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5/31/2006

WILL BLOG FOR CASH

How does one record a live CD and build a new website without the cash of a record label? We're about to find out. Taking a page from Joe Trippi's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", I've added a donation button to the left side of your screen there - in hopes that enough money can be raised to fund version 2.0 of the web and music me. The idea is that the 600+ people who come here regularly might annie up a buck or two each in support of a new and much better site (combining shlog.com and shaungroves.com) and a piece of silicon full of ones and zeros that will hopefully sound sweet and make us all smile.

I'm making a budget for both the CD and the new site this week and next and will post that when it's done, along with a goal amount and new donation graphic to show our progress - like Howard Dean's baseball bat that was filled in with red a little more each day as the goal for campaign contributions was progressed towards. I'm open to suggestions on what that graphic could be. Got any?

I'll also post the details of what this new site will look like, but for now I can honestly say it's not like any other artist website out there. It's core is a blog - three actually. It's a blog on crack and steroids at the same time - on crackoids, actually...and lots of Dr.Pepper.

Anyway, I'd appreciate your help building this monster and making my next CD. You'll be heavily involved in the making of both if you want to be. Oh, and if there happens to be left over donation money sitting around when all this is over it'll be given to Compassion International.

Thanks in advance for your generosity. Shlog on.

-Shaun

5/30/2006

WHAT I'M NOT GOING TO DO NEXT

I'm stuck in a moment and can't get out of it. Which happens to be the working title of a friend's written thoughts on getting unstuck and figuring out what to do with your life. So I approached said friend a couple weeks ago to beg for a preview, a nugget, anything culled form his years of living stuck and unstuck that might help pry me loose from this spot before it becomes home.

"I can do a lot of things at a passing level," I confessed. "I know a little about a lot of things. And I have opportunities in every direction. I'm frozen by too many options. I don't know what to be when I grow up. I'm nineteen again."

His advice was his story. His story took a turn toward what I perceive as the right direction when he asked himself what he was NOT going to do next. Randy suggested that when it's paralyzing for some of us to figure out what we WILL do next we need to ask ourselves the opposite question.

So I've been pondering what I will NOT do next and here's some of what I've decided - though none of this is dry yet:

1) I won't work in an office eight hours a day.

2) I won't travel more than I do now (8 days/month max) until my kids are out of school.

3) I won't take a job because of the pay.

4) I won't take a job that doesn't have a tangible impact on other people for the better.

5) I won't be a music minister at a church.

6) I will not audition for American Idol.

7) I will not wear shorts, spandex, a suit and tie or a chicken costume.

8) I will not live in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Maine or Alaska...or Louisiana, Florida, Arizona or California...or Guam...or Canada or France.

And that's about as far as I've gotten. But I'm still thinking. How about you? What WON'T you do with your life.

TO DIE FOR

Shortly after Pilate was appointed procurator in Judea (26 CE), he introduced into Jerusalem by night "the busts of the emperor that were attached to the military standards," which Jews regarded as idols and thus a desecration of the holy city.

Crowds of Jews rushed into Pilates' headquarters in Caesarea to implore him to remove the standards. When he resued, they fell prostrate and remained there for five days and nights.

On the 6th day, Pilate summoned the multitude to the stadium on the pretext of giving them an answer. Instead, they found themselves surrounded by soldiers, three deep. Pilate, after threatening to cut them down - if they refused to admit Caesar's images - signalled to the soldiers to draw their swords. Thereupon the Jews, as by concerted action, flung themselves on the ground, extended their necks, and exclaimed that they were ready rather to die than to transgress the law.

Overcome with astonishment at such intense religious zeal, Pilate gave orders for the immediate removal of the standards from Jerusalem.

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
(Romans 12:6-21)

From Leaving Munster.

5/26/2006

FROM THE ROAD: THREE DAYS IN FLORIDA

It's as if every tan popular athletic person I despised in high school moved here with their grandparents and got saved. That's Florida.

I'm here for three days trying to hold my self-esteem together with long sleeve t-shirts, jeans and a soft rocking acoustic guitar. It's not much but it's all I have. God didn't bless some of us, Florida, with keratin that reacts positively to sunlight or with pectoral muscles worthy of a low cut tank top. No, no, some of us, Florida, look like we're riding a chicken when we wear shorts and scare children if little more than an ankle or wrist should become visible unintentionally.

You, Florida, are the reminder I don't need that I'm wanting in many areas related to personal appearance. And you know this. You know you're better than me. Yet, your generous music-loving heart guides you to my show anyway - to hear the body-like-a-microphone-stand, albinism burdened freak show with a guitar that I am sing a ditty or twelve. Why? Because, Florida, your beauty isn't just skin deep.

Thanks for coming out to see me this weekend in Sebring, Ft.Lauderdale and Kendall. And tell your grandma I said thanks too.

HAUERWAS INTERVIEW PART 4: BUSH AND THE OLD TESTAMENT

Part four, the finale, below:

this is an audio post - click to play



What we've heard so far - Parts 1-3:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


In part four Hauerwas gets asked, "What does your view of pacifism say we should do with the President for going to war in Iraq? Impeach him or what?" While giving a lengthy, stammering, um-filled answer he asserts that hope was spelled W.A.R by President Bush and claims we Americans actually like war, unending war. One has to wonder how much truth there is to this theory of his, seeing as how America has in fact been at war non-stop (war defined as armed conflict) since World War I began.

The question he's asked is essentially, "What about all those wars in the Old Testament? What made those wars alright? Did God change his view of war when the New Testament was written?" Arrogant I know, but while Hauerwas' answer is fine, I think I can do better. See you in the comments.

STANLEY HAUERWAS INTERVIEW PART 3

I don't use the word "pacifism" when speaking or singing across the country. I have to touch on what it means to be a peace maker since my last album was based on that idea and seven others that make up the beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12. I used that word, "pacifism", early on, when that album was new, and I regretted it.

I was promptly threatened in the lobby of a church in Colorado Springs by two Christians serving in the Air Force and sent livid hate mail as well. But I didn't stop using the word because I was frightened away from it. I stopped using it because doing so stopped dialogue. It is a word that flips a hate switch inside the patriot or any other other-minded Christian who associates it with hippies and Jane Fonda, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. It's a worn out word defined for us by those who've overused it over the years. When it spills from my mouth, regardless of what precedes it or follows it, my audience, whether one person or a thousand, thinks they have me figured out as a "liberal" or a democrat" or an "unrealistic pansy long haired hippie" and they no longer listen or think about how being at peace with God through Jesus affects our view of war and peace. Threats and hatred, at the very least defensiveness, replaces sane conversation and rational questioning. Conversation is dead.

So now I don't use any one word to describe my theology of war and peace. I don't call myself anything but Christian. Instead, I do something much more subversive and conversation preserving. I simply say there has always been a tremendous amount of conflict in the world - across bedrooms, sanctuaries, boardrooms and borders. head nod in agreement. And then I quote Jesus - every word He ever said about enemies, loving them, turning cheeks, and on and on. I don't speak out against the war we're in. I don't mention specific countries. I don't talk about soldiers or soldiering. I just end by saying Jesus blesses the peace maker who loves his enemy the way Christ loved us when we were His. That starts conversation. And it's killed the threats.

Conversation, more than preaching, book writing, or any other kind of one way communication is what I believe can provoke Christians in any country to reexamine their theology of war and peace and discover how truly central the involved issues are to following the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and the cross.

So, for the person who asked via e-mail why I'm posting about Hauerwas here, that's the best answer I can give: Non-violence is central to my understanding of what it means to be Christian, Hauerwas is discussing and fielding questions and I believe that is a great way to learn from him - better than a sermon, and lastly, here we can pick up the conversation and ask questions and disagree and learn. This is our chance to reason together after listening to Hauerwas' reasoning on Christian non-violence.

So, let's get on with it. In Part 3, Hauerwas answers two questions I've fielded a lot over the last year: Of course you say you're against war NOW; but what would you have said if you lived in Poland while Hitler was on the march? AND People out there want to take down America and stop freedom; what are we supposed to do about that?

Hope his answers provoke. Let's dialogue.

this is an audio post - click to play


Read Part 1 here and part two here.

5/25/2006

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LINK BEG

A reminder once again to link to SHLOG.COM if you'd like others to discover what goes on around these parts. And, of course, post a comment here letting me know you've done so and I'd love to link back to you from my Better Blogs roll on the left.

