is horribly shot – for a different perspective, you can see the “evangelist’s” video here. For the relevant bits, skip to 7:15) and 2) the lengths to which campus safety officers had to go to restrain Montalvo.

Now, there is no question that it required a lot of force to take down Montalvo. There’s also no question that Montalvo was belligerent and refused to comply with the directions given to him. But that’s not my topic today.

Nor is my topic the frighteningly ignorant petition on change.org begun by students at UTC. Not because I agree with them, but because Susan Kruth has already addressed the issue wonderfully. (Though it is concerning that so many students don’t view what they are doing as a willful relinquishing of their own rights)

It’s not even my intent to discuss free speech and the difficulty in being an American Citizen. (Even though it means I don’t get to use my very favorite Aaron Sorkin quote of all time.)

My topic isn’t even Angela Cummings’ remarkably flawed theology (some of which can be viewed here.)

No, my topic here is the “evangelist” Angela Cummings herself.

(James… seriously, what’s with all the quotes around the word evangelist? It’s getting annoying.)

Let me explain.

In her “sermons” (sorry), Cummings often says things like “sinners are going to hell” and “you’re all fornicators and fornicators will have their place in Hell.”

All of this is true – and this is a topic for other posts – but this “evangelist” is no evangelist. I read last night (I haven’t found a ton of evidence to support this, but it isn’t vital to the point) that she is part of a group that goes to public places, becomes a nuisance, people respond, her rights get infringed and then the group sues (much like those fine folks at Westboro Baptist). You see, it’s not the things that she is saying that are wrong, but, quite literally, how she is saying them.

The word “evangelist” is from a compound Greek word euangelion. The word “eu” means “good, well, normal; happy, or pleasing.” It’s always used as a prefix. The word “angelion” means, “messenger” or “message.” So, literally this word means Good Message.

So, what message does Cummings preach? She preaches a Hell for sinners and then – again, much like her WBC counterparts – exudes a happiness that sinners are going there. The good news is not that sinners are going to Hell. That’s not good news for ANYONE!

There is a good message: Jesus died so that we could be made right with God.

The Apostle Paul said that we can have the gift of prophecy, and even understand all mysteries (one would infer that we could also evangelize on street corners every day until Jesus comes), but if we don’t have love we are nothing. Without love, we serve no better function than a “clanging cymbal.” (Or, perhaps, imagine a toddler banging on pots and pans.) One need only listen to this woman one time to know that there is no love in her message.

I absolutely defend her right to speak. But, please, UTC students, faculty, staff, news media bloggers, countrymen… don’t call her a Christian Evangelist.

She is nothing of the sort.

The Line

Anybody who knows me understands what this Blahg is about, but if you’re not one of those people let me fill you in: This is where I talk about anything that strikes my fancy, but doesn’t really fit into a neat category. I might spew about how much I hate Netflix (or possibly AT&T), how Stephen Sondheim being a colossal “failure” is actually inspirational, how I called it when Esperanza Spalding was going to win Best New Artist, or even how being Scottish doesn’t impede my funkiness.

Today, I have to write about something that isn’t fun. Yes, I’m “late to the party” on this one, but there’s a reason for that. See, today’s post is about Corey Monteith.

Cory-cory-monteith-14913615-1280-1024

Corey Monteith

The Short Version

Just in case you have no idea who I am talking about, here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

Cory Allan Michael Monteith (May 11, 1982 – July 13, 2013) was a Canadian actor and musician, best known for his role as Finn Hudson on the Fox television series Glee. Born in Calgary, Alberta, and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Monteith had a troubled adolescence involving substance abuse from age 12; he left school at age 16. After an intervention by family and friends, he entered drug rehabilitation at age 19.

As an actor based in British Columbia, he had minor roles on television series before an audition tape of him singing “Can’t Fight This Feeling” helped to land him the biggest role of his career, Finn on Glee. Following his success on Glee, Monteith’s film work included the movie Monte Carlo and a starring role in Sisters & Brothers. In a 2011 interview with Parade magazine, he discussed his history of substance abuse as a teen, and in March 2013, he again sought treatment for addiction. On July 13, 2013, he died of a toxic combination of heroin and alcohol in a Vancouver hotel room.

There. Two paragraphs summing up a life. TWO!

If you note the date of his death, you see he died back in July.  So, why am I writing about this now?

I have been working in musical theatre in one form or another since my early teens. I just love it. So, when the television show Glee started I tuned in. I was, of course, excited about a mainstream television show bringing theatrical music to the attention of younger audiences, but the general enthusiasm of the show captivated me. We don’t have cable anymore so I never watched the show live, and I didn’t even watch it weekly. I usually watched in spurts via Hulu. Yeah, i have issues with the show, but those aren’t the topic here. Here is where I get to tell you about the dream I had.

I don’t often have memorable dreams. It isn’t unusual for me to not remember the dream at all. But several weeks ago, I dreamt of Corey Monteith.

Then a couple of weeks later it happened again. Same dream.

Last night it happened again.

All I can remember from the first dream is that I’m standing somewhere, Monteith turns a corner and I see him. As he’s walking past me he say’s, “What’s up, James?” I turn to watch him walk away, but he walks over to a bed and lays face down and dies.

The second dream was the same.

The third dream was the same, except this time as he walks past me he says, “What’s up, James? What are you waiting for?” Then he walks over to the bed, lays down and dies.

The Quarterback

So, tonight, I had an hour off (WHAT?!?!?) and I decided to watch the Glee “tribute” episode, The Quarterback.

This isn’t the time for critiquing, but it was hard to watch. One scene in particular caught my attention as horrible acting, but, at the same time, I could tell that what was going on was more about not breaking down and just getting through the scene. There were many relatable moments, but I want to talk about two of them.

Jane Lynch’s “Sue Sylvester is, without question, one of the funniest villains of all  time, but, as was true with so many moments in this show, there was a scene where Sue Sylvester disappeared and it felt like Jane Lynch saying “There’s no lesson here. There’s no happy ending. There’s nothing. He’s just gone. It’s just so pointless. All that potential.”

Similarly, in a scene where Mark Sailing’s “Noah Puckerman” is replanting the Finn Hudson Memorial Tree, he notes the plaque on the ground which reads:

Finn Hudson 1994 - 2013

Finn Hudson 1994 – 2013

Puckerman says, “The thing that’s tripping me out is this line right here between the two years… It’s his whole life right there. Everything that happened to him is in that line.” Coach Beiste replies, “What are you gonna do with your line now, Puckerman?”

The Moment

Yes, I cried through virtually every second of this episode. It was heartbreaking. I wept for Corey, for Lea, for the cast, for wasted potential, for lost dreams, for the fog that inevitably creeps in to haunt the lives of every person in Corey’s life that will keep them asking “what if?” forever, for all the others drowning in addiction because there are things they don’t know how to deal with, for the ones who look down their noses at those addicts – especially the ones who seems like they have every reason to live, the fame, the fortune, success, etc. – but don’t see the tragedy and loss… I wept for all of those things.

And then I remembered my dream.

What’s up, James? What are you waiting for?

Weird, huh?

So I leave you with this question, the same one I will be asking myself every day of my life from now on.

What are you going to do with your line?

The Trouble with Pastors

We have a problem with pastors. We have a problem with all teaching leaders. The problem is this: We always expect them to be around. We always expect them to teach and to lead. Sunday services are a time to be ministered to (among other things). That’s their job, right? That’s their calling. How is expecting them to be who they are called to be a problem?

Trouble Pastors


I’ve often heard church services described as that time of the week when the faithful can come in, wash off the dirt from their week in the world and be refreshed, recharged and renewed. It’s an oversimplification, maybe, but I don’t think it’s an unfit description. I know that there have been times in my life when when I was at the lowest of lows and a single service brought me out of that.

Now, have you ever wondered what your pastors, youth and children’s workers do when they’re in the “lowest of lows”?

All day Sunday is work time for them. Mid-week services too. The rest of the week is filled with office hours, pastoral care, hospital and shut-in visitations, counseling, staff meetings and planning. Somewhere you have to cram in time for Bible study, research, sermon preparation and prayer. Of course you want to make time for non-sermon focused personal devotions.

Hopefully there’s time to spend with the family.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. I think I can speak for other pastors, preachers and evangelists when I say, the work is fulfilling, rewarding, and a wonder to experience. But here are some numbers I want all of us to consider:

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear,and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.

Go back and read those statistics again. Slowly. Let some of them really sink in. Now, make it personal. Read each percentage like this, “There is a 70% chance my pastor doesn’t have any close friends. “50% of the time, my pastor feels unable to meet the needs of his job.” Now read this…

1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

October was Pastor Appreciation month. But the Church is losing 1,500 pastors every month. So I’m encouraging ever member of every local church to spend time not just in prayer for your pastor, and your leadership team, but taking some time to send an encouraging email, card or letter. When you see members of your pastoral team at church or around town, take some time to love on them a little bit. Most importantly, remember that the only difference between you and your pastor is that your pastor has been called to lead a particular local body. Your pastor is still human, still flawed, still susceptible to every failing that you are.

Secondly, I want to encourage other pastors. First, thank you for your work in and for the church.

Now I have to rebuke you (and myself).

Unless you’re a weird one, you don’t go around with red and blue tights with a giant “S” on the chest underneath your clothes. Even if you do go in for weird costuming, you’re still not Superman. No, you don’t have a weekly opportunity to “wash off the dirt from [your] week in the world and be refreshed, recharged and renewed.” But you can.

I take time every week to meet, either in person or via FaceTime/Skype with other pastors that I went to school or seminary with. Yes, we sometimes fall into the trap of talking about “church stuff”, but, usually we self-correct pretty quickly and spend that time encouraging each other, confiding in each other and being iron for each other.

Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. – Proverbs 27:17

You can do that to. Technology has made it remarkably easy to have face-to-face interaction with people you trust. Pastors, Church Leaders… we all want to be Paul, but every Paul needs a Silas.

How can you encourage your pastor? If you are a church leader who is encouraging you?

The Credibility Shelf

I have been hesitant to share this, but… Here it is.  The other day I saw this ad in my Facebook feed.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 11.19.45 AM

This is a clear example of Social Media Marketing done… just… WRONG. Look at the key elements:

  1. An author has a book, website and newsletter. Yay! Go Platform!
  2. Author’s book was named “Most Relevant Book of 2010.” That’s good. At least it was in 2010. That doesn’t make it a bad book now, but why am I seeing this ad today?!?
  3. The endorsing magazine is “Relevant Magazine.” This is a bi-monthly Christian magazine. I like them. They’ve interviewed me a couple of times. I bring them up because…
  4. The author is a former porn star and the connected picture in the ad she paid for real money for is a crop shot of her chest.

So, here are my thoughts: If you’re an ex-porn star and you have written a book about how terrible life in porn was, but the graphic you use is the one mentioned above I can’t even begin to take you seriously because either:

  1. You’re oblivious to the fact that this picture is inappropriate.
  2. You’re unaware that it’s being used (in either of these cases you aren’t monitoring your brand well).
  3. You’re still using your body to sell things.

When you’re building a Platform from which to build your business, sell your products or ideas, or to give voice to your expertise in a field or subject you must stay credible. 

This one ad undermines Shelley Lubben’s credibility, but it undermines Relevant Magazine’s credibility as well. Neither of those things should happen.

So, go subscribe to Relevant Magazine.

Go read Shelley’s book. I haven’t read it yet, but I have heard from people I trust that it’s really good if not a little disturbing.

But don’t make marketing mistakes like these. In today’s world, people look at your credibility shelf long before they take any serious interest in your product shelf.

Question: What do you think? Have you had your credibility questioned? What’s steps have you taken to shore up your credibility? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else, but it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics ever since.

Robert Downey Jr.
New York Times (New York: Article by David Carr, April 20 2008)

1170783_631413366883916_479617142_n25 people. $15.

I really want people to understand my last check was for $1.30 for 40 hours. I only make tips.

None of these people needed anything. I took great care I them and now I’m going home empty-handed.

Bonnie Marilyn

For all of us, life is death without adventure. And adventure only comes to those who are willing to be daring and take chances.

Prince
1985 American Music Awards

The Danger of Agreeing with Your Pastor

Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

PULPITO 2


It’s Sunday morning. Your pastor is giving a great sermon. The topic is the Church. Not the “little c” local body of believers church, but the “BIG C” centuries old and across Church born of a great move of the Holy Spirit at the festival of Pentecost just a few weeks after the resurrection of Jesus.

It’s great! He’s talking about the marketing approach by many churches today. You know how it is… they say things like:

  • A New Church for a New Generation
  • Church for People Who Don’t Like Church
  • This is Not Your Grandmother’s Church

Then your pastor says, “Let me turn this around. How many of you have living grandmothers? Raise your hands.” People raise their hands. Then your pastor says, “If you have a living grandmother, please stand up.” People stand.

Then he asks a question that drives his point home, and you absolutely agree with him and you express your agreement verbally.

Is that a good thing?

I can prove to you that, sometimes, it isn’t a good thing.

Injustice and Freckles

It’s been a terrible 24 hours. To give context for future reading, in the past 24 hours we had the verdict in the Zimmerman/Martin case in Florida, Casey Anthony is pregnant again and Cory Monteith died. Other bad stuff happened as well, but I just don’t have the strength to get into it right now. Instead, I want to write about Freckles.

Evangeline & Lyric

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My daughters are both blessed to have received the majority of their looks from their mother (Note: HOT!), but my youngest daughter, Lyric, got her complexion from me and my Scotch-Irish ancestry. That means pale skin.  It also means freckles.

As this years summer vacation began, my daughters obeyed the universal law of kiddom and jumped in the pool. My eldest, Liliana, immediately began to darken. Lyric? Freckles.

It bothered her. She thought she was ugly. I told her that I thought her freckles were cute. She wasn’t buying it.  So I told her about Evangeline Lilly. You remember… That show EVERYONE watched and then got mad at because it had a “terrible” finale (Another topic for another time). Well, I told her that on that show, Evangeline Lilly’s character “Kate” was often referred to as “Freckles,” and that she was the primary female romantic lead. Everybody thought she was beautiful, etc…

I showed her a picture…

“She is pretty,” Lyric said.

Smiles.

I thought it would be over.  A few weeks later, I picked up her iPod and saw this picture as the wallpaper:

evangeline-lilly_img_506359ea2e4dbabe18bdf9007e316b6b_800_0_0_0_0_0_ffffff_0_cb0f1I was taken aback. When did this happen?

“Lyric, why is there a picture of Evangeline Lilly as your wallpaper?”

“Oh, because of what you said. I put her on there to remind myself that my freckles are beautiful.”

No words.

Pentecost (or “They Were In What Now?”)

As I contemplate tomorrow’s celebration of Pentecost, my brain keeps coming back to one thing: Dairy Queen Snickers Blizzards.  You see, I was sitting in the outdoor seating of a local DQ one warm summer night with a couple of college friends.  We were discussing random theological things and the topic drifted toward the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Well, the greatest thing the Holy Spirit does, in my opinion,” says the scholar on my right, “is to bring unity to the body of Christ.”

That’s when it happened.  I did a kind of snort/spit take and a piece of snickers (from the aforementioned blizzard) got stuck in a place in my sinuses that was… well, unpleasant.

Once things got back in order, I asked “Why do you say that the Holy Spirit brings unity?”

“Because in Acts chapter 2,” says he, “it says that the Holy Spirit brought unity to the people in the upper room.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement a lot today.  Because, as you probably know, that isn’t quite what the Bible says at all.  Acts 2 opens with this statement:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

The word translated “accord” in that verse is the Greek word ὁμοθυμαδόν (homothumadon) and it means… well… that’s tricky. See, in the NIV, CEV (my personal favorite), NASB, Message and others, it says that they were “together” in one place. That is a perfectly fine translation.  However…

Homothumadon is a combination of two words. The general meaning of this compound word is to “rushalong” “in unison”.  The image it paints is one of harmony. In other places in the New Testament, the word is translated as “unity” or “one mind.”  And these are fine translations as well. However…

Let’s go back to this compound word thing.  The two root words independently are homou which means “assembled together” and thumos which means, among other things, “passion,” “heat,” and “ardour.”  So what does Acts 2 say?

The people assembled in the upper room had come together with passion and ardour, earnestly seeking the promise Jesus had said would come. There was a burning heat of unity in them already when the Holy Spirit showed up and did an amazing thing in them and then through them.

So, as we approach Pentecost this year, I pray that – as much as we rely on the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter, our Guide and all of the the other roles the Holy Spirit is here to fulfill and be – we will recall, reaffirm and then recreate the passionate unity that was present in the upper room. Then, let the Holy Spirit come and do amazing things in and through us.

Coming Soon!

MTINH Album Art (for Page)JHM Media is in pre-production of an exciting new project! Friends and followers have asked for this for a few years now, and only recently have all of the pieces fallen in place for it to happen. James Marler, founder and president of JHM Media, has worked as a music theory educator for almost two decades, and now he is bringing his approach to a new podcast.

James has received excellent student reviews at every college and secondary school he has taught, and has a record of the lowest rates of attrition at two universities. James is passionate about teaching the “language of music” in a way that encourages the student and instills in them a love for the art and skill of the practice. With James, every music theory class begins and ends with a phrase: “Music Theory Is Not Hard!”

At the collegiate level, far too many capable and promising students of music endure poor or flippant pedagogy and are dismayed at their progress. Attrition follows and the students suffer feelings of failure and a lack of direction. At the secondary level, students suffer from budget cuts that all but eliminate the arts from their education. If they have musical education at all, it is relegated to a few minutes a day, and precious little time is devoted to learning the “language of music.” In early education, students are often taught well, but many of the basic elements are improperly taught for the sake of expediency.

In this podcast, James will take the same approach he does in every class. The subjects will be taken slowly and steadily, with time given at the beginning of every class to review the material and take questions. So, if you are a student at any level or if you are just passively interested in music, this podcast will help you learn to speak the language. So, don’t worry… you can do this! Why? Because Music Theory Is Not Hard!

If you have any thoughts about this topic or have topics you’d like me to cover, please leave me a comment below or leave a voicemail by clicking the SpeakPipe “send voicemail” tab at the right.

Yes, Penelope, There Is A Judge

It may be one of my favorite pictures of all time. It’s certainly the most honest.

Let me clarify…

Penelope Soto was in court on drug possession charges. You can tell from the video (posted below) that she is taking her appearance in court anything but seriously. When asked how much money she makes, she replies “about 200 bucks a week.” When asked if she has anything of legitimate value (e.g., a house, car, jewelry), inexplicably, she says “yes.” When asked to clarify she says she “own[s] a lot of jewelry, all right.” When the judge asks for clarification regarding her jewelry’s worth, she says “it’s worth a lot of money… like Rick Rolls.” (Now, either this girl has no idea what a “rick roll” is, or there is an entire generation of clubbidiots who have appropriated the name of one of the greatest bait-and-switch jokes in internet history as their new slang for “a lot of money.”)

The Public Defender, to his credit, offers to take the girl on, but the judge sagely points out that, if she has all of this expensive jewelry, she can sell it and hire her own defender. She is initially fined $5,000. She coyly bids the judge “adios”, and, with a smile on her face, turns to leave. As she’s walking away, the judge laughs… but then calls her back. What happens next is just… I have…. “no words… they should have sent a poet.”

The judge takes back the paper and changes the fine for Count 1 (there were multiple counts) to $10,000. And then… this… glorious thing happened.

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Yes, Penelope… There are consequences for your actions.

Just look at her face! She pleads with the judge, as innocently as she can, “Are you serious?”

And that awesome arbiter of justice responded, “I am serious. Adios!”

In a world where teenagers weren’t habitually spoiled and coddled from the ramifications of their words and actions, this would be the end of this story. But, luckily for all of us, it isn’t.

Penelope, turns to leave, gives the judge the finger and says something that contained the f-bomb. And, like a boss, he calls her back. The courtroom expresses it’s shock as she begins to lose her playful demeanor.

The judge, channeling his inner “Tony Montana” asks for clarification as to what exactly she just said. He then finds her in direct criminal contempt, and sentences her to the fine PLUS thirty days in county.

And, in case you’re interested, here’s the full video.

Why am I talking about this HERE?

Well, partly, because I can. Partly because I love justice. Partly because we need to pray for Penelope Soto and Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat.

But mostly to say this: We must remember that our actions, even just the words we speak, have consequences.  In Number 32:23b we read:

…you may be sure that your sin will find you out.

The point here is that sin always, always, ALWAYS has consequences, and there is no escaping that. More importantly, sin is progressive. Look at what happened with Penelope. She was in court on charges of drug possession. Xanax Bars, they’re called. In the great scheme of things, probably not that big a deal (that is not an endorsement of drugs, ok,? Don’t start. I’m talking BIG PICTURE.). But she had allowed her involvement in that culture to affect her thinking and decision making processes.

What was, initially, a slap on the wrist, became a huge financial burden accompanied by a prison sentence.

Yes, there are consequences. And, ultimately, there are eternal consequences.

Our great blessing is that there is One who bore our eternal consequences for us.

Yes, that screen cap is a great picture. It makes me smile. The video made me laugh.

But it also makes me terribly sad. There are so many who are so hopelessly lost.

for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? – Romans 10:13-14

We are the ones sent to them. Quick, do an exercise… Find a map of your city. Put a pushpin on your house. Find the legend. Draw a circle around your house that has an equivalent 5 mile radius. That’s your mission field.

Go!

Super Bowl XLVII Commercial Review

Ok, tweeps, peeps and FAM’s, not a lot of verbosity here.  I just wanted to throw in my two cents about tonight’s commercial-fest.

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The Giant Plate

My Favorites

Right off the bat, I have to say that, yes, I DO have a favorite, but I also have more than one.  However, if I had to take only one commercial away from tonight’s offering it would be this piece of genius rebuke…

RAM – The Farmer Commercial

People are calling it “The Farmer Commercial” not the RAM or Dodge or RAM Truck commercial.  God help us if we don’t correct this GMO food corruption and let our farmers get back to their work.

For sheer heart-rending moments, my other favorite of the evening.

Budweiser – The Clydesdale Brotherhood

Yes, it made me cry.  Both times.

And, no, neither of these commercials, in my view, “sell” their product as much as they appeal to the emotion of the consumer to see the company, and, by extension, the product offered, in a favorable light.

The Best

The competition this year was fierce (as usual).  But when I think about what makes a commercial work, I think a)it makes me want to product, b) it makes me believe that, somehow, my life will be better with the product, and c) it causes me to see competitors in a negative light.  When you add these three things to what was accomplished by the RAM and Budweiser commercials, you’ve got success.  If you can add to ALL of that, a “WOW”, then you’ve got yourself a commercial for the ages.

Three commercials, this year did all of those things for me.

#1 – Volkswagen “Get Happy, Get In”

Funny, well delivered, well-paced and makes me believe that, if I will just drive a Volkswagen (or even if I just get in one), I, too, can be relaxed and easy-going without a care in the world. I want to be those things, and this car, says the ad, will insure that I become all of them.

#2 – Taco Bell “Live Mas/Viva Young”

The “WOW” comes in scene after scene in this one. It actually makes me crave Taco Bell and, simultaneously, forget that I’m not much of a Taco Bell fan in the first place.  Mission Accomplished.

#3 – Audi “Prom”

For all those times in High School when you just knew that the right something would make things work for you, and would make you more than you were… Audi gives us the dream of every teenage loser. Not only will you remember it forever, but so will she. Black eye? Totally worth it. Where’s my Audi?

The Worst

#1 – Go Daddy “Perfect Match”

Don’t get me wrong on this one. I get acting. But this one accomplishes nothing, is unpleasant and proves that some people will do anything for money. How proud Bar Refaeli’s parents must be.

#2 – Axe “Apollo Lifeguard”

I despise Axe commercials. I am offended on behalf of women with a company that says that women are things just above the rank of animal who can be induced to ignore all rationality simply because they smell something.

#3 – Doritos “Fashionista Daddy”

I’m all for Daddy/Daughter time, but let’s look at what this commercial says:

Daddy – I know you’re my daughter, but I don’t have time for you right now… I have stuff to do.
Daughter – But, Daddy, I have Doritos.
Daddy – Oh, then let me debase myself because Doritos are really important to me.

Honorable Mention

Good commercials, but they didn’t quite make the cut.

#1. – GoDaddy “Your Big Idea”

This commercial almost made it into “The Best” section, but I chose to limit the sections to three.  What makes this commercial so great is that it would have worked if the entire commercial was just the first couple sitting on the couch the entire time delivering the content and then cut to a different couple on the plane finishing the line.  But the commercial creates a sense of urgency in the consumer by having the conversation play out in rapid-fire jump cuts across the conversations of many couples all over the world.

#2 – Kia “Space Babies”

Cute? Check. Clever? Check? But I only have seven full seconds in this 61 second commercial to connect with the product and what it can do for me.

#3 – Mercedes-Benz “Soul”

This commercial does a great job of connecting a car to a lifestyle. Would you sell your soul to the devil for that kind of lifestyle? Wait… you don’t have to. Good work. It would have made “The Best” section if Christopher Walken was the Devil.

Missed It By That Much Award

This would have been the best commercial of the evening. It’s immediate. Funny. It has the “WOW”. But, afterwards, neither I nor any of the people at the Super Bowl party where I was could immediately remember what the product was.

Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You Award

This award goes to the funnier version of the commercial that made the cut.  Apparently, you’re not allowed to make fun of the NFL and it’s penchant for suing over the unlicensed use of the words “Big Plate”.

There were, of course, more good and more bad, but… whatever.

2013: Let’s Do This

We are officially a week into the new year.  My colleagues in the blogosphere have already hit the ground running. Michael Hyatt released a great podcast on “How To Develop More Discipline“, Cliff Ravenscraft released “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That – Goals Vs Resolutions And More!“, Jeff Jones sets up an interesting challenge in “How to Have the Year You’ve Always Wanted“, Dan Miller even decided to engage his readers with a contest. Churches in my area have started a Daniel Fast, and various Bible reading initiatives, some reading through the entire Bible in a year, some covering just the gospels in the same time and some reading through the entire Bible live in the sanctuary in less than ten days!

The approaching new year has always caused me frustration. Resolutions, failure, rinse, repeat. 11 months later, repeat again. The approaching twelve months always seemed so huge… so overwhelming… so much bigger than me. The annus novus was my enemy. No… my nemesis.

But then something changed. I can’t pin down when it happened, but in the course of 2012 I discovered the power of the word “in.”

For years, I’ve had faith “in” Christ. I put my trust “in” His salvation. I believe “in” the promises found in Scripture.

But something was still off…

Then I read Colossians 1:26-27 like it was the first time:

For ages and ages this message was kept secret from everyone, but now it has been explained to God’s people. God did this because he wanted you Gentiles to understand his wonderful and glorious mystery. And the mystery is that Christ lives in you…

I realized that the important was “in” me. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside me. It almost sounds like children’s Sunday School, but that is a HUGE deal.

Since I’ve begun to embrace this reality, I have been confirmed in my calling, my father in the ministry has blessed me and broken chains off of me that I didn’t even know were there, and the doors have begun opening up for me in a way I have hardly dreamed.

