Consumer’s Church (The Mall of God)

When I grew up, the mall was the happenin’ joint in town.  Even when I was a young adult, I remember going to the mall for a good time.  And when my big kids were adolescents, I recall dropping them off at the mall for a few hours and returning to pick them up before curfew.  Yeah… the mall.  It had it all.

Seems like the mall struggles to keep up with the times these days.  It’s still there, but it’s suffering from a decade of down economy, of the rise of Amazon, and super stores.  The mall probably should open up some trendy coffee shops to keep up with the times, but it’s still there.

When  I was young, going to the mall was a special treat.  It had everything, and everybody was there gettin’ some.  You could eat, shop, and find entertainment; you could see and be seen, and meet up with friends – all while decorating your life.  It was like one stop for life.

And sure, it had your big department stores like Sears, JC Penney, and Dillard’s, but it also had at least a hundred specialty boutiques filled with every mystery the world has to offer, and usually on sale!  If you were into sports, they had it.  If you were into books, they had those.  If you were into fashion… well which kind did you want, because… yeah… they had it.  Music – and everyone has differing tastes in music, fashion, and home décor – NO?  Jocks, preps, fags, snoots, black kids, brown kids, white kids into black clothes, white kids into purple… you name it, the mall had it, and had it in every size, shape, style, and taste to suit anyone’s consumerist whims.

You feel me yet?

Yeah.  And some of the boutique shops really cater to some dark corners of your heart and mind while others are just as “family friendly” as they can be.  I mean you might find the Christian gift shop with all the cute crosses that match your drapes, the verse-of-the-day coffee mug, and tee shirts with clever/witty phrases on them like the one with a drawing of a taco with a smiley face on it and a caption that reads: Wanna Taco ’bout Jesus?  and Lettuce Pray.  Great shop, by the way, and great shirt, but the shop is flanked on one side by the black trench coat, bondage handcuffs, and satanic pentagram-selling candle shop and with the slutty lingerie and sex toy shop on the other.  You know?  A little John 3:16 meets Anarchist Cookbook and Sodom & Gomorrah all in one stop for everyone on your Christmas list!

I will never forget the first time I visited a Hard Rock Café and realized this was my parents kind of place.  And when my parents were into Rock-n-Roll, it was supposed to upset their parents, but somehow everything cool had become my “father’s Oldsmobile” despite my expectations.

What I mean is this: All this effort at individuality only goes skin deep.  I thought I was so unique when I got that Union Jack shirt in the 8th grade, but really, I wasn’t.  I got it at the same shopping center as my best friend got his cowboy boots, and actually, when Def Leppard popularized it, I bet American malls sold about 20 million of them (which surely was strange for America, don’t you think?).  But of course in the game of commerce, if it makes money, who cares how strange it is?

Values and beliefs sank to the level of fashion and style on the one hand, individuality and uniqueness turned out to be illusionary.  What exactly is real about any of this?  But how much energy and angst and hard earned money went into parachute pants???

Oh… don’t laugh.  If you were there back in the day, you had them too!  And if you didn’t have them, you envied someone who did!  And if you didn’t have them or envy them, then you were old – and that means you probably felt that way about having shoes when you walked to school up hill both ways back when wheels were square!!!  Point being, we all do this, have done it, or will do it at some point, if not our whole lives, and it is all utter vanity.

Now…

Who goes to your church?

Are you Baptist?  Do you attend church with other Baptists?  Are you Pentecostal?  Do you attend with other Pentecostals?  Are you Catholic?  Methodist?  Just what flavor do you like???  What boutique do you shop?  Biker church?  Trucker church?  Black church?  Gay church?  Cowboy church?

They all glorify and serve the same Jesus…  very similarly…  No?

You do realize, don’t you, that Jesus prayed for his disciples to all be one group together (see John 17).  But we will get back to that shortly.  At the moment, let’s go back up to that earlier question: Who goes to your church?

Let’s face it, if you go to church in America, look around at the people on those church pews surrounding you, no matter whether they be Presbyterian, Nondenominational, or Cowboy Church.  The people you see there on those pews, you also see at the mall in all those boutiques – or their functional equivalents (coffee shops?).

Let’s ask ourselves seriously… What’s going on here?  What makes a person go to a specialty boutique and spend hard-earned money on black fingernail polish, a black leather trench coat, purple hair, and create a certain style like that?  What makes a person shop at Sears and/or some boutique where they create a certain ambiance in their living room, their kitchen, or their back patio?  What motivates these activities, the commercial cooperation between participants, the vanities, and so forth?

