As always, we must persuade [others] with love… And we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts.” – Mother Teresa

UnknownI want to talk today about the incredibly controversial Supreme Court Decision that has changed and is changing the face of morality in America. It’s the decision that has Christians talking about America losing it’s way and turning it’s back on God.

I’m speaking of course, about the SCOTUS decision in Roe Vs. Wade

I’ve never known an America where abortion wasn’t legal. I’ve never known a Christianity that didn’t care deeply about this and often in ugly ways.

And by the way, I get it. I hate abortion, I rarely speak out on it, like many people in my generation because I’ve never seen a productive discussion come out of the quickly escalating shouting matches.

But strange as it may seem, I believe that the Roe vs. Wade decision and the recent SCOTUS ruling in favor of same sex marriages are tied together (not that same-sex relationships are in a same category with abortion, but) because the real underlying point of disagreement between the Church and modern Western culture is the purpose of our sexuality.

In many ways, Christians in the West are still trying to work out all of the implications of the Birth Control, and our recent ability to sever the connection between making love and making babies.

Mary Eberstadt in her book “Adam and Eve after the Pill” writes that this is the defining cultural event of the 21st century:

Time magazine and Francis Fukuyama, Raquel Welch and a series of popes, some of the world’s leading scientists, and many other unlikely allies all agree: No single event … has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception.

I believe Christianity is more liberating for women than we can imagine, and Jesus calls us to work toward gender equality, but one thing I’m growing more skeptical of is our cultures great promises for a correlation between greater freedom and greater happiness.

I think it’s indicative that for all our progress we’re not getting happier, actually we are losing our joy

Christian Homes and Modern Families

Historically, a Christian theology of marriage and sexuality says that God designed this relationship of total self-giving, in which each spouse gives of him- or herself to the other, remaining open to the blessing of children “when it is God’s will”-the Book of Common Prayer

In other words, for 3,000 plus years, the ideal vision of human sexuality was a means of getting us outside of ourselves. It was literally about making something other than you, When a man and a woman came together they created a soul, a new world, they made love and they actually made a little person.

I love the way Rob Bell once said this:

Is that where the phrase “Making Love” comes from? An awareness that something mystic happens in sex, that something good and needed is created. Something is added to the world, given to the world. The world is blessed with something that it desperately needs. The man and this woman together are in some profoundly, mysterious way good for the well-being of the whole world.

or in the words of Diedrich Bonhoeffer:

Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom.

Bonhoeffer, wrote this from a prison cell as he was waiting to die. He was executed as a single man who would never be married. But he saw marriage as a temporary arrangement(!) And as a way of linking generations together. Once that is divorced from our sexuality than the story of our sexuality has fundamentally changed.

But this isn’t a blog about contraception, it’s a blog about the relationship of the Church and the State.

I have never known a world where Abortion wasn’t a fundamental point of disagreement with the culture and Christians around me, Even while making exceptions, Christians and Christianity for a variety of reasons, and across the conservative/progressive spectrum seem to be against abortion.

But I have known Churches that have been refused to let politics set the agenda for what it means to love and sacrificially live out the way of Jesus.

For example, at the church I currently serve. 50 years ago, we started a ministry called Christian Homes. Where they took in those at-risk single mothers, housed them, protected them, covered over their (at the time very real) shame, and set up foster and adoptive homes for their children.

Christian Homes protected the dignity of these women back when it cut against the spirit of a 1950’s hyper-moralism, and then they protected the dignity of unborn children when the tides of culture turned toward a more permissive version of sexuality.

I don’t talk regularly about this issue, and maybe I should. But I’m so proud of my home church for their vision, sacrifice and compassionate way of living out the way of Jesus. They just intuitively knew that what it meant to be a good local church involved protecting and serving the least of these.

And that’s why I wanted to do this series on the Church and the Court as a way of laying some ideas out for a better way to handle a controversial SCOTUS decision this time around.

Make Love Not War

Did you know that in 1995, Norma Leah McCorvey, the famous “Jane Roe” of the Roe vs. Wade case became a Christian? In 1995, she was baptized and eventually became an outspoken opponent of abortion.