I’m kicking off 2013 a little differently than I ever have before. I’ve made no resolutions. I have started doing some things that are resolution-like, but they are not built into resolutions. I have instead set particular and specific goals for the year. I’ve never done that before. The New Year isn’t the overwhelming thing it once was.  The months, weeks, days, hours and minutes that lay ahead are not the enemy; they are the canvas upon which I am called to paint this scene of His Masterpiece.

Another year? Gladly.

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Book Review: The Fantasy Fallacy by Shannon Ethridge

SEX! There, I said it.  Now let’s move on.

In all seriousness, the intimate moment is one that many in the church are afraid of discussing.  That’s one of the things that makes The Fantasy Fallacy so important. To many people, believers and unbelievers alike, the subject of sex, nevermind sexual fantasy, is a topic so taboo that the discussion of it is relegated to hushed whispers and secret book reading.

Not so this new work by Shannon Etheridge (incidentally the author of another great work on this subject, The Sexually Confident Wife: Connecting with Your Husband Mind Body Heart Spirit). In her work, The Fantasy Fallacy, has not pandered to titillation or indiscrete arousal. Instead, she seeks to help the reader “connect [our] own dots and make sense of [their] own sexual thoughts.”  Etheridge is refreshingly forthcoming and honest, yet maintains a sincerely compassionate approach. The book’s artwork (as well as the time of release) tends to make the reader connect to the insanely popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels.  I have written my thoughts on that series, but Stephen Arterburn, author of Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time, takes time and care to point out that Etheridge’s purpose is not to bash E.L. James story, but instead to “help women and men — both married and single — to take a second look at the fantasy world they may be creating through romance novels, pornography, or their own imaginations. It will also help them get out of that fantasy world and back to building real, healthy relationships.”

Etheridge divides all chapters into two sections.  The first part is the basic information covering the chapters topic, while part two “Behind The Curtain” takes all of that information and presents a real-life, rubber-meets-the-road application.  It is this approach that was most practical for this reviewer.  Too often authors give good information but leave the reader in the position of figuring out a way to apply the lesson on their own.

This book is one to read alone, with your spouse, and then read again.  The content of the chapters is excellent, but this book also gives some incredible content in the appendices. Long story short? Get this book NOW!

My Rating

Just Get It

The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (October 16, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0849964695
ISBN-13: 978-0849964695
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches

Buy the Print Version or the Kindle Version

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Lessons from the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

I wish it had not been my daughter. You see, the moment I tell you that this story involves my daughter, you will read these things and think, “He’s embellishing that.” I both swear and affirm that I am not. This conversation is burned into my brain. Some of you are going to drift. “Oh, he’s just a dad bragging on his daughter.” Believe me when I tell you that there are elements of that here, but what I wish to convey to you is surprise and hard truths that came from a very unexpected source.

As a preacher, you’re always looking for stories, examples, analogies… ANYTHING to help convey a larger point in a memorable way. I was once called the king of analogies.

We were riding in the car the other day, when my eldest, 10-year-old Liliana, said, “Daddy, I think we should get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree this year.” (We had seen them in the pharmacy and other stores. You can buy a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of your very own here.)

“Why is that, sweetie?”

Well, it reminds me of my favorite verse.

……….. (That’s actually what appeared in my head. Just a stream of dots trying to make a connection)

“What do you mean, Lili?”

“Well, you know how when Charlie Brown went to get the tree? He really liked it. But it couldn’t support more than one ornament, and nobody else thought it measured up. Everybody said it was a dumb tree and didn’t look like a real Christmas tree.”

………..

“How does this remind you of your favorite verse?”

“Well, I don’t remember where it is, like the numbers and stuff, but it says, ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.'” (For reference sake, that’s I Timothy 4:12, and, yes, she actually said the whole thing.)

……….. (Starting to grasp it, but the shock is setting in)

“And, like, God wants me to be me, and do the stuff He wants me to do. And I might not look like everybody else, and I might not even be what people expect me to be, but I can be what God wants me to be.”

The eyes are getting wider. She is oblivious.

“And, like, the ornament, you know? Remember when you said that God has a calling for each of us? That’s our ornament. That’s the ONE THING that we need to focus on because that’s our calling. And, so if I do that, and I try my best to be who God wants me to be, then it doesn’t matter what anybody else says. So, I just think we should get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

I literally had to stop the car. I was crying. I tried to hug her and tell her how awesome she was, and how proud I was of her… I am certain I failed miserably. I don’t have the vocabulary to express my pride, my wonder, my amazement.

Yes, I was once the king of analogies, the master of the illustrated point.

I have been dethroned.

And, yes, we did buy the tree.

Liliana and the TreeMerry Christmas, everyone!

Thoughts On Sandy Hook Elementary School

I started writing this post a couple of days ago. This morning, news broke that both informed and fundamentally changed much of what I was going to say. You see, in case you haven’t heard, this morning in Newtown, Connecticut, a 20-year-old man walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary school and began firing guns, one of which was a .223-caliber rifle. At the latest report, 27 people, including the gunman are dead.

18 of those are children.

18.

Now, in the days to come, I am sure we will see the standard media blitz. Some journalists will convey information, some will sensationalize, some will use the events there to boost ratings. Punditry will kick into high gear, we can be sure, over gun laws and interpretations of the 2nd Amendment. You may even hear “experts” try to explain the behavior of a man doing what people on Facebook, and news forums have called, “unthinkable”, “horrible”, “wicked”, “awful”, etc.

And that, really, is what this post was supposed to be about. How can someone do something so horrible to something or someone so helpless?

My daughter occasionally deals with this. I see in her a wisdom beyond her years. It is a wisdom untainted, so far, by cynicism and experience. She sees things as they are and notes that when something is wrong. Not just wrong to her, but universally, fundamentally wrong. I am usually in the position of “person-to-go-to-when-something-doesn’t-make-sense” (a position I treasure), and so I have to answer these questions. She reads or hears stories about people using drugs… “Daddy, why….?” She hears about child abuse? “Daddy, how can….?” She reads about assassinations, wars, addictions and all manner of evil…

I’m sure that when she finds out what happened today I will get questions. Here’s my answer.

In Proverbs 29:18 says:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

Look first at the opening phrase, “where there is no prophetic vision.” What this means is that in a place, people, or nation, where the truth of God has been dismissed; where God’s law no longer has merit; where God Himself is dismissed. It isn’t just about prophecy or seeing the future.

What happens when those circumstances are the norm? “The people cast off restraint.” The “unthinkable” becomes acceptable. What was “horrible” is defended as personal choice. What was once “wicked” becomes “weird” and then, “well, whatever.”

I am not saying that my expectation is to see anyone defend the gunman’s attacks on this school, and the murder of these poor children. What I am saying is that when events like these happen, it behooves us to look into the mind of the perpetrator and realize that the normal restraint expected (even in a godless social contract) has been cast off because God Himself has been cast off.

I have prayed today for the families affected by this shooting, for the lives lost, for the potential cut short.  I am left with only the urgency to say “Do not throw God – the One Who loves you, Who created you, Who stepped out of eternity for you – away!”

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalms 1:1-3)

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Why Today (12/12/12) Is Important

Today is December 12, 2012. For anyone who’s been on Facebook today, you have, no doubt, seen a status update or thousand, that encapsulate the importance of this day. After all, “it’s the last time we will have a repetitive date for almost a century!” We heard similar things on January 1st 2001, and every repetitive date across the last twelve years.

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Of course, much like the jokers who told us that January 1st, 2000 was “The New Millenium” there’s a problem with ALL of these repetitive dates: Specifically, today is not 12/12/12, it’s 12/12/2012. See? No real repetition.

Now, lest anyone thinks my tone is dripping with sarcasm (it is) alone, there is something very special about today (and NOT just because it’s Universal Sound Check Day):

This is the last December 12, 2012 EVER!

It bears saying again. Today isn’t important because it’s repetitive. It’s important because this is the last time this day will happen EVER.  Best part? That’s true of tomorrow 12/13/2012 as well.  It’s also true of every day before and after this one.

The worst part? That’s true of tomorrow 12/13/2012 as well.  It’s also true of every day before and after this one.

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

Every day is the only day you have to be all that God has called you to be. Today is important! What are you doing to prove it? How are you rejoicing IN today? How are you “being glad” IN today?


Also, today is important because it’s Sheila E.‘s birthday, but… you know… all that other stuff from up there too. Happy birthday Sheila!

Most Thankful

A lot of my friends are doing the “# Day of Thanks” thing. I’m not doing that. I don’t have a problem with it, and I see no harm in it; nor am I about to write an post about how we are supposed to be thankful every day. I just needed a way to start.

As some of you know, my wife had a pretty invasive surgery on Monday of this week.  Enduring a septoplasty, doctors hacked at her with hammer, chisel and other instruments of torture until there was no deviation left in her septum. Now, I want those of you who have not had the distinct pleasure of this experience to imagine this (and, yes, this is exactly how the doctor described it to me): “Imagine if you’ve been punched repeatedly in the face, but from the inside of your head.”

Needless to say, my lovely bride had been useless this week. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t say “useless” in the sense that I am somehow disappointed with what she has and/or has not been able to do around the house or with the family this week. It isn’t that. You have to understand that my wife’s primary spiritual gift is hospitality.  She loves to serve. She serves her family, her friends, and, sometimes, even strangers. God put that desire in her. But this week, she can’t do anything.

Monday night a married couple prepared dinner for us – a delicious pot roast with brownies for dessert. It was enough for dinner and lunch the next day. Tuesday night I discovered that yet another couple was planning to send us dinner. I called to double check (as I had a rehearsal and would not be home), told them it really wasn’t necessary but they insisted. The next night, yet another couple brought a pan of lasagna that was, from what I am told, legendary!

Yesterday, another couple invited us into their home to celebrate and partake of their bounty. We ate obscenely good turkey, spicy corn, dressing, spinach dip, cranberry sauce, green beans, candied carrots, yummy buttery rolls, all washed down with legit southern sweet tea. Pumpkin and pecan pies and crock pot chocolate lava cake for dessert. BE JEALOUS! Afterward we talked, watched the “Browncoats Unite” reunion special followed by various episodes of something called “Duck Dynasty.” My wife spent time vegging on the couch and doing girly stuff with the chef, and my friend (who is also a pastor) and I talked theology interspersed with random movie quotes.

My family and I hang out with these couples on a regular basis (especially if it’s not soccer season). I love them. They are crazy! Their hilarious! They are insane! They are… (How does that saying go?) … nuttier than squirrel poo.

So, yesterday, I sat thankful for all the blessings and opportunities God has seen fit to bestow upon me. I sat thankful for a thanksgiving experience that was not “low stress” but “no stress.”  And today I remain thankful for my family – the nuclear version, the extended version, and the version that has grown out of unlikely friendships.  I am thankful for a God Who is “Father to the fatherless”, and for the family that we can be in Christ.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
– Psalm 68:4-6

Robertson, Petraeus, and Facepalms… Oh My!

This morning I woke up to some distressing news. Apparently, there’s still a war going on in Afghanistan. I couldn’t tell, what with all the news about David Petraeus and his “Love Pentagon” with Paula Broadwell, General John Allen, Jill Kelley, and Frederick W. Humphries II.

So, let’s talk about that. No, wait… I have a better idea. This isn’t where I post political rants (I do that at The Blahg).  This is where I talk about theological stuff. “Rubber meeting the road” Christianity. “Theology with Shoes On” (That would be a good subtitle for this page.) So, let’s talk about something for a moment.

I make a concerted effort in my life to not pull a “Swaggart” and blast any ministry with whom I have the slightest disagreement. (See what I just did there?) And I’ve only called out this guy ONCE before in my life, but it was because he was SO WRONG, a response was needed (that, and I had a bunch of people on FB, Twitter and IRL ask me what I thought). But, now Pat Robertson has done it again.

Now, to be fair, many of the bloggers and other news agencies have taken only a portion of what he said and used it against him. This much is true. But let’s examine ALL that he said.

When introducing a segment on the Petraeus “scandal” (what, does NOBODY remember Clinton? He didn’t have to resign. Anyway…) on the November 13th episode of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson said this:

The guy is brilliant. He’s got a Ph.D. from Princeton. He’s got Four Stars. He’s written a book on counter-insurgency. He’s the acknowledged expert in the world. He’s one of the greatest generals America has ever produced… and yet he can’t keep his pants zipped.

A little crude, yes, but a fair representation of the particulars. After a standard news package, Pat returned to say this:

You know, folks… I don’t use e-mail – thank the Lord! – but everybody else does.  My wife uses e-mail.  But those things are public. [He then spends some time railing against teen stupidity, but then gets back on track] But these guys are generals! What are they thinking when they send an e-mail! Good grief!  At least they could make telephone calls … All of those things are searchable! And it seems like there’s no way you can get rid of them. … Why would they be so stupid as to do it?

Good call, Pat.  Way to help the people know that, if you’re going to be an immoral person who betrays his family, company and calling… At least do it over the phone so there’s no record.

On a different episode (Monday, Nov. 12th ???)  Pat said this:

[Broadwell] is an extremely good-looking woman. She is a marathon runner. She’s run Iron-Man triathalon’s. So she’s out running with him. And she’s writing a biography. And, uh, I think the term is “propinquity”, and there was a lot of “propinquity” going on. (chuckles)

Just so you don’t have to look it up, like I did, Propinquity is defined as “physical or psychological proximity between people.” The “Propinquity Effect” basically is that “tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often.” So, in plain English, it’s difficult to hang out with someone and not develop strong platonic or romantic feelings for them.

So, what is Pat trying to say here? Is he trying to help us understand what caused the affair? If so, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is helpful to understand motivating factors for people’s behaviors. But listen to what he said next:

The man’s off in a foreign land and he’s lonely and here’s a good-looking lady throwing herself at him. I mean… He’s a man.

I know you don’t believe me… So here’s the video.

Yeah. OK. That’s enough.

Pat… No, Mr. Robertson. Brother. Respected leader of the Church. My friend, you are in gross error here. And it isn’t that you condoned what happened. (If you watch the tapes, he does say that the actions taken by all parties were sinful.  Fine.) It’s that you flippantly dismiss it immediately afterward.

God was not flippant about David’s sin with Bathsheba. But let’s look at it 2 Samuel 11 through the “Robertson” lens…

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.  They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.  One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing.  The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.  The man said, “She is Bathsheba,the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”  Then David sent messengers to get her.  She came to him, and he slept with her.  I mean… He’s a man.

What are we to suppose? Can we imagine based on Robertson’s rationale that if Broadwell were overweight, or even just NOT a “good-looking” “marathon runner”, that Petraeus would have been able to control himself? Or, worse, that his actions would have then been inexcusable?

No. It was wrong when David did it, it was wrong when Kennedy did it, it was wrong when Clinton did it, it was wrong when Petraeus did it. To say anything else is misleading and makes light of the destruction these people have caused in their families.

Worse, it gives cause for the man (or woman) who is watching your show, contemplating the affair to think, “Well, this is kind of normal, I guess.  I mean, I look at her and, there’s a lot of propinquity going on… She’s a good-looking lady, throwing herself at me and, uh… I mean, I’m a man.”

Families are crumbling around us, Pat. So much so that every time you turn around someone is struggling to redefine the term. What you did here is, thankfully, forgivable, but still ridiculous.

Back in September you suggested that a man with a wife who had Alzheimer’s would be justified in seeking a divorce. That same month you laughing suggested that a man who was having legitimate issues of order and unity with his wife “become a Muslimthen you could beat her.”  In neither case did you offer words of encouragement or sound scriptural advice. Even if you were joking about the latter (and I think you were) the viewer wrote to you with a legitimate question and you took it as an opportunity to take a pot shot at Muslims.

Bad form, brother. Your actions over the past few months have been so audacious that only Jesus is capable of giving you the facepalm you deserve.

How about this? Instead of having CBN issue statements defending your actions and statements, maybe you should take note of how many times CBN has to issue statements defending your actions and statements. Then decide if you’re being the salt and light that God has called you, and all of us, to be.

For everyone else: God loves you even in your sin. God still loves Petraeus, and Broadwell, and Kelley and ALL of us and wants desperately to save us from our sins, give us new life, and help us to show His love through us.   Why? Because He loves us, and we need it so badly. Take that away from this so-called “scandal.”

And just take Pat Robertson away…

Hostess: The Part No One Is Talking About

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend (completely unrelated to this situation) that went something like this:
Him: Unions are bad!
Me: Well, they do encourage some stupid stuff sometimes, but they’ve done a lot of good too.
Him: Yeah, a hundred years ago when they were needed.  Now they destroy the economy, education, and every other thing they touch.
You see, I believe in Free-Market Capitalism.  I do.  Of all the other socio-economic choices out there, it’s the best option.  That doesn’t mean it is without faults.

The one HUGE downside of Free-Market Capitalism is that the only bottom line that truly matters is the OWNER’S bottom line.  Not the employees.  A business owner is not compelled in any way to look after the interests of his employees.   For the most part, when you look back through the history of company’s, you don’t find people like Milton Hershey, who built a town around his factory and made sure his employees and their families were well-taken care of, educated, etc.  You find people who were willing to employ children at slave wages.  You find restaurant chains and other companies taking the costs out vengefully on their customers and their employees by raising costs (that part is kind of acceptable, except in cases like this) and on their employees by playing tricks like working them ALMOST full-time so they don’t have to pay out benefits, but still giving them enough hours to become, essentially, enslaved to the company. (When you add in the Obamacare situation, it just gets ridiculous)

But sometimes, unions take it too far.

I’ve tried to write this paragraph a few times.  The problem is, I always sound angrier, meaner and more upset than I actually am.  See, here’s the thing: I woke up this morning to find (at last count) 17 posts on Twitter and FB of people complaining about Hostess, Twinkie-making company extraordinaire, closing it’s doors for business.  I’ll paraphrase: “Oh no!” they cry. “No more twinkies!”

Now, I’ve never really been a fan of Twinkies.  I was more of a fruit pie guy, especially the old school ones with the Peanuts characters on the packaging.  But this is about more than Twinkies.  The Hostess family of products covers Ho-Ho’s (a snack especially dear to fans of LOST), Donettes, Suzy Q’s, Ding-Dongs and Zingers.  Not the healthiest of menu’s to be sure, but under the Hostess umbrella are brands such as Wonder (as in Wonderbread), Nature’s Pride (my family’s favorite breads.  No artificial flavors or colors, no trans fats, no artificial preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup.  That “Healthy Multi-Grain” loaf is incredible), Dolly Madison (the aforementioned Fruit Pies, and other fun pastries), Home Pride, Merita, Drake’s, and Beefsteak (oddly another bread line and not, in fact, all about cows).

Peoria Strike

You see, a nationwide strike by employees of only one of the unions the company employs – Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) – has, essentially, crippled the company.  The board of the company authorized the slow down to maximize estate value.  This came after Hostess Brands permanently closed three plants as a result of work stoppage.  The company announced that it would have no other choice than to liquidate if employees did not return to work and implement normal working conditions by 5 p.m., Nov. 15.  The BCTGM threatened members with heavy fines if they crossed picket lines.  The deadline came and went with no workers returning, and now Hostess Brands is closing its doors.

But what does that mean besides no more Twinkies?

Hostess Brands had an unprofitable cost structure.  Much of this is due to union wages and pension costs, but in addition to that the offer made to the BCTGM included wage, benefits and work rule concessions, as well as giving the 12 unions employed by Hostess Brands a 25% ownership stake in the company.  That offer wasn’t enough for the BCTGM. The union business agent said he’d prefer to see Hostess sold.

So, what this means in REAL numbers is this.

  • 33 Bakeries – Closed
  • 565 Distribution Centers – Closed
  • 570 Bakery Outlet Stores – Closed
  • 5,500 separate delivery routes – Ceased
  • 18,500 Employees – Out of Work

In today’s economy, where we have to play “Let’s Have Fun With Math” to get a 7.8% unemployment rate, but the numbers have obviously been manipulated, it is unthinkable to me that ANY union, tasked with representing the interests of the workers would allow almost 20,000 people to be put out of work (with the tangential numbers incalculable. But here’s an example.)

I’ve tried writing a paragraph that will end this post on a positive note.  I really like to do that.  But I just can’t find one.

Sorry.

Jumping The Shark

It pains me to confess that when I hear a person under the age of 30 use the phrase “jump(ing) the shark” I want to, in the words of famous mafiosos, “give him such a smack.”  That kid doesn’t know what jumping the shark means.  He didn’t have to sit through the horror of watching Arthur Fonzarelli, the man who was supposed to be the coolest cat on television, water-ski while wearing both a full leather jacker AND a yellow floaty belt, all while sporting jean shorts that would make Daisy Duke blush and engaging in “tricks” like lifting a leg out of the water and holding the bar in his teeth while giving his signature “thumbs up.”  Even as a five year old kid I knew what I was watching was ridiculous.  But the difference between me and that twenty-something year old is that I had to endure it and then live with the inevitable disillusion that followed.

So far, this post isn’t too deep in the theology.  Well, I have another confession to make.  In all the years I have used the phrase “jump the shark”, and all the times I have heard it used by others to derisively describe a moment or episode where a TV show runs afoul of its core, one thing has never occurred to me.  At some point, there was a person who thought that the Fonz jumping the shark would be a good idea.

Bob Brunner, a writer and producer on Happy Days who both named Fonzie and also reportedly suggested that the character jump the shark, has died, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 78.

Brunner died of a heart attack on Oct. 28 near his home in Northridge, Calif.

Read that first paragraph again.  This guy, Bob Brunner, has, as his two most defining moments, naming one of the most iconic characters in television – even literary – history, AND that he made that character a laughing stock and the source of a phrase that would be used derisively for decades to follow.

It never occurred to me before today that, somewhere, there was someone who might squirm every time he heard the phrase “jump the shark.”  And you know that he couldn’t really talk about creating “The Fonz” because the inevitable follow up would be, “Oh, wow!  You did?!?!?  Hey… Whose idea was it to make the Fonz jump that stupid shark???”

But Bob Brunner’s career didn’t end with Fonzie jumping the shark.  He went on to co-create and executive-produce Brothers and Sisters and Working Stiffs, and executive-produced Diff’rent StrokesWebster and Love, Sidney. He co-wrote the 1999 film The Other Sister and Exit to Eden, both with Marshall.

Some, maybe even most, would have given up the TV/Film writing game had they been shouldered with the responsibility of bringing “jumping the shark” into existence.  But Brunner didn’t. Did he have a mega-blockbuster to his credit?  No.  But every bio tells the story of a man who worked hard and continued until the end to hone his craft.

The moral of the story, I think, is this: One failure doesn’t make you a failure.  Proverbs 24:16 says:

Even if good people fall seven times, they will get back up. But when trouble strikes the wicked, that’s the end of them.

Maybe you’ve made a bad call in your job, in your education, in your marriage or other relationships.  Maybe you picked a career that turned out to be not what was best for you or not even your calling at all.  Maybe you’ve failed miserably at it.  God says, “get back up!”

Look at some of God’s promises:

When you’re down, God will give you a new song

I patiently waited, Lord, for you to hear my prayer.  You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire.  You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.. (Psalm 40:2-3)

God promises that, through the Messiah, we are given…

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

God promises that we can ask…

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

Yes, you’ve failed, you’ve messed up, you’ve lost everything, you’ve jumped the shark in every possible way…

Jesus says “Behold! I make all things new!” Or, in the “Not-So-King-James” translation…

You jumped the shark? So what? Let me do something miraculous through you.

Leaving A Legacy

I was at a Men’s Encounter this past weekend and I heard a song that is TEN YEARS OLD!!!  Apparently, I missed it the first time around, but, like all truly great songs, it stands the test of time.  I share it with you today, because, in the spirit of the Barnabas Initiative, I want to encourage all of you to not lose heart, to not grow weary in doing well.

Take with you the story of Edward Kimball.  By most accounts Kimball was a mild-mannered man.  He was no great success in business or industry.  But he was a man devoted to his family and his church.  A sunday school teacher, he was known for going out into the community to visit his students and their friends in their home, work and school environments.  One day in 1854, Kimball paid a visit to a young 17-year-old man named Dwight who was working as a shoe clerk in a local store.  Opening with the line, “Hey, I’m worried about you. I want to talk”, the Kimball walked with the young man into the basement of the shoe store.  There the Sunday School teacher led the young man to Christ.

This young man, Dwight L. Moody, went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the world.  He is believed to have shared the gospel with over 100 million people in his lifetime alone.  In the early 1870’s, Moody was asked to speak at a revival in York, England.  There, he influenced a leader of the Higher Life Movement, F.B. Meyer, who, in turn, while speaking at a revival in Northfield, Massachusetts, led a young J. Wilbur Chapman to Christ.  Chapman became a very effective evangelists and led meetings where he was assisted by a man named Billy Sunday.

Sunday learned how to preach under the tutelage of Chapman, and eventually took over Chapman’s ministry.  While leading a Crusade in Charlotte, NC, a group of Christians dedicated themselves to reaching the lost of their community for Christ.  They invited evangelist Mordecai Ham, who held a series of meetings in 1932.

It was at these meetings that a lanky 16-year-old boy walked in and, intrigued by what he heard decided to come back the next night.  He came the next night, and the next, and the next… Finally, young Billy Graham responded to the impassioned preaching of that crazy, white-haired preacher and gave his life to Christ.  Yes, Billy Graham, who has preached the gospel to more people than any other person in history has a place in the lineage, the legacy of Edward Kimball.

But Edward Kimball is not the person I want to think about.  I want to think for a moment about the person who reached out TO Edward Kimball, poured into his life, discipled him, loved him and led him to be the kind of man who would walk into a shoe store to share the love of Christ with one of his students.  THAT person’s name is lost to us.  But what a great legacy there is.  And what about the person who converted that person….  It goes on and on.

What is your legacy, right now!  Do you want more?  Legacy is not about fame or success.  Legacy is about pouring yourself out and into the lives of those you encounter.  Legacy is eternal.

Election Day – Why I’m Not Afraid

This is going to be a long(er) one.  Forgive me in advance.

This is an odd season in America.  The past couple of months have seen more political bickering, arguing and debate than I can recall in all my years.  The future of this country, many say, hangs in the balance.  I have a friend who wrote me and several others on Facebook a few weeks ago asking:

Please pray for me friend…I am so concerned with this election and the future of our country that I am unsettled in my spirit and keeping headaches. I am surrounded by a lying spirit of fear and worry. Please stand in the gap for me. I covet your prayers.

I’ve heard this plea from friends on both side of the political fence.  I feel a need to remind people, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ, of a few things we learn from the Bible.

Who Elects the President?

Daniel 2:20-22 is an incredible passage.  First, let’s recap the story:

Nebuchadnezzar had been experiencing horrible dreams.  He called forth every magician, seer, prophet, wise man and sideshow psychic in the kingdom and demanded not only that they tell him what the dream meant, but what the dream was!  They failed, and so, he ordered them all killed.  Daniel showed up and said, “Give me a night.”  Daniel had a dream and then appeared before Nebuchadnezzar and said:

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.