What is really that different between such shopping experiences and the churches we worship with?  Are we not decorating our lives with Jesus and the trappings that go with him?  Are the Baptists just imposters who don’t matter to Jesus, or are they not really all that vitally different from the Presbyterians and Methodists in the final analysis?  Don’t they all love Jesus with all their hearts, minds, and strength, and the differences between them just amount to cosmetic differences?

Has our culture not become totally and utterly coopted by commerce, consumerist whims, and vanity – AND – isn’t our spiritual life operating at just about the same level?

If your church is “seeker friendly” doesn’t that mean your pastor markets your church like a specialty boutique?  And if that is just a bit too dated for you, perhaps I should ask what is the difference between your church and your favorite coffee shop?

Look.  I am a staunch believer.  I am not taking cheap shots just to irk you.  But I sense that our differences are not as deep or as important as we tend to think, on the one hand,  but we let them keep us splintered apart despite Jesus’ prayer as if they are vitally important on the other, and I wonder why we settle so easily for this arrangement.  It’s like we go shopping at the Mall of God or something.

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How We’ve Clouded Jesus’ Generosity With Rationality

Oh Snap! When Lily watches Jesus at work, she drops the heavy on us! I am so moved by this. Thanx, Lily, for your powerful witness. And to any of my readers…. please pay her a visit.

Retrospective Lily

Hi, friends. Lately, I’ve been reading the Gospels again (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). As I am more mentally, physically, and spiritually mature than I’ve been in past readings, I’ve realized how the overabundant grace of Jesus infuriates people repeatedly because they are stuck on this worldly, self-righteous perception of fairness. Today, those who claim to follow Jesus are often guilty of the same hard heart.

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Unfamiliar Territory

Agent Z to party with Jesus on the streets of ABQ. Read here, and follow the link…

I Am Agent Z

As of two days ago I am interning in a new city. I am here to intern in youth ministry. However, I am a minister, not just for the youth. Up until this internship, my ministry has been primarily homeless ministry. In the town that I am now in, there is a larger homeless population than the town I came from. I have thrown parties for the homeless where I am from and I intend on throwing more. I would like to throw at least a party for the homeless while I am here. It makes sense that since I am working in a church currently that  they be the catalyst for the party and they have expressed interest in me planning at least one event for the summer that I am here. I believe that I have been put in a position to sow some seeds of the Luke…

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Worship: Celebrating Jesus, The Image of God

For my unannounced guest readers from church leadership, let me point out this choice piece of blogging literature for your charitable consideration!

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

I feel certain that I should break this topic down in 3 or 4 posts, and I really may revisit bits of it in the coming days devoting more depth of analysis to each bit.  But enough with the caveats, let’s get to it!

The Kingdom of God is a Party.  I get that phrase from the title of a Tony Campolo book by that name published all the way back in 1990.  (Yes, it’s an old one now.)  The first chapter of that book alone is worth the price.  I think, though I could be wrong, that I copied the whole first chapter and put it in a very early post on this blog almost 3 years ago.  It is the story of Campolo throwing a birthday party for a hooker in the middle of the night with all her hooker friends, and turning that into a prayer…

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Honor Your … Mother

I am thinking again, as I did in a recent post, about my grandmother who died before I was born.  I only have a few stories my dad has shared with me about her, and I have not really internalized all of them.  But she comes to mind again this Mother’s Day because one of the tales I know of her is how she frequently got called in for disciplinary meetings with the elders from her church, not for her flagrant sins, but for her passion to serve Jesus in ways they did not appreciate!

Yeah.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, women had little or no voice in the church.  That was true almost all the way across the board in American churches.  But in churches of Christ, there were also divisions about whether to support financially children’s homes.  Yes, this was one of the issues that actually divided many churches where some were for it and others against it.  And it turns out that Grandmother was for it when her church was against it.

She apparently ran afoul with church leadership for insisting on providing care to this ministry.  She was no Bible scholar, but she knew this is how you love Jesus.  And speaking up about it got her in trouble on two fronts, and apparently this was not the only time or the only issue.

Today, both issues seem mind-numbingly stupid.  Women can speak – even lead in a lot of quarters – and funding orphanages is also a no-brainer.  Only a few stubborn old codgers out there resist this anymore, and no one cares what they think.  So, I guess you might say Grandmother was ahead of her time.

But you know what, I am not actually comforted with the idea that she was “ahead of her time”.  I don’t think our time is any better, even though these issues are matters of the past now.  And I find myself in meetings with the elders now too, not unlike Grandmother before me, for similar issues which really should be no-brainers, but apparently not for our time.