SHLOG.COM just turned one and just crossed 100,000 visitors thanks to you. It's been one great year of more flannel than spandex. Read the first ever SHLOG post on the promise to keep things that way around here - and then spread the linkage.

Thanks,
Shaun

5/24/2006

STANLEY HAUERWAS INTERVIEW PART 2: TONTO

The scene is classic. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by the enemy. The Lone Ranger turns to his Native American (in those days, Indian) friend and says something in 1950s speak similar to our present day "We're screwed." Tonto replies calmly, "What you mean WE kemosabe?"

According to Stanley Hauerwas, this is very much the conversation that should be had between Christians and the nation-state (America, in my case). Hauerwas explains this odd illustration himself in Part 2 of this Hauerwas audio series in which he answers questions posed by a noticeably uncomfortable interviewer. Hear part 1 if you missed it here.

Click below to listen.

this is an audio post - click to play

FREE OSENGA





If you don't like popular music, make what you like popular. Go HERE to help spread the word about Andrew's new album THE MORNING.

DA VINCI: THE COUNCIL OF NICEA

Let's hold a few more parts of chapter 55 up against traditional church history and show the flaws in the theory that is espoused in Dan Brown's book.

DA VINCI: "During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicea." (Sir Teabing in ch. 55)

CHURCH HISTORY: The Council of Nicea was held in 325 and was called by Constantine to settle several disputes that were being debated in the church. The primary discussion was over the deity of Christ and the teachings of Arius, who taught that Jesus was not one with God and did not believe that Jesus was divine. The Council met for two months and was attended by 318 bishops from Eastern and Western Churches. One important note here is that there was no such thing as the 'Roman Catholic Church' at this point. The church was 'catholic' in the sense that it was universal but the schisms that created Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic were still hundreds of years away. Many historians, and bishops of the time, were disturbed by the fact that Constantine called and led this Council. Many parts of Christianity still do not recognize the authority of the Council of Nicea because of the emperor's role in the Council. However, the council's influence on Christianity and heresy in the church is undeniable.

DA VINCI: "At this gathering (Council of Nicea)", Teabing said, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon...and, of course, the divinity of Jesus."

"I don't follow. His divinity?" (Sophie)

"My dear," Teabing declared, "until THAT moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a MAN nonetheless. A mortal." (ch. 55)

CHURCH HISTORY: Believing that Jesus was just a mortal until the Council of Nicea would have been news to John the Apostle (see John 10:30), Thomas the Apostle (see John 20:26-28), Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Clement, Ignatius, and Irenaeus. The divinity v. humanity of Christ was passionately debated in the first few centuries with opposing views to his deity coming in the forms of Sabellianism, Arianism, and Gnosticism. But to claim that nobody believed in the divinity of Christ before the Council of Nicea is ignoring 300 hundred of years of documented church history.

Read the rest of Brian's post at ikonblog.

BUSTED AGAIN

This blog is busted again, you may have noticed. Tons of images are missing from your screen. Those images are stored on my server. My credit card company has stopped allowing my server company to automatically charge me each month. So no more server service until the credit card company cooperates. They say it's an anti-theft device of some kind. Right now it's just an anti-good looking blog device.

I apologize for the weirdness. Should be fixed sometime today.

Thanks for Shlogging,

-Shaun

5/23/2006

DOOBIE

"What's doobie?"

She's five - I thought. I also thought things like: She must have seen cable at Uncle Brian's house. Now we'll have to move. I never liked Uncle Brian much anyway. Maybe Becky's having an affair with a pot head when I'm out of town. Or a drug lord from Nicaragua. Maybe Becky's dealing. Maybe Uncle Brian's her supplier. Maybe he's a drug lord from Nicaragua.

Things like that. Normal rational things like that. Then I took a deep breath and feigned calm.

"A doobie is like a cigarette. People smoke it. Ok?" I pulled out my chair and she pulled out hers.

"If you smoke cigarettes you die," she stated with the confidence of a Surgeon General.

"Yea, pretty much. I guess that's true. If you smoke long enough you get sick and some people even die."

"Mommy says you die."

"Yea...So do you understand what a doobie is now?" I spilled a box of crayons onto the kitchen table and handed her a stack of construction paper hoping the interrogation was over and we could draw together instead or at least have some normal little people conversation about, I don't know, colors of finger nail polish she's into this week or how to make a fart sound with your armpit. Anything.

"Can you take me to see them make doobie?"

"Well, it's not like shovels or pencils. I mean, they don't make them in a big factory somewhere like that. I don't think."

I imagined a steel box miles wide and long. Inside, union members pull levers and pack joints in printed cartons and head back to their homes in the suburbs when the whistle blows at five o'clock. "They grow plants. Then they cut the plants down and dry them out in the sun. And then they crunch up the plants when they're dry and roll them up in a little piece of paper. And that's how you make a doobie - how THEY make a doobie. But we can't go see them do that."

"Then they make it on fire like a cigarette and they breath it and die," she continued matter-of-factly while adding a red smile to the yellow sun beaming down from the upper right corner of her paper.

"Pretty much." My page was still blank. Suddenly realizing how dry my mouth was, I stood to get a glass of water. "Do want anything to drink?"

"No. Why can't we see them make it?"

"Doobie? I mean doobies? Well, it's against the rules to make doobies, Sweety. Doobies are drugs. Some drugs are good for your body like cold medicine and stomach ache medicine, you know, and some drugs are bad for you. If you use drugs that are bad for you or hang out with people who take drugs that are bad the police can write you a ticket."

"And go to jail." Tiny pink billowy flowers bloomed from the end of her crayon along the bottom of her paper.

"Yea, sometimes." I swallowed mouthfuls of cold water and prayed there were no more questions. When did my little girl become an expert on our criminal justice system?

"Why do people smoke doobies? They're gonna go to jail."

"You know how when you get scared at night you like Mommy to come sit with you? And when I get sad I like to make music or color with you?"

She nodded.

"Some people are really sad or really scared and they think if they use bad drugs they'll be happy, I guess."

"But they get dead." And with that she slid down from her chair and posted her work on the refrigerator with a magnet and a look of satisfaction.

"Yea, they, um, get dead," I stammered. "So if anyone ever talks to you about trying drugs you need to come tell Mommy or Daddy or Uncle Brian or Aunt Amy, ok? So we can tell you if it's a good drug that will make your body well or a bad drug. Will you do that? Ok?"

"Yea." She removed another page from the stack in front of her and gripped a black crayon in her fingers. "I'm making a farm."

"Ok, well is that all you wanted to know about doobies then?"

She nodded.

I drank another glass of water. She drew a cow and a farmer and a barn. I drew a factory with odd smelling smoke coming from its chimneys.

I couldn't stand it any more.

"Where'd you hear about doobies, Gabriella?"

"On the radio they sing, 'doobie doobie doo doo.'"

"Oh." And I pinned my drawing to the refrigerator alongside her smiling sunshine and pink flowers.

STANLEY HAUERWAS INTERVIEW PART 1

I've written about Stanley Hauerwas here before but thought it might be better to let him speak for himself a while. Hauerwas is a theologian teaching at Duke University these days, a former Notre Dame professor, a Texan, a brash and controversial ethicist, and author of numerous books covering everything from Christian community (church) to Christian non-violence (pacifism). He has influenced my thinking more tan any other author or theologian by confusing me, angering me, and provoking me to flip through the pages of other authors' works, the bible and history to better understand God's mind on these matters. Here's hoping he provokes you in the same way.

Notable quote from Part 1: "When Christians kill Christians it's not murder; it's suicide."