Later in Daniel 4:17, he says something similar:

This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men

What Daniel says here, and what we need to latch onto, is that God establishes kings and rulers of men.  In 4:17 we see that sometime God establishes bad/incompetent/stupid rulers (the lowest of men) in order to ensure the establishment of His will.

Why Do We Fear

God’s promises to us are numerous, but the one I want to focus on now is found in Deuteronomy 3:16.  Here we read:

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.

I’m not afraid because God’s promise is that He is always with me.  I’ve heard that the phrase “Fear Not” (or some variation thereof) is found 365 times in the Bible; one for every day of the year.  There are people who dispute this, but let me point this out: God only had to say “Let there be light” ONE TIME! He only needs to say “Fear Not” one time for us to know that, with God we have nothing to fear.  Why?  Because He promised He would never leave us or forsake us.

That is God’s promise.  It doesn’t matter who gets elected.  It doesn’t matter who doesn’t get elected.  It doesn’t matter what laws get passed.  It doesn’t matter what laws don’t get passed.  Those circumstances don’t affect the truth the God is always with us.

So, for my friend and any other who might be fretting about the outcome of today’s election:

I pray that the Lord will bless you with peace that passes any human understanding. That by His Holy Spirit you will remember at all times that His perfect love casts out all fear, that by the stripes of Jesus we have been healed, and that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Further, I pray for you, as I have for my daughters every night of their lives, that God will give you peaceful rest and pleasant dreams and that you will wake in the morning refreshed, restored and renewed.
Finally, I pray you remember that it is not power, or money or even elections that bring men into power; it is God alone, for “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.” “…for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
He holds you, and all of us in His hand, and we have nothing to fear.

Final Disclaimer:

Don’t read this as me saying you shouldn’t vote, or even that it doesn’t matter if you do or do not vote.  I’ve already spoken about that.  If you are a citizen of this country, you have a responsibility to vote.  Nor am I saying that evil leaders are necessarily God’s will.  But what God wills and what God allows might be two different things (See the nation of Israel and the appointment of Saul as king.)  The point here is that you and I can know that, no matter what happens, God is with us.  So tonight when either Romney or Obama is elected, be careful of putting your faith in one or reviling and lamenting the election of the other.  God’s will is for you to know that you are not alone, and that He alone rules in the affairs of men.

The Barnabas Initiative

What I’m about to say is true for pastors, obviously, and it is true for every believer.

I’ve often heard it said that every person should have three kinds of people in their life: A Barnabas, a Silas and a Timothy.  So, who are these people?

Silas – Silas is the guy that stuck with Paul through everything.  Silas was his friend and ally.  Silas was willing to be put in chains with Paul

Timothy – Paul’s son in the faith.  According to Scripture, Paul mentored Timothy by pouring into his life, teaching him, instructing him and constantly encouraging him.

Then there’s Barnabas.

Barnabas and Paul’s relationship was a tricky one.  After his conversion, Paul was still deep in his reputation as a Killer of Christians.  But Barnabas vouched for him to all the Apostles at Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26)  Barnabas put his rep on the line for Paul’s sake.When Barnabas was sent out to the church at Antioch, he took Paul along with him.  Later, Barnabas wanted to add John Mark to the mix, but Paul thought that he, John Mark, was a liability.  Consequently, Paul and Barnabas parted ways.  Eventually, they reconciled.

The point is that, early in Paul’s work as an evangelist, when the way seemed like a dimly lit path, Barnabas was there to help Paul find his way.

So there you have it: Barnabas the Mentor, Silas the brother-in-arms, Timothy the Son in the Faith.  That’s who you should have in your life.  Barnabas the mentor who guides and directs you in your calling, Silas who links up with you, supports you even if he never receives any glory or spotlight, and Timothy who is guided by you.

I think the Silas role is the easiest to fill.  If you’re working hard, you’re going to eventually run across someone who can be a Timothy to you.  The Barnabas role is harder to find I think because so few people are willing to be Barnabas to others.

To that end, I’m calling on every pastor, preacher, evangelist, teacher, etc. (other Christians too… You aren’t exempt from this need.) to find someone you can be Barnabas too.  Someone who is where you were in your past, and help them to get where you are.  In the meantime, find someone to be Barnabas for you.

When you find someone, make mentoring them a priority, and spread the word with the #BarnabasInitiative hashtag on Twitter.  Let people know that this is important.  We have enough bad statistics.  We need successes.  For that we need mentors, friends and sons in the faith.

Join the Barnabas Initiative Today!

Book Review: Tough Guys and Drama Queens by Mark Gregston

Written by, Mark Gregston, the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, and host of Parenting Today’s Teens (subscribe to the podcast), the new book Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years, is an insightful glimpse into the unique challenges facing parents, tweens and teens in the 21st Century world.  Gregston has over thirty eight years of experience working with teens, and, as such, has a vast repository of touching stories of real-world encounters as well as first-hand knowledge of workable techniques which parents can use to bridge the divide caused by overexposure (chapter 1) lack of connection (ch. 2) lack of respect (ch. 4) loss of gender difference (ch. 5) and the general uncertainty encountered in today’s world.

My Response

The book is written in three sections.  This works organizationally but you have to wade through some dark stuff in sections 1 and 2.  Part one is laden with stories of all that children have to face in today’s world and the litany of things that so easily beset them.  I can’t lie: it’s depressing.  Some of the stories he tells about children, especially young teens, that have gone through Heartlight Ministries, broke my heart.  As a father to two dynamic tweens myself, I couldn’t help but see my little ones in the place of these poor girls.

Part two is devoted to “Parenting Practices to Avoid.”  Honestly, I thought that most of these should be self-evident, but, again, I have to defer to Gregston’s experience on this one.  He has obviously seen them in action enough times to consider them bookworthy.

Part three of the book lists practices that Gregston finds successful.  As with part two, these seemed obvious.  But, at least, this section wasn’t as depressing as the first two.

Now, it may seem like I din’t enjoy this book, but that isn’t the case.  I found it an easy and quick read, and none of the stories seemed overblown or burdened with an overabundance of dramatic license.  The hardest part of the book was understanding the frustration that parents of teens might encounter wishing they had read it while their children were still tweens.  My advice: Get the book anyway!  It’s never too late to start.  Any divide can be bridged and any wound can be healed.  I’m stil naive enough to believe that. I think Gregston is too.

My Rating

Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (July 10, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0849947294 ISBN-13: 978-0849947292
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches

Buy the Print Version or the Kindle Version

Disney, Lucas, & Star Wars: A New Hope

So, yesterday, the fanboys, wannabe-Jedi’s and the entire world got hit with the news: Disney bought George Lucas’s Lucasfilm, Ltd. for a staggering $4.05 Billion dollars. (That’s $4,000,500,000 if my math is right. UPDATE: It isn’t.  At any rate, that’s a lot of zeros.)  This was, on the main, a content purchase.  Robert Iger, CEO of Disney has been adding creative franchises like “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones” and the Marvel Universe  to Disney’s content in an effort to shore up revenue’s as the model for income changes in Hollywood saying “memorable characters will be valuable no matter what medium they appear in.”

That’s sound reasoning, I guess.  Though, Disney was once the industry leader in innovation, they seem now to be the Bain Capital of the entertainment world.  That’s not necesarrily a bad thing, but I hope it doesn’t mean they just no longer care about real innovation.  But that isn’t my topic today.  I’m here to talk about the implications and reactions to the historic news that Lucasfilms, Ltd. is going to be controlled by  someone other than George Lucas.  This is huge!  HUGE!!!

Fan reaction has been remarkably mixed.  Some see the merger as the only way the Star Wars universe could continue.  After all, George Lucas can’t live forever.  Some see it as the sign that the Star Wars universe is going to become a mixed bag quality.  After all, for every “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”, Disney has given us a “Lion King 1 1/2″ and “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” and “Belle’s Magical Adventure.” Not terrible stuff, but not near the quality of the originals.  Of course, Twitter blew up.  Some of my favorites:

  • Lando and the Tramp.
  • Finding Greedo.
  • Snow White and the Seven Droids.
  • The Princess Leia Diaries.
  • Emperor Palpatine’s New Groove.
  • Droid Story.
  • That’s So Vader.
  • When You Wish Upon a Death Star.

The real news of the day was, yes, a new trilogy of Star Wars films (ostensibly Chapters VII, VIII and IX).  This was what bothered so many.  The rather lukewarm critical reception of the Prequel Trilogy (never mind the fan reaction or the staggering box office numbers), and Lucas’s constant tinkering with the original trilogy (Did Vader really have to say “No” at the end of “Jedi?” In a word? No.) has left many breathing a sigh of relief that the treasured films of our youth will not be harmed by more sub-standard movies.  But with this purchase, Disney assures a new Star Wars film as soon as 2015 with installments coming every 2 to 3 years.  And George Lucas won’t be involved in any of that.

Let me say that part again: George Lucas won’t be involved with the new Star Wars films or any other films from the franchise.

This really is the silver lining.

I’ve said for a long time that the only real problem with the Prequel Trilogy is that George Lucas was involved past the story level.  George Lucas is a great story writer.  He’s a great creator of worlds and creatures.  But he is absolutely not a script writer and he is not by any stretch of the imagination an actor’s director.  Consider the original trilogy:

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Director: Irvin Kirshner
Writer: Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
(Based on a story by George Lucas)

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi
Director: Richard Marquand
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
(and you just KNOW that old George was responsible for that remarkably awkward “I know I can bring him back to the good side” garbage.)

Now consider the Prequels:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas

All written and directed by George Lucas.

But George is retiring.  He’s done.  It is, therefore, entirely possible that Episodes 7, 8, and 9 could redeem the franchise.  More importantly, we can look forward to Star Wars films that have precious little to do with the Skywalker clan.  Lucas made a huge universe.  There are many stories to explore.

So, I say, thanks George for creating the Star Wars universe and the rich characters there.  Thank you for giving me and my children countless nights of entertainment.  I hope you enjoy your retirement.  Have fun with your kids and grandkids and great-grandkids. Live long and prosper (See the joke I made there?)

For the fans and the rest of the world I say, lighten up.  Three subpar films didn’t ruin the franchise.  Constant tinkering with perfectly fine films didn’t ruin the franchise.  And now, one of the richest universes ever created is in the hands of a company that has a vested interest, and a proven history, in making quality entertainment.  Most importantly…

Yeah!  That!

Hurricane Sandy

Short and sweet today…

Whenever something like the devastation of a Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, or Isaac occur, when Tsunami’s crash over people’s lives, when earthquakes cause communities to crumble, when fires ravage mile after mile of forest and neighborhoods, when droughts shrivel up the food supply of a nation… Somebody always asks me “why?”

“Why would a loving God allow something like that to happen?”

I want to be really clear here.  God did nto cause Hurricane Sandy or Katrina or Isaac, etc… These things happen because our world is broken.  It has been broken by sin.  Period.

I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth. Romans 8:18-22

There it is.  The world that God created has been broken by sin.  Just like us.  Sin has broken us.  And we all eagerly await redemption.  That time when God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth, and all of this will pass away.

In Revelation, Jesus said “Behold! I make all things new.”  When you look at that sentence in the Greek, Jesus says something very interesting.  The way the sentence is worded gives the sense that there will come a time when every second of eternity is a second where Jesus makes EVERYTHING NEW! Every experience we might have, will feel like the first moment.  Every time we see the face of someone we love it will be like the first meeting after a long period of absence, even if we just saw them.  Every second Jesus will be making a new heart within us.

So when you hear people say that God sent Hurricane Sandy as retribution on the United States for the government allowing abortion and gay marriage and for our less than stellar relations with Israel, or that God sent a hurricane to ravage Haiti because the people there once sold the island to the devil, or that the Tsunami hit Asia because of this or that or whatever… Don’t believe it.  They can’t back that up with Scripture.

But don’t believe that this stuff just happens either. Our planet, our entire universe, ALL of creation is hurting and crying out for redemption.

The good news is that redemption is available.  The Bible says that we’re going to see a New Earth.  But that redemption is available for us right now!

I don’t often right “salvation” posts, but, just by chance, if you come across this and haven’t accepted that free gift of salvation… Don’t wait! Find somebody, a pastor somebody and talk with them about what it means.  Let Jesus start the recreation process in you today!

The Problem with Pastors

We have a problem with pastors. We have a problem with all teaching leaders. The problem is this: We always expect them to be around. We always expect them to teach and to lead. Sunday services are a time to be ministered to (among other things).

That’s their job, right? That’s their calling. How is expecting them to be who they are called to be a problem?

I’ve often heard church services described as that time of the week when the faithful can come in, wash off the dirt from their week in the world and be refreshed, recharged and renewed. It’s an oversimplification, maybe, but I don’t think it’s an unfit description. I know that there have been times in my life when when I was at the lowest of lows and a single service brought me out of that.

Now, have you ever wondered what your pastors, youth and children’s workers do when they’re in the “lowest of lows”?

All day Sunday is work time for them. Mid-week services too. The rest of the week is filled with office hours, pastoral care, hospital and shut-in visitations, counseling, staff meetings and planning. Somewhere you have to cram in time for Bible study, research, sermon preparation and prayer. Of course you want to make time for non-sermon focused personal devotions.

Hopefully there’s time to spend with the family.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. I think I can speak for other pastors, preachers and evangelists when I say, the work is fulfilling, rewarding, and a wonder to experience. But here are some numbers I want all of us to consider:

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear,and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.

Go back and read those statistics again. Slowly. Let some of them really sink in. Read each percentage like this, “There a 70% chance my pastor doesn’t have any close friends. “50% of the time, my pastor feels unable to meet the needs of his job.” Now read this…

1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

October was Pastor Appreciation month. But the Church is losing 1,500 pastors every month. So I’m encouraging ever member of every local church to spend time not just in prayer for your pastor, and your leadership team, but taking some time to send an encouraging email, card or letter. When you see members of your pastoral team at church or around town, take some time to love on them a little bit. Most importantly, remember that the only difference between you and your pastor is that your pastor has been called to lead a particular local body. Your pastor is still human, still flawed, still susceptible to every failing that you are.

Secondly, I want to encourage other pastors. First, thank you for your work in and for the church.

Now I have to rebuke you (and myself).

Unless you’re a weird one, you don’t go around with red and blue tights with a giant “S” on the chest underneath your clothes. Even if you do go in for weird costuming, you’re still not Superman. No, you don’t have a weekly opportunity to “wash off the dirt from [your] week in the world and be refreshed, recharged and renewed.” But you can.

I take time every week to meet, either in person or via FaceTime/Skype with other pastors that I went to school or seminary with. Yes, we sometimes fall into the trap of talking about “church stuff”, but, usually we self-correct pretty quickly and spend that time encouraging each other, confiding in each other and being iron for each other.

Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. – Proverbs 27:17

You can do that to. Technology has made it remarkably easy to have face-to-face interaction with people you trust. Pastors, Church Leaders… we all want to be Paul, but every Paul needs a Silas.

How can you encourage your pastor? If you are a church leader who is encouraging you?

Why Is Big Bird Getting Fired?

On Wednesday, October 4, 2012, President Barack Obama and Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney met for the first of a series of pre-election debates.  Of course, seconds after the debate pundits and “journalists” of both conservative and liberal leanings scrambled to dissect, explain and declare either Romney or Obama the winner.  Chris Matthews hilariously lost his mind and showed his true colors; Al Gore blamed Obama’s poor performance on the altitude (not even kidding) and poor Jim Lehrer, was flayed in the press for his lackluster performance as moderator.

Mitt Romney’s performance left many astounded.  He just didn’t seem to be the candidate that had been presented to them in the media.  (Almost like the news outlets were twisting the facts.  Shocking!)  President Obama spent much of Thursday rebutting Romney’s remarks, but his impassioned speeches left many wondering why he didn’t bring any of that up during the actual debate.  (Gotta love stump-speech writers, huh?!?)

But this is not a post about the debate so much as it is an opportunity for me to call SHENANIGANS!

At one point in the debate, Mitt Romney spoke to some of his cost-cutting, spending-slashing ideas and mentioned the approach he would have for PBS:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS … I like PBS, I love Big Bird — I actually like you, too — but I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for…

Of course, with Romney’s strong showing in the debate, people have been jumping on this statement.  Meme’s have exploded, children are writing letters, and even the CEO of PBS, Paula Kerger, has gone so far as to call this simple statement an “attack.”

I have a real problem with this.  Oh, don’t misunderstand me… I get the idea.  But what I have a problem with is Romney’s (and every other person who ever mentions cutting federal funding for PBS) notion that cutting PBS funding means Big Bird is going to be on the street.  Every time, EVERY TIME anyone mentions cutting funds to PBS, the FIRST (and many times only) show mentioned is Sesame Street – the beloved long-running American children’s television series created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett.

Now, my children loved Sesame Street.  Honestly?  I loved and still love Sesame Street.  Sometimes I watch it by myself for fun.  And, no, I’m not remotely ashamed.  I have friends who work for Sesame Street.  They write songs.  They are amazing.  They are the reason Sesame Street is successful.  Not them personally, but because Sesame Street has, for decades, striven to present high quality educational entertainment.  Sesame Street has the goods.  Yay!

However, Sesame Street is not PBS. I was going to list all of the shows available on PBS (and, no, not all of them are serialized), but it would simply take up too much space.  Instead, I’ll give you the short version.  There are 749 of them.

749!

Sesame Street is only one of those.  Just one!  So why is it ALWAYS the one brought up when PBS cuts are mentioned? More importantly, does cutting PBS funding automatically mean “No More Sesame Street”?  Let’s talk turkey.

When it debuted in 1969, Sesame Street aired on only 67.6% of American televisions and garnered a 3.3 Nielsen rating (approximately 2 million households).  A decade later, over 9 million children under the age of six were estimated to be watching Sesame Street daily.  According to Cary O’Dell in the book, “Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders“, in 1978 the Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street’s production company) began a shift from dependence on federal funding and began, instead, to depend on “licensing arrangements with toy companies and other manufacturers, publishing, and international sales for their funding.”  According to U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs, by 2006, Sesame Street had become “the most widely viewed children’s television show in the world” reaching 120 countries with 20 international independent versions.

Back to licensing: In 2004 over 68% of Sesame Street’s total revenue came from licensing and merchandise sales.  In 2008, licensing and merchandise sales alone garnered between $15-17 Million Dollars!  From 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales (an average of $53 Million per year).  In 2011, then CEO Gary Knell received a salary of nearly a million dollars a year.

Finally, Sesame Street’s 2008 tax forms show a total revenue of $140 Million Dollars.  $140.  Million.  Dollars.  $140,000,000.00  What part of that was federal funding? $14,000,000.00 a whopping 10%.

The fact of the matter is that the good people, who are doing great work by the way, over at Sesame Street don’t need federal funding.  But if they lost it, it hurts their bottom line.  Now, it’s just my opinion, but if we really want to “spread the wealth” around, we could take just that $14,000,000.00 and give 280 families $50,000.  We could give 1400 families $10,000.  Or we could realize that we are a nation $16,001,076,400,000 (as I write this.  Check it out in real time here) in debt, and a company that is able to be financially solvent on its own doesn’t need a dime of tax-payers money.

I concede that cutting “Sesame Street” funding won’t fix the deficit, even cutting all of PBS’ funding won’t cut the deficit.  But that’s not the point.  There are many general grant funding issues that need to be dealt with in our government’s spending, and it’s going to take a lot of courage to make the tough calls.  I’m reminded of the story of the fall of Constantinople.  It’s said that even as the city was falling all around them, the priests inside engaged themselves in furious debate over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.  I fear we, in America, are doing the same thing.  We quibble about 14 Million being taken away from a company that is remarkably financially solvent while the walls of our financial security crumble around us.  It’s time for all of us to put on our grown-up pants, tighten the belt a little and admit that if we don’t change how we treat money in this country we will not last for long; and the families who were foreclosed on and lost their homes because they bought houses they could not afford will be the prophetic shadow of things to come for the country at large.  One day, our creditors will come calling when they realize we can’t possibly afford to pay our debts.

Now, I’m going to go tuck my girls in for bed and make sure my girls have their Abby Cadabby dolls.

Raise Your Vote (or “The Lesson of Two Evils”)

In case you didn’t know Mitt Romney was a Mormon… um… Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  A lot of my friends think that’s kind of a big (bad) deal.  People have asked me what I think.  I tell them I love it when Mormons come knocking on my front door.  We have some great conversations, I give them whatever refreshments they feel comfortable accepting, and we discuss Jesus.

“No,” my friends say.  “What do you think about Mitt Romney being a mormon?”  See, what they’re really asking is do I plan to vote for someone who (if he believes what the LDS church teaches) thinks that Satan is Jesus’ half-brother.  Can I, in good conscience vote for a man who thinks that one day he could have his own planet and be “God” for that planet?

Or they ask me, “How could you or any Christian vote for a man that would allow abortion and same-sex marriages?” (or whatever the hot topic is for them)

And yet more of my friends ask, “You still believe in God and Jesus and all that stuff.” (Some of my friends have selective memory loss about me.)

Before you start freaking out, I’m not using this post to endorse or not endorse a candidate.  I don’t do that (at least publicly), and I have very real reasons for that.  But that isn’t the point of this post.  The point here is how to answer these questions, and then address a far more disturbing practice I see rising in prominence in the Church.  Specifically, the decision to not vote at all.  This is simply BAD citizenship.

You see, I’m not voting for Romney to be the pastor of my church. I’m not voting for President Obama to be a deacon. I have to vote for who I think can do the job they are claiming to be able to do. What I have to do, as an American citizen, is vote for the person (WHOEVER that person may be) that can do the job of president. If our values align, so much the better. While Romney might have theology that’s… a little… askew, our social values might align. That might make him, according to the dictates of my conscience, the best candidate. President Obama may have a remarkably unconventional view of Scripture, the person of Jesus, etc., but, if his plan to guide America is, according to the dictates of my conscience, the better plan, then he might be the best candidate.

As for whether or not to vote, I will simply say this: One MUST follow their conscience. If you feel like God is convicting you to NOT vote, then you had better not vote. However, I find too many people, especially in the Church, who default to the state of “I’m just not going to vote” (IMPLIED TEXT: “They’re all corrupt anyhow.”), because they don’t like either of the TWO primary candidates offered by the TWO largest parties in America. But that is not citizenship. Citizenship is marching into the voting booth because you have been granted the freedom to voice your opinion – not by the government, but by God – and VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE. Come November, if you think Romney is the best candidate available, then you vote for Romney. If you feel like Obama has his hand on the pulse of the nation, then you vote Obama. But if you think both of them are pathetic, and your neighbor Fred Jenkins (That is your neighbor’s name, right?) would be the best person for the job, then you have a DUTY (yes, I said “duty”) under God – not government – to write Fred Jenkins’ name on that ballot.

That’s what the vote is all about. It isn’t about selecting the lesser of two evils. It isn’t about selecting the person you believe is the lesser idiot. It’s about saying, “My freedoms have been granted by God. I can not, in good conscience, simply ignore the responsibilities tied into the temporal acquisition, sustenance and application of those rights while enjoying the privileges that those rights afford. I will vote. And it doesn’t even matter if my candidate wins. What matters is that I spoke. If no one else listened, God did.”

And, finally, as we go into the last few weeks before the election, let’s remember two things:

  1. The INCREDIBLE benediction given by Jena Lee Nardella, Executive Director of Blood: Water Mission in Nashville, TN.  God, help us to show the grace, mercy and love she showed that night.
  2. I Timothy 2:1-4, which says:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

We will never get anywhere, we will never accomplish anything by bashing Romney or Obama (or Fred Jenkins.  Poor Fred… everybody picks on him.)  But, as Christians, we are admonished to pray for them (elected or not) constantly, not so they will do what we want (or, God forbid – as I have seen from people who CLAIM to be Christians – that something awful happens to them) but that God will make Himself known in their lives, and bring His mind, His way, and His vision to bear in the administrations and citizenry of our country.

In the interest of education, you can read about Mitt Romney’s platform here, and President Obama’s platform here.  (Sadly, I could not find a link for Fred Jenkins’ campaign.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts?  Post comments, share this on FB or Twitter.

When The Bible Disappoints (Part 2)

So, the last post was kind of a downer, huh?  Yeah, but it’s in the Bible, and that’s hard.  Sometimes the Bible says very hard things.  Sometimes we open the pages of the Bible for comfort, and find words that confront us, challenge us and take the wind right out of us.

Before I proceed, let’s recap the salient points of the last post:

  • Anything, good or bad, can happen to any of us
  • It’s terribly unfair that good and bad things happen to both good and bad people
  • No matter how unfair it is, there is every chance in any situation that you will come out the loser

So, that’s the gist of Ecclesiastes 9.  How do we, as people on this side of the victory of Christ process that?

Honestly, it’s very simple.  Read Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

It’s hard, I think, for us to not see what’s going on immediately around us and, instead, see the bigger picture.  But that is exactly what this verse says.  You may be going through a hard time right now.  You may be going through a time that makes a “hard time” look like a walk through Disney World.  But this time that you are enduring, this time that Solomon would call “terribly unfair” is still a time that God is using to work all things together for good.  For YOUR good.  For HIS good.  For the good of the KINGDOM.

And read this clearly, you may NEVER KNOW why, this side of Heaven.  You may, one day, have a complete turnaround and all of a sudden, you are traveling from mountaintop to mountaintop.  You will think back on this time and wonder, “I sure wish I knew why all of that happened.”  And you’ll never know.  Until Heaven.  That’s when Jesus takes you by the hand and says, “Hey, here’s something you’ll find interesting… Remember those years of poverty and disappointment and near despair?  Here are the people you touched and inspired during that time, because you never lost sight of Me.”

You’ll look across those faces and say, “I’ve never met these people.”

And Jesus will respond, “Yes, you have.  This is the lady whose groceries you carried when it was raining.  This is the man who was begging on the street.  You gave him some food.  This man is the little boy who was at VBS for one summer.  He went on to be an evangelist and led thousands to Me.” And on and on…

My friends, for those who are in Christ and are called according to his purpose, all things – ALL THINGS – work together for good.

When The Bible Disappoints

It’s difficult to admit, but sometimes you open up the pages of the good book and close it feeling worse than you did when you opened it.  It’s not intentional, I’m sure.  The Bible is an honest book.  There is only one perfect person in all of it’s pages (Enoch is a close second, but whatever), and the list of remarkably imperfect, flawed, dysfunctional people is astounding.  Shouldn’t that give me hope?  Shouldn’t it give us all hope?  Yeah, that’s all well and good, but there are some stories and reflections in the text that, honestly, tend to make me feel miserable.

Recently, as my twitter feed will confirm, I heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes 9.  Before I begin, I should warn you that Ecclesiastes is a difficult book for me.  It has my favorite chapter (Ecc. 12) in the entire Bible, and is, at the same time, one of the most depressing things you might ever read.  At any rate, I was feeling pretty low when the sermon started, and I felt no better by sermon’s end.  Let’s look at a couple of things.

Ecc. 9:1b – Anything can happen to any of us, and so we never know if life will be good or bad.

That’s pretty straightforward, right?  And not too terrible.  Basically Solomon says that you never really know for sure what life will bring you.