Actually, this may really be a timeless feature of Christian faith.  Look at St. Paul racing to meetings with church leaders on the one hand and being hauled before the Jewish Council and Roman officials on the other.  Even his fellow apostles face such scrutiny from religious leaders.  And that is not to mention Jesus himself!  They all got together to figure out a way to kill him!  Yeah, this is a dynamic that seems to just go with living by faith in God.

At any rate, I think it is good to give Grandmother honorable mention again today.  Her example gives me strength.  And I would be really pleased for my church leaders to stop in and read this.  I hope it gives you a little fresh perspective.

More Effectively

Once upon a time, there was this church that wanted to walk on water more effectively.  The leadership saw a need for walking on water, alright, but there hadn’t been much success with it in recent years, and it occurred to them that they might be going about it all wrong.  So they read a few books, attended a seminar or two, and researched the web until finally they decided they had the answers.  Then they offered a class to their members so they could equip the saints with more effective water-walking.

The first thing on the syllabus was to raise awareness.  Sure the members of this church had all heard of walking on water, but none of them had ever done it or even seen it done.  In fact, the whole idea was almost a fairy tale notion.  They didn’t actually take it seriously.  There did not seem to be any practical reason to do it, and so… functionally speaking, they did not even care.

Not that anyone would ever say it like that.  They CARED, sure.  Who doesn’t?  But at a functional level, it was clear that any care about the subject was limited to hypothetical and metaphorical purposes.  Thus, awareness was a first step.

Once they raised a sufficient awareness, which wasn’t really too hard to do, the leadership needed to help their people get a deep understanding of the complexities of water buoyancy.  And the complexities are more complex than you would initially imagine.  To begin, your feet (the part of your body that will actually contact the water when walking on it) are not buoyant at all.  Add to this issue the fact that natural physics tells us that a human being standing erect creates a spear effect which would pierce the water and completely sink the human even if the feet were buoyant.

The complexities do not end with modern physics – not by a long shot.  For the New Testament accounts of walking on water depict a stormy sea.  It is one thing to walk on a placid water, quite another to walk on waves amid heavy winds.  Once these non-buoyant feet find themselves on a shifting, rocking, waving surface, which presumably would be slick too (ever walk on ice???), there is the added complexity of balance.  And balance, of course, is related to fluid in your ears and several other bodily systems including vision.

Church leadership determined that a better understanding of all these complexities would be a foundation for more effective water-walking.

This Bible class had only begun to open a Bible at this point on the subject.  So much concern expended on awareness and complexity issues had leadership researching all the experts except Jesus.  Kudos, of course, for getting out of the boat (metaphorically speaking), but the notion of fixing their eyes on Jesus (a rather simple idea) never quite occurred to them.

Oh… snap!

“Experience Jesus!” With First Church of the True Christians

Yeah, we got a new summer series put on by Pastor Bates starting up this June at the First Church of the True Christians.  Lots of banners, mailers, radio ads and other promotional material on-line and elsewhere.  Should be an exciting series.

Pastor Bates wants us to “Experience Jesus!” with him and his church.  The series promises to help you get in touch with your inner child, to know what “true freedom” really is, to realize your best financial potential through tithing as a “child of God in America today”, to see how God has blessed America in the past and continues to bless America today, and as a bonus, he will offer a marriage enrichment seminar which features a raffle drawing that promises to send one lucky couple to Paris, France!

Pastor Bates’s series promises to be an “exciting study in God’s Word” that will develop in you “practical skills for Christian living” WHILE having a good time!

(Pastor Bates hopes to draw crowds through the lean summer months when church attendance generally becomes a lower priority for the masses.  There will be Vacation Bible School, a church picnic, a Fourth of July for God-n-Country Christian concert with fireworks to follow, and a huge back-to-school bash at the end of the summer series.)

First Church of the True Christians employs the services of Pastor Bates’s own “Pastor Bates Mega-Church Revival Specialists” marketing firm (which is staffed by no less than seven marketing specialists drawn from elite marketing firms around the nation and a team of product placement engineers).

Pastor Bates has also shrewdly thrown the weight of his church and marketing firm behind Rich Whiteman, the rising star candidate in the Republican Party, running for a seat in the United States House of Representatives after it was suddenly vacated by the elderly Stoney Hart when he fell ill with cardiac complications last Winter.