Click below to listen to this rare audio. Enjoy. Discuss. Part 2 coming soon.

this is an audio post - click to play

5/22/2006

LAST MEAL AND TESTAMINTS - IKON 5 23 06

There has been more than a little disagreement among Christians over the centuries about what the Lord's Supper (as Paul calls it) means. On one end of the spectrum we have the Catholics, believing the bread and wine actually become, on a molecular level even, the physical flesh and blood of Jesus. (Transubstantiation) In the middle of the spectrum we have Lutherans and others who believe that while the bread and blood do not become the physical flesh and blood of Jesus, a spiritual life giving sustenance or spiritual flesh and blood mysteriously inhabits the bread and wine we eat and drink. (Consubstantiation) Then, at the other end of the spectrum we have the Baptists who believe the bread becomes stale small square cracker-like thingies and the wine becomes Welch's grape juice. (Simplification)

Fights caused by the Lord's Supper go all the way back to the first Century when Paul wrote about a disagreement of another kind in the Corinthian church:

"And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord's Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can't believe it! Don't you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God's church? Why would you actually shame God's poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I'm not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord's Supper and why it is so centrally important." 1 CORINTHIANS 11:20-23 (THE MESSAGE TRANSLATION)

That's what I'm finishing studying today to teach tomorrow at ikon: What, again, is the Lord's Supper and why is it so important? Find out what Testamints (those little candies with verses printed on them) have to do with all this tomorrow night, 8pm. See you there.

THE DAY AFTER

Surviving critical brickbats, threats of boycott from religious groups, and a kept-under-wraps promotional campaign, the screen adaptation of Dan Brown's hugely popular novel about dastardly shenanigans in the Roman Catholic Church debuted with an estimated $77 million in domestic ticket sales.

Worldwide the Sony release is estimated to have grossed $224 million.

"Incredible," exclaimed Rory Bruer, president of distribution for Sony Pictures. "Certainly for an adult movie -- and it kind of skews adult -- anything north of 50 [million dollars] is huge. . . . We always thought very possibly we could be in the 60 range, but when you hit 75 and end with $77 million it's quite extraordinary."
-Washington Post



As ‘The Da Vinvi Code’ first box-office take begins to stream in from opening weekend admissions, word is that tens of thousands of Italians have ignored the Vatican calls to boycott the film as the movie appears to have broken all box office records in predominately Roman Catholic Italy.

While distributor Sony Pictures will release worldwide sales data Sunday evening, initial figures for the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's bestseller earned 2 million euros (US $2.6 million) on its opening night in Italy.

That figure is nearly double Italy's previous top box-office earner, Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni's 1997 ‘Life is Beautiful.’

Italian news agencies reported record lines at theaters around the country while millions worldwide flocked to see the film opening weekend ignoring protests from Christian groups that called the picture “blasphemous."
-Monsters and Critics



"Mission Impossible Three was freakin' amazing," reported Shaun Groves, a Christian recording artist and local minister, upon exiting a Franklin, Tn theatre Sunday night. "I sent a message to Hollywood tonight that I want more action flicks by Scientologists. I think they got the message if you know what I mean?"

While no one interviewed at the Franklin cinema leaving MI3 got what Groves meant, they are no doubt a few of the millions of Americans choosing to boycott The Da Vinci Code, boycott boycotts of the Da Vinci Code and boycott Over The Hedge othercotts of the Da Vinci Code. As one Franklin resident confirmed, "I don't know nothin' 'bout no boycotts or nothin'. That was $%&*# cool! That bad guy was like really the baddest and the chick was hot, man."
-SHLOG.COM

BRIAN BREAKS THE CODE

After reading, The Da Vinci Code, I saw the source of all the controversy over Dan Brown's assertion in his novel about the roots and foundation of Christianity. I am going to post a few times about the book and hold the claims of the book against our own history. Entire books have been written about the subjects I will cover so this is in no way an exhaustive look at these figures and important moments in Christian History.


DA VINCI:
"Who chose which gospels to include?" Sophie asked.

"Aha!" Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. "The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.' (chapter 55)

CHURCH HISTORY: There are many quotes from this chapter I want to dissect but the claim that Constantine canonized the Bible is not substantiated in any accepted historical accounts. Constantine ruled the Roman Empire from 306 until his death in 337. He is best known in church history as the emperor who stopped the persecution of Christians. Until the rule of Constantine there was widespread persecution of Christians and the Edict of Milan in 313 declared that there would no longer be government persecution of Christians, all property taken from Christians should be restored, and it disestablished paganism as the official religion of the Empire. The rule of Constantine changed the face of the church forever and many great church historians disagree on that effect. Some believe we owe an incredible deal of gratitude to Constantine for stopping the persecution and in those circles he is revered. Others believe that Christianity was hijacked by a ruler that needed to unify his people so he could overthrow Licinius in the Western part of the Empire and become the ruler over all of the Roman Empire (which he eventually did). This view of Constantine sees how Christianity became the popular religion to connect yourself with and lost much of the passion and commitment that existed during the time of persecution...

Read the rest of Brian's post at ikonblog.

5/21/2006

RUN4KIDS RECAP

Thanks to everyone who turned out for the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home Run4Kids this weekend. It was a record year for the annual event which raises awareness of and funds for the Home providing family to children who would have non otherwise. More runners than ever ran in the 5K and that means more financial support than ever was raised for this vital ministry.

It was a beautiful morning for those running the 5K course winding it's way through the shaded campus of The Tennessee Baptist Children's Home. Here are just a few pics from this years festivities:


Randy Elrod
crosses he finish line and later took home a trophy on behalf of the church with the most registered runners: The People's Church.


Brian Seay crosses the finish line and later takes home only the satisfaction of living through a 5K...and a complimentary water bottle from Chick-fil-A for just showing up and asking, "Hey, can I keep this water bottle from Chick-fil-A?"


I find that running a race, really a race of any kind, while holding a pistol in the air is the best way to say, "Hey, I'm running here. Please move out of my way," when you're too winded to really just say that the usual way, you know, with words and all.


Thanks to the cow (cheater) from Chick-fil-A...


...and WAY-FM in Franklin, TN for sponsoring this year's Run4Kids.

5/19/2006

RUN4KIDS THIS SATURDAY

100% of the proceeds from the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home Run4Kids will go to support the children on the Brentwood campus of The Tennessee Baptist Children's Home (TBCH). TBCH offers residential care, adoption-related services, and family resources to children and families in crisis across the state of Tennessee.

Prices: 5k Run/Walk: $20.00, Kid's One Mile Race (9 years and under): $10.00, Kid's 100 Yard Dash (4 years old and under): $10.00

Online Registration Closes May 19, 2006 06:00 PM Pacific Time.

Race Ambassador, Shaun Groves (me) will be on hand for our 4th annual Run 4 Kids!

See you there.

5/18/2006

WHY DA VINCI CODE CRAPFEST MAY COME OUT SMELLING LIKE A ROSE

The reviews are in for The Da Vinci Code:

"A jumbled, joyless affair that neither entertains nor enlightens."
-- Shawn Adler, IGN FILMFORCE

"The problem is the pace, which suffers when demands of explication force Howard to pull his foot off the gas."
-- Greg Burk, L.A. WEEKLY

"As for the film's entertainment virtues, forget it. This is one of the most talky and pretentious major films in memory."
-- Steve Crum, VIDEO-REVIEWMASTER.COM

"The movie is woefully plotted and just flat-out, eye-crossingly dull."
-- Phoebe Flowers, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

"...overblown so-so suspense flick..."
-- JoBlo, JOBLO'S MOVIE EMPORIUM

"Ron Howard plays it too safe keeping fans of the book in line, objectors at bay and alienates anyone coming into the hype with thoughts of 'that's what everyone is up in arms about?'"
-- Erik Childress, EFILMCRITIC.COM

"... it's not very good -- long (2hr.32min.) and mostly inert."
-- Richard Corliss, TIME MAGAZINE

"The film is faithful enough, but it's hard to imagine it making many converts."
-- Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

"A jumble of historical myth, religious symbology and international thriller-action makes for an unwieldy, bloated melodrama."
-- Kirk Honeycutt, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

"The truth is that The Da Vinci Code is a pretty-good-but-who-cares effort, a moderately interesting diversion that will hold audiences in the moment but leave them unmoved and unchanged."
-- Mick LaSalle, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"These offerings by Howard and Goldsman are not enough to turn a page-turner into something that survives and transcends a media phenomenon, in the way of such bad novels as The Godfather and Jaws."
-- Terry Lawson, DETROIT FREE PRESS

From the sight of things over at rottentomatoes.com (16% approval rating for DVC at the moment) I'm wondering if Mark Lee is right: [Boycotts and "othercotts"] feed the story. They prolong the hype...because of all the hoopla [The Da Vinci Code] has gotten, a whole lot of people are still going to see it.

If The Da Vinci Code is on top of the box office for longer than opening weekend do we Christians who blogged (are blogging) about it, boycotted it and othercotted it deserve some credit for it's success?