In his book, Vanishing Grace, Phillip Yancey tells that the most surprising part of the story was how the person who influenced her the most was her greatest enemy, the director of “Operation Rescue” the Anti-Abortion group. The director changed McCorvey heart when he stopped treating her like a villain.

McCorvey's baptism in 1996 (from CNN)

McCorvey’s baptism in 1996 (from CNN)

The director publicly apologized for calling her a “baby killer” and started spending time with her as a person. The pro-abortion forces had washed their hands of McCorvey because of her past history with drug addiction and promiscuity she was not exactly the poster child for any public movement, but thank God Jesus followers didn’t.

McCorvey went on to write a book appropriately titled “Won By Love” that detailed how her heart had changed not by lobbying but by the relentless love of God and the people who finally began to see her as a person and not as an issue.

I realize that the world is not what it ought to be. For some of us it can feel scary and threatening. We’re watching the societal mores and norms change at a breakneck speed. But remember that the world Jesus started His church in was filled with infanticide, Jesus would’ve known all about it, and as far as we know, He didn’t preach on it. Instead he created a group of people and commanded them to “let the little children come to me.”

And they did.

This group of people captured the world’s imagination by adopting the discarded babies that had been previously unwanted. These first Christians pioneered a new ethic of love for children.

Previously children weren’t named until they were older because the parents didn’t want to get attached in case they died or decided they didn’t want them. But Christians began to give them names at birth. That’s where we get the idea for children’s “Christian names” The term God-Parents was coined for Christians who cared for children who weren’t biologically their own.

Remember in Ancient Rome all kinds of sexual relationships were celebrated and even worshipped, and in that world the movement of Jesus not only thrived…it won especially those people over. Women flocked to this new Jesus movement because they were finally in a group that didn’t reduce them to their bodies or sexual usefulness.

I think it’s important to remember there is a difference between the Church and the world. Because the Church at her best is good for the world by not being like the world. We are a counter-culture for the good of the culture.

And in order to be that again, I think internally, we Christians have some work to do. We’ve got to work out the ways that we’ve been complicit in the bigotry against people with same-sex attraction and confess it and repent of it. We’ve got to revisit our theology of sexuality/body/marriage and repent of our idolatry from where we’ve made the good gifts of God into little “g” gods themselves.

I believe that this is real opportunity for Christians in America to learn again how to be disciples of a man who lived in 1st century Roman occupation, and who changed the world not by accumulating power but by laying down His life.

I believe this is an opportunity for American Christians to become more like Jesus…To Make Love not War.

Because people aren’t won by war, but they are by love.

Unknown

After this past month’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court, I’ve hesitated to write anything. Not because I don’t have convictions, but because I don’t want my words used as a weapon, sparking more inflammatory shouting between groups that are growing further and further apart.

I’d like, if my words can do anything, for them to serve as a kind of medicine for people who are confused and anxious. I’d like for them to serve to heal those who have been, or are being injured by the subsequent, widening social divide (a divide that I think we are going to continue to see grow).

And if that resonates with you, than please read on, I think I have some good news for you.

The Suffering of Shame

Three months ago, at the Q conference Dr. Michael Lindsay, the President of Gordon College (who was recently at the center of a discrimination controversy between LGBT rights and a Christian college) gave a talk where he brought up the famous ASCH social conformity experiment.

You’ve heard of this experiment before. It’s where a test student is brought into a class and shown a picture of 3 separate lines all with differing lengths.

An Original Card in a ASCH Experiment

An Original Card in a ASCH Experiment

The teacher then asks the question “Which one of these lines is longest?” And each member of the class verbally responds with their answer. The catch is that everyone in the class has been coached to give the wrong answer, and the real experiment has nothing to do with a person’s ability to measure lines. It has everything to do with a persons ability to not conform to what everyone else around them is doing.

And the answer was shocking. About 75% of the test subjects wrote down that the answers that were obviously wrong but conveniently popular.