Ecc. 9:3a – It’s terribly unfair for the same thing to happen to each of us.

Ain’t it the truth?  Solomon talks here about how unfair it is that, ultimately, you live an a life of the unknown and whether you’re a “good” person or “bad” person, you still wind up in the grave.  But then…

Ecc. 9:11 – Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

TIME AND CHANCE?!?!?!?  Holy Schnikes!  So what Solomon wants me to walk away with is that I might be the fastest, or the strongest, or the wisest, or the most intelligent; I might be the right person for that job, or the person most deserving of that promotion; I might be exactly right in every argument BUT…

There’s every chance I’m going to come out the loser.

And why is that?  Well, according to Solomon, just because.

You see, Solomon in this chapter (and, indeed, in much of Ecclesiastes) was focusing on death.  He says here to us that good things will happen to you and bad things will happen to you, but, whatever… you’re gonna die anyway.

And he’s right.  Sort of…

You see, Solomon didn’t have these words of comfort:

I Corinthians 15:54c-55 – “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

Sometimes, when we read or hear the Bible we lose sight of a greater context.  Why did God allow/inspire Solomon to write these words and then why did He allow them to be included in the canon of Scripture?  I dare not speak for God, but, remembering proper greater context, I am reassured the Solomon easily the wisest (and dumbest) king to ever live felt bad, really bad, from time to time, just like I do.  Yes, it’s true that time and chance happens to everyone.  Yes it’s true that I’m going to be mistreated and overlooked; that the investment of time that I make is going to prove to be a complete waste; that the  person who is least deserving is the one who will be praised etc.  I could go on.

But Solomon’s focus on the grave is important.  We must remember:

  • This world is temporary
  • This world is not our home
  • Our vindication, our redemption, our justification will never be found in anything we achieve (or don’t) here on earth.

Finally, when we take all that into consideration, read these words:

Ecc. 9:7-10a – Be happy and enjoy eating and drinking! God decided long ago that this is what you should do. Dress up, comb your hair, and look your best. Life is short, and you love your wife, so enjoy being with her. This is what you are supposed to do as you struggle through life on this earth. Work hard at whatever you do.

God gives the OK to:

  • Eat, drink and enjoy it!  Be a foodie, there’s nothing wrong with that.
  • Dress nicely, and do whatever you like to fel “pretty.”  There’s nothing wrong with that.
  • Look at your spouse.  God gives you a super clear OK to enjoy all the benefits of being married.
  • Whatever you do for work.  Work hard at it.  That’s a good thing.

Finally, remember that the Bible is chock-full of people just like you and me: messed up, sometimes confused, depressed, frustrated, angry, tired, fed up, bitter, hurt, dejected, and lonely.  But here, on the other side of the empty tomb, we’re able to see things that remind us of the hope.  So, when the Bible disappoints – as it sometimes will – just keep turning the pages. The story is bigger than the moment you’re in.

50 Shades (No Grey) – Updated

I once planted every seed from a cantaloupe in a giant planter in front of my house. It was a science experiment for my daughters. The problem was, we planted in mid fall. The seeds exploded in the dirt, and a vine came up, but it was far too cold to truly thrive, much less produce fruit.

The next summer, we went on a month long-vacation back to my hometown. When we got back, we were surprised by a giant vine growing from the planter and a small cantaloupe melon lying on the ground beneath. (This will be important later.)

I had no intention of writing this post, but something happened today that got me thinking. I’m not going to go into the book’s “creation” process. It really doesn’t matter that E.L. James created the entire series initially as a series of “Twilight”-based fan fiction. For the purposes of this article, I won’t talk about how both the book and film industry as well as the buying public ignore that fact and treat the books like they are some kind of groundbreaking fiction.

I’ll totally ignore the fact that E.L. James did none of the hard work of an author – creating fresh and compelling characters with their own unique personalities, flaws and compulsions, or creating a unique world in which those characters live.

I won’t talk about how the plot of the books – down to the trilogy format and arc – is stolen lifted almost whole cloth from Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series.

I won’t even talk about how the book’s success is both a slap in the face to writer’s who work their entire lives to come up with something that is “original”*.

I won’t even talk about how these books and film(s???) are a blaring example of how Rule 34 can be exploited to the unwitting masses.

I won’t even talk about the fact that if you changed Christian Grey’s name BACK to Edward Cullen, and Anastasia Steele’s name BACK to Bella Swan, nobody would know that the trilogy wasn’t simply books 5-7 of the Twilight series.

I won’t point out the glaring sophomoric quality of the writing, except to say that if your medulla oblongata ever has to “recall[s] its purpose” you probably need a doctor and not a bondage session with a pervy bossman figure.

I won’t go into the morality of it all. Outside of the fact that what goes on in a married couple’s bedroom is their business, the morality of the content of these books has been covered in many, many, many, many places. That’s been done, and done very well.

I won’t even talk about how it feels to watch women I love and respect reading these books and giggling while they call it “mommy porn.”

No, what prompted this is a realization I made when I came across a Facebook friend’s request to borrow the book. I thought I would take a second and spare them the trouble of reading this tripe. That’s time you’ll never get back. (I know. I watched Napoleon Dynamite TWICE trying to figure out why my beloved friends thought it was so great. That’s three hours of my life GONE. Anyway…) I summed up the book(s) for them like this:

I’ll save you the trouble of reading. It’s Twilight. Except Bella doesn’t turn into a vampire after High School. Instead they go to college. Also, Edward’s a perv. The End.

Initially it was supposed to be a joke. But then I got to thinking. That set of sentences (almost fragments) really does sum up the entire trilogy. Then I got to thinking: “Can I do that with other great works of literature?” I’m not talking about the obligatory one sentence summary that conveys a books essence. I’m talking about a book so bereft of real meat (as is so often the problem with fan-fiction) that its entire content can be conveyed with a few short sentences leaving the reader not missing that much.

This isn’t a post about the value of time, but the point should probably be stated here. Time is the only non-renewable commodity. Do you really want to spend it on a book like this?

Ultimately, read the book, don’t read the book… that choice is yours. But, at least go into the reading of it informed. It’s pervy. And just like there are things that, once you see them, you can never unsee them, there are things that, once in your head, will be there forever.

After all, even an untended, unwatered, forgotten about seed can produce unexpected fruit. (I told you the cantaloupe story would be important.)

__________________________________________________________________

*”Original” being an admittedly somewhat subjective term.

Hole-Hearted

hole-heartedA couple of nights ago, my wife and I were doing our nightly routine of tucking in, listening to Our Daily Bread, doing some object lessons, reading, and then praying with our daughters (Yes, our ritual is long, but we love it). My oldest was having a problem getting settled down.  Initially it was a conversation about peer pressure (it turns out that some of her friends at school last year were very invested in teasing another friend, and my daughter didn’t know what to do when confronted with the possibility of being the friend of a “loser”). Suddenly, the night took a very strange turn, and she started sobbing (She’s almost nine and, yes, the hormones are kicking in, but that’s not the point), and then made this declaration to my wife and me.

Daddy, sometimes I just feel like something is missing in my life.

I was flabbergasted.  My nine-year-old daughter is not supposed to be having concerns and feelings like this. More importantly, I am a pastor and evangelist how is it possible that my daughter could feel that kind of emptiness inside? How had I failed?*

I took a breath, said a quick prayer and then, suddenly, I was given the answer. The answer came in very fast flashes. The first thing that came to me was this:

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.

and then…

Life’s ambition occupies my time, Priorities confuse the mind
Happiness one step behind, This inner peace I’ve yet to find
Rivers flow into the sea, yet even the sea is not so full of me
If I’m not blind why can’t I see
That a circle can’t fit where a square should be?
There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart can’t be filled with the things I do…

Yeah… It’s a song by Extreme… So what?  Then this…

Read Ecclesiastes to her.

Now, all of a sudden, the pieces fit together.  This is what I said to her:

Do you remember the story of King Solomon? He was the wisest king Israel ever had; maybe the wisest king ever! Do you remember that since he asked God for wisdom instead of riches or fame, that God gave him all three? Solomon lived a life that was pleasing to God for a while, but then he started to do things that God had told him not to do. He married foreign wives who worshiped false gods, he set up temples for those false gods to be worshiped in Israel. Eventually, Solomon had done all kinds of different things to see how it felt and to see if they would make him happy. And here’s what he finally said:

Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all–nothing makes sense! What is there to show for all of our hard work here on this earth? People come, and people go, but still the world never changes. The sun comes up, the sun goes down; it hurries right back to where it started from. The wind blows south, the wind blows north; round and round it blows over and over again. All rivers empty into the sea, but it never spills over; one by one the rivers return to their source. All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear.  Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun. Someone might say, “Here is something new!” But it happened before, long before we were born. No one who lived in the past is remembered anymore, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too. – Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

When I finished reading (and before I could say what was on my mind to say) my daughter said, “Daddy that’s depressing!” I said, “you’re right. It really is.” And it truly is depressing. Here was the greatest king the world had ever known, wise beyond comparison, and the magnum opus of his life, the summary conclusion of his very existence is that everything we do is pointless. You see, the fact of the matter is that Solomon was dealing with a whole in his life. Something was missing, and he couldn’t figure out what that something was. If you read through Ecclesiastes you see that he tries to fill the whole with this and with that and nothing works. I tried to explain this to my daughter, and I confess a momentary uneasiness when I saw that it was making her worse. Then we got to Chapter 12.

Now, Chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes is one of my very favorites in all of the Bible, but we’ll get to why in a moment. I read to her:

Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper. We each go to our eternal home, and the streets are filled with those who mourn. The silver cord snaps, the golden bowl breaks; the water pitcher is smashed, and the pulley at the well is shattered. So our bodies return to the earth, and the life-giving breath returns to God. Nothing makes sense. I have seen it all–nothing makes sense.

I could see (and was feeling for myself) a lingering uncertainty about the effectiveness of this tact.

I was a wise teacher with much understanding, and I collected a number of proverbs that I had carefully studied. Then I tried to explain these things in the best and most accurate way. Words of wisdom are like the stick a farmer uses to make animals move. These sayings come from God, our only shepherd, and they are like nails that fasten things together. My child, I warn you to stay away from any teachings except these. There is no end to books, and too much study will wear you out.

And then I told her, as I’m telling you who are reading now, that these next verses are the reason I love this chapter so much.

Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.

You see, Solomon discovered all these thousands of years ago what my daughter was feeling that night. There is a God-shaped hole in each and every one of us. Just as all of creation groans for redemption, our spirits (if not our very bodies) yearn to respect and obey God, even when, and most especially when, we don’t. We may try to fill it the void with social service, carousing, vice, good deeds, study/education, pursuing a dream… you name it. But it is a GOD-SHAPED HOLE!!!

And “a circle can’t fit where a square should be.”

If I don’t land this plane, then this will officially be the most depressing blog post ever, so let me say some things that we can remember and remind ourselves of when we have feelings like my daughter had the other night. If you are a believer in Christ and you have accepted the salvation offered for you, then what I am about to say applies to you. PERIOD! If you are not a believer in Christ, these things don’t apply to you YET, but they absolutely CAN!

  1. I am a child of God (John 1:12)
  2. Jesus brought kindness and truth into my life, even though I didn’t deserve it. (John 1:17)
  3. I am an important part of Christ’s body! (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  4. I am a NEW CREATION!  Everything that I was, every sin I ever committed, every failure I ever made, every mistake I ever made, every harsh thing I ever said is not only gone, it’s DEAD! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  5. God is not some high up there in the sky authority figure just waiting to zap a lightning bolt through me, I have DIRECT ACCESS to Him because of and through my High Priest, Jesus. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  6. I am completely forgiven of my sins. (Colossians 1:14)
  7. I can not be condemned anymore. (Romans 8:1-2)
  8. I am completely exempt from the accusations that Satan will try to hurl at me and at God on my behalf (Romans 8:31-34)
  9. Nothing, that’s right, NOTHING – not life or death, heaven or hell, angels or demons, nothing that ever was or ever will be – can separate me from God’s love for me! (Romans 8:35-39)
  10. I no longer have a spirit of fear, I have a spirit of Power, Love and a Sound Mind! (2 Timothy 1:7)
  11. I am someone who overwhelmingly conquers. (Romans 8:37)
  12. Because I have believed these truths, I am FREE! (8:32,36)
  13. There is no such thing as a terrible day.  EVERY day can be and, in fact is, a wonderful day! (Psalm 118:24)
  14. Because of God’s strength through Christ Jesus, I can do ANYTHING! (Philippians 4:13)

The best part is, this list barely scratches the surface of God’s promises for you and for me. The sad and somewhat embarrassing truth is that I often feel just like my daughter felt the other night. It’s at those times that I feel like the God-shaped hole is so big, I forget that it’s God-shaped. But when I remember that I can, because I have direct access to Him, go directly to God and pray these promises over my life, and over the lives of those in my family and in my church and in my extended life. Suddenly, that God-shaped hole starts to get filled up with God, and then – I said to my daughter – I don’t feel like something’s missing anymore.

At least for a while… But that’s another post.

Question: Have you ever tried to fill up the hole in your life with something that just didn’t work? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


*The reader should follow everything from “more importantly” to “how had I failed” with much sarcasm.

Land of Milk and Honey

I’ve never done this before, but here goes…

I feel like I am getting a real revelation about something.  Not that what I am thinking/receiving/hearing is “new” in the strictest sense, but when the realization first hit my head… I thought it would explode.

So, here’s the first official TEASER blog post…

Did you ever stop to think about the Israelites going into a land that God said would be “flowing with milk and honey”?  Did you ever wonder why God chose those words to describe the Promised Land?  Did it ever occur to you that of all the things that the Israelites brought back from the first journey into the Promised land, they didn’t bring cows or bees, milk or honey?

So, is God a liar?  Did the land flow with milk and honey?  What does it mean????

Stay tuned… I have a feeling this is going to be huge.

(Thanks to Sue Kemnitz of Design Studios for use of her painting.  Go buy one of her giclées NOW!!!)

Update

I’m sometimes terrified that in describing a situation, it might sound like I’m complaining.  Most who know me are aware that I am a kind of “independent contractor”.  I travel for speaking engagements, I work in audio editing (promoting my newest client, Jesse Lahey over at mancaveradio.com), writing (I ghostwrite… Don’t ask, I can’t tell), work in local regional theatre… basically a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  If a job comes up, and I have the skill set for it, then I go for it.  That’s kind of what working for yourself means, right?

Well, the point is, I have been a busy camper the past couple of months.  I finished one large book job, started another, served as musical director for two shows, I teach, and am completing the work for my D. Min. so I can graduate in June.  The constant writing (two books, and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, whew) has kept me more than a little busy.  So, apologies for being MIA.

I want to thank people who have written via email or Twitter to encourage me.  Don’t worry, I’m still putting shoes on my theology, and I’ll keep doing so for as long as you guys keep reading… and probably for a little while after that.

In Heavenly Peace

So, we’re in New York.  Christmas has come and gone.  We had a great couple of days.  Christmas Eve was ridiculous.  You really can’t get a bunch of Puerto Ricans together (my wife’s family) without a lot of food.  My unbelievably talented and gorgeous cousin Esther made me a meal centered around Dominican Salami (YUM!), and my equally talented and gorgeous cousin Christina made me this apple Brown Betty type of dish that was so good… I don’t even have words.

Christmas day was a very cool event.  Very traditional in a lot of ways, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Christmas night we had a large dinner at my in-laws house.  There were so many people there and so much food… Ugh! I get full just thinking about it.  We played games (my wife won a race to tie a tie around my neck with nothing but verbal assistance from me.  Of course she did.  She’s awesome).  We ate.  We Skyped and FaceTimed family far away.  And, of course, there was dancing.  So much dancing.

That brings me to the one stressful factor of going to visit my family at Christmas. In my family, our Christmas mornings and even evenings were quiet affairs.  Each person took a turn opening presents while others expressed appreciation for that.  Soft carols played on the stereo, the lights were relatively low, that kind of thing.  Now, I’m not saying that this is how Christmas is supposed to be.  I’m just saying that, for the better part of three decades, that’s how my Christmases functioned.

Christmas morning at the Salva house is very different from that.  I was a little surprised this year when we woke and went into the large living room.  Carols were playing on the stereo.  I was shocked.  However, once everyone settled in, the salsa music was turned on… loud!  People attacked the presents.  Only a very few special gifts received any kind of special attention. (The look on brother-in-law’s face when he opened up the iPad 2 that he thought was just some DVD’s was PRICELESS and so worth the trip right by itself.)  Then, before you knew it, it was all over.

Then preparations for the evening dinner began.  (SIDENOTE: If you haven’t seen a group of Puerto Ricans prep for a giant meal, then you are missing something!)  Salsa music continued.  That night, during the dancing, I got out my iPhone and opened my metronome app (yeah, I’m a music geek, so what?) and, I swear to you, the slowest song of the night was 160 beats per minute.

I, of course, was stressed at this point.  Heart rate: up.  BP: up.  Enjoying myself, but still.  And I really have no explanation, EXCEPT for the fact that it is SO very differnt from what I grew up with.  This has been the case every Christmas we have spent with them (Four in our ten years of marriage).  And I’ve never tried to defend my reactions.  I know they’re silly.  But this year, something was different.

That night as I lay in bed, I felt a kind of conviction.  I say a “kind of conviction” because it was so soft and gentle.  I felt God saying to me, “James, why are you stressed?  It’s not the music or the lights… it’s Me.”

And then I realized, that my real problem was I looking to find peace in my surroundings when I was supposed to be looking for peace in God.  He is my peace, my shalom, my Sabbath rest.

Are you tired?  Stressed?  Worn out?  Take it from someone who finally gets it. Don’t go looking for the right mattress, or the proper scrip, or the newest relaxation techniques.  Turn your eyes to God and say “You are my hiding place! You protect me from trouble, and you put songs in my heart because you have saved me.”  Then sleep in Heavenly peace.

Merry Christmas!

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

So my daughters have been asking for MONTHS if we can go visit the family in New York for Christmas.  For a long time, I didn’t think we would be able to go.  We prayed and asked God to provide a way, but I just didn’t see how it would be possible from a financial perspective.  Well a few weeks ago, I got a surprise contract that provided enough for us to go.  Still, I was concerned.  Should we spend a large portion of this on a trip and then find ourselves, financially in the same place when we returned?

Then one night my oldest daughter asked me again, “Daddy, can we go to New York for Christmas?”  I said, “Baby, the answer hasn’t changed.”

“What was the answer?”, she asked innocently.

“I said, baby, that we have to have enough money to be able to go and I don’t know if we have enough” [to spare, was the unspoken addendum].

She looked at me and said, “Daddy, you can have the twelve dollars I was saving, and you don’t have to get me anything for Christmas if it will help us get the money, because family is more important than presents.”

I was struck down by the simple honesty of her statement.  She believed – she had faith – that, if she made that sacrifice, it would help.  I knew at that moment, every financial concern aside, we would be going to New York for Christmas.  I knew it, because I had to reward that level of sacrifice.  It’s the same way with God.  He rewards according to our sacrifices and our faith, not our merit.

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving Day is coming up. Hence, the obligatory post on giving thanks.

The truth is, I have, for the past several years, become increasingly ambivalent about Thanksgiving. Last year, my in-laws were in town visiting, and my father-in-law made our turkey. It was ridiculously delicious. He marinated the thing for two or three days (in a combination of spices that is, most unfairly, a secret), and, when we removed it from the oven, it was so tender we almost couldn’t transfer it from the pan to the serving plate. I had a flashback to a BBQ my fraternity in college had. The Pitmaster demonstrated his BBQ prowess by showing us that his chickens were so perfectly smoked that the leg bones could be cleanly removed. I tried it with the turkey. It worked.

But that’snot really the point. I’m just making you jealous of my thanksgiving day spread’s awesomeness. The point is my ambivalence. I don’t have a problem with Thanksgiving. I don’t have a problem with the food. I don’t have problem with the gathering together around a table. I don’t have a problem with any of the “trappings” of Thanksgiving. What I have a problem with is my personal tendency to be “more thankful” on the last Thursday in November and my tendency to make giving thanks more important on that day than on other days.

If I have the right attitude and mindset, then every day is Thanksgiving. I am supposed to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So, as I sit down this Thursday and help my daughters create special placemats for the Thanksgiving Day table, and then as we sit to eat from the abundance the Lord has provided, I pray that I will remember that whatever “special” feeling I have, should be a part of my every day life. Lord, help me in all ways, at all times and in all circumstances to be truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Mmmm… Narcotics (or “I Smell… Yellow”)

Do I have your attention yet?  Because this post is actually NOT about narcotics… exactly.  Let me bring you up to speed.  The other day (Tuesday, Oct. 11), I went to the ER.  See, I had been having chest pains for about a week and I was getting kind of fed up with it.  I initially sent out a message via Twitter saying I was having some chest pain issues. Next day, it felt like I had just stretched some muscles out a little too much, so I wasn’t too worried. But, since then, it had grown increasingly more painful. Monday night, I was in a semi-significant amount of pain, and Tuesday I almost passed out because I would take a breath and pain shot through my chest like lightning.

I drove myself to the doctor.  Chest pain, right?  The doctor asked me some initial questions at reception and said it was probably musculo-skeletal, so please just have a seat and wait.  When I was finally brought back, the lady who took my BP absolutely FREAKED ME OUT.  She was nice and everything… don’t get me wrong.  But when the initial BP reading beeped, I saw her eyes get kind of… big.  She says to me, “let me check this again.” She takes out the old school BP and takes it TWO MORE TIMES with her eyes getting progressively rounder each time (think small coffe cup saucers. Something was freaking this girl out.)

“What’s wrong?”, I asked.  She said, “it’s just really high.”  It was 186/120. Ambulance was called. Hospital was visited. EKG’s, blood and other test performed.

My nurse, who was WONDERFUL, came in and administered a POWERFUL narcotic to help me with the pain.  Slightly strange and loopy things were spoken (At one point I’m told I said, “I smell something. It smells like… yellow.”). My wife was an amazing, calm and prayerful presence until Tia and Tamara came on the television. :-) Figures…

Eventually, all the bad things were ruled out. No heart issues. No clots… It just seems that, at some point, I somehow tore muscles in my left upper rib area. The high BP was caused by my body dealing with the pain.  So, while I won’t die from this, it just feels like I’m going to.

What’s my point?

I found out something that day.  Narcotics don’t do anything for you really.  The pain in my chest never actually stopped.  (I found this out as the narcotic started to wear off) The narcotic they gave me, just stopped my receptors from sending the signal to my brain.  And that concludes today’s medical blog post.  Wait… I don’t do that here.  I had a different point, didn’t I? Oh, yeah…

One of the things I do with some frequency is play drums.  When I asked the doctor if this was going to affect my playing he told me that I would have to lay out for about six weeks due to the range of motion issues.  If I kept it up, my body wouldn’t heal and I would just be back at the hospital in worse condition.  The problem, of course, was that I HAD to play the very next night.  But I told the doctor not to worry… I was playing at a Presbyterian Church which was almost like not playing drums at all. (That was a joke.  I actually love playing at this church.  I play with them several times a year.  The spirit of the joke, however, is true.)

So, I get to the church and as we’re playing I start a drum fill and I twist funny and the pain shoots all through my chest and down my left arm… IT WAS AWFUL.  I never missed a beat, but I sure wanted to.  We started playing a song called “Ancient of Days” (it’s already considered an oldie), and there’s a part where the audience, back when it was a fresh and new song, would clap together.  Over the years, it has become kind of standard for the drums to play the clapped part.  So I did.  But then…

I looked out over the sea of, mostly, passive faces, and there was one person who was really throwing herself into worship.  And then, I saw another who was doing the clap on the pew in front of him.  I have to tell you… My pain went away.  Now, I felt my pain still, but suddenly it wasn’t bothering me anymore.  It was like God was using these two tiny instances as a kind of “spiritual narcotic” for me. It didn’t do away with the pain, but it helped me to not feel it, at least in the same way or intensity.

Later it hit me… How many times does God use us to do little things that we consider not a very big deal, but that do tremendous work in someone else’s life?  Those two people will never know this side of Heaven the effect they had on me that night.  I say that to my shame.  I should have sought them out afterwards and at least said thank you… or something.

We shouldn’t dismiss the tiny things that we do or that are done for us.  Jesus said, that to give someone a cup of water in His name, was the same thing as giving Him, Jesus, a cup of water. (Matthew 25:35).  I drink (sometimes) 8-10 glasses of some kind of water based beverage everyday.  I usually eat at least two hot meals, and thanks to my wife’s cold naturedness I sleep under one sheet, a blanket and a GIANT comforter.  These things are NOTHING to me anymore.  I sometimes forget to appreciate them because I’m used to them.  Now we could certainly make a big deal of giving the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords an giant offering and we would probably be inclined to look down on our own offering if all we had to give was a cup of water, but what if the recipient is just a person in a hospital bed sick from cancer… or a person on the street who is living with meth addiction… or a person who hasn’t eaten in three days.  How HUGE would a cup of water be to them, much less a hot meal or a blanket?

Don’t discount the huge work that God is doing in you and through you.  It’s the little things.

Progressive (or Whatever) Christianity

This morning, a friend of mine posted a link to an article. I hesitate to call it interesting (it was) or well-written (it was, sort of). For me it was saddening. I urge you to go read the article before continuing here.  Just click here and it will open in a new window. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

You’re back! Awesome! Now let’s continue.

The basic premise of this article is that “Progressive Christianity” is sure to become mainstream Christianity in the near future because people are much more enlightened now than they were in the old days.  The problem with this assertion is that the writer demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what theology is and what it is not.  The author treats theology as a personal view of God that is malleable and wholly dependent on what a person chooses as right and wrong, good and bad, holy and unholy, etc.  In this view, God is what we make God and not what God is without regard to our opinions and/or preferences.

Theology proper, is the study of religious faith, practices, and experiences, yes, but it is primarily the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.  Which is to say, theology is the study of who God is and not who we want him to be. This is the problem with Progressive Theology (as well as Green Theology, Liberation Theology, et al.).  It approaches the understanding and study of God (and Scripture) with an agenda, as oppossed to just trying to understand who God is – or what Scripture says about a particular topic – without regard to a particular previously held worldview or preconceived notions.

It doesn’t matter if I know Jews or not (I do), or if I am friends with homosexuals or not (I am. It’s impossible to not be friends with homosexuals when you spend your life working in theatre.), or if I am “related to, [share] a neighborhood with, [work] with, or [go] to school with someone who is gay, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Unitarian Universalism, Wiccan, Native American, Shinto, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Cao Dai, Tenrikyo, agnostic, atheist, or any combination thereof” (with the exception of Cao Dai and Tenrikyo – as far as I know – I have every one of those covered), the truth is the truth.  I can’t reshape it to make myself more comfortable.  I am called, as each of us are, to search dilligently for the truth no matter what it is or how we feel about it.