5/17/2006

CHRISTENDOM IS DEAD. NOW WHAT?

I've picked many fights, started a slew of discussions, asked even more questions and made my share of enemies and friends in the first year of SHLOG.COM's existence. So much of this, I've just realized tonight, is my way of wrestling publicly with an uncomfortable reality: Christendom is dead.

Christendom: The arrangement of Western society from the time of Roman Emperor Constantine's pronouncement of Christianity as his adopted religion to at least the late 1800s in Europe and the 1960s in America. Two of the most notable characteristic of Christendom were that 1)the church was perceived as central to society and culture and 2)the church operated primarily in an "attractional" mode, meaning that the church expected non-Christians to come to the church.

But Christendom is dead. This is not the order of things in the West, for the most part, any more. In large cities especially, and in rural southern cities less so, society is no longer leaning in to hear what the church has to say to her or about her. Society has lost interest.

I've read too many books and been in too many conversations with non-Christians and seen far too much of the American church in the last several years on the road to believe Christendom is alive and well. So I come here every day to find answers I hope you have to the one question that colors everything in life for me these days: Now what? That's what this blog has turned out to be for me - now celebrating one year of existence - a place to ask in many different ways this same question.

Two examples:

Politics: I blog about my not voting, my disinterest in either party, Christian abdication of mercy showing and peace making to government programs and military, and my belief in Christian non-violence. I do this because I'm working out what the relationship between Church and state is in a post-Christendom West and what the consequences are to being free finally to pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God instead of the nation-state. What can we be now that Church and state are divorced and political arguments based on faith fall flat? Christendom is dead. Now what?

Event Driven/Attractional/Spectacle Ministry: In the old Christendom world order in which national history, art history, and church history were one and the same, where else would one go but to the church? We were the financiers and power brokers behind war, art, education and politics. The source of morality and just about everything esle. The church attracted musicians, poets, Caesars and generals to her bed, not only because of her beauty but because of her influence. What are we becoming now that there are more handsome suitors with greater influence elsewhere? What do we do now that the church and anything labeled "Christian" are not attractive to non-Christians? Christendom is dead. Now what?

It's good that Christendom is dead...I think. The support of Christendom by the church forced her to abandon so many of her distinctives and much of her mission. Christendom swelled her ego, fed her vanity. In time she grew fat, lazy, self-absorbed and dumb. She believed she would always be the center of attention and today she gets little. What now?

I think we have many options but three come up most often here at SHLOG.COM and in conversations with my friends in ministry:

1) TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY: We work hard to be the best and the brightest people in society, enter the arts and politics, dominate with our excellence until we Christians are the primary influencers of "culture" again. We vote, run for office, demand our rights, stomp our feet when we don't get them, legislate non-Christians into Christian behavioral patterns, say often that our nation was founded on Christianity and fight to get back our seat of power beside Caesar. Build the biggest best Christian education system ever. Turn out scientists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and business men so that the authority and respect and wealth that was once the church's will be hers again.

2) NAH NAH NAH, I'M NOT LISTENING: Stick our fingers in our ears when anyone tells us Christendom is dead and go on believing that non-Christians in physical, emotional, and spiritual need will visit LifeWay stores, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian DVDs, and come to our churches on Sunday morning in search of Jesus.

3) REMEMBER WHERE WE CAME FROM: Quit our addiction to power, influence and wealth cold turkey. Learn to live without the adoration of Caesar, Hollywood, and Johnny Q. Public. Somehow remember what the church believed and how it operated before the Emperor put his arm around her and made her his influential, powerful and wealthy bride. Contextualize this memory to the 21st century and live it out whether powerful and influential or ignored and marginalized.

I'm frozen these days by the number of career/ministry options before me now that I'm no longer contractually obligated to make "Christian" music for Christians and am able, for the first time in my life, to do virtually anything I want to do in its next chapter. I don't think questions about my future ministry/work can be wisely answered without at least wrestling a little with how the death of Christendom affects me and you, if at all. It could make the difference for me between making music or not, preaching or not, ministering to a Christian subculture, or from one, or ignoring it all together, or doing something completely new. Roofing?

Why wrestle here? These kinds of discussions happen often of course at conventions and around conference tables when pastor types get together. And you get left out. Few people who don't go to these meetings or read books by pastors or attend a seminary have ever heard of "Christendom" or of its demise. Now the secret is out. What your captain probably hasn't told you, I just let slip: We sank a few miles back. What do you want to do about it? I know what pastors think; it's you who have something new to add to this conversation.

Now what?

A CLOSED MIND ON OPEN-MINDEDNESS

"Now, before you read this as an author's disclaimer for any differences between the book and the movie, let me assure you it's all there -- the Louvre, Saint-Sulpice, Chateau Villette, Westminster Abbey, Rosslyn Chapel, the codes, the sacred feminine, and the quiet invitation to think about faith, religion and history with a fresh, open-minded perspective."
-Dan Brown, "How I Cracked the New Code, USAWeekend, 12-14 May 2006.

"Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."
-G. K. Chesterton

"The open mind never acts: when we have done our utmost to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, we still - must close our minds for the moment with a snap, and act dogmatically on our conclusions."
-George Bernard Shaw

5/16/2006

THE OLDEST BATTLE

Tonight at ikon we enter the oldest battle in the bible: the battle of the sexes. Does God value women less than men? Does the apostle Paul? Are men and women equal or not? Different or the same?

The early church in Corinth has some questions about the sexes sure, but the real core of their confusion centered around trying to live like people declared free by God in a culture potentially offended by the exercise of that freedom. How do we live like there is no longer male or female, Jew not Greek, in a society that still operates as if there is? What if exercising our freedom actually hinders the believability of the Jesus story?

But Paul's answer to these questions are full of references to the culture for which they were written. This poses a problem for modern American Christians doesn't it? how much of Paul's answer still applies today? Here's a piece of it:

1 Corinthians 11:7-12 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

We'll ask all this and more tonight at 8PM. See you there Nashvillians.

5/15/2006

THE MAKING OF MORNING

The Making Of Morning by Andrew Osenga.

THE 1% RULE

About 1% of Wikipedia's 25 million visitors each month contribute content to the site. Same rule may apply elsewhere as well. Any community, it's theorized, depending upon involvement and contribution by it's members can count on about 1% of it's members to actually pitch in and help out. Only 1% of us are contributors to a community. The rest are consumers.

What can raise this percentage? I have a theory and if you're in the 1% of SHLOG readers willing to contribute to the discussion here Id love to hear your thoughts on it:

Hardship. For Americans it has recently been hurricanes and planes aimed at our skylines that roused us from consumerism to consumerism PLUS contribution. In fact it was arguably Bush's announcement soon after 9/11 that our consumption of US goods would be a helpful contribution to our nation that transformed our escalated consumption into an odd form of activism.

For the early Church it was arguably the hardship of being in The Way under Roman rule and Jewish skepticism that put her at odds with society and forced members to live in sacrificial community or die as mere individuals. Persecution was not sought but was a result of following the ethics of Christ in a culture of conflicting ethics.

Membership in the Church in those days was a three year ordeal in itself, a hardship or sacrifice of sorts ending in a public declaration of war on the powers of darkness (renouncing evil). Members waged war on evil TOGETHER and not alone, with love in the form of socialistic possession sharing, caring for outcasts like orphans and widows, obeying certain regulations regarding food and clothing to avoid needless criticisms from within and without, self-sacrifice of all kinds and meeting together daily for food and prayer and celebration. Community was forged in the flames of hardship and sacrifice. Virtually every member contributed or left the community called The Way. The Way was narrow - being the church today minus the 99% who contribute virtually nothing - yet potent and convincingly odd. And it was possibly this oddity and potency that led to the thousands of conversions chronicled in the bible's book of Acts and to even more hardship in the form of persecution.

The Christian Church has always survived hardship. It's comfort that kills. What does this comfort look like today in the West?