Now we don’t need a social experiment to tell us that, it’s something that we all experience everyday. We all have a strong need to conform, to be liked, and to be like the people we like. But while this is a very strong pull on the human heart, conformity has never been a Christian virtue. In fact, from the beginning it was assumed that Jesus followers would be a different kind of people than the rest of the world.

But that involves some level of discomfort. In fact, I would argue that what most of my Christian friends are calling persecution these days is not persecution (In light of the very real persecution that our Middle-Eastern brothers and sisters are facing at the hands of ISIS, using that word shows a lack of global awareness).

We’re not struggling with persecution, we’re struggling with popularity, and the loss of privilege…a very real struggle to be sure, but not quite persecution. And that’s a struggle that the LGBT community is already very familiar with.

For hundreds of years, to be gay, closeted or not, was to live a life of great shame, either internally or externally. I certainly have plenty of gay friends stories that come to mind as I write these words, I’ve sat and cried with them and I’ll bet some of you reading this have too.

I’ve found that people who have known suffering often are very empathetic, compassionate people. In my experience with gay friends, that’s certainly been the case. It will be easy over the next few weeks and months for us to focus in on the louder, more shrill voices of cable television or articles designed for clickbait.

But there are better stories than those, and today I’d like to highlight one.

The very next presenter at the Q conference was the popular blogger and prominent LGBT activist Andrew Sullivan. And he said some of the most wonderful things to a room full of Jesus followers. I found him deeply empathetic and articulate as he responded to Michael’s talk:

“I found what Michael had to say very moving., and the spirit that he offered it in more moving still. And the personal hurt that he clearly experienced, I want to ask his forgiveness for. It really pains me to think that people would stigmatize, demonize, and attack people for the sincerity of their religious faith, whatever that religion would be. And I think that the Gordon College thing was a clear step beyond anything we’ve seen before. There is an element of intolerance…I think the experience of feeling out of sync with the culture, and being demonized by it is a terrible feeling to have.”


Watch the video and notice how gracious and compassionate Sullivan is. And then listen with just as much of an open heart as you can to his next statement.

A Church for the World, Not a Worldly Church

“I would just ask in return, that people understand that for centuries gay people were thrown out of their own families, their own churches, put in jail, hanged in this country, executed around the world. That the gay people went through an unbelievable trauma in the 80’s and 90’s in which 300,000 people died. Which is 5x the number of people who died in the Vietnam war during the same period of time…and where were you all?…The experience that many people here (at the conference) are now having was the core and total experience that gay people in many Christian societies experienced forever. We were jailed, we had hormones inflicted upon us…the number of young people killing themselves (within Evangelical communities) is real.

Now I’m accountable to a tradition, and to a people who believe that the greatest joy a human being can have is found in discovering the pleasure of God.

On our better days the reasons conservative Christians have drawn a line in the sand here is because we believed the pleasure of God is worth giving up everything else for, and we, perhaps mistakenly, have tried setting up a society that reflected (and at it’s worst imposed) that.

I come from a tradition that follows a celibate man who I happen to believe was the happiest man who ever walked the face of the earth. But not everyone comes from that tradition, and so those outside of it are now asking for, and receiving, the very things I would probably ask for were I in their shoes.

They’ve done the work of changing the culture by creating culture. Something not to be dismissed. The LGBT community has entered into and worked hard in every arena of society…from entertainment, politics, education, religion and literature.

They’ve exerted an inordinate amount of influence in a incredibly short amount of time and that’s something that any group of people who is interested in shaping the world should learn from.

Being counter-cultural is the call of Jesus for His Church. Hearing from my friends across the world Christianity is doing better than ever, it’s just not taking the form of Christendom anymore. There’s a vibrancy that happens to the church when Christianity is not assumed in the host culture.

As the British Christian Mark Woods pointed out recently in Christianity Today:

The immediate consequence of this ruling, then, is an invitation to do some theology. One of the painful things for observers of the evangelical scene on both sides of the Atlantic has been the reluctance of ‘pro-marriage’ (= anti-gay marriage) campaigners to distinguish their idea of the Church from their idea of the state, as though the two were coterminous…Evangelicals (and others) have got themselves into a knot because they think the state is trying to define Christian marriage. It isn’t; it can’t, and it never could. But the long history of Christendom has allowed Christians to think that the two are the same. Most Americans have always been keen on the separation of Church and state; well, now’s the chance to find out whether you mean it.