All of that is to say, if the truth says things that make us uncomfortable about the state our “gay, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Unitarian Universalism, Wiccan, Native American, Shinto, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Cao Dai, Tenrikyo, agnostic, atheist, or any combination thereof” acquaintances, friends, family (or any combination thereof) are in, then it is our obligation to share the truth with them in love, not to make futile attempts to change the truth so that we, and they, feel more comfortable.

We are unwise to undertake the study of God and/or Scripture with an “Humpty Dumpty” approach.

Alice approaches the wall where Humpty Dumpty rests. They engage in a long conversation riddled with mis-communication before we are made to understand why the conversation is so confusing for us (and for Alice) when Humpty Dumpty says:

“There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

And that, truly is the heart of the matter; which (or Who) is master? Your preferences, your worldview, your desires, what you (or I) would like to be true… or what is, in fact true and Who is, in fact, master.

Service (Means Serve US)

I got an email this morning. Well, my name was on it, but apparently the same email was received by approximately 23,000,000 people.  It was an email which turned out to actually be a simple copy and paste job from Netflix’s Blog. (Really, James. Another Netflix post? Yeah, but hear me out on this one.)

I want to take a minute to deconstruct some of what Reed Hastings said, and why it was such a/another dismal failure on his part.

(The picture attached to this post is the screen capture from the new QWIKSTER.com service, but more on that in a moment.)

So, here is what Reed had to say.

I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.

Now that’s a good start! True it’s a couple of months too late, and would have been much better heard if it had happened as a real response to customer feedback and before Netflix was forced to announce that it would lose Starz! content in February 2012.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I’ll try to explain how this happened.

Unlike some who have responded on the Netflix blog, I appreciate what Reed says here. Yes, we felt that the price change, plan change, announcement of same and the way you loaded blog comments with scripted positive responses (“I love the price changes!” Please.) from Netflix employees was disrespectful… Wait a minute… maybe I don’t appreciate what you’re saying here, Reed. I (We, your customers) didn’t “feel” that you lacked respect and you humility… YOU LACKED RESPECT FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS!!!!

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.

In all sincerity, Hastings is spot on here.

When Netflix is evolving rapidly, however, I need to be extra-communicative. This is the key thing I got wrong.

Similarly, I received another email this morning from the ocean informing me it was wet. Hastings is missing it here. Right now, the real elephant in the room is the issue of the loss of Starz content.  This is going to be a massive loss for Netflix, yet Hastings has remained virtually silent on how he can justify his claim that the streaming content will continue to be rich with the loss of better than 1000 titles overnight.

In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success. We have done very well for a long time by steadily improving our service, without doing much CEO communication. Inside Netflix I say, “Actions speak louder than words,” and we should just keep improving our service.

This is probably the most honest part of this entire email.

But now I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.

Let me decode: In retrospect, I still stand by what was an obviously terrible business choice, but I’ll explain to you why I’m sticking to my guns.

So here is what we are doing and why:

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD, plus lots of TV series. We want to advertise the breadth of our incredible DVD offering so that as many people as possible know it still exists, and it is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection on DVD. DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.

Here is the part to focus on: Hastings admits that the DVD subscription service is important because “nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD, plus lots of TV series.”  (This will be very important later) but he wrongly assumes that this is why customers “love” the DVD portion of the service.  It isn’t.

I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We feel we need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolve, without having to maintain compatibility with our DVD by mail service.

Here, Hastings lets us know that, to Netflix, their focus is going to be improving their streaming service.  Again, that’s going to be complicated considering that, unless something drastic happens prior to February 2012, Netflix is going to lose ALL of Starz content (that includes Starz original programming, a LARGE backlog of films both classic and recent, SONY pictures content and ALL of the Disney content.  That means all of the Disney films, TV shows and series… all of it. If you’re a Netflix subscriber, go to the kids section and check out what kind of impact that’s going to be.), and, so far, Netflix has shown no hope of gaining content that will fill the gaping hole left by this exodus.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It’s hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”.

Hmmmm…. That sounds eerily similar to a “press release” written by yours truly…  It’s obvious that Hastings views DVD-by-mail service as something that will shortly be going the way of the dodo, so why doesn’t he just say that?!?

We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

I’m sorry, what… I fell asleep because that rationale was so boring. Also, I guess the Netflix research team did precious little research into brand development. (Warning! That link goes to the twitter account of someone who is absolutely NSFW)

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, and now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow.Another advantage of separate websites is simplicity for our members.Each website will be focused on just one thing (DVDs or streaming) and will be even easier to use. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn’t show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.

So, now I have to deal with two different companies, essentially.  Thanks for making things easier.  And by making things easier, of course, I mean making things more complicated in every way possible.

There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!).

(You really have to picture Hastings saying this with a kind of smug laugh)

Members who subscribe to both services will have two entries on their credit card statements, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as the current charges.

Andy Rendich, who has been working on our DVD service for 12 years, and leading it for the last 4 years, will be the CEO of Qwikster. Andy and I made a short welcome video. (You’ll probably say we should avoid going into movie making after watching it.) We will let you know in a few weeks when the Qwikster.com website is up and ready. It is merely a renamed version of the Netflix DVD website, but with the addition of video games. You won’t have to do anything special if you subscribe to our DVD by mail service.

OH! You’re adding video games! That’s good.  Really.  Customers have been clamoring for that since Day 1! Oh… wait, you mean if I wanted to go to a DVD plan… I would pay the “reduced rate of $7.99/month, but if I wanted to add Blu-Ray, I would have to pay extra, and if I wanted to add video games I would have to pay extra over that.  Yeah… much easier.

For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that distinctive red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be the same for many of you. We’ll also return to marketing our DVD by mail service, with its amazing selection, now with the Qwikster brand.

Yes, Mr. Hastings… That’s why your customers are so upset… We can’t get over the loss of our beloved Netflix logo. That’s what it is. It’s amazing how you really have a sense of what’s important to us.

Some members will likely feel that we shouldn’t split the businesses, and that we shouldn’t rename our DVD by mail service. Our view is with this split of the businesses, we will be better at streaming, and we will be better at DVD by mail. It is possible we are moving too fast – it is hard to say. But going forward, Qwikster will continue to run the best DVD by mail service ever, throughout the United States. Netflix will offer the best streaming service for TV shows and movies, hopefully on a global basis. The additional streaming content we have coming in the next few months is substantial, and we are always working to improve our service further.

Again, I think this is legitimate. Here, Hastings is admitting that the focus is streaming. AND THAT IS FINE! But say that outright. Tell us you don’t want to have to deal with DVD-by-mail for much longer… we can handle that. Tell us that this move is the first step in a phase-out plan… we can handle that. What is making your customers upset, Hastings, is the spin you’re trying to put on all of this.

And, yes, they are moving too fast. I think that is beyond question. Whether Netflix will offer the “best streaming service for TV shows and movies” is easily debatable (if not an outright laughable claim).

I want to acknowledge and thank our many members that stuck with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust.We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

Respectfully yours,

-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix

It pains me to say, but this is really a case of “Too Little Too Late!” The problem is that Netflix forgot a very important CS lesson: “Service” means “Serve US!” (Thank you, Hank Hill) You’re thinking about the business as a way to make money for yourself. The consequence is that you forgot to think like a consumer. The SOLE reason Netflix was on top of the game (Read: WAS) was the great benefit of combining a streaming service with a DVD option. That way the consumer gets streaming movies (not a super selection in terms of new releases, but a still big selection of film & TV to choose from) AND a selection of DVD’s for the things that AREN’T available for streaming.

THIS is why my family loved Netflix.  THIS is why we switched and never looked back, and, in fact, had nothing but the highest praise for Netflix – praise that sent many of our friends running to the company.  We loved the idea of watching A DVD, then sending it back, watching movies or whatever via streaming until the next DVD came. That was the GREAT APPEAL of Netflix. That’s gone now.

Splitting the plans up like this was pointless. It has had a HUGE negative impact. (remember those near $300 stock prices? How are you feeling about the $155 low? Most CEO’s would have been fired if the value of a stock dropped by half in the span of two months.), and you follow it up with this TLTL “apology.”

This picture is a three-month analysis of Netflix stock.  The circled point is the date of the Netflix announcement of the plan/price change.  The price of the stock that day was $298.73 per share, an all time high for Netflix.  Today, barely two months past, the stock is at $155.19 per share. That’s almost half. HALF!

I still have streaming, and I’ll keep it, at least for a while. But, Netflix/Qwikster, you have to know that it would have been a million times better for you to simply eat a giant piece of humble pie, say “WE WERE WRONG! SORRY! PLEASE COME BACK!” and reinstate things to their former situation.

I said before and I’ll say again, BAD BUSINESS, Netflix. I’m glad I sold my shares when I did.

Alzheimer’s, Divorce, and Morality

Yesterday, I saw on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog a post that shook me. It was called, “Pat Robertson: Divorce Your Wife With Alzheimer’s.” As a disclaimer for some people who read this blog, I have to say that MPT and I disagree on many points. Many. MANY.  Now… that issue is out of the way.

This video has received a lot of attention in the past couple of days.  Russell Moore at the Baptist Press had some interesting things to say.  Ken Davis wrote a very personal response on his blog.  The Huffington Post, Newser, The Christian Post, ABC News paraphrased Roberson’s remarks as “Alzheimer’s Makes Divorce OK”, and even the New York Times got in on the action.  All in all, it hasn’t been a banner week for Pat Robertson or the 700 Club.

Now before we get started (and in case you don’t feel like navigating all those links) here’s the actual video:

The 700 Club has addressed the statement and some of the comments that followed.  On the outset, let me say that I didn’t hear Pat Robertson say quite what it seems everyone else seems to think he said.  The general consensus seems to be that Robertson is condoning divorce in the face of Alzheimer’s as long as the person pursuing divorce takes care to see to it that the spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s is cared for. What I heard Pat Robertson say was, if you’re going to cheat on your spouse then it’s best to get a divorce.  The problem, of course, if that this particular situation is all wrapped up in the horror of Alzheimer’s.

The problem I have, however, is not that Robertson did or did not condone the man’s actions or the possibility of pursuing divorce. The real issue, for me, is that, as a man of influence and position, Robertson didn’t say to the man “you’re wrong in what you’re doing. Marriage is a commitment forever. You made a vow to your wife to be with her in sickness and in health, and whatever your attitude toward God is, you are absolutely NOT justified in cheating on your wife, much less in getting a divorce form her in this situation.” Gone is the voice of correction from pastors, and that is, in my opinion, a failing on the part of the Church.

I have a friend whose wife suffered from an Alzheimer’s-like disease. Everything I know about that situation says that her final years were terrible. Sadly this was a case of early-onset, and the two of them were, relatively, young. A few months after the wife died, my friend got married. Did he engage in an affair? Honestly, I don’t know. At the very least, it was probably an emotional affair. But he stayed with his wife until the end. That’s the kind of self-sacrificial love that we are called to have for our spouses.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  –  Ephesians 5:25

I Swear On A Stack Of Bibles!

Earlier this week, a friend at church asked me which translation of the Bible I preferred. When I teach, I don’t usually cite the translation I am quoting from and he couldn’t figure out why sometimes the verse I gave matched what he was reading and, at other times, didn’t.

The question of translations is a tricky one in many churches. I have colleagues who have told me stories of prior to preaching in a church that they could only use “___” translation. Many times that version is the KJV (or the NKJV), but, just as often, I’ve heard them being given a list of translations that they could NOT use (the implication, of course, being that this list of Bibles is OK, but these Bibles are not.) Time and space don’t allow for a full discussion of the merits or demerits of various translations or the process whereby they were accomplished, and, ultimately that isn’t the point of this post. Let me, first address my friend’s question.

I don’t use a particular translation. I use several. When doing sermon preparation and general Bible study, I use a computer program called E-Sword. I can, through this program access multiple translations at once in parallel view and compare these translations verse by verse. From this study I can use the software’s multiple add-ons to view commentaries, word studies and topical studies connected to whichever verse(s) I am viewing.  I then select the translation that I think best conveys the point I am trying to make in a particular teaching.  For example, let’s say I am referencing Romans 3:4:

4  God forbid:G1096 G3361 yea, let GodG2316 beG1096 true,G227 butG1161 everyG3956 manG444 a liar;G5583 asG2531 it is written,G1125 ThatG3704 thou mightest be justifiedG1344 G302 inG1722 thyG4675 sayings,G3056 andG2532 mightest overcomeG3528 when thouG4571 art judged.G2919

See all those G###’s?  That’s the KJV+ translation in E-Sword.  Those numbers link to a Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary.  But in the next column:

4  Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

This is the NIV column.  The translation is, of course, a little different.  My next column is worded:

4  No, indeed! God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. The Scriptures say about God, “Your words will be proven true, and in court you will win your case.”

This is the CEV. This translation makes it a little clearer that the last phrases in the verse are specifically about God and not (necessarily) intended to be applied to believers in general.  And in my last column:

4  Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same: Your words stand fast and true; Rejection doesn’t faze you.

This is The Message translation. When teaching this passage, I might use this translation of this verse specifically because of the phrase “Rejection doesn’t faze you.” Maybe in the class or church I am teaching, this verse feels like it will best resonate with the listeners. And that leads me to the real point.

The “word” is often referred to in one of three ways: the grapho, the logos or the rhema. The Bible is the Word of God, but it is the grapho or “written” word. This doesn’t mean it isn’t important or is somehow less significant than anything else. The most famous use, of course, of logos is in the Gospel of John. Here Jesus is referred to as “The Word”.  For me, this is, in many ways, a comforting thought. That is, to get “in the word” I have to get “in Jesus.” I like that. It makes sense to me, and, ultimately, places prominence where prominence is due.

Finally, there is the rhema; the LIVING WORD. This is when the word is made real to the reader (or listener) in a way that it wasn’t before. This happens when the promise Jesus made that the “Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth” occurs for the believer. And this is why I am comfortable using multiple translations. In prayer, I approach study of the Bible and beg God to grant me favor and make the grapho given through the ministry of the logos become rhema to me in my mind, in my heart and in my life. The way I look at it, every time I read a different translation, I am engaging with another believer (or set of believers) in a conversation about how they interpret Scripture. So, bring on the Bibles! After all… God is true even if EVERY MAN WOMAN AND CHILD is a liar! I don’t have to worry.

(For the record, the Bible I use for personal devotion/reading is the CEV.  I just like it. There is no deep reason. I also like The Message – though the Psalms in that translation are abysmal. I’m also a fan of the NASB. I also really enjoy the Amplified Bible, and the ESV, the BBE, the NKJV, KJV, and….)

Down… But Not Defeated

I’m really frustrated right now. I promised myself that I wouldn’t use this blog as a place to vent or post my “whatever” stuff (you can read those posts at my BLAHG!) and I’m going to do all I can to make sure that this isn’t a “venting” post. What? I’m two sentences in and already rambling? Let me explain.

I am a Christian (if I really have to explain that, then you forgot what blog this is). For me, that’s really the end of it. When people ask, “what are you?”, I get that they are really asking “what denomination are you?”, and I’m fine with that. I simply answer that I am a Christian. I’m not a Baptist, though there are aspects of my worldview that are reflective of that denomination’s teachings and policies. I’m not a Pentecostal, though… yeah, what I said in the last sentence. I’m not a Methodist, but John Wesley is probably my favorite preacher of all time.  I’m just a Christian. HOWEVER…

I once followed a girl to Lee University, THE Church of God university. Recently, I had a phone interview with a local Baptist church, and I was told that “[the search committee] probably won’t want you because you went to Lee University.” (Not even kidding about the quote.  The guy actually said that.) I wish it stopped there.

I once worked as an Associate Pastor at a rather large SBC church. I was ordained there. Yes, ordained into the SBC. There’s a catch. This SBC church believes in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the continuing gifts of the Spirit. This makes the pastor and the church, 1) anomalies in the denomination, and 2) shunned by many (most???) therein. What’s the point?

When I send resumes out to SBC churches (in the past six months, over 50) it is not unusual for me to hear nothing back from them, and, in the past week alone, it has been confirmed to me by almost a dozen different sources in different parts of the country, that it is a combination of my education at Lee University along with my connection to the aforementioned SBC church (yes, it goes nameless for a reason), that has hindered my progress in “vocational ministry.” Apparently, the assumption is made that I am just a crazy, tongue-talking, oil-pouring, hands-laying-on, (snake-handling?) charismatic who has no real connection with the SBC at all.

But, do you want to know what’s funny? I don’t even have a prayer language. Yes, I have spoken in tongues before (it’s happened twice in my life, and I believe that on both occasions it happened as a sign for me to confirm the veracity and correctness of particular things that were happening in my life at the time), but I don’t have what is commonly referred to as a “prayer language.” I do believe that the gifts are in existence, but I don’t think they started up again in the late 19th/early 20th century. I believe they never ceased. But that’s not even a focus of my teaching ministry. I have rarely taught on tongues or the gifts.

I share all of this, because these experiences have helped to put a fine point on my ministry. Over the past couple of years the focus of my teaching has really come to be about two things: 1) Restoration, and 2) Transparency. Let’s talk about transparency first.

We are, each one of us, called to do and be certain things. As each of us are unique, and have individual callings, it follows that our callings are as individual as we each are. You can’t do the things I can do, and vice versa. As this is the case, then the sad attempts at emulation and mimicry of the lives and ministries of other Christians must cease, and our masks must come off! Very often I have heard from both Christians and non-Christians alike that they wish preachers would be more real with them. “It seems like their life is so perfect and mine is so completely messed up!” (Again, actual quote.) As anyone in ministry knows, our lives are not perfect by a LONGSHOT! TAKE THE MASKS OFF!!!

The idea of restoration is simple (in theory). We have to stop clinging to the unbiblical idea of denominations and embrace the truth that, as Christians, we are one Church, one People and one Body. We might believe different things in terms of our broader theologies, and that’s OK. What unites us is the belief that we are saved by the atoning work of Jesus. He alone is our Savior. We are not saved by the things we do, or the doctrines we do or do not embrace. Do I think a Christian who believes that speaking in tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit are still active is, in fact, not saved? Absolutely not! Do I think a Christian who believes that speaking in tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit ceased with the death of the Apostle John is, in fact, not saved? Absolutely not! These things do not determine our salvation. Only our acceptance of God’s free gift through Christ and our submitting to the Lordship of Jesus affects that issue. Everything beyond that is interpretation and fodder for discussion. (I just offended most of the Body of Christ just now…)

I’m going to leave the rest of that alone, for now, and direct you to this site: Between Love and Doctrine. This is the kickstarter site for my friend Michael Raburn. He has a bead on what I’m talking about better than anyone I’ve ever heard.

Also, I want to be clear that I have no ill will whatsoever toward the SBC, any SBC church or churches of any other denomination. If that’s what you got from this article, please read it again.

So, in closing, yes I’m frustrated.  But my success (or yours, for that matter)  in vocational ministry or any other endeavor has nothing to do with denominations or people who stereotype or pigeonhole me (or you).  Because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) So, whatever is going on, you can be sure that God is not done with me (or you) yet.

Righteous Anger: My Thought’s On A Friend’s Suicide

As I sat down tonight to write an update post about what a crazy month July has been and how it has kept me from updating as much as I would like, I received a phone call that changed ALL of my plans.

I won’t go into any kind of sordid detail here (it taints the picture, distracts from the point and invades the privacy of my friend’s family) so don’t read further down for it because you won’t find it.  Tonight, I received news that a friend of mine who had only very recently accepted Christ was found dead today.  The coroner’s report will read suicide; it will be incorrect.

I have long struggled with the issue of suicide.  When I was a teen I contemplated it while sitting in the dark listening to sad songs (who didn’t, right?).  But it was always the issue itself from a Christian perspective that has befuddled me.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  I didn’t know how to answer when people asked.

There are those in Christendom who say that suicide is a mortal sin and, therefore, unpardonable.  There are those who say that anyone who could be so foolish as to take their own life are obviously mocking God.  Some question when professing Christians, like my friend, perform such a heinous act if they could even be Christians at all because “the soul who has known the forgiving grace, unmerited favor and limitless love of God would never end his own life, and one who did must, by all rights, not be a Christian in the first place.” (Yes, that’s a legitimate quote, but I won’t cite it just in case the preacher who said it has come to his senses and doesn’t want to be embarrassed by something he said in a moment of obvious and glaring stupidity.)

I confess that, for a very long time, I had no answers to give… but now I do.  And, like so many revelations I have received while not knowing that I was looking for one, this one came from a combination of Bible Study induced questioning and a great movie.  I was studying John’s gospel several years ago when I read:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. – John 10:27-30

My initial pondering was one of how this impacted the “eternal security” debate.  Then my wife and I decided to see the movie Luther.  In this film there is a series of scenes wherein Luther interacts with a young man who is obviously depressed, but, for reasons we are not told, will not respond to Luther’s outreach.  One day the young man (a boy, really) is found hanging in the scaffolds near the church.  Luther has him brought down and insists the boy be buried in the church’s cemetery.  (This scene is fictional, but it conveys much of what happened in Luther’s understanding of God’s grace.)  When confronted by the parishioners that the boy had committed a mortal sin and , therefore could not be buried in holy ground, Luther responded this way:

Some people say that according to God’s justice, this boy is damned because he took his life.  I say it was overcome by the devil.  Is this child any more to blame for the despair that overtook him than an innocent man who is murdered by a robber in the woods?

When these two ideas conjoined in my head, I knew I had an answer to the question of suicide.  Plainly, suicide is no indicator of faith or salvation, much less the lack thereof.

And that is why the coroner’s report will be wrong.  Because, you see, my friend is as much the victim of murder as any who meets their death at the hands of an enemy.  Be sure, my friend was murdered.  And it is the intent of his truest enemy to see as many of us dead as possible.  We’re told over and over in the Bible, both implicitly and explicitly that Satan wants us dead.  It is his primary motivation.  Today, my friend’s family suffers for it, and we are all diminished.

But more than anything, we should be filled with a righteous anger, because, while this murder hits close to home for me, how many deaths have gone unnoticed by me, or by the members of my church, or by the Church at large?  No, let us be furious, not at those who take their lives by their own hand but at the hand of the one who drives them to that act of desperation in the first place!

In closing, to all who might disagree with me on this issue, I say this: You have every right to be wrong.  (That’s a joke, I love you Dr. Horton.)  In truth, I say this, seek God in prayer and see what He would tell you.  And, finally, consider these thoughts from the great C.H. Spurgeon, in his sermon “The Security of Believers; Or, Sheep Who Shall Never Perish”:

Some one wickedly said, “They may get out of his hand themselves.”  But how can this be true, when the first sentence is, “They shall never perish”?  Treat Scripture honestly and candidly, and you will admit that the promise “they shall never perish” shuts out the idea of perishing by going out of the Lord’s hand by their own act and deed.  “They shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”  Who is to loosen the clasp of that hand which was pierced with the nail for me?  My Lord Jesus bought me too dearly ever to let me go.  He loves me so well that his whole omnipotence will work with that hand, and unless there is something greater than Godhead, I cannot be plucked away from that dear, fastholding grip.

Go with God, D.W.  To be absent from the body is, after all, to be present with the Lord.

NETFLIX: A Response To The Response

I and a few other Netflix customers who took the time to post a reaction on Netflix’s blog were quoted in the International Business Times a couple of days ago.  It was in a related article that the “truth” (??? Maybe???) came out.  Apparently, Netflix wants this reaction because it is trying to get out of the DVD-by-mail business.  Since video streaming is the future and DVD-by-mail will go the way of the dodo, it stands to reason that Netflix is trying to make DVD-by-mail a less appealing choice.  But, if that is, in fact, the case, it seems to me that Netflix is still treating it’s customers badly.  Netflix has been competing with the negative PR, by saying that in comparison to their worldwide customer base, the negative responses on their blog and FB wall are insignificant, and ratio of response is indicative that most customers are happy with the idea.

This is not the way to handle your customers.  How many of us would have been so much happier (not completely, but bear with me for a moment) if Netflix had said:

Dear Customers,

We at Netflix have come to understand that Video Streaming is the wave of the future.  We have done much in the past couple of years to increase our streaming library <insert statistics here> and we have seen our customer base for video streaming grow significantly because of those efforts.  Additionally, our DVD-by-mail department and offerings has proven to be cost ineffective.  DVD’s which are returned to us damaged (if at all), have come to cost us, and ultimately our customers, more money than we make.  Therefore, as of Monday, July 18, 2011 we will be splitting these plans into two sections: 1) Video Streaming only, and 2) DVD-by-mail.  These plans will cost $7.99 each.  This new plan will affect new customers only. Our existing customers will continue on in their current plan.  However, all customers should know that as of January 1, 2013, Netflix will cease to function as a DVD-by-mail service.

This change will better serve both our shareholders and customers as it will free up our assets to increase both bandwidth and content for video streaming.  At Netflix, we cherish our customers and understand that their loyalty, your loyalty, not simply their subscriptions or dollars is what keeps us in business.  It is our sincerest hope that we can maintain that loyalty during this time of transition.

Please Note: This is NOT, sadly, an actual Netflix PR relase.

Now, if Netflix had said THAT, not only would NO ONE have cancelled their service this past week, but people would have clamored to get on board before Monday’s price hike.

You need better PR, Netflix.

Finally, let me address, the idea that the ratio of people responding negatively to the total number of customers shows that the negative response is insignificant…  We are not insignificant!  To the person reading this, YOU ARE NOT INSIGNIFICANT!!!!  Contact Netflix TODAY by calling 1-866-716-0414 and let them know how you feel about this price hike (because that’s really all it is).

ATTN NETFLIX (or “Owl Droppings” Again)

I wrote a  post on this blog back in August of 2010 wherein I vented my frustrations at HootSuite and AT&T regarding price changes for existing customers. And now, I’m hit again…

ATTN NETFLIX: In the past year, your stock has nearly tripledTRIPLED! in a time of economic downturn. The reason for this, the ONLY reason for this, is that you were smarter than EVERY other company that does anything close to what you do. You had streaming (for some new-ish titles and a lot of titles people may never have otherwise heard of – my family will forever be grateful for “gargantuan price hike. Think about this for a second… as of September 1, I will have to pay almost 65% over again to receive the EXACT SAME SERVICE that I was receiving on August 30. This is bad, BAD business (price gouging, if it was at a gas station) especially in these financial times.

My family has come to really appreciate you Netflix. Our many FB status updates and tweets validate this. During a time we could not afford cable or satellite service, but we HAD to have HS Internet (due to work and school) you supplied us with a pleasant and refreshing host of alternatives (the aforementioned “Pyarr Impossible,” “original and animated, and COUNTLESS others) while at the same time providing us with the occasional DVD to buffet out what was not available via streaming.  We knew that we could count on Netflix.  We encouraged people to join, lauding you as the single BEST option for a family’s television viewing experience.  We told people that the streaming plus one-DVD-at-a-time plan was the PERFECT solution for a family on a tight budget trying to find ways to combat the ridiculously high costs of cable and satellite plans.

But you know what my family NEVER did. We NEVER received more than five DVD’s a month. Never! Now explain to me as a shareholder in your company why you think that ANYONE would not be better served by staying with the streaming only plan and going to Redbox or Blockbuster express a few times a month (especially when I very often get emails and text messages for free rentals from these places).