  • Easy instant membership in the local church.
  • Low expectations of members by clergy. (Give 10% of your income and show up on Sunday)
  • No repercussions for failing to meet already low membership expectations.
  • No concept of local church being part of world wide Church - much of which is in tremendous need.
  • Consumerism, materialism, greed, temporal success encouraged and rewarded by the local church.
  • Abdication of responsibility to care for the poor, sick, orphaned and aging to Caesar. (Welfare etc)
  • Adoption of nation as home, resulting in much sacrifice and reverence for Caesar in exchange for his protection and care.
  • The ability to be anonymous in large congregations.
  • No actual persecution of Christians in the West. (Persecution is being pursued with intent to physically harm or kill)
  • Adoption of societal values, lifestyle, possessions, and morality as the church's.
  • In three words: conformity without peculiarity.

    And could it be that this lack of hardship, lack of sacrifice and societal friction, has made us a church in the West of 99% consumers and 1% contributors?

    Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth answers this way...

    "In every historical period, the religious groups that grow most rapidly are those that set believers at odds with the surrounding culture. As a general principle, the higher a group's tension with mainstream society, the higher its growth rate."

    "Religious organizations are stronger to the degree that they impose significant costs in terms of sacrifice and even stigma upon their members," write Finke and Stark in The Churching of America.

    So does a community of Christians experiencing friction with society at large or some other form of hardship elicit more contribution and devotion from it's members? Does this hardship and friction need to be created by the Church or does it come naturally from obedience to Christ's example or from something else? What do you think? And most importantly how can this trend away from contribution in the church be reversed in a nation like the United States founded on religious freedom, kept alive by consumption and preaching "cultural relevance" defined in practice as evangelism through cultural hijacking/sameness? Or are we doomed to be nothing more than a Wikipedia like community of takers and few givers?

    Time to hear from SHLOG's 1%.

  • 5/14/2006

    LEARNING MERCY

    One by one I lifted the cans of green beans and corn from her shopping cart and placed them in ours, my mother's hands working alongside mine. The transfer completed, my mother leaned over, held the woman's gray bobbing head still and kissed her thin cheek. "Love you. Have a good day," she whispered in the shrunken woman's ear just loud enough for the three of us to hear. Then, wiping tears from her own smile dimpled cheeks, my mother stepped behind what had been the elderly shopper's cart and continued down the cereal aisle, fighting it's stuck front wheel all the way.

    I looked back at the old woman, now pushing our former cart with ease, with the kind of awe reserved for last second wins in Super Bowls or a cheerleader entering a prom on the arm of the chess team president. This was miraculous. I knew it.

    But that's the business my mother has always been in - the small miracle business - the business of rescuing aging damsels in distress from busted shopping carts and children from loneliness and fear. If actions are a parent's greatest lessons then the lesson she taught me best was mercy: See the weak and be their strength.

    Like the time a mentally and physically retarded classmate of mine, weeping and wandering our crowded mall one Saturday in search of his mother, was lifted onto a concrete bench by mine. She held him against her, comforting him, scanning the passing faces for a frantic mother's, rocking him and saying, "Everything will be alright. We'll find your mother. I bet she misses you and she's looking for you too."

    She asked his name. "Michael," he said slowly and wetly. I'd only known him as "Rambo", the name we all called him at school on account of his almost always wearing camouflage. I didn't now he had another.

    As she consoled Michael she sent me off to find a security guard who could broadcast his name to the herd of shoppers, but before I could Michael spotted his mother, unfazed by his disappearance, buying ice cream for herself in the Food Court. The reunion was an angry one with loud scolding about wandering off, without thanks you's, his mother far more embarrassed by him than concerned for him.

    From that day on, no matter how well camouflaged, I noticed Michael at school. I smiled. I carried his books a time or two. I saw him like my mother did.

    My mother, I'm afraid, sometimes worries that she made too many mistakes in raising me. It's that worry I think that may have made her such a careful and wise parent. She lamented not being able to stay home and take care of me, for example. She mourned putting me into a day care with a couple hundred kids when I was three. But she didn't need to worry and she shouldn't regret. I had the best of two worlds. An odd situation. The friendship and play that only fifty or so kids my age could have given me and constant access to her as if it were just the two of us together every day.

    She was the principal, the director of the day care. She ran the hectic place but always broke away to rub my back at nap time. She made sure I ate my peas at lunch time. She disciplined me when I needed it. She put band aids on my skins and scrapes. She dried my tears. And then sent me back to my friends and teachers and went on with her work just a few yards from my classroom.

    Not only did she get to keep an eye on me at the day care but I got to keep an eye on her too. I never saw impatience, never a raised voice, never a cross word with any of her employees or customers. Never.

    I did notice though that her lap almost always had another child on it. Her hands put band aids on their knees. She made them eat their peas. She sometimes rubbed their backs at nap time. I Guess I got jealous of all this attention meant for me being handed out so freely to everyone else. I remember her explaining, "These boys and girls don't have a mommy here to take care of them. You do. You can always come see me whenever you want. And I'll always be your mommy. But at school you need to share your mommy with these boys and girls who don't have one here." I got it. I shared. This was my mother's job: loving other people's kids while they were away. And she did it well.

    She still does. She retired from the day care business a couple years ago, after twenty seven years of band aids and nap times. After raising thousands of children two hundred at a time. Retirement lasted a few weeks, until she found another group of kids needing what she could give. The elementary school brought her on, with all her experience and education, as an assistant in a class of students with special needs.

    She's not as nimble as she once was. She's not as strong as she once was. But children who can't see, or can't walk or can't speak don't need speed and agility. They need what a woman with a broken shopping cart needed. They need what a lost confused unnoticed boy needed. They need what all my friends and I in day care needed. They need love: time, listening, whispers of encouragement, laughter, a belonging squeeze.

    So every day my mother, far from out of mercy, slides with a boy who can't walk. She reads to a child who can't see. And she loves those who have nothing much to give back. But what they have she lives for, she runs on: hugs and kisses and smiles.

    My mother was my first Sunday School teacher. She wanted to be there on Sunday morning to tell me about God's love. What she didn't realize at the time was just how much I was learning about the subject every other day of the week - just by watching her. She's the best teacher I've ever had.

    Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for teaching thousands of children, not just your own, about love.

    5/12/2006

    CHANGING CHUCK

    Putting a gaggle of white conservative Christian women around age forty in a room to register their immediate approval or disapproval of a thirty second (or less) musical clip only leads radio program directors to choose music of tomorrow that sounds just like the music of yesterday: all that's being tested is familiarity. Different loses. Same wins.

    Chuck Finney is a smart straight-forward man. A successful man. He's a pioneer in the use of focus groups in the Christian radio business and he'll tell you it's working for him so he ain't changing. I enjoyed spending time with Mr. Finney when my last album first came out - a feeble attempt to woo his power into our corner over a plate of fajitas. It didn't work and he assured us it never would. He swore that nothing short of a great test score would ever get my music or anyone else's on his airwaves. I believed him and I knew then the end was near for my radio history. "It doesn't matter if I like you or your music if it doesn't test well with our group." He then suggested I cover an old song, a worship song perhaps that would be familiar to listeners and test better.

    This wouldn't have been such grievous news for the sweating label guy sitting across from me if Mr. Finney wasn't the man unknowingly in control of the Christian music business. He truly seems peacefully unaware of his sway on radio and of radio's sway over the industry at large. Virtually no one - except black gospel artists - stays on the top fifty best selling discs list created by SoundScan for long without substantial radio play - or wins a Dove Award or plays to crowds of any magnitude. And Chuck controls the biggest slice of radio real estate out there, the bit small fish model their play lists after.

    He programs the highly successful KLTY in Dallas, Texas but also "green lights" singles for possible play on ALL Salem owned stations nation wide. Literally hundreds of stations can only play songs Chuck has tested and approved of. A station in Atlanta, for instance, may love a song but be unable to play it because Mr.Finney says it isn't worthy. Salem stations can choose to play anything they like...as long as it's something from Chuck's green list. Chuck is trusted that much. And Chuck trusts the focus group - a relatively small gathering of women listening to clips and turning a handheld knob which registers their degrees of love and hatred for hundreds of songs.

    Chuck is brilliant, kind, loves God and me and his listeners and Tex Mex, but Chuck is wrong. I've told him this kindly but, well, I wouldn't listen to me either, honestly. What do I know about marketing or running a radio empire? Well, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while I guess. (This is the part where I arrogantly say, "I told you so" and do a happy dance while flipping off invisible nay-sayers...with a ring finger of course.)

    Focus groups are an overused source of "wisdom" continually being poo pooed by marketers like Seth Godin, who recently lamented...