I agree wholeheartedly. The Church is a kind of way of being in the world that is different than the world. At our best we are a church for the world and not a worldly church.

At our best we try and build bridges between injured people and help represent Jesus in the most accurate way, and to do that we’ve got to remember to love the person right in front of us. To do that we have to apologize for some stuff we shouldn’t have done, we have to search our hearts for bigotry that the Bible never supports in order to correctly articulate what it does.

At our best we realize that God gave us these stories/doctrines/ideas not for harm but for health and healing. At our best we remember that truth is not designed to injure, and we suffer along with and bear the burdens of brothers and sisters whose discipleship calls for greater sacrifice.

May God forgive us when we forget that. And thanks Andrew Sullivan for forgiving us too.

Intergenerational 3 Reasons

The first time I walked into the 10 person church I grew up in, I was terrified. It was obvious that we weren’t members, we didn’t know any one, and we weren’t late, we were a few minutes early, and they were long minutes.

I still remember the church smelled like dust and old songbooks and everyone was just slightly older than Abraham Lincoln…and then there was me.

Growing up, I was by far the only kid in the church, I was the youth group.

And yet, when my parents were going to ground me from something, they’d ground me from Wednesday night church. And I would weep, because those people were my life, they literally made my life.

And I’m a preacher today, heck, I’m a Christian today because of those older senior saints investing in me.

I grew up in an intergenerational church. I wish everyone could. In my opinion, the only reason churches aren’t anymore is because it’s a lot easier to have a church where everyone thinks/acts and views the world a certain way.

But there is a cost to this (did you notice the generational divide two weeks ago on your Facebook feed over the SCOTUS decision? or when we talk about racism or really any social issue?)

But these kinds of conversations don’t belong on Facebook, they belong at a potluck.

And because this is such a hard thing for churches to do. I’d like to give 3 brief reasons about why this is such a big deal, and why our churches need to put in the effort to make it happen.

1. The Bible & Jewish/Christian History Commands and Celebrates It

Have you ever noticed how much time the Bible spends telling us to pass this story off to the next generation? In the Jewish faith, this is not just a requirement, it’s something that you are indebted to do.

In Jewish history, telling the next generation the story of God is something like the discharging of debts. And the younger generation has a religious obligation to not just listen, but to place themselves in the story. To really feel like they are Abraham or Sarah or Hannah or David.  They have to know this story, after all one day they’ve got to pass it on too.

Did you ever wonder why the Bible spends so much time on genealogies? While they may be the most boring parts of the Bible, there is a reason they are in there. With every name, they are celebrating that these are people who served the purposes of God for their generation. They passed the story of God from their parents on to their kids.

Have you ever noticed how much Jewish people have shaped and blessed the world, and how thought they are such a small group they have such a disproportional amount of influence? Sociologist have pointed out that the major contributing factor for the Jews ability to create culture and influence society is that each generation doesn’t have to re-invent themselves. They know who they are. They don’t have to bear the crushing weight of constructing their own identity.

it’s so simple, but very profound. It’s that they do generational life together. In every festival, in their most sacred moments, the youngest child will ask the oldest man questions like “Why is this night different than all the rest?”

And they will pass the story off from one generation to the next.hands-216982_1280

Think about how much time Paul spends in his letters (written often from jail) telling the churches he planted such practical things like “Older women need to teach the younger women how to do these things…”

Paul basically invented Pintrest from prison because he knew that it was vital for older generations and younger generations to be in fellowship with one another.

This is certainly true in my own life.

Growing up, the people who made the biggest difference in my life were much older than I was.

They taught me how to preach, and how to be kind to one other when we disagreed, they taught me how to be married, how to be a widow(er), and how to die.

I taught them how to program their VCR’s.

But we’re not very good at this these days, and it’s starting to deeply affect us.

2. It’s Vital to the Health of the Church

Patheos blogger Tim Wright points out that about 40 years ago, the Baby Boomer generation started walking away from almost every institution that their parents had built. And in an effort to win them back, innovative church pastors and leaders began starting churches that, for the first time, were geared for one specific generation.