In short, explain to me as a SHAREHOLDER IN YOUR COMPANY AS WELL AS A CUSTOMER why my stock is going to start dropping because you got greedy!

BAD FORM, Netflix!  Bad form, and VERY bad business!

For those who may ask, no, I don’t know what we will do with out Netflix subscription come September 1.  I sincerely hope they see the error of their ways as customers lash out and rise up in protest over this ridiculous decision.

Casey Anthony (Just This One Thing)

I was in college when the verdict came in at the OJ trial.  I remember my dorm virtually blowing up with collective ire over the assumed injustice.  Even this year I have heard people discuss the Simpson trial and get very worked up over that jury’s decision.  Today, I watched my FB and Twitter feeds mirror the explosion of indignation when the verdict of “Not Guilty” on three of the four counts against Casey Anthony was pronounced.  I have read statements rooted in hurt and dismay (“I hope the jurors sleep well tonight and don’t burst into flames!”), or were attempts to cling to peace in the storm (“I know that God is the righteous judge, and that Caylee is receiving perfect justice now.”), or that were on the very edge of legality (“On my way to Orlando with a shotgun and a shovel!  Who’s with me?”).  However, it is only in the last few minutes that I’ve read anything approaching what I am about to say.

Part of me is glad that Casey Anthony was found not guilty.  After following this story, reading summations and excerpts, the fact of the matter is this: the prosecution absolutely failed to do its job.  In this country 100% of the burden of proof is on the prosecution.  The person charged doesn’t have to prove that they are innocent; the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged is guilty.  That’s the entire premise behind “innocent until proven guilty.”  And, in this case, the prosecution did not prove Casey Anthony’s guilt.  They couldn’t even, ultimately, prove that little Caylee’s death was murder.

Casey Anthony’s actions while her daughter was missing (dead) were what convinced almost everyone that she was guilty (And just hang with me on that one for a second), but those actions make her a horrible… HORRIBLE mother, not a murderer.  It’s like the defense attorney said, to convict a juror has to “have an abiding conviction of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Let me be clear about one thing: I’m fairly certain that she is, in fact, guilty.  But the case against her is almost entirely circumstantial.

Long story short, the prosecution could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt the cause or manner of death.  Without the absence of reasonable doubt, a conviction can’t (and shouldn’t) happen.

However, there is another issue for me here.  Consider this: According to a study conducted in 2008* (coincidentally, the same year that little Caylee Anthony was killed, or died), showed that there were 20,000 murders committed, with only 15,000 arrests made.  Of those, only 14,000 actually went to court, and, of those, only 10,000 murder convictions were handed down.  What that means is that 4,000 court cases resulted in acquittal.

Where is the ire and indignation over those 4,000 cases?  Why is Caylee’s life (and the perceived injustice on her behalf) more important to us than these other 4,000?  Is it because Caylee was so cute (God, she really was) or because she was so young and had so much life ahead of her?  For my brothers and sisters in Christ, let me ask this, was Caylee’s soul more important than that of the other 4,000 victims who have received no justice  Or, even harder to say (or swallow), is her soul more important than her mother’s?

The facts of the aftermath (whether Casey Anthony is, in fact, innocent or guilty) are these:

  1. Casey Anthony’s life will never be the same.
  2. Casey Anthony will almost certainly never have anything approaching a normal life (“Hi, I’d like to apply for a job as a sales clerk in this fine Target store.”  “Ok, and what’s your name?”  “Ummmm… Casey Anthony.”  “Yeah, get out!”)
  3. Casey Anthony’s family will almost certainly be destroyed over this.
  4. Casey Anthony will almost certainly never live another peaceful day for the rest of her life, whether from guilt or from fear that the aforementioned “seekers of justice” will come for her.
  5. Casey Anthony, according to the rule of law, is not guilty of this crime, but she will be forever treated like she is.

It may be very true that justice wasn’t served today, but just imagine for a moment that it was you in Casey Anthony’s chair and you had not, in fact, killed your daughter.  Aren’t you glad that we live in a country where your guilt must be proven and not your innocence?

Finally, I would like to share the advice of a good friend of mine.  If you are convinced that Casey Anthony is, in fact, guilty of this crime (as, again I can’t say this enough, I AM ALSO) then the only justice Caylee may know this side of Heaven can be found in your voice.  Take time out of your schedule to write, Lifetime (here), WE, (here), E! (here), HLN (here), Nancy Grace (here), Prosecutor Jeff Ashton and the other prosecutor’s (here), Defense Counsel Cheney Mason and the other defense attorneys (here) and anyone else that I can’t think of (or that you hear about) to let them know that you won’t take part of the purchase of ANY book, the viewing of any movie, made-for-TV or otherwise, and, if you want to be really hardcore, cancel subscription to channels that provide these.  In short “Don’t buy their books, don’t see their movie[s], don’t watch them on interview shows. Capitalism isn’t the last line of defense, but in this instance it might be the only one.”
A couple of postscripts:

I have turned off comment moderation, so say what you want, but I will neither read nor respond.  I meant what I said in the title; I’m just saying this one thing.

I really can’t say enough, I do think that Casey Anthony is, of not guilty, at the very least culpable in Caylee’s death.

Casey’s father creeps me out.  Google that for yourself.

Regarding my questions to fellow Christians: As far as we can tell, no victory was had today.  But no victory would have happened if she had been found guilty either.  Satan rejoices at the death of the lost and the righteous equally.  We should do neither.

I pray there is a special place in hell for the unrepentant killers of children.  At the same time, I pray that those guilty will truly repent, and I am grateful that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

*Numbers are rounded up based on averages from a seven year study.

Caring For Those In (Medical) Need

“Earlier this month,” says Zachary Roth in a report filed with Yahoo News, “a 59-year-old convenience store clerk, walked into a Gaston, N.C., bank and handed the cashier a note demanding $1 and medical attention. Then he waited calmly for police to show up.”

I came across this  news item in the modern repository of news highlights, the FaceBook News Feed.  (Because, seriously, what would we do in this day and age with Facebook and RSS feeds?)  A friend of mine posted the link and responded to the article by saying this:

[O]ur system is screwed up, because if you were a single lady having babies by different men you could get medicaid, food stamps, welfare checks. when what really needs to happen is they need to be made to find a job and tie them tubes. then when people like this man needs help there will some funds to help. EMERGENCY ROOM BILLS WILL RUIN YOUR CREDIT IF YOU CANT AFFORD TO PAY THEM.

The problem with that statement (as logical as it sounds) is this: It is one tiny step away from federal regulation of reproduction.  Read the history and see what people like Margaret Sanger thought about that (Planned Parenthood, Eugenics).  As I often quote, “America isn’t easy.  America is ADVANCED CITIZENSHIP.  You’ve got to want it BAD!”  We can’t allow for federal (or even state or local) regulation of personal liberties like this, because if the governments of this world have taught us nothing else, they have taught us that if the citizenry will give an inch, then the government will take the nation.  It may be (it is) ridiculous that a person in prison receives better health care than the average homeless citizen, but it is a mark of virtue in our society that we treat our prisoners as people.  It is sad that many in this nation have no health care, but that is a SYMPTOM issue and not one of causality.

Finally, yes, it is a bit of a travesty that a woman can do what my friend described said, and it is sad that people without health care feel forced into this position.  But rather than expecting the government to step in and do something, the better question for a Christian to ask is this: what is the Church doing to reach her so that she will stop relying on a system that, essentially, makes her a slave?  I liken it to the abortion issue.  I don’t understand why churches will stand in protest lines around an abortion clinic waving signs that say true things, but also, many times, very hurtful and accusatory things while AT THE SAME TIME providing no alternative for those walking into the clinics.

Stand up!  Be irate!  But “be angry and sin not.”  Look around and see those in your community that are caught up in the lies that have been told to them and show them the light of God’s truth.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16
Or as the old Sunday School song put it…
This little light of mine?  I’m gonna let it shine!
Because, ultimately, if you’re in a deep, dark cavern, who cares if you say you have a light, if you refuse to use it to show the way out?

“Abba” Means Daddy (Not Father)

A very important day is coming up this Sunday. As a pastor, I have an obligation to talk about it. :-) Sunday is Father’s Day. It has a very interesting history, if you haven’t read it. This is the day we set aside to celebrate, in a special way, the importance of Fathers in our lives. I’ll get to the “devotional” aspect of this post in a moment, but, to set the stage, let me tell you a little bit about my dad.

I won’t go into where or when he was born (although I’ve been to a tiny cabin he shared in South Carolina with my Grandfather, Grandmother, and five other siblings) or what he did for a living… this isn’t a post about what a great guy he was or is. It’s about the relationship that he and I shared while I was growing up, and what’s happened to it since.

My mom and dad divorced when I was about seven. I didn’t see my dad a lot, because he worked himself near to death in an effort to provide (and, yes, this is a quote) “everything you and your mother might have ever had if we had never gotten a divorce.” I talked to my dad a lot… every day, really. There was a hardly a night that I didn’t get a phone call before bed. He was there on every birthday, every Christmas, Easter, official and unofficial holiday, every school and extra-curricular event. Still, I felt distant from him. I was never able to feel close to him.

There were a lot of reasons for that distance, but there’s only one that’s important: I believe with all of my heart that the reason I felt distant from my father is found in a prophecy in the book of Malachi.

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. – Malachi 4:5-6

I have often wondered what this prophecy meant. I know, of course, that it is a prophecy of John the Baptist and his ministry, but there is something underneath the surface in this prophecy. If the prophet Elijah will have, as part of his ministry, the job of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, then it stands to reason that their hearts have been, for some reason, turned away from each other.

Some people call this the “generation gap” and it’s dismissed as something that just happens and is supposed to be completely normal. But God doesn’t see it that way. More importantly, God knows the important role that fathers have in the lives of their children. This is especially evident when God talks about Himself as “Father.”

I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son ; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ – Psalms 2:7-8

Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds — his name is the LORD– and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. – Psalms 68:4-5

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. – Psalms 103:13

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. – Proverbs 3:11-12

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. – Jeremiah 31:9

Have we not all one Father ? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? – Malachi 2:10

For a long time, I couldn’t relate to God, but I have only begun to understand in the last decade or so that the reason for that is that I was relating to my heavenly father the same way that I was relating to my earthly father; which is, of course, to say “not that well at all.” But then, a miracle happened.

I have seen in the past ten years a gradual but profound change working in my earthly father. In many ways he is not the same man I knew growing up. He is kinder, gentler, more loving, more giving, more understanding, easier to relate to… I’m closer to him now than I have ever been. I tell my wife often that a miracle has happened in my dad’s life. I don’t know how or why outside of God’s influence. Then, I have to stop and think… Has my dad changed? Or have I? I think that the truth is that we both have. And that is the miracle of the fulfilled prophecy of Malachi 4:6.

The word translated as “father” אב in the Bible is a wonderful thing. In the New Testament, it’s almost always the word πατήρ (pater) which is a high Greek/Latin term that means, you guessed it, “father.” But the word in Hebrew is more beautiful by far. In the Old Testament, the word usually translated as father is אב (ab). Here’s what you need to know about this word. It’s a baby word. I don’t mean that it’s small. I mean it’s one of the first words that a baby says. “Can you say daddy? Daddy? Daddy? Daaaaaddy?” (This illustration works a thousand times better if you imagine it being said in that silly way adults talk to newborns.) Now, imagine that same thing said to a young Jewish child. The word would be repeated not as אב but as אבא (Abba or Ἀββᾶ in Greek), and it is this word that is used EVERY TIME the word father is uses in reference to God as Father in the Old Testament.

What’s the point? My heart melts when I walk in the front door, and my daughters, on seeing that I have returned form a speaking engagement or a rehearsal or wherever or whatever has taken me away from them, faces light up and yell: “Daddyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” This is how God wants us to interact with him. Not as some high and distant far away monarch, but an up close and personal, right now available ready-to-wrap-you-up-in-His-arms DADDY! This is how I have finally come to interact with Him (I’m not finished yet, but I’m getting there), and, by His grace and because of that promise in Malachi, it’s also how I am coming to interact with my earthly daddy. It has been an amazing thing, getting to know him all over again these past tent years. I still fail, sometimes miserably, as a son (at least from my perspective) and he still frustrates me, but my daddy is amazing all over again to me. I thank God that the heart of this child has been turned toward his father, and I am yet even more thankful that the my Heavenly father, my אבא, my Ἀββᾶ loves me so much.

In closing, Happy Father’s Day to my earthly father (I love you so much, and I am so proud to be your son) and my Heavenly father (I am unworthy to be in your family, and I am amazed by your love for me), but, more importantly, for anyone who might read this and is for whatever reason distant from your earthly father, know this, when you accept Christ’s salvation and make Him Lord of your life, then you have this amazing promise to hold on to:

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. – Romans 8:14-17

Just as an endnote: I don’t want to be misunderstood. My dad was and is a great father. He is now a great grandfather. This is not so much about the “change” that I’ve seen in him (though it’s there) as it is about the miraculous work God has done in our relationship with each other. Happy Father’s Day, Poppa!

But This Time I REALLY Mean It!

Before I launch in too deep into the murky waters that this post is sure to stir, I want to say thank you to everyone who stopped by on May 20th and 21st to read my previous post about this issue.  Even moreso, I want to thank those who commented, either here or via Twitter or Facebook.  Your comments are appreciated and heard.

With that in mind, let me address a couple of comments that actually spurred the initial draft of this post.  Some said that I was too hard on Harold Camping in my initial post; that I disrespected someone with whom, though a brother in Christ, I vehemently disagreed.  Message received.

After listening to Harold Camping – and even quoting him a few times in a dissertation – I must admit that I have never heard him teach bad soteriology.  He teaches, so far as I know and have been able to discern, that salvation comes to someone through faith in the atoning work of Jesus and nothing else.  That’s good solid doctrine.  In Acts 16, Paul said, in response to the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?”, that salvation comes about simply by “believ[ing] in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and all in your house.”  That’s it.  Believe in the atoning work of Jesus, understanding that there is nothing you can do to add to that to insure your salvation.

So, the original intent of this post was to clarify my position on Camping (i.e., I believe he is a Christian, even if he is horribly misguided on some issues) and to extend my condolences to him and all of his followers who find themselves in awkward situations in this uncertain time.

But then, Camping said this:

The structure of God’s timeline has not changed.  No change at all. … My life and the life of many others… if we found we made a mistake we’ll correct that immediately. [May 21] was an invisible judgement day. A spiritual judgement day. But it was still a judgement day.

and

When we study the Bible, we don’t know everything. The Bible is very complex…. I challenge everybody, read every word and try to decide what is God saying? I don’t know if any of you have tried that…. You’ll find that you’ll read verse after verse and you’ll wonder, ‘What is God talking about?’ We have to do it. We don’t always hit the nail on the head the first time. We’re a long way toward being right. But it’s not physically at this time, it is spiritual. We have not been wrong about that at all.

And in response to the question, “how can you in good conscience say that the world will end in October on the heels of your failed prediction for May 21, 2011?”

I have never never told anybody that I’m infallible…. There isn’t any student of the Bible who can say I have never made a mistake.”

Finally, in response to the question, “Are you prepared to apologize?”, Camping gave this feeble response:

If people want me to apologize I can apologize, yes I did not have it all as I should have.  I’m not a genius.  I pray all the time for wisdom.  When I make an error I say Yes I was wrong.  It was to be understood spiritually, not physically.  The world is now under judgement where it was not prior to May 21, 2011.

Before I continue, I have to address this.  Outside of his error in attempting to discern a date and time that the Bible clearly teaches can not be known, what we have here is a man who is egregious in his arrogance.

Words mean something.  Time and again in the past year or so, Camping has used the term “irrefutable” and “infallible” to describe the various “proofs he has found in the Bible to give the May 21 date for the Rapture.  He described it as an actual physical event which would involve earthquakes and the snatching away of believers at 6:00 pm.  These “facts” were irrefutable!  Yet, here we are.

So, in order to preserve what precious little legitimacy his ministry has, all of a sudden we learn that May 21 was a date of spiritual judgment and October 21 is the date of the actual Rapture. <sigh>  Where are the “irrefutable” and “infallible” proofs, Harold?!?  The fact, remains, readers, that these “proofs” don’t exist because we are assured, in the Bible from the lips of Jesus Himself, that they can’t.

So, essentially, Harold Camping added some prophetic revelation to the Bible.  Consider that in the light of these words taken from a transcript of Harold Camping’s radio call-in Q&A show.  Camping responds to a caller by saying:

The minute you try to add to the Bible, from this vision or that tongue, or whatever, and one person adds this, and another one adds that, and someone else adds something else, and then attempt to interpret the Bible in the light of all this new information, you end up with a gospel that will take you almost anywhere.  This is exactly what is happening today.  The false gospels are going off in all directions.

Essentially, my friends, that’s what Camping did.  He added.  True, he claimed to have reached his conclusions via intense study of the Bible, but he added, nonetheless, and came up with – according to his definition – a false gospel.

If you’re reading this, and you are uncertain about your spiritual future, let me assure you that you don’t have to be.  Yes, there will, one day, be a rapture, but you need not worry about that.  The path to salvation is simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  Simple.  The best part is that it’s not about what you have done, are doing or will do.  God doesn’t look to your actions to see if you have done enough to earn His favor.  ” God loved [you] so much that He gave His only Son, so that [if you] have faith in Him [you will] have eternal life.  God did not send His Son into the world to condemn [you].  God sent Him to save [you]!  No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned!”

And that’s a promise you can count on.

Finally, this will be my last post on this topic.  It simply isn’t worth my time.  I will address any questions you have (as always read and comment.  It’s about community.) here or through Twitter or FB.  But let my final word on Camping be this:

I do believe Camping is a Christian, but he is dispensing more false teaching than truth.  Avoid him at all costs.  If you have given him money, I’m sorry (though I don’t think he should refund anything.  Caveat Emptor.)  Find a local church that teaches truth, and don’t just be preached to.  Study, and show yourself and approved student of the word.  Keep away from worthless and useless talk. It only leads people farther away from God. (2 Timothy 2:15-16)  Test all things and all teachers. (I Thessalonians 5:21)  Camping advocates intensive study of Scripture.  Do it!  And stop letting him do it for you!

Rapture (Not According to Blondie)

20110520-030907.jpgHere’s the skinny: according to Harold Camping at 6:00 pm today (May 20th in the Western Hemisphere & May 21st in the Eastern) the world will start to experience the effects of a “rolling rapture” with the real-time experience happening at your personal 5/21/2011 6:00 pm moment. (Apparently, God, Who is no respecter of persons, is a BIG respecter of time zones and geography, and for a rapture to happen all at once would make a doomsday forecaster’s date wrong SOMEWHERE and that wouldn’t be nice at all. I digress…) Mr. Camping and his followers have spent countless dollars on a billboard & flyer campaign, with many of Camping’s followers handing out the flyers at street fairs, conventions, trade shows and casinos.
To be fair, Camping did conclude that the rapture would occur back in 1994. He revealed his conclusion in a book titled, 1994? When the end didn’t occur, Camping pointed out that he was uncertain of his date, hence the question mark. (I swear to God I’m not making this up.) Obviously, punctuation not only saves lives – “Let’s eat, children!” being a far different statement than “Let’s eat children!!!” – it also covers a multitude of sins. However, Camping says that this time he is “absolutely certain,” and to even consider that the Rapture would not occur on May 21st is tantamount to sinful.
So, what’s the deal? Should we live up the next few to several hours we have? Should we rush to a local church and pray that we get things right, just in case? Should we go out Steve-Buscemi style and take out tons of loans from loansharks and leave behind all that debt to the sinful gangster? Should we sell all we have and give it to the poor, then rush to the highest point in our area so as to save some hang time when we meet Jesus in the air?
The truth is, none of these are necessary. Why? Because I can guarantee that nothing Rapture related will happen on May 21st 6:00 pm anywhere in the world. (I can’t say anything about 6:01 or anytime after)
It’s a simple thing, really. As much as is revealed to us in Scripture (there’s a LOT), as much as there is to know (a TON) as much prophecy that has already been fulfilled (yeah, you can check it out) and as much prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, there is one item we are guaranteed in Scripture to not EVER be able to know: the date (never mind the time) of the rapture. Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, speaking of the day in which the end would be (specifically, when two would be in the field when suddenly one would be left behind – that’s the rapture, people):
“No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows.”
As Camping claims to have come to his conclusion via intense Bible study, one can only conclude that he missed that verse entirely, because that pretty much settles that debate right there.
Also, let me be clear about one thing: while the Rapture won’t happen on May 21st, it WILL happen at some point, but there is no need to fear the Rapture or the One who knows when it will happen (NOT Harold Camping) because the One who knows is the same One who loves you enough to have already made a way for you.

Time To Pay The Rent

 

Recently, Diane Smith-Sadak, a theatre professor at Towson University stood helm at the school’s production of “RENT”. This should have been a simple matter, but it is slowly building steam as a watershed moment in educational theatre.
The short version? Sadak deleted five lines at the end of Act II and changed one line of lyric. Not a big deal right? Well, if you are at all familiar with the show, you can guess what she changed. The problem came when she got caught, and MTI (RENT’s licensing agency) threatened lawsuit.
If you want to read her ( Sorry, I just gagged a little) “defense” then go here and read her letter (along with a surprising spam of comments). Here is my response to her:

There are a couple of issues here, but before I get to them I want to confess, at the outset and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a writer of musical theatre. This biases me. I understand that. Now, let’s move on.

The argument that “Tickets were selling” (etc.) is ridiculous because the “new ending” (more on that in a moment) wasn’t selling the tickets. The name of the show was selling tickets; the RENT “brand” if you will was causing those tickets to fly out of the box office.  It’s remarkable arrogance to credit ticket sales of an existing brand – especially one so young – to an altered ending no one knew about.

More importantly, the “tortured/persecuted artist” defense is laughable.  The moment you go futzing with the text – nevermind MAJOR plot issues – you’re putting yourself in the role of writer, not director.  Short version: YOU’RE NOT THE WRITER! The director’s job is to interpret what the writer has written.  You failed when you tried to rewrite the ending.

As for the “new ending” itself, had you done your homework on the show you would have learned that Larson wrestled with this very decision.  There even exists a draft of the show wherein Mimi dies.  It almost made it to the final version.  Why isn’t it there?  Because a decision was made BY THE WRITER that to leave the audience with a sense of hope IN THE FACE AND IN SPITE OF this terrible disease was more important than “reality”.  Incidentally, this attitude was brought on by meetings he attended (think “Life Support”) where he was confronted by a man who explained that he was “living with, not dying from AIDS.”  Your cavalier dismissal of this decision cheapens his memory and his work on this show, no matter how much you might claim the contrary.

Finally, you claim to aspire to inspire your students.  Well, how about this: inspire them to create their OWN work and not rip off someone else’s.  Consider:

“Lexie? Mark. Call me a hypocrite, I need to retool the ending of LOST so that it makes sense and answers questions.” No… That’s not how that line goes… I remember…
“Lexie? Mark. Call me a hypocrite, I need to remake ‘The Godfather’ so that Michael can make it out of the family and go on to live a successful life as an honest politician and statesman who does noble things for the good of all.” No… That’s not it either… What did he say? Oh, yeah…
“Lexie? Mark. Call me a hypocrite, I need to finish MY OWN FILM!”

It’s a travesty what you have done in the name of “creating magical moments of Art.”   Also, you could try to convey that when you break the law, especially one you KNOW exists (and you really need to stop with that B.S. ” I never saw the contract” stuff, because 1) it’s insulting and 2) “Do Not Alter” is ALL OVER those scripts) you should expect to be called on it.  In all honesty I think you should be fired; not for changing the ending of “RENT” (which, just by the way, I think is a good change.  But that doesn’t mean I think it should be done.  The music is all wrong after that.) but for being a horrible example to the students in your charge.

So, here’s my question to you nice folks taking time out to read the Blahg: Was I too harsh?  Was I not harsh enough?  Where would/do you stand on this issue?

As Those Who Will Not See (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I responded to the first half of Ricky Gervais’ Easter “sermon.”  (If you want to be brought up to speed, go read it. :-) Things will go faster if I don’t summarize it all again here.)  Today… the second half.  We covered the first five commandments, now on to 6 – 10. Let’s get to it.

RG says in his defense of Commandment Six:

SIX

‘You shall not murder.’

Nope. Tick.

Very often, you might hear from the more liberal among us that even though “Big Corporations” (or very rich individuals, etc.) are not technically breaking the law, they are ignoring the “spirit” of the law.   Anyone who has spent some time in the New Testament knows that Jesus spoke directly to this commandment in letter and spirit.  He said that to harbor anger against some one (“to hate them”) was the same thing as committing murder.  So, what RG is asking us to accept is that he has never hated anyone.  Here’s what he, RG, said in an interview with “TimeOut London” he said:

I’m not a comedy snob but I hate people who’d rather be thought of as intelligent than funny. I hate people who’d rather have a round of applause for their wit and wisdom as opposed to making people laugh.

Was it said in jest?  Is RG using hyperbole?  Probably, but that’s awfully loose hate.  So, sorry, RG, no points on this one either.

In his response to the Seventh Commandment, RG said:

SEVEN

‘You shall not commit adultery.’

Nope. Tick.

The spirit of the law is at stake here as well.  Jesus said that to look lustfully at someone was the same thing as actually having sex with them.  So, again, no points here, RG, for you or anyone (Because, seriously, who has never – NEVER – seen someone, ANYONE, and said, #*$&….” you know?)

Regarding the Eighth Commandment (one of the trickier ones in my opinion), RG says this:

EIGHT

‘You shall not steal.’

Nope. Tick.

RG is a comedian… I love how he doesn’t even defend his ticks.  I mentioned how this one is trickier than the others.  What does it mean to steal?  If you go into a store, grab a soda from the cooler, stash it in your jacket and leave without paying, that’s certainly theft.  Is there some kind of esoteric interpretation or understanding of this commandment?  I think if such can be said of other commandments, it’s certainly plausible that the same could be said of this commandment.  That said, it’s fairly well-documented that RG has stolen borrowed joke’s from other comedians in the course of his shows.  So, again, no points here.  (Regarding the “esoteric” application, let me say this – then more on it later – this commandment is, I think, intrinsically linked to the Tenth Commandment.)

The Ninth Commandment is, it seems, on of the most oft ignored of the “Thou Shalt Not” commandments.  I’d be willing to bet (is gambling on thsi list) that RG has nothing but good things to say about himself on this one as well.

NINE

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’

Nope. Tick.

Well, what do you know?  To “bear false witness” literally means to say something that’s not true about someone else.  Again, I think there is a deeper application here.  More at the end…

The Tenth Commandment, the one that is, truly the deal breaker for so many, because it’s virtually “unkeepable.”

TEN

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.’

Nope. Tick. Another point for me.

Not bad for an atheist.

This commandment covers property, spouses, accomplishments, position, and, ultimately, “anything” that your neighbor has.  Of course, there are subtle layers to “coveting.”  However, what this amounts to is even the slightest tinge of jealousy regarding something that someone else has or has accomplished.  Any jealousy at all!  I’m certainly guilty of that, as are we all.  No points here either, RG.