    "Groupthink is a problem, for one. Second, you've got a weird cross section of largely self-selected people, the kind of people willing to sit in a room with bad lighting to make a few bucks.

    What focus groups can do for you is give you a visceral, personal, unscientific reaction to little brainstorms. They can help you push something farther and farther to see what grabs people. But the goal isn't to do a vote or a census. Any time your focus group results include percentages, you've wasted an afternoon."

    So do we never consult a focus group? Do we marry focus group data to our own expertise and gut? What would you do? What HAVE you done with the opinions of others in your work and life beyond? How important is the herd's perspective to you? How do you discern what the customer wants? Would you do any differently than Chuck if you were in his position?

    CALVINISM PART5: PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

    So far in this series of posts we've learned that a Calvinist believes...

    Everyone is born depraved which means we are all born "sinful" and helpless to do anything about it. (Total Depravity)

    Out of the sea of depraved human beings God chose certain people to be separated from Him forever (Hell) and certain people to join Him forever (Heaven). All people are equally unworthy of being chosen by God. God chose some of us, not because of any merit in us, to know Him and represent Him on earth and chose others to never understand Him or want to and to eternally be miserable without Him. (Unconditional Election)

    When Jesus dies on the cross He took away only the sin and depravity of those who were chosen, or elected, by Him. Any one who is not a Christian was not died for by Jesus on the cross. "The world" in John 3:16 really means "the elected or chosen people in this world." (Limited Atonement)

    God "draws" the elected or chosen people of this world to Him; He causes them to want to believe in Him, trust Him, etc. This drawing power of God is so great, and God is in such control of all things, that the chosen person has no choice but to give into this drawing and believe in Jesus. No one God draws can refuse to follow God and believe Jesus is the Christ. (<Irresistible Grace)

    The final belief of Calvinism or TULIP theology is this: Once saved. always saved. Or Perseverance of the Saints, as the Calvinists have labeled it. To "persevere" means that belief in God and acceptance by God is a permanent state. A "saint" is someone who is accepted by God because they have been given the gift of belief in Jesus.

    If God chose me and left me no choice but to choose Him then how could I later make such a choice against Him, renounce my faith and loose my salvation? How can something be lost that wasn't found to begin with but was given instead? There's no logical way to refute the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints IF T, U, L and I are true.

    Of course, it's said, someone who renounces their faith, someone who says in effect they no longer believe the story of Jesus to be true and no longer want to follow God or be one of God's people, is not a Christian and has no place in Heaven. BUT, a Calvinist argues, that person NEVER WAS a Christian or else they could not have made such a move. 1 John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."

    "Not of us" is said to mean they never were of us - they never were "true believers" in Jesus, never chosen, never died for by the Christ etc.

    This is then applied to other passages in which people who SEEM to be Christians renounce their belief in Christ and are separated forever from God because of it. These people never were Christians to begin with, the Calvinist says.

    This argument is convincing but hits at least one snag:

    Hebrews 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

    It seems that the person in question in Hebrews is a Christian because they have been given the gift of heaven, received the Holy Spirit, and understood the word of God to be "good". These are all things a Calvinist would argue cannot be true of a non-Christian, yet this person, this seemingly Christian person, has "fallen away" from God and CANNOT BE BROUGHT BACK.

    And this is just one example of such a person "falling away" from God because they decided Christianity was a lie. There are also examples that support the Calvinist view of Perseverance in which people are "damned" because they never produced "good works". It is stated again and again in scripture that a person who truly knows God makes Him known, loves others, lives in a righteous trajectory. When this does not happen it is evidence not that a person has lost salvation but that a person never was saved. 1 John is a big book on this subject. People are called liars by John for claiming to love God while not sharing their wealth or loving fellow Christians. He says these are not children of God.

    So those who fall away...Were they ever Christians to begin with, Christians who stopped believing in Jesus or is there another explanation to be heard.

    Again, if a person believes T,U,L and I'm not sure how they could NOT believe P. Any of my non-P-believing friends want to explain that one to me?

    Have at it.

    OPRAH OR POPRAH?

    By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY [Excerpts]

    After two decades of searching for her authentic self — exploring New Age theories, giving away cars, trotting out fat, recommending good books and tackling countless issues from serious to frivolous — Oprah Winfrey has risen to a new level of guru. She's no longer just a successful talk-show host worth $1.4 billion, according to Forbes' most recent estimate. Over the past year, Winfrey, 52, has emerged as a spiritual leader for the new millennium, a moral voice of authority for the nation.

    With her television pulpit and the sheer power of her persona, she has encouraged and steered audiences (mostly women) in all matters, from genocide in Rwanda to suburban spouse swapping to finding the absolute best T-shirt and oatmeal cookie.

    "She's a really hip and materialistic Mother Teresa," says Kathryn Lofton, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who has written two papers analyzing the religious aspects of Winfrey. "Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality."...



    ...Although the concept of the Rev. Oprah has been building through the years, never was it more evident than this season of her talk show, during which she conducted the public flogging of author James Frey. Feeling stung and embarrassed after endorsing his memoir about addiction, A Million Little Pieces, which turned out to include exaggerations and falsehoods, Winfrey had Frey on the show to do an about-face.

    "I left the impression that the truth is not important," she said on the show. "I am deeply sorry about that because that is not what I believe."

    It was a watershed Winfrey moment, showing herself as not only a talk-show host with whom you don't want to mess, but also someone who is fully aware of the power of her own image. Think back: She appeared in New Orleans to take on the government after Hurricane Katrina hit last August, and she sent a message to us all about civil rights as she stood by the casket of Coretta Scott King in February. Last week, she shed a tear with Teri Hatcher over sexual abuse memories, and she jumped on the Darfur bandwagon, encouraging viewers to support refugees there.

    "She's a moral monitor, using herself as the template against which she measures the decency of a nation," Lofton says...



    ...Love her or loathe her, Winfrey has become proof that you can't be too rich, too thin or too committed to rising to your place in the world. With 49 million viewers each week in the USA and more in the 122 other countries to which the show is distributed, Winfrey reaches more people in a TV day than most preachers can hope to reach in a lifetime of sermons.

    "One of the things that's key," says Marcia Nelson, author of The Gospel According to Oprah, "is she walks her talk. That's really, really important in today's culture. People who don't walk their talk fall from a great pedestal — scandals in the Catholic Church, televangelism scandals. If you're not doing what you say you do, woe be unto you."

    Read more.

    5/11/2006

    AND THE NEXT WINNER IS...

    And here's the next film to upset American Christians...or Republicans...no, Christians...Oh, what's the difference?

    See the trailer here.

    Does the star of this film affect whether or not you'll go see it? How about its message?

    5/10/2006

    CAN I MAKE A RECOMMENDATION?

    I've steered clear of making any recommendations about what to do or not do, what to think or not think, how to respond or not respond to The Da Vinci Code...at least here on this blog. Instead, I've done my best to expose us to various view points within Christianity in America concerning the popular book that has now become a film with an imminent release date. My goal was to both start disagreements and then dialogue and then resolution of some kind. Lofty I know, arrogant even, manipulative perhaps - but it's my blog so I can toy with you if I want to...as long as no harm is done.

    And no harm has been done. I've learned a lot from everyone who's participated in the discussion here and I've second guessed, third guessed and, well, you get the picture, my ideas about all this. Here's what I'm thinking now about all this - not that you're asking - followed by a recommendation, which you're also not asking for. So stop reading if getting either will be irritating to you.

    NOT JUST FICTION:
    Some have said, "It's just fiction. Why is anyone upset about this book/film? Why take it seriously at all? That's like thinking Left Behind books are factual!"

    That's exactly what I thought until discussion broke out here and my inbox got hit with a few questions from Christians who obviously have been caused to doubt their faith and buy into what I thought were obvious lies in Dan Brown's excellent tale. Coupled with this evidence of the book's impact on some Christians I love, most of them strangers, was the smoking gun of Dan Brown's own words I discovered a couple days ago - again, forwarded to me by a SHLOG.COM reader:

    From Good Morning America interview, November 3, 2003 (ABC News Transcripts)
    CHARLES GIBSON: "...This is a novel. If you were writing it as a non-fiction book.... how would it have been different?"
    DAN BROWN: "I don't think it would have. I began the research for 'The Da Vinci Code' as a skeptic. I entirely expected, as I researched the book, to disprove this theory. And after numerous trips to Europe, about two years of research, I really became a believer. And it’s important to remember that this is a novel about a theory that has been out there for a long time."