All in all, it should be a win-win strategy for the pastor, for the politician, the marketing firm, the church, and, of course, Jesus!  Please plan to attend First Church of the True Christians this summer where you will find a very uplifting summer series, and where you get to “Experience Jesus!” with us.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Among the things I limit myself from sharing on the blog (not a complete ban, but severely limited) are matters at work, my wife, and revealing names.  Of course these are fertile grounds for tons of writings, but the risks of upsetting someone and making unnecessary trouble are not worth it.  But today I have stuff to share that treads out to the thin ice which I hope is worth the risk.

Mrs. Agent X (my wife) works in PICU.  I will not reveal any more than that about her.  I wont say which one, her position there, and nothing to identify any of the patients she meets.

But I will say, in case I have a reader who doesn’t already know this, PICU is where babies and children with critical illness and injuries go for care.  It is a place of work that holds incredible rewards for someone with a caring heart.  But it also is a place where babies and children die.  And sometimes the death is a long drawn out process.  Sometimes the work in that place is some of the most punishing there is.

Mrs. Agent X is not at liberty to tell me about the patients she meets.  I know practically nothing about any given patient there at any given time.  However, she often says that if a child is featured on the TV news, there is a really high probability that she is involved with their care.

Another little bit of backdrop to my post: I have lived in Denver and Phoenix.  Both cities are much, much bigger than Lubbock.  It is not uncommon in those cities to look up to the sky numerous times in a day and see choppers flying around.  Private helicopters, law enforcement, TV News Stations, and of course medevac.  However, in Lubbock, you don’t typically see them, but when you do, it’s almost always medevac.  And Mrs. Agent X has an ear for them!  We might be sitting down to dinner talking quietly, and none of the rest of us will notice the distant sound, but she will suddenly observe that she has her work cut out for her tomorrow.

Yeah.  It’s like that.

My first signal that a child is very sick or about to die is when Mrs. Agent X comes home at the end of the day in a deep funk.  I will fish around for clues.  Did the boss or a fellow worker chew on you?  Or did a kid die today?

Some days she needs to go away to mourn.  She is not her usual self for a while.  And I encourage her saying that these things just happen, but if it were happening to me or mine, I would want her taking care of us.  She ushers those babies to Jesus some days, and that’s hard on a soul to do.

I watched a police drama on Hulu a while back, one of the particularly realistic ones.  There was a scene where the veteran cop coaches the rookie through a particularly grueling call.  He tells about his hardest day as a cop when he administered CPR to a little girl.

The rookie asks, “Did she live?”

The veteran replies, “No.”

But after a somber moment the veteran ads, “I dreamed about her for three years after that.  …In my dreams, she always lived.”

I told Mrs. Agent X about it.

She tells me she dreams too.

She dreams she is carrying a dead baby around the unit telling the other caregivers that she just said “Hi”, so she can’t be dead.  And she turns to see the baby hooked up to a ventilator she is dragging around behind her as she pleads with someone to re-examine the kid.

This old world is hard.  There are things going on in it that just should not be.  Mrs. Agent X goes to the place of shame, pain, and despair in our community and bears the image of God there.

And she comes home to mourn.

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” -Jesus.

I don’t know any comfort for that kind of mourning except resurrection.  A day will come, it is promised to us, and the dead will rise, and the tears will be wiped away.

Let us take hold of those words in hope.

God bless Mrs. Agent X.

 

A Blanket Toddler Tent

With allergies taking over, we will be staying in today.  The toddlers and me…

And here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, I introduced a new idea for them that just drives them wild: a blanket tent/fort.  Yeah, you know what I mean – a blanket spread delicately between the sofa and the easy chair creating a tunnel/passage way.

Oh… what that does to the imagination!

We have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of toys strewn everywhere through the house and in the yard!  But a well-placed blanket entices the kids to drop all of that and come running!  RUNNING!!!

Running in joy and delight.

But, being toddlers, after only a minute of enjoying the tent/tunnel, they feel compelled to touch it, to taste it, to explore what happens when you grab hold of it at the edge.

And invariably…

It comes down.

A moment of shock.

Then the crying begins… as if to say: Pops!  Put it back!  PUT IT BACK!!  PUT IT BACK!!!

And, of course, Pops indulges.  Time and time again.  But the toddlers don’t seem to learn.

Pops repeatedly instructs them and pleas with them not to pull it down, but all to no avail.

It’s a lesson that just ain’t gonna connect… not today, anyway.  Eventually, sure… but not today.

And the gamut of emotions: Joy/delight, shock, sadness, and frustration.  It’s all instantaneous and repetitive.

Oh… and I am a rock star in my own living room too.

Draw your own conclusions.