So, 0 out of 10.  Not good for anybody, but it illustrates a larger point and RG’s declaration that he has never broken any of these only shows his – and so many others’ – misunderstanding of just what the 10 commandments is.

The Purpose of the Ten Commandments

To be fair, I’m going to focus on just one purpose (there are many) in this post, but I want to start by saying what I believe the Ten Commandments is NOT.  Specifically, the Ten Commandments is not simply a long list of “do not’s”.  Of course, that seems a little specious as the word “You shall not” appear nine times in this list of commands.  But the point of this list is, ultimately, to demonstrate the need the Children of Israel – and, by extension, all of us – had and have for God to apply His own holiness onto our lives.  In short, “If you can live by these ordinances – and not just the letter of these laws but their very spirit – then you will be as holy as God is.”

RG sums up his “argument” by saying:

Even if this doesn’t prove I am a good Christian it does prove that the Bible is a bit inconsistent, open to interpretation, and a little intolerant.

This is not peculiar to Christianity to be fair. And I like to be fair. Because unlike ALL religions, as an atheist, I treat ALL religions equally.

I don’t know how either of these statements is true.  First of all, nothing that RG says in his article gives any support to the statement that the Bible is “inconsistent, open to interpretation and a little intolerant.”  I guess we could ignore the fact that RG demonstrates his own level of intolerance (as so many clamoring for tolerance so often do) and acknowledge that, while nothing he, RG, said supports it, the Bible is, in fact, open to many interpretations.  God has, in His mercy and grace, given us the freedom to come to our own conclusions on biblical matters, but that does not excuse us if our conclusions are incorrect.

Moreover, RG says that he likes to be “fair” and that as an atheist he “treats all religions equally.”  This last phrase might be the most honest in the entire article.  If you research RG’s walk into atheism you discover that he is, quite simply, following his convictions.  But I heard him say once:

“I wish there was a God and that he was all the things people said he was; all powerful and kind and all that… but the possibility is overwhelming to me.”

What we see here is that RG is a man of faith, it’s just that his faith is atheism.  Something(s) has convinced him that God can’t possibly exist.  I understand this doubt.  I have struggled with it in my own life as have many.  It is at this point that I would tell RG and anyone reading to pick up a copy of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith and read just the first chapter.  Lee’s interview with Charles Templeton, now deceased, but former evangelist with Billy Graham and, at the time of the interview a staunch agnostic (if not atheist) is a heartbreaking recollection of a man’s love and los of a relationship with Jesus.

And that, really, is the point of all of this.  No, Ricky, you aren’t a better Christian than most Christians, nor is any Christian a better person than you are (and any claiming to be so is a daft git who has no understanding of truth as revealed in Scripture).  There is, as the Bible says, “none righteousness; no, not one.”  But thank God – Who, incidentally does exist, is all powerful and kind and loves all of us very much; so much so that He sacrificed everything to reconcile us to Himself because He knew we would never be able to pull it off by ourselves – that we don’t have to worry about creating a righteousness for ourselves, but instead we can “let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to [us] as the clothes [we] wear” and have His righteousness because “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.”

I said it in closing Part 1, and I say it again here: How wonderful it is to know that we don’t win God’s favor or forgiveness based on a points system.

None So Blind… (Part 1 of 2)

Ricky Gervais has written a sermon, of sorts, entitled “Why I Am A Good Christian.”  The humor, if it can be called that, in the title is that Mr. Gervais is an admitted atheist.  I don’t often feel the need to respond quite this specifically, it would be remiss of me to NOT admit that this post came about specifically because I read his article.  I will hit the highlights and respond, and, in doing so, I hope to shed some light on all of us.

In the first paragraph, Mr. Gervais makes a telling statement:

I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians.

I’ll deal with the comparison issue in a moment.  The more important issue is that in this opening statement, Mr. Gervais demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith: Jesus was not half anything.  Jesus was both FULLY God and FULLY man.  This is called the Hypostatic Union. (John 1:1&14, Collosians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3).

Mr. Gervais goes on to say that:

It’s not that I don’t believe that the teachings of Jesus wouldn’t make this a better world if they were followed.  It’s just that they are rarely followed.

I wonder what teachings Mr. Gervais thinks should be followed…

  • The teaching that looking at a another person lustfully is the same thing as having sex with them – Matthew 5:28-30
  • The teaching that it is difficult for a rich person to go to Heaven – Mark 10:25
  • The teaching that the ONLY way to come to God is through (Jesus) – John 14:6
  • The teaching that to see him (Jesus) is the same thing as seeing the Father (God) – John 14:9
  • The teaching that he (Jesus) came to bring a fire (judgment) and division on the earth – Luke 12:49-53
  • The teaching that your love for your family should look like hate in comparison to your love for Jesus and that salvation comes from taking up your cross daily – Luke 14:26

Which one is OK with Mr. Gervais, I wonder?

Later in the article, Mr. Gervais decides to demonstrate his “better than most” Christianity by ticking a point system through the Ten Commandments.  He says:

ONE

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

I definitely do not. Excellent. I get one point.

Do you really?  Now, I get his humor here.  He’s an atheist.  He doesn’t believe in ANY God.  But there is a gulf of difference between saying you do or do not believe, believing and the truth.  “You shall have no other Gods…” means, quite simply, that if ANYTHING is more important to you than God (your career, your family, money, fame, success, your favorite sports team… ANYTHING) then you have set up an idol (Oops.  Looks like you broke number two as well.)  Additionally, I’d like to say that, while I am HARDLY innocent of this (or of what I am about to say), it’s true that one of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn was that worry was the WORST kind of (forgivable) sin.  The moment we worry, anout anything at all, then that thing has become God.  So, tick two points AGAINST all of us.

RG continues:

THREE

‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’

I never do.

Now, he goes on after this, and I have to say that he is spot on with his understanding of this one (if not his execution).  [Forgive my mish-mashing of his statements and mine in the next few lines…]  Few people understand that God’s name is not “God.”  This commandment has everything to do with attributing credit to, swearing by God’s (actual) name with intent to not honor the oath, or “honoring” God for something in a hollow manner.  RG points out that:

The commandment could equally be, You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in “vanity” e.g. when your enemy is hurt or defeated saying, “that’s God’s wrath,” or when you win an award saying, “thank God.” This is using his name in vanity. It’s suggesting that you KNOW that God helped you win that award because you deserved it more, or because he was on your side. It’s always tickled me that God would have a favourite actor at The Golden Globes.

He’s actually completely correct here.  His understanding of the fourth commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy” while effective and correct on a practical level, demonstrate a lack of understanding of the full scope of the commandment.  The Sabbath was a multi-leveled point of contact for this new nation of people.  Also, we’re told in the New Testament that Jesus is our Sabbath rest.  So, like so many things in the Old Testament, the keeping of the Sabbath was a foreshadow of Jesus and the hope we can have in Him.

With regards to the fifth commandment, RG states:

FIVE

‘Honour your father and your mother.’

I think I get a point if anyone does with this one.

The problem with this is that, as much as RG (or anyone) loves his or her parents, being disobedient – even once – or talking back (giving attitude of any kind), speaking disrespectfully to or even about your parents means you lose your point on this one.

So, in a nutshell, if you place more importance on anything than you do to God, worry about anything, thank God for something without truly meaning it or even mocking the idea of Him, consider the Sabbath Day just a “day off” without recognizing that it is a precursor of Jesus and the redemption rest that can only be offered in Him and talk back, even once, to your parents.  You’ve broken all of the first five commandments.

Sorry, RG.  No points for you… or any of us.  How wonderful it is to know that we don’t win God’s favor or forgiveness based on a points system.

Being The Best Around (or No One’s Gonna Ever Keep You Down)

Ok, so it’s no secret that I’m a child of the 80’s and some of you who were lucky enough to grow up in that wonderful decade won’t have a second wasted in identifying the source of this post’s title.  However, as much as I love the martial arts, they are not the subject of this post.

I have loved many vocations in my life.  I have given careful consideration to being a full-time composer/arranger/orchestrator, teacher, musician, collegiate professor, writer (sometimes books, sometimes game show questions), philosopher, Rock historian (would have been a great avenue whenever VH-1 or A&E did bio-documentaries), and even pursued the idea of being the exclusive biographer and chronicler of one music artist’s life.  I’ve ventured into some of these fields and those have been fruitful and fun. But, a job is one thing… PASSION is another.

THIS is Passion!!!

I’ve had to give a LOT of consideration lately to what that means.  Which leads me to “Bones” (buy the DVD’s here).  I got to thinking about the subject of following your passion – and, more specifically, being the BEST in your field – while watching the adventures of Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, who is, quite literally, the best in the WORLD at what she does (interesting note to those who might care; the character of Dr. Brennan is based on the real-life forensic anthropologist and author Dr. Kathy Reichs).  Governmental agencies fly Dr. Brennan all over the world to do what she does simply because she is the BEST at it.

So that gets me thinking… Have I identified my passion, and the true calling that God has for me (more to come on this in a later post.  HINT: Start reading Psalms 37:4) and, if I have, am I doing all I can to make myself the BEST IN THE WORLD at it?  If I haven’t, who not?

And that goes for all of us.  We are, each of us, unique individuals with a specific calling, prepared by God to do things that ONLY WE CAN DO!  Are we doing what we can?

So, what does that mean for me?  Well, it means I have to work hard at continuing to speak publicly, preaching and teaching; I also I have to spend more time at the piano to hone my abilities and improve my existing skill set.  Additionally, I have to work a little every day, writing and arranging songs.

Finally, I have to spend time with God EVERY day seeking His guidance and asking His blessing on my work.  Without those two things, my Passion is pointless, my work is wasted and my efforts are expended in vain.

When to be a CON Man!

I’m having a crisis of confidence all of a sudden. It probably has to do with being slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work that has come up in a short amount of time. Possibly it has something to do with my reticence to allow other people’s lack of planning to become my emergency. Possibly there are issues of the amount of work to low pay ratio that just makes everything else stressful. But what is really going on with me is the horror of a tentative job offer.

A few years ago, I worked in the worship department of a rather large church. For those reading this who know me (or just those who might be good at Googling) let me be clear; I loved (read: would have taken a bullet for) my boss. I still love him. I loved (read: would have dared people to shoot him just so I could take the bullet for) the senior pastor. I still would. The short version is I can’t disclose the full story of why I no longer work there. I can say that there was no misconduct on anyone’s part. It was right before the big dip in the recession and I will just leave it at that. I “left” on good terms. I love the church, the staff, the people… ALL OF IT! LOOOOOOOVE!

But…

Sometimes, I still feel like I was thrown under the bus. I accepted this call to ministry, and I found a church that I loved… and then the ground fell out from under me. (Sidebar: I know God had/has a plan. That’s not what this is about.)

Then…

Recently, I was told by someone that I really trust, that he didn’t think i was cut out for an “office hours” type of job. I can’t explain why that hurt me the way it did. I can say that it rocked my confidence to the core. The thing is, I didn’t keep office hours at the church; not regular office hours, anyway. I lived about 45 minutes away from the church, so coming back home and running errands (doctor’s appointments, etc) was not easy like it was for other staff members who might live 5 minutes form the church. Therefore, I often took mornings to do my in-town errand running and then went into the church. It was not uncommon for me to, even then, stay at the church for 12 hours or more a day. The last big production week we had, I came into the church on Sunday morning at 8:00 and left the church Thursday night at 11:00. Yes, I slept in my office. The changes being made in the production made the time lost in the back and forth of travel (settling in, etc) counter-productive.

Understand, I don’t say this to glorify myself; I loved doing it! I hated being apart from my family (And that is, I think, a big part of the aforementioned “God plan”, but, again, that’s not what this post is about.) but I loved the work! Then to hear, from someone at the church, that he doesn’t think I am an “office hours kind of a person” has just rattled me.

“Poor, James…” No wait, even all that isn’t the issue. That’s just the background. Now to this tentative job offer.

A friend of mine has recommended me for a position at a church. It’s an associate pastor of worship. Basically, my exact same job except that the expectation seems to be more creative (i.e. arrange songs and see to it that the church makes recordings.) and to be a primary keyboardist. And that’s the rub…

I’m a multi-instrumentalist, but I’ve been playing drums a lot and I haven’t done a lot of arranging in the past couple of years… Put that together with the confidence shaker and I’m a bit of a mess right now. So, what do I do?

Proverbs 3:25-26 tells me everything I need to know.

Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.

If God has called me (He has) and God has ordered my steps (He has) and God has promised to look out for me (He has), then I needn’t worry about anything.

That goes for you, too. If you put your trust in God, then the Lord HIMSELF will be your confidence. I don’t have to have self-confidence, and neither do you. God will be the source of your strength and every ounce of confidence you need.

Because, after all, everybody blows it at least once… Sometimes in a very public way.

Ad Hominem – ATTACK THE MAN! (But, you know… love him too)

A dear friend of mine, the great thinker – and a few short weeks away from Ph.D. in Theology (from DUKE People!!!!) – Michael Raburn (Read his AWESOME Blog posts HERE) and I were having a conversation last night on Twitter. The subject: Tim Challiesreview of Rob Bell‘s new book ;” target=”_blank”>Love Wins.” (STOP! This isn’t a post about Rob Bell!!!!! Please continue reading!)

I liked the review, but my friend Michael did not. He said “[Challies] Review begins [by] comparing Bell to the serpent in Gen.3. … Ad hominem has no place in serious theology.”

Now, the fact of the matter is, I have, for years, deferred to Michael on almost all things theological. He is, as far as I am concerned, one of the greats. He is a staunch adherent of truth, a sincere searcher for understanding and absolutely full of love for not just his brothers and sisters in Christ but for all people.

So, is this all about singing Raburn’s praises? No. His stament re: “Ad Hominem” got me thinking.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary “Ad Hominem” is defined as follows:

1: appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect

2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made

So, what my brother is saying is that when someone makes a theological argument, taking an “ad hominem” approach in response is unacceptable.

I want to believe what he says, but, at the same time, I can’t dismiss a person’s character from their affirmations. Ad Hominem may be a “classic logical fallacy” but that doesn’t make it fallacious in every instance. Character matters. Truth is truth regardless of who says it. And these are the murky waters we find ourselves in EVERY DAY in the body of Christ.

HOWEVER…

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) This must be the highest rule of conduct in the Body of Christ. Period. You might disagree with Rob Bell (Or Joel Osteen, or Billy Graham, or Joyce Meyer, et al.) or you might disagree with those who disagree with them, but if you have affirmed a faith in Jesus Christ then your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ must be evident before ANYTHING else (And, yes, I’m preaching to myself here).

P.S.

He didn’t ask me to do this, but Michael has started a fund-raising project to help fund his dissertation year. GREAT benefits for investors and this will, I truly believe, be of great benefit to the Church. Check it out at: Between Love and Doctrine

When The Congregation Attacks!

A friend of mine shared this with me today:

There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to begin.  I once worked in the music ministry and I know that it seemed to be the favorite pastime of some people to complain about the sound volume/mix or the selection of songs or to sit around and talk about how much better they could do the job(s) of the people in authority.

Listen to some of the things this woman says: “If ___ think they have financial problems now…” “I’m gonna give you one more week…”  THREATS!  Have you had to deal with this?  How did you handle it?  If you haven’t how do you think you would handle it?

When Christians Disagree

So last week, Rob Bell showed us all the way* to gain instantaneous HYPER-PR: Hint that you are a [controversial belief holder], you’ve written a book about it and then do a short promo video hinting at [the controversial belief].  In Bell’s case, it was universalism, i.e. the notion that all people go to Heaven eventually (Yeah, a GROSS oversimplification of universalism, but we’ll deal with that at another time).  So, the internet blows up with people lauding Bell for his work, urging caution to those unfamiliar with him and outright damning Bell for all time for this rank heresy.  The problem, of course, is that Bell’s book, Love Wins, isn’t even out yet, so all of the railing against him (or the defending of him, for that matter) is a little premature.

Or is it?

What does Rob, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, mean when he asks “How do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say…?”  Moreover, what’s wrong with responding to this trailer as it is?  No, no one has read the book yet, but can’t we respond to Rob’s comments as they are?  What happened to discourse?

This is the primary question, sort of, in Jonathan D. Fitzgerald‘s, Rob Belled: Corn-Pone Opinions Prevail Amongst The Din On Twitter.  Corn-pone?  CORN-PONE?!?  Read the article and what you find is a general dismissal of any who have a problem with Rob Bell and his pronouncements in this video.  Now, read the definitions of “cornpone” from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: of, relating to, or appealing to people who live on farms away from big cities.

So, if you disagree with Bell, you’re just a hick???

I wish that Fitzgerald was alone in his criticism; He isn’t and the implications are frightening.

*I don’t believe Rob released this trailer solely to generate PR.

Takin’ It To The Streets

In late 1975, Michael Mcdonald was invited to join The Doobie Brothers.  One of his first contributions was a song called “Takin’ It To The Streets” – incidentally, one of my Doobie faves.  As I have considered the point and purpose of my ministry, I often think about this song.

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell
You telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets
No more need for runnin’
Takin’ it to the streets

I love theology.  I love talking theology, I love studying theology, I love living theology… But I find that, far too often, the Church’s theology never really makes it to the street.  This isn’t a general criticism, it’s just an observation.  For many Christians, theology is something we leave in the sanctuary and it never makes it to our day-to-day lives, much less (and far more importantly) our relationships; especially those relationships we have with those who don’t know Jesus.

Hence, going from the Pulpit 2 the Pavement; putting shoes on our theology and taking it out for a walk.  (Practical application: If we teach “love your neighbor as yourself” then we should actually love our neighbors in practical ways.)

Jesus talked about this in Luke 14:

Then Jesus said to the man who had invited him: ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends and family and relatives and rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return, and you will be paid back.  When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  They cannot pay you back. But God will bless you and reward you when his people rise from death.

Then there’s that second verse from “Takin’ It To The Streets”:

Take this message to my brother
You will find him…everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair

So, that’s what this blog is all about.  Lace up.

Owl Droppings

A while back – we’re talking months at the very least – a friend of mine (Podcast Answerman extraordinaire – Cliff Ravenscraft) introduced me to a wonderful social media tool: HootSuite.  It changed my life, really.  I had been on Twitter for a while and had just started to understand how to use Twitter as a social media connection & relationship building tool.  Because I am engaged in various ventures, that meant more than one Twitter account.  “HootSuite,” says my friend, “is the BEST way to handle all of these accounts.  PLUS, you can do it on your computer or your iPhone.”  I tried it out and I was INSTANTLY hooked.

I’ve been using it now, as I said, several months and couldn’t be happier.  I have columns for all of the various bits of  information that I might want.  I have my different accounts all easily accessible in a tab at the top.  It’s been really the best tool!  To top it all of, it was FREE!!!

Until now…

HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes announced today that HootSuite was instituting something called “Freemium” plans. (Catchy name, if I do say so myself.)  The basic idea is this:  HootSuite has instituted several tiers of plans, four paid and one free.  They break down like this:

  • Platinum – $99.99/month.  Unlimited social networks, unlimited RSS feeds with up to 8 team members.  This tier is ad-free, with priority support, enhanced stats and the option (for an additional $45/month) for brand URL’s.
  • Gold – $49.99/month.  Same as the Platinum tier, but with no Brand URL option and an allowance for only 4 team members.
  • Silver – $19.99/month.  Same as the Platinum & Gold tiers, but no enhanced stats or Brand URL’s, and an allowance for only 1 additional team member.
  • Bronze – (Here’s where things get significantly different)  $4.99/month.  HootSuite still allows for unlimited social networks on this tier, but only 10 RSS feeds.  Additionally, on this tier, no team members are allowed, there is no priority support, no enhanced stats and no Brand URL’s.
  • Free – This tier allows up to five (5) social media networks, and 1 RSS feed.  That’s it.

Here’s the thing: Currently I moderate six (6) different networks.  Only one of those is my “personal” Twitter account.  Every other network is teamed by at least 1 other person.  It’s remarkably frustrating to me that:

Starting today, Wednesday, Aug. 11th, all new customers will be required to select a plan when signing-up. Then, the following week, all current HootSuite users will be asked to choose a package. We’ve created a migration wizard to assist you in choosing the best plan for your needs. – Ryan Holmes email announcement

So, even though I and untold thousands of others have been using HootSuite for months a certain way, now things are going to change.  We can’t even get grandfathered in; and that’s probably what really bugs me.

Back in 2005, I signed on for cellular service with AT&T. (Notice how I don’t hyperlink to them)  I was very happy with them until just a few months ago.  With the advent of the new iPhone 4, AT&T decided they were going to change the rules just a bit too.  Gone were the days of the”mandatory” unlimited data plan.  They were going to institute two new data plans, one of which was HALF THE PRICE of the unlimited data plan!  Upon checking, I realized that I rarely use even half of that data allowance in a given month.  I also found out that AT&T was going to (FINALLY) offer tethering (like every other nation on the planet that sells iPhones).  Here’s the catch: the “Tethering Option” is only available on the $25 data plan (sounds ok so far; after all it’s still less than what I was paying), but it costs and additional $20 dollars.  So what AT&T wants me to do, in order to be able what I should be able to do with my phone in the first place, is pay$15 more than I am paying now while at the same time switching me to a plan that will easily put me over the alloted data allowance that plan offers.

“James, you make no sense!!!”

Let me connect the dots.

I feel like I have been the victim of the old “Bait-and-Switch.”  I loved AT&T and never had a bad thing to say about them until June when they decided – in my opinion, it was because they have the market on iPhones (thank GOD for the recent DMCA ruling) – to totally change the rules in the middle of the game.  And I feel like the guys at HootSuite are doing the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a question of wanting to get something for free (even though that’s the way the tool was introduced).  HootSuite is introducing ads.  I can live with that (I haven’t seen it yet, so I’m guessing I can).  And I absolutely believe that they should be financially compensated for offering something different to new users.  I’ll go even further and say that I absolutely endorse and recommend HootSuite to people and companies who are managing multiple social media strategies.  Moreover, if your work garners you $150.00 extra a month to pay for the Platinum tier and you think it will effectively accomplish your goals, GET IT!!!

But, Ryan, seriously, my networks aren’t garnering even the $5 extra (read: EXTRA) a month that allows me to justify paying this.  In our current economy and in my family’s current financial situation we have to make every dollar count. (And, honestly, even if I made thousands upon thousands of dollars a week, I believe the responsibility is that same; I just don’t want to be misunderstood).  I probably wouldn’t be as upset about this (I’d still be upset, just not AS upset) if I hadn’t had to deal with AT&T earlier this summer.

You know, when I was a kid it was not uncommon to have a game that lasted all summer and we changed the rules every time somebody turned around and we had a blast doing it.

We’re not kids anymore.

Disclaimer: It was not my intention to misrepresent HootSuite, AT&T, Twitter or the forces of good & evil in the universe.  Please double check my claims with regards to cost with AT&T and/or HootsSuite.  Also, Ryan Holmes, you have created a great and wonderful product.

Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris

My father introduced me to John Donne.  I don’t know that John Donne was his favorite poet, but he always quoted him to me.  Any time I told him stories about bullies in school, or if I felt like a teacher was not fair with one of my classmates, or if I heard of people being abused (it was the late 70’s/early 80’s and child abuse was coming to the forefront of people’s minds) and said something ridiculous like “it’s not my business” or “I don’t want to get involved” I was sure to get a dose of the Bard of Bread Street.

The work my father loved the most was “Meditation XVI” or as it is commonly known, “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”  It is the third paragraph that has always fascinated me.  The scope of it is enormous.  This paragraph actually contains the colloquial title as well as the cliched “No man is an island.”

As I always say, in the interest of full disclosure, I was motivated to write this post for two reasons: 1) I have used this in lectures and sermons more times than I can count, but have never written it down, and 2) A tweep of mine, Matthew Turner, corrected someone’s quote earlier tonight and it really got me thinking about this.  So, let’s consider paragraph three of Meditation XVI.  Read below:

No man is an island.  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The actual quote correction was due to someone misquoting Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. who said in his famouse Letter From A Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  In light of this statement by Dr. King, let’s consider the enormous scope and tremendous weight of responsibility with which we are confronted by Donne’s statements.

“No man is an island” – I often think of the character Lenny Kosnowski from the TV show “Laverne & Shirley” when I hear this famous quote.  For those who don’t remember this televised gem, Lenny was never seen without two things: 1) His red & black racing jacket which was stitched on the back with his moniker “Lone Wolf” and, 2) his best friend Andrew “Squiggy” Squigman.  It’s a nothing kind of joke, but, nevertheless, I always remember Lenny, because it was this character that demonstrated Donne’s point.  One can consider himself a loner, but it is impossible to exist without community… even if your community is an aging greaser.

“Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” – Here again we see that the underlying thought which Donne is attempting to declare as truth is that there is a connection between every person no matter our differences.  I’ve never been to Washington State.  I’ve always wanted to go.  I’ve never been to Nebraska.  I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to go.  Regardless, both are part of The United States of America, and without them America would be diminished.  That leads me to…

“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were” – This is huge, especially in our “I don’t care if you get yours, but I’m gonna get mine” culture.  Donne says here that if your friend’s house is somehow harmed (think fire, accident, Act of God, termite infestation, etc.) it is no different than if the same thing had happened to us.  This leads me to what is, for me, the most important and life-changing statement in this paragraph.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind” – Donne is, in this meditation, considering death as signified by the tolling of the bell (note: the title of this post translates “Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, you too must die.”); Ergo, his reference to another’s death.  However, this has come to mean something so much more to me.  It is not simply true that another man’s death diminishes me; but an injustice to another person is an injustice to me; physical harm to another is harm done to me; immorality against another is… you get the idea.  But by extension, whatever responsibility is given to the one harmed is placed on my shoulders as well.

Practically speaking, though I may never have known the horror of bing physically abused by my parents, I am responsible to speak for those who have.  Though I may never have felt the sting of police brutality because of the color of my skin, I am responsible to speak for those who have.  Though I may have never known the despair of homelessness, I am responsible to do what I can for those I encounter.

To close, I paraphrase, Any person’s troubles or pain harms me, for I am a part of the whole of mankind.  I add the implication, “As a child of God I am responsible to do whatever I can to help those in need.”

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Prince’s Lifetime Achievement Award Tribute

I make no secret of the near life-long admiration I have held for Prince; composer, arranger, producer, multi-instrumentalist, musician par excellence.  These facts are above dispute.  He is, in fact, all of these things and more.  On June 27, 2010 Prince was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards held in the historic Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.  Some will say that a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by a cable television station might be considered a dubious honor, but one must remember that Prince is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The Lifetime Achievement awards are sure to be rolling in from various camps over the next several years.

I won’t take time here to explain the ins and outs of my history with Prince; the ineffable “why” that might explain to you the fascination I have or the respect and awe that led me to consider myself not a fan but a student of this musical master.  Instead, I have been asked by a couple of people to give a review of the tribute itself.  I had not planned on this… but it sure sounds like fun.  Here we go.