    So I personally know now, and I didn't before we started talking here about all this, of people who are believing this fictional book to be historically factual enough to end their belief in Jesus as the divine Christ. AND it seems from Dan Brown's own words that he too believes his fiction to be based on factual evidence that the divine Christ is a myth. Therefore, I cannot dismiss this book as harmless fiction. Harmless to me, perhaps. To most, perhaps. But not harmless to all.

    THE RESPONSE:
    So what to do about this? Depends on who you are I suppose. I certainly won't make any suggestions about what YOU should do or not do, say or not say, in response to this book/film. (Though I will make a suggestion in a minute about the spirit and limits of any response you make.) I have had to come to grips though, as much as I hate this reality for some odd reason, that it is a pastor's job, duty, obligation laid out for him/her in scripture to protect the people entrusted to him/her from false doctrine. It's strange at the very least that a work of fiction is being defended against and being debunked, and I wish it weren't so, but as I've already said, when Mr.Brown put his pen to paper with the intent of spreading what he believed to be facts regarding the non-divinty of Jesus he became a weapon forged against the Church. A mean spirited weapon? Don't think so. An effective weapon? Not largely. But a weapon none the less.

    The Church will never die. Nor will God's image ever be soiled beyond recognition. But while the Church and God won't die if I do nothing, somehow, and I don't fully understand why this is, God has made it clear that it is my job as a pastor, teaching and protecting those who accept me as their pastor, to be informed and make time to answer any questions that come my way about this book/film. It's a vocational/occupational inconvenience and honor to now be given the responsibility to enter into conversation about the ideas in this book and defend orthodox Christianity against any lies when they are misconstrued as fact - WHEN those lies are concerning the core of our belief system.

    And it's my job to listen as much or more than I talk in this conversation, to admit where the Church has failed, to humbly admit when I just don't know the answers but to also confidently give the facts as I know them kindly and without apology.

    I don't, as of today, think it's my job to hold a press conference to tell those outside my faith that Dan Brown is a liar. It's not my job to assault his character or mock him. It's not my job to belittle anyone for believing this book's theories. It's not my job to stage boycotts and the like. My job, and I think your job as a Christian as well, it appropriately and ironically to be like the early Church questioned by Mr. Brown's novel. The early Church, amid martyrdom, unemployment, harassment and the twisting and adoption of their beliefs by pagan religions, kept being the Church: meeting together, praying fervently, reminding each other of what was true, meeting one another's needs, being the proof of a doubted God by putting skin on His love and mercy and peace in their community. They did not go public with their arguments against heresy, did not attack non-Christians for their odd theories and religions, did not expect fair treatment and truth from their society and whine when they did not receive it. Instead Church leaders wrote letters and preached sermons and crafted icons that reminded believers of what was true while living out what was true themselves. Then they sat back and allowed the chips to fall where they may.

    And we're still here. And we'll still be here after The Da Vinci Code posts record first week box office numbers...and it will.

    Like I said, I don't know what your response should be to this book/film but mine is to remind people who look to me for answers of what I know is true and to back that up with my life. Whatever your response is to be I do know it should represent the love of God accurately while making obvious your confidence in the divinity of Christ with a life of obedience.

    THE RECOMMENDATION:
    There are many books out suddenly "debunking" The Da Vinci Code. Honestly, I think much of it is poorly written and over kill. One need not prove that there are more windows in the Louvre than Dan Brown claims to rectify the IMPORTANT errors in his account of historical Christianity. Those important errors, in my opinion, would concern matters like: How was the bible we have today assembled? What was Constantine's role in that process? What changes did COnstantine and others make to Christianity and scripture? Did Jesus claim to be divine? Why are "new" books such as the Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Judas not credible to modern day Christians?

    Answering these questions alone, using historical evidence and prevailing wisdom among non-Christian archaeologists and scholars pokes enough holes in Dan Brown's theories for them to sink on their own. One source I'd recommend for researching answers to these questions is Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine by admitted agnostic Bart D. Ehrman, chair of religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, NC. It is a book without a theological or denominational agenda of any kind - seemingly. It focusses on finding answers to the questions I've listed here as seemingly most important and foundational to Brown's theories and the Christian faith.

    So there. I gave an opinion of sorts. Hope we're still friends. See the movie or don't - I don't know what you should do. But I know this book/movie, while it is fiction, is somehow affecting some Christians profoundly and was written to do so and therefore cannot be ignored but must be responded to, at the very least, by church leaders being asked great questions by intelligent people in their churches.

    5/09/2006

    MCLAREN: TRUTH IN DA VINCI CODE'S FICTION

    Pastor and writer (and Sojourners board member) Brian McLaren talks about why he thinks there's truth in The Da Vinci Code's fiction...

    SOJO:What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop culture attitudes toward Christianity and the church?

    Brian McLaren: I think a lot of people have read the book, not just as a popular page-turner but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown's version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church's conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church's conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?

    SOJO: So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

    McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown's book, I think what he's doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that's true. It's my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name "Jesus" and the word "Christianity" are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that's distorted and false. I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown's suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive. Brown's book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion's grasping for power. Again, there's something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.

    SOJO: Do you think the book contains any significantly detrimental distortions of the Christian faith?

    McLaren: The book is fiction and it's filled with a lot of fiction about a lot of things that a lot of people have already debunked. But frankly, I don't think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels. And in a certain way, what the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think Brown is twisting scripture, just to other political ends. But at the end of the day, the difference is I don't think Brown really cares that much about theology. He just wanted to write a page-turner and he was very successful at that. Many Christians are also reading this book and it's rocking their preconceived notions - or lack of preconceived notions - about Christ's life and the early years of the church. So many people don't know how we got the canon, for example.

    SOJO: Should this book be a clarion call to the church to say, "Hey, we need to have a body of believers who are much more literate in church history." Is that something the church needs to be thinking about more strategically?

    McLaren: Yes! You're exactly right. One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history - it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn about church history. I think the disturbing would do them good. But a lot of times education is disturbing for people. And so if The Da Vinci Code causes people to ask questions and Christians have to dig deeper, that's a great thing, a great opportunity for growth. And it does show a weakness in the church giving either no understanding of church history or a very stilted, one-sided, sugarcoated version. On the other hand, it's important for me to say I don't think anyone can learn good church history from Brown. There's been a lot of debunking of what he calls facts. But again, the guy's writing fiction so nobody should be surprised about that. The sad thing is there's an awful lot of us who claim to be telling objective truth and we actually have our own propaganda and our own versions of history as well. Let me mention one other thing about Brown's book that I think is appealing to people. The church goes through a pendulum swing at times from overemphasizing the deity of Christ to overemphasizing the humanity of Christ. So a book like Brown's that overemphasizes the humanity of Christ can be a mirror to us saying that we might be underemphasizing the humanity of Christ.

    SOJO: In light of The Da Vinci Code movie that is soon to be released, how do you hope churches will engage this story?

    McLaren: I would like to see churches teach their people how to have intelligent dialogue that doesn't degenerate into argument. We have to teach people that the Holy Spirit works in the middle of conversation. We see it time and time again - Jesus enters into dialogue with people; Paul and Peter and the apostles enter into dialogue with people. We tend to think that the Holy Spirit can only work in the middle of a monologue where we are doing the speaking. So if our churches can encourage people to, if you see someone reading the book or you know someone who's gone to the movie, say, "What do you think about Jesus and what do you think about this or that," and to ask questions instead of getting into arguments, that would be wonderful. The more we can keep conversations open and going the more chances we give the Holy Spirit to work. But too often people want to get into an argument right away. And, you know, Jesus has handled 2,000 years of questions, skepticism, and attacks, and he's gonna come through just fine. So we don't have to be worried. Ultimately, The Da Vinci Code is telling us important things about the image of Jesus that is being portrayed by the dominant Christian voices. [Readers] don't find that satisfactory, genuine, or authentic, so they're looking for something that seems more real and authentic.

    This interview was conducted for Sojo.net by Lisa Ann Cockrel, associate editor at Today's Christian Woman. To sign up for Sojourners' e-mail newsletter and receive more "news" like this, go here.

    IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON, BRANT

    Brant,

    What a waste of talent. You've got a crappy Xanga blog! It's 2006! There are more fish in the sea, you're better than that, and other cliches as well.

    Hosting a blog as well-written, hilarious and profound as yours on Xanga is like marrying a supermodel off to the likes of Billy Joel, Rod Stewart or Rick Ocasek. You could do worse of course. But you're doing badly enough that total strangers point and ask louder than they realize, "What the?" as you stroll along the information superhighway completely obvious to how badly mismatched the two of you are.

    I'm not bashing you here, Brant, or your partner; just taunting you publicly in hopes that you'll break out of your unequally yoked-ness, divorce that inferior ugly duckling Xanga and hitch up with the kind of leggy super hottie you deserve. How about just dating or even making out a little withTypepad, Blogger, Wordpress or Moveable Type? You know if you blog with any of these Technorati will take notice, point and scream loudly to her millions of friends, "Oh my gosh! Did you see who Brant's with? You, like so have to check him out!" She does that sort of thing. I've seen it. Next thing you know you've got a picket fence, a golden retriever and a little plot of page rank up on a hill in a neighborhood called "Influence."

    God knows we could sure use more of your kind in that community. We've got plenty of neighbors around here with billion decibel bullhorns and nothing much to say.

    I'm a simple man, brant. All I want is universal access to your rants for all inhabitants of earth. You know it's not just your wife and three friends who could use some golden insights and laughs like these:

    "I don't think lots of people agree with me on this. I sense this, because lots of people say, "I don't agree with you on this." I've got antennae for subtlety like that. I pick up on things." - from "Ticking People Off"

    "Your Listener is an Idiot. And I know this is true, because I've listened to enough Christian radio. I figure we on-air people know our listener best, and a lot of us are consistently treating her like an idiot, ergo she's an idiot. Apparently, we think the Christian radio listener needs everything explained. So make sure you make it obvious when you're being funny. She needs it explained that you're "just kidding". That way she knows: you were kidding! She's not very bright, so it relieves her to know that was just a joke! Whew! J/K! You may want to fake some laughter, too." - from "Krusty Spirit of Radio"

    "I'm judging a culture that takes it for granted that we're supposed to have a very, very high standard of living. The idea of driving an old car, or living in a slightly cramped, older house with only one bathroom, not buying a nice TV - that's just out of the question for many. Let's be honest about it. I think we then retro-fit many choices like how we raise our children based on our material expectations...Smart, wise, discerning parents aren't all going to home-school. The question isn't, ultimately, "Where did your kids go to school?" It's "What did you value as a parent?" And that's not measured by what we say, but what we actually do." -from Interview With Me: Homeschooling"

    Now I WOULD listen to Christian radio if every DJ talked like THIS on the air. Must be why you recently won an award for being the best on-air personality in your station's genre. Congrats, Brant. Really, way to go. Someone out there obviously likes what you have to say and how you say it. Now, how about saying it on a blog people can actually find out about and benefit from?

    Hugs and kisses,

    Shaun Groves
    Internet Consultant/Thorn in the Side

    5/07/2006

    $40,000 WORTH OF CONVERSION

    What else could have been done with the $40,000?

    A small army of Christian men organized the 8th annual Soulstock in Athens, Alabama yesterday. Several thousand people attended the outdoor music festival and funnel cake feeding frenzy for free.

    I did not. I attended for $3000.

    $3000 paid for a rental van, two tanks of gas, Brian to road manage and book the gig, my manager, three musicians to accompany me, per diem for all of us and a large gift to Uncle Sam. That's a lot of money.

    Add to my fee the cost of the gigantic stage, the rental of the field, the crew running the top-notch sound and lighting rigs, catering, bottled water, the cost of artists pricier than I and a preacher - and well, we estimate the total cost of the event at around $40,000.

    This money was donated by local businesses who miraculously came together from different industries, different denominations and churches to fund, imagine and volunteer for this annual event whose purpose is to "convert" people.

    Musicians play and a pastor preaches. An alter call is given and prayers of contrition and surrender to Jesus are offered up.

    Conversion.

    And as I participated in the day's events I was at the same time applauding and appalled. Applauding the zeal and unity of the men putting together Soulstock for the 8th year running. Applauding the fun and excellent music in the air mingling with the fragrance of french fries and chili dogs. Applauding the feel of family among strangers believing in the same God. Applauding the small crowd coming forward to pray with counselors, "rededicating" their lives to Christ or praying for Him to save them.

    Appalled that $40,000 and all this cooperation was poured into a field and a few hours of music and talking because it was believed by local pastors and concert organizers to be the best representation, the most convincing announcement, of the true of the story of Jesus. It best represented God to man - they thought. It would bring about conversion.

    The festival was fantastic. Well done. Well intentioned. It was good. But I found myself imagining great. What would great have looked like?

    What if...

    What if the churches in Athens, Alabama didn't pay the professionals from Nashville to come in and tell their city, their neighbors, their friends about God in an entertaining way? What if they themselves did the talking with words and actions in a need meeting, mercy showing, peace making, loving way? In a way that let people SEE Jesus and not just HEAR about Him?

    What if the churches decided to raise $40,000 to house a clinic offering free medical care three days a week in a shopping strip or church building or house? What if doctors didn't cook funnel cakes or direct traffic at a concert but donated five hours every month to this clinic? What if business men didn't buy banners and concert ads but bought vaccinations and sonogram machines and insulin?

    What if the $40,000 went to create a job training program aimed at preparing and educating women and men who want a way out of welfare but aren't qualified currently for jobs that would earn them more than welfare is already paying them? What if child care was provided for single mothers while they received that job training and once they got hired?

    What if $40,000 gave a scholarship to a kid who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend college? Or built a home for him to sleep in? Or bought his family's groceries? Or provided counseling for his fighting parents? Or sent him to another country to tell the story of Jesus?

    What if $40,000 was given not to Athens, Alabama but to the Church in the Middle East or to some other needy outpost of God's army? What if it fed, clothed, educated and taught about Jesus 104 children in a third world country for one year through Compassion International?

    I just wonder if event driven "conversion", as noble as it is and as well as it's served Western Christianity led by Billy Graham and others for decades, converts souls at the neglect of converting entire persons, families and communities - converts minds perhaps without converting neighborhoods, without transforming hunger into nourishment, poverty into life, sickness into health. And I just wonder if we create these events once in a while where Jesus is put on a stage for those outside the Church to see simply because we've forgotten what powerful proof of God's existence and character our all-converting love, mercy and peace can be to our communities every day.

    What would Jesus do with $40,000?

    We may never know, but what would you do with it? Pretend you have the check in your hand. What does your city need more right now: a concert and a sermon preached by professionals or something else - something locals could accomplish? Where would you spend the money?

    We've done good all over the nation. Now, imagine great.

    GODSPLOITATION

    Long criticized by conservative Christians for profiting from violent or sexually graphic films that corrupt the young, Hollywood is starting to see there is money to be made catering to those critics.

    "On Sunday, 43 percent of America was in church," Jonathan Bock, head of a movie marketing company that specializes in religious audiences, said at a panel discussion on "What Would Jesus Direct?" at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

    "For studios to not recognize that's an audience is like them saying, 'We're not marketing movies to men,"' Bock said.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    He and others on the panel, including a 20th Century Fox executive, said the turning point was Mel Gibson's 2004 movie "The Passion of the Christ," which surprised many in Hollywood by grossing more than $370 million in the United States.

    "Until two months before it was released, it was pretty much known as the least commercial property in Hollywood," said Michael Flaherty, whose production company was behind "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Because of Winn-Dixie," both with strong spiritual or moral messages.

    "There's a lot of people in the faith community who are looking for these films that are uplifting," Flaherty said.

    While "The Passion" is credited with knocking down the door for religious-themed films in Hollywood, Bock said the growing interest was clearly linked to politics. He noted President George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, was elected twice with solid backing from conservative Christians.

    'GODSPLOITATION'

    Ralph Winter, a producer at 20th Century Fox Films, said Fox's home video department was leading the way in pushing for films for religious audiences.

    "They're very interested in opening up that market so we have been making $2 million or $3 million movies based on (Christian) books," he said.

    Winter said studios are looking for projects based on good stories likely to make entertaining movies, without being obvious efforts to proselytize and convert people.

    Read the rest here.

    (HT:BS)