The tribute began with a pre-recorded segment by Stevie Wonder who was, naturally, hilarious.  He gave a brief yet through synopsis of Prince’s talent and contributions to the world of popular music.  This was followed by a peck of performances of songs from the Prince catalog.  This, in my opinion as a musician, must be surely terrifying.  First, the performer has to choose a song.  This is no mean feat where the Princely vault is concerned.  Since 1979, at least one “authorized” studio album has been released every year; some of these have been double- and even triple-album sets.  Of the songs released as singles, many were coupled with a b-side song that was either just as good or at the very least has garnered a love from fans that is unparalleled in this history of popular music (more on this in a moment).  The performer then must find a song in this vast repository that suits their particular style.  That said, two performers in this tribute achieved great success in this attempt, one pulled it off by falling back on her vocal standbys, and one failed miserably.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know about this even until it was already underway, but thanks to the wonder of Social Media that is Twitter (you can follow me by clicking here), a friend let me know what was going on.  The bad part of this was that I changed the channel to BET just as Trey Songz was starting Purple Rain.  Just one word of advice, Trey: PUT THE SONG DOWN AND WALK… NO… RUN AWAY FAST!!!!  This performance was God-Awful.  Then to follow it with a “pray for our troops” video slogan (I’m all for praying for the men & women currently in service, and I am even more so in favor of helping out their families as much as possible.  Please don’t miss my point.) just demonstrates that you are a “big-koalabeanhead” (Thanks Sheila E.) who simply does not get it.  I lashed out a little bit at this treason and the traitors in the audience who had the audacity to “raise [their] hands” in support of this willful act of musical malice, but then I was told that this wasn’t the actual tribute.  So I turned back.

The tribute began with Janelle Monae.  This lady is impressing me more and more over the past few years.  Her talent notwithstanding, this woman’s vision is inspirational.  But, what can you expect from a woman who originally wanted to rule Broadway.  She wowed me with her rendition of the quintessential opus from Prince’s “rockabilly” gems, Let’s Go Crazy.  True Prince fans would have recognized musical quotes from Prince’s B-side Girl (remember how I said earlier that Prince’s B-Sides were almost as important as his released singles?  See?) in the songs introduction.  When I heard her start the sermon at the beginning I had some reservations.  I was put at ease when I heard some of the musical changes before the beginning of the first verse (Prince has always said that it has to be better live than on the album).  As the song progressed it was almost impossible not to get caught up in her excitement and energy.  This was one totally knocked out of the park.

Janelle was followed by Esperanza Spalding.  Miss Spalding is a fine singer and bassist; easily a contender for Best new Artist this year.  I wouldn’t dream of taking that away from her or trying to intimate that she is anything other than a fine musician.  However, If I Was Your Girlfriend is a song that should never EVER be performed by a woman, and Miss Spalding’s choice of this song demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of the power of this lyric.  Consider one line in particular: “If I was your one and only friend, would you run to me if somebody hurt you, even if that somebody was me?”  This song is one of contrition and realization on the part of a man who didn’t treat the woman he loves right.  When a woman sings it, it loses ALL of its innate power.  I don’t want to be considered sexist here.  I think it is the rare occasion that a song is written that can’t be deftly rendered gender-neutral with a couple of well placed word changes, but this song is most definitely one that falls into that category.  Still, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I don’t appreciate or have anything but admiration for Ms. Spalding.  Like I said, Best New Artist is highly probable in this young woman’s future.

Following If I Was Your Girlfriend was a performance of what is perhaps that most well-known of Prince’s love songs: Adore.  I must, for reasons, to be explained a paragraph away, skip over this song and proceed directly to the final song in the tribute: Patti Labelle’s rendition of what is certainly Prince’s most widely-recognized song, Purple Rain.  What can be said about this performance, really?  It’s Patti LaBelle!  I don’t think her interpretation of the song was that great, and she did fall back on some trite vocal standbys.  Still, it was incredible!  However, I don’t think the tribute should have ended with this performance.  That leads me to Alicia Keys.

Miss Keys walked onto the stage to opening strains of Adore, and proceeded from the very first mellismatic ad-libs to own this song.  She took Prince’s aforementioned philosophy, and made the song her own.  This is no simple task.  Prince is all over the octave range in this song, and Alicia vocally missed her mark on more than one occasion.  It’s difficult for a vocalist to truly grab onto this song.  But Alicia hit the second bridge and CLIMBED ON THE PIANO!!!!!  Alicia was giving me a condition most “crucial”.  And it was this act of truly pouring herself into the song’s performance and baring herself emotionally that demonstrated not only an understanding of the material, but a love and respect for the one who created it.  In all honesty, I have to say that I have NEVER seen a performer demonstrate a level of understanding of Prince’s material as well as Alicia did in this performance.  I was reminded of the scene in the music biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire” when Jerry Lee (exquisitely played by Dennis Quaid) furious at being placed lower on the bill than Chuck Berry went out and played a furious two-song set and then at the close of Great Balls of Fire actually set his piano on fire.  At the close of Adore as the announcer began to announce another performer, I actually said out loud in my house (I don’t often talk to my television) “Who would want to follow THAT?!?!?”

All of this leads me to something that struck me during Patti LaBelle’s performance.  The camera cut to Prince a few times and I felt something from him that overwhelmed me.  Here is Patti LaBelle – the R&B legend that Prince (and I, for that matter) listened to on the radio when we were kids, and she was honoring him by singing HIS song.  While her performance was not my favorite, I think it was fitting that she closed the tribute.  Patti LaBelle doing THAT song demonstrates in the best possible way the wide reach and lasting impact of the music penned by the man that is the “Minneapolis Genius.”

(If you would like to see the tribute performance – sadly, minus Stevie Wonder’s pre-recorded tribute – click here.  You won’t be disappointed.)

The ‘Stache

He would have been 121 years old today.

He was an actor, comedian, writer, director, composer… truly, a Renaissance Man.

In support of increased artist control of their own work, he co-founded United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.

Though there were many like him, Chaplin is the most recognizable face of that Silent-Film era.  I will never understand 7 of the 9 people who outrank him on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list.

It does my children good to watch Chaplin’s films.  They are, almost without exception, thought-provoking, enlightening and always hilarious.  In a time when young people are alleged to have attention spans of, at the most, 13 minutes, watching a silent Chaplin film is more than entertainment – it is a benefit.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that Lambeth’s hometown hero is a superb role model.  Even a cursory examination of the man’s life would show this not to be the case.  But he followed his passion and he did so at his own risk and, often, in the face of authorities who were grossly abusing their own power (McCarthy, Hoover… anyone? anyone?)

And so, today I say, Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaplin.  You inspire me.  And, even though Hitler stole your mustache idea, we all know that he used his for evil… but yours was used for the good of us all.

Matthew 18 (aka, The Rules of Fight Club)

Once upon a time, I hated confrontation.  There were various reasons for this.  Mostly, I hate arguing or fighting about anything.  I believe that most anything can be settled by reasoned dialogue.  The other reason is that I find confrontation degenerating into a kind of conflict that becomes physical, and I tend to get dirty fast.  I don’t like that.  So, I have for a long time avoided confrontation as much as possible.

A couple of years ago, I found myself in the midst of a situation where my disdain for confrontation cost me dearly, both professionally and personally.  I like to think that I came out of this stronger and wiser and more able to handle confrontation (and the situations that easily lead to confrontations) or… in more earthy terms, NTSFA (look it up). :-)

Very recently, I heard (hearsay is lame, by the way) that there was someone speaking not simply ill of me, but saying things that were very nearly slanderous.  It threw me.  I really wanted to go dirty.  I really did, because I know that this isn’t the first time with this person.  Then, I remembered that there is a guide for confrontation.  Matthew 18 verses 15 – 17 read like this:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

So, it breaks down like this…  If a fellow believer says or does something against you (or, by extension, has fallen into some kind of sin of which you are aware and have a reason to engage them), then you are to go and speak with them privately.  Hopefully the two of you can work it out.  If you can’t, you go and take one or two fellow believers (in James’ view of this directive, these believers should rightfully be one to whom the person who has offended is accountable, and one person to whom the one who has been offended is accountable) to confront the person again.  This is where it gets tricky… If the person who has offended you still won’t listen, you are to go before the church and expose the sin.

Here’s where it gets trickier still.  If theys till won’t listen you are to treat them as:

  • pagan or a tax collector. (NIV)
  • Gentile and a tax collector (KJV, NASB, et. al)

Now that sounds AWESOME!  Until you remember how we are meant to treat the Gentiles and tax-collectors.  These people were considered the worst of sinners, and here’s what every Bible says about Jesus:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’

So, essentially… I have no out.  I can’t get ticked off and go slam somebody.  I have to be in order.  I have to do things the right way.  That’s the only way.

Fight Club would be easier.

Am I Done?

A few days ago, I posted a status update on Facebook that went something like this:

I think I may have written every melody I have in me, because everything I’ve been writing is a variation on either my stuff or someone else’s.

In what is a very interesting story, my father bought an Ensoniq EPS sequencing keyboard for Christmas when I was a Senior in High School.  A few months later, at graduation, he bought a behemoth of a computer (my hand to God, the thing had a 5¼ inch Floppy Disk Drive) that had a music notation (not Finale) program on it.  This led to about a year of me writing and arranging music nearly 12-14 hours a day.  I barely slept.  A world I had never dreamed of was opened to me in those months.

In the years between 1990 and 1995 I wrote a lot to try just to find my voice.  It was during this time that my passion for musical theatre was supercharged.  I started no less than 6 musicals during those 5 years.  (Finished, no, but I did start them.) Ultimately, this led to a lot of writing for various theatre ventures while I was at Lee, and in 1999 I was accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program.  Best two years of my academic life!!!!  I was forced to write new material on a weekly basis.  Some of it was crap.  Some of it was good.  Some of it was freaking genius!  (When I say that, let me give it scope: I listen to it and I can’t believe that I wrote it.)

When I was in 9th grade, I left band for a semester to play football.  Long story short (LSS, for future reference), I didn’t condition properly and one day during a scrimmage game with another school, my knee was blown out.  It wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to sideline me long enough to get me back in band.  While I was on the football team I was in really good shape.  There was one excercise, though, that I hated: six inches.  You lay on your back and you raise your legs up off the ground approximately six inches, spread them apart, bring them back together and down, all at the coaches command. “Up! Out! Together! Down!”  I hated this exercise mostly because the coach was prone to take a walk on our stomachs while our legs where up.  That hurt.  A lot!  Nevertheless, I eventually got to where I could do six inches and not be in too much pain because of it.

I tried doing six inches the other day.  I really could not get it done.  I figured I would not be in any way close to where I was… but I was dying.  Hurting all the way into my back.  I had no idea.

I’ve been trying to write some songs for a play called “Hank & Gretchen.”  It’s a reimagining of Hansel & Gretel and it’s an adorable kids show.  I’ve been writing some songs with a friend of mine and he has really turned out some nice lyrics.  They keep with the playwright’s original intent and even use her verbal style (rare, I think when the lyricist is not also the bookwriter, or when the lyricist is not pillaging the book).  So, in writing music for his lyrics I have either pilfered or outright stolen the following songs in either melody or harmonic composition:

  • Can You Feel The Love Tonight (the verse)
  • So Many Things To Say Goodbye To (This one is mine, but still…)
  • Seasons of Love
  • Great Is The Lord
  • We’ve Only Just Begun (I know… sue me)
  • Finishing The Hat

And that’s just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

So, is it that I’ve have indeed exhausted my internal supply of melody or are my melody writing skills in the same place as my “six inch abdominal exercise” skills?  Am I just out of shape?

Sondheim – A Quick Reflection

Eighty years ago yesterday (March 22) Stephen Sondheim was born. The son of Etta Janet and Herbert Sondheim.  He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the only child of well-to-do parents.  After his parents divorced, he and his mother moved to a farm in Pennsylvania.  This move is important because it was there in Pennsylvania that he would meet his mentor Oscar Hammerstein.  (No this is not a full bio)

I have always loved Sondheim.  I remember distinctly that the first time I heard a song by him was on the TV show “Good Times” when a guest star sang “Send In The Clowns” from A Little Night Music.  After that, of course, came the inevitable West Side Story, and an introduction to other Sondheim gems such as Gypsy and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  These along with the exposure to the more traditional kid-friendly musicals like The Wizard of Oz (and The Wiz), Oklahoma (The London Stage Revival is wonderful) and Godspell ignited the love that I have for musical theatre.  I fell in love fast with the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber, but there’s always been Sondheim.

The following is reprinted from Broadway Babies Say Goodnight. It was reprinted in the magazine of the Stephen Sondheim Appreciation Society, to generally hostile reaction from readers:

Stephen Sondheim was a nobody until Anyone Can Whistle.  All he’d done previously was write three solid hits, one after another: West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. But Anyone Can Whistle (1964) was his first cult flop — nine performances and out — and inaugurated the Sondheim we know today — a genius too special for the expense-account set, the bridge-&-tunnellers and all the other schmucks who’d prefer to be vegged out at Hello, Dolly! ‘Is Stephen Sondheim God?’ asked a headline in New York magazine in 1994.  But, if he is, he’s not one of those big-time mass-market gods for Congregationalists and Baptists, but the deity of a remote tribe largely sealed off from the outside world — like those cargo culters in the South Pacific who worship the Duke of Edinburgh.

Yes, Sondheim tends to flop.  Pacific Overtures, Assassins, Merrily We Roll Along, Company all did poorly in their individual runs, but have still become very important and widely respected parts of the Broadway Repertoire.  Sondheim is too… something.  Cerebral?  No, that just insults the listeners.  Clever?  Heady?  Good???

Sondheim is, as most artists are his own worst critic.  I cite the lyric for “Maria” from West Side Story.  In a cursory web search you hear people say things like “deftly written,” “gentle lyric expressing the wonder of love” etc.  Sondheim doesn’t like it.  He has been quoted as saying that “Maria” shows his immaturity as a writer.  Specifically the following lyric:

Maria, say it loud and there’s music playing

Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

Sondheim says that her name shouldn’t be almost like praying, when throughout the rest of the song Tony says what Maria is, not what she almost is.  Well, Mr. Sondheim, that may be your least favorite lyric, but I adore it. A good Catholic boy like Tony wouldn’t blaspheme the Holy Virgin Mother, but he would certainly connect the whisper of his beloved’s name to the same sense of awe he …might find in the midst of his recitation of the Rosary. Excellent work, sir!

But artists can be persnickety perfectionists even on our best days.  Why is that?  In the musical Sunday In The Park With George, Sondheim, along with his collaborator James Lapine, decided to create a musical based on… wait for it… a painting.  That’s right… Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte by French painter George Suerat.  In this show, Sondheim and Lapine tell the fictionalized story of Suerat and the process through which he created the iconic painting.  But the show is, on some levels, about the creative process as evidenced by the opening monologue:

“White… a blank page or canvas.  The challenge?  Bring order to the whole through design, tension, composition, balance, light and harmony.”

Literally, the artist creates something out of nothing.  At the deepest level, the show is about not the creative process, but the creative compulsion.

Below is my favorite lyric from this show (To set the scene, George and his lover Dot have had yet another fight because she feels he ignores her due to this creative compulsion.  George sits in the park and flips through his sketchbook, reviewing sketches of various characters we have met):

Mademoiselles… You end me, pal…
Second bottle… Ah, she looks for me…
Bonnet flapping… Yapping…
Ruff!… Chicken… Pastry…

Yes, she looks for me – good.
Let her look for me to tell me why she left me-
As I always knew she would.
I had thought she understood.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
But if anybody could…
Finishing the hat, how you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world From a window
While you finish the hat.

Mapping out a sky.
What you feel like, planning a sky.
What you feel when voices that come
Through the window go…
Until they distance and die,
Until there’s nothing but sky

And how you’re always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick or the dog or the light,
How the kind of woman willing to wait’s
Not the kind that you want to find waiting
To return you to the night,
Dizzy from the height,
Coming from the hat,
Studying the hat,
Entering the world of the hat,
Reaching through the world of the hat
Like a window,
Back to this one from that.

Studying a face, stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see – It’s the only way to see.

And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself, “Well, I give what I give.”
But the women who won’t wait for you knows
That, however you live, there’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky, Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat..
Finishing a hat…
Look, I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat!

[emphasis mine]

It’s that compulsion that drives the artist; the need to see the vision fulfilled.  Sondheim embraces his flops and has said that even in the worst situation that the show was “exactly what it was meant to be.”  That’s why Stephen Sondheim can flop. Happy Birthday, O Great One!

Health Care for My Student Loans

So, the health care bill just passed.  What does that even mean?  I’ve heard my liberal friends say that it means everyone will get proper health care… I’ve heard my conservative friends say that it’s another (if not the final) nail in the coffin that will lead us to socialism/communism.

I don’t know… I’m conflicted over this whole thing.  Off the top of my head, though, here are some of my immediate issues:

  • Am I seriously meant to believe that the members of congress (all of them who voted – I remain stupefied that as I watch the voting there are still numbers in the NV column.  How can you have a job where it’s OK to NOT do your job???) who voted for this bill have actually read and understand it?
  • With the focus on abortion (a serious matter, to be sure) there seems to be no coverage on the issue of cost except to say that it is going to cost a TON of money.  Whence comes the money?
  • Why does it tax “Cadillac” health care plans?  So, is it that, if I don’t take governmental health care, then I get taxed over and above all of my other taxes???
  • Do people who are high-fiving each other and gloating at their conservative “enemies” realize that the points in this bill won’t even go into effect until 2014???
  • On the one hand I appreciate the fact that maybe, just maybe, there are members of congress who are earnestly voting their own conscience. However, that fact leads to my primary issue.

I’ve been looking into the polls.  I’ve not found one poll (not one) that shows a majority of those polled who want this bill.  The lowest number was 52%, the highest almost 75% against.  AGAINST!!!  And yet this bill still passed.  That’s the problem I have.  I will let where I stand on this bill remain a secret… for now.  However, I read an interesting article the other day that casts a most interesting light on this issue.  I quote Bud Simmons:

The spectacle of a far leftist president literally forcing socialized medicine down the throat of an unwilling center-right America is reminiscent, perhaps more than any other contemporary metaphor, of date rape.

A man determined to have his way with a woman may start off seducing her with lies, flattery and the usual pretense of caring about her. But at a critical moment, when she says, “Stop, I’m not comfortable with this and don’t want to go any further,” he has a choice: Either do the right thing and back off, or abandon all prior pretensions and take her by force.

As president, Barack Obama courted us with sweet talk, but America grew increasingly uncomfortable with his advances and firmly said, “Stop” – in fact, screamed bloody murder for months. Yet Obama remains obsessed with forcing himself on America.

Wow! “Date rape” An interesting connection… possibly riddled with negative repercussions for Bud, but it forces me to wonder… is he wrong?

With an average of 6 out of 10 Americans strongly opposed to this bill, why would they continue to, again in the words of Mr. Simmons, “[force] socialized medicine down the throat of an unwilling center-right America”???

The other issue here is the one of student loans. Now, I went to NYU for my grad degree. Best mistake/Worst good thing I ever did. I wouldn’t trade my education or experiences there for anything, but I came out of NYU (Just NYU) with almost $100,000 in student loan debt. Now, Washington is taking over that as well… That’s a lot for one bill to handle.

To my liberal friends, I say… chill out a little bit and stop saying hateful things like you wish this or that Republican Rep. or Senator would die.  That’s lame and pathetic, and shame on you!

To my conservative friends I say… chill out a little bit.  This country was born out of debate.  We were still debating the exact nature of our country almost 100 years after we Declared that we were a nation.  This health care bill may be one of the worst things to ever happen to America.  But it may not.  Either way, get out and vote.  I looked at other polls too… A lot of conservatives stay home on election day(s) while they count on their conservative neighbors (because whether anyone likes it or not, there are more conservatives in this country than there are liberals… that’s just how it is.) to carry their weight.

One final point… There are a lot of points in this bill that are HUGE selling points:

  • Insurance companies can not reject you for pre-existing conditions
    • That’s a big deal because sometimes you stay on a particular plan for 10 or 20 years, become diagnosed with cancer or something and the insurance company can deny you coverage.  Think you’re gonna get those premiums back?
  • Children stay covered until 26.  This ensures coverage through (normal) college years and even into grad school, which allows a child to have decent coverage until they can actually getting on their feet.

It also has some Mack Truck size holes:

Both the reconciliation bill and the Senate bill call for creating state-based American Health Benefit Exchanges and Small Business Health Options Program Exchanges that will be administered by a governmental agency or non-profit organization. Individuals and small businesses up to 100 people will be able to purchase insurance through these exchanges.

  • One aspect of this bill calls for the creation of “state-based American Health Benefit Exchanges and Small Business Health Options Program Exchanges.”  Individuals and small businesses can purchase insurance through these exchanges.  So, you work at a tiny business that only has 10 people, so the pay is adequate but the possibility of insurance benefits from your employer is laughable, right?  Well, here’s your answer!  The problem is this exchange will be administered by “a governmental agency or non-profit organization.”  So, not only do they lawmakers not have all the answers on these questions, they passed the bill without having the answers.
  • In 2014, everyone must purchase health insurance or face a $695 annual fine.  So, if I happen to go a year unemployed (a not unprecedented achievment) and I don’t purchase one of the governmental sponsored plans, then I get penalized?  What happened to choice?

So, essentially, we have seen tonight the federal takeover of health insurance and student loans.  Forget, corporate bailouts… if we are so determined to go down this road, give me $250,000 to pay off my student loans (or just cancel them altogether) so that I can get out from under the thundercloud of my inability to pay my over $1200/month student loan bill that RUINS my credit and makes me a “risk” to potential employers.

Well, at least if I’m not employed I’ll have health care… maybe.

Just ‘Cause I’m Scottish Don’t Mean I Ain’t Funky

I’m Scottish.  What does that mean?  Well, first of all, I’m not pure Scottish.  I’m also of Germanic descent (the family moved to Scotland where the name was modified from “Mahler” to Marler”) on my father’s side, though my mother comes from a pure marriage of MacKinnons and Hares.  Well, not SO pure, Great Grandmother was Cherokee.  This doesn’t affect me much except for my beard which is nearly impossible to grow.  But, in terms of percentage, I’m Scottish.  That means I’m remarkably pale, barrel-chested and short-legged, and that I have a “gargantuan cranium.”  I like being Scottish.  Kilts are cool, haggis, it turns out is not that bad when made correctly and, as a wise man once said, “If it’s not Scottish, IT’S CRAP!!!

The other day I was flipping through the channels in a rare moment of blissful diversion and I hit the very beginning of “Undercover Brother.”  This movie has quite a long opening sequence before it gets to the opening credits.  It’s these opening credits, and more importantly the music playing behind them, that is the focus of this post.

I don’t insert automatic music into posts or web pages because that gets annoying.  However, if I were to post even just the first two counts of this song, you would know it.  It’s iconic.  It’s definitive.  The song is “Pick Up The Pieces” by The Average White Band.  Yeah… That’s right.  The Average White Band.

Aside from the BRILLIANCE of director Malcolm D. Lee of using this song as the theme (It’s a movie about the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. taking on “The Man” and his systematic attempt to erase black culture from America; in the process of the story unfolding though, we learn that the thing we should focus on is not the things that make us different (It doesn’t make you white just because you like mayonaise on your sandwiches, for example, anymore than it makes you black if you like chicken and waffles – and, yes, this is a parenthetical inside a parenthetical) but how important it is that we strive for equality. And he accomplishes that in THE OPENING CREDITS by using this song.  Like I said, BRILLIANT!!!!), I was struck by the humor of the contrast.  “The movie ‘Undercover Brother” has a title sequence with music by The Average White Band.  I laughed so hard…

Anyway, it got me to thinking about AWB and their influence on me and music in general, so I started to do some research.  Turns out, The Average White Band is still around today in 2010 (in a very different lineup) making music, performing concerts and releasing CD’s.  It also just happens that the album (those black round things made out of vinyl) AWB on which we can find this great instrumental, was a breakthrough in the STATES after being released initially in the UK.  What’s the significance?  The Average White Band was comprised, at its inception, by six WHITE SCOTTISH guys.  I even have proof!

Yes, these six Scottish dudes, wrote, performed and released a song that would become the biggest selling instrumental in rock history, hit #10 on the disco singles chart, #5 on the Black singles chart, #1 on the Pop singles chart; and did I mention that it is one of the iconic funk songs of all time.

This gives me hope.  I often worry that I have lost some funk that I had in my youth.  Once upon a time”Big Money J” (yes, EVERYBODY had a name in the B-Boy era), I could do “The Walk”, “cut a mix on my two turntables,” “get the party started” and still be home in time to get enough sleep for church on Sunday morning.

The past two decades though have seen James focus a LOT on musical theatre, and choral music.  I sometimes worry about my funkyness.  But then, I pull out “Computer Games” by George Clinton, or “Funkadelic” “Maggot Brain” or “The Electric Spanking of War Babies” by Funkadelic, or, basically, anything by Prince and I remember that funk is like riding a bicycle; If you fall off, throw that bicycle on the side of the street and beat it to death with your bass guitar.  Or soemthing like that.

Anyway, in case anybody was wondering, I’m Scottish and I’m still “testing positive for the funk. (I’ll gladly pee in anybody’s cup.)”

Long-Haired Hippie

No, this is not a picture of me… or my dog.

I have a tradition.  It’s kind of dumb, as you will see, but I like it a lot.  Here it is: whenever I am in rehearsal for a show, I don’t cut my hair until the day before the premiere.  I’ve been doing it this way for over 15 years, and I have had nothing but good reviews for every show I’ve been a part of ever since.  A couple of months ago I started working with Humble Swan Productions on “Peter Pan” (Buy the DVD here).  Since then, you know… no haircut.

My wife likes it because it’s getting back to that “Errol Flynn” length (her quote not mine) it was when we met.  Of course, it’s next to impossible to style, but whatever… I like it because, well, I like long hair, and I am finally able to grow it or not if I wish.

You see, in August of 2008 I resigned what was a fairly comfortable position at a church in Hixson, TN.  Unfortunately, my timing was horrible as the “Economic Downturn” or “National Recession” or “Global Financial Crisis” (or whichever label best suits your personal theology of PR) was just starting.  I spent a couple of months finishing a project that had been years in the making and then began a job hunt in earnest.  Sadly, yeah… the whole “national economic global panic” thing…

So, recently, I decided – based on a coincidence/providential occurrence – to expand my vision and go into legitimate business for myself.  I considered my skillset, my contacts, my equipment and abilities and I am making the plunge.  Woo Hoo!  That’s part of what JamesMarler.com is all about.

The thing is though… the other day I lost myself in a serious panic attack.  Business for yourself! That means YOU are the BOSS!!!  Which, in my case, means I am the Boss!!!  It’s weird to think that I am not hoping for a nice comfy corporate or church job to help me  in my retirement planning, or health care concerns.  There will be no such thing as a pay check if I have an off week.  No sick days.  No paid vacation.  None of of the cushy perks that come with being employed by someone else.

Still, in doing the job that made me consider all of this in the first place… I had a blast!  It was hardly work.  And, if nothing else, at least in the interim I get to wear my hair however I want.