Sometimes we talk dismissive about “Seeker-services” or “Seeker friendly” churches, but in my experience that comes from a really good desire to be welcoming and hospitable. The problem is that these churches were targeting Boomers during their parenting years, and so in order to create Seeker friendly churches, they also created environments specifically for their kids.

At first, it was just during Bible Classes, but then they started to create entirely separate church times and gatherings for the children. Again, this was all done for noble reasons, trying to evangelize the de-churched Baby-Boomer population, and it was very effective. It only had one really big downside:

We raised the largest unchurched generation in American history.

Here’s how Tim Wright says it:

“By segregating our kids out of worship, we never assimilated them into the life of the congregation.  They had no touch points.  They had no experience. They had no connection with the main worship service—its liturgy, its music, its space, its environment, and its adults.  It was a foreign place to them.  And so…once they finished with the kids/or youth program, they left the church. With good intentions we attempted to raise kids to be Christians, but we didn’t raise them to be Churched Christians.  And perhaps that, in part, is why so few of them attend a church today.  We’ve essentially “Sunday-Schooled” them out of church—because we never assimilated them into church.”

An institution exists to pass on a way of life from generation to generation, and one of the great tragedies of our day is that we are investing huge amounts of resources, and some of our most creative people are giving their lives to create Churches that will only last for one generation, because we’ve failed to think past the immediate moment.

3. The Church is the Family of God

A few months ago, Christianity Today did an article on what happened after all those Baby Boomer Christians grew up. Not the majority of them, but many of them, across all the different denominations started leaving church after their kids became adults.

And when CT started asking them why, they discovered that these Boomers had grown up with the dangerous notion that church was something that was for people with a nuclear family and after you had put in your time, and raised your kids, it was time to move on.

But that fails to realize this one large thing, early Christians baptized Eunochs (Didn’t see that coming did you?)

Remember what a big deal the Bible makes about when they baptized Eunochs? That probably confuses most modern readers, but remember a Eunuch was someone who couldn’t have kids.

Unlike what you may have heard before, a eunuch wasn’t a marginalized, oppressed person. Generally speaking, they were pretty big deals in the kingdom they were associated with, because a eunuch was someone who had thrown in his lot completely (and I mean completely) with the royal dynasty. By, ummm, doing what he did, he had forfeited his right to ever having a family. He was giving his future over to the kingdom he was in.

There’s a time in Matthew 19, where Jesus mentions this. Right after He finishes a pretty strong teaching on divorce, Jesus endorses celibacy by saying:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Live like Eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And then, do you know what the very next verse in Matthew is?

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Do you see what’s happening here?

Jesus is saying the Eunuchs are welcome into the family of God, the children are welcome into the family of God. Jesus is saying that for parents without children and for children without parents, you have each other because you both have me.

The Church isn’t for families, the Church is a family. 

That’s the institution Jesus started, that’s the family Jesus created

And It gives you great life, but it first requires that you lay yours down.

One Generation at a time.

RacismThis past Wednesday night Churches all over Abilene held a prayer vigil for our Christian brothers and sisters in Charleston, trying to stand in solidarity with a people who were hurting and remind ourselves that, in the words of the Apostle Paul “When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer along with it.”

It was a great evening filled with preachers/elders and pastors from several different churches singing hymns and praying for our city, churches, country and even Dylan Roof, the perpetrator of these evil acts.

For my part of the evening, I stood up to a crowd of racially diverse people and said the most counter-intuitive, most terrifying thing I could think to say.

I told them I was a racist.

Racism and Me

Whenever racism becomes a topic of media coverage, I cringe. It seems like the talking points are already solidified and many of us rush toward postures of defense and blame.

So let me get this out there. I am a racist.

I grew up in rural Arkansas in the 80s, not that it was my parents’ fault, they were incredibly hospitable and open to other people, not that it was my state’s fault, there were plenty of people who were doing lots of good work for reconciliation, but racism was in the air.

I grew up with the flag that everyone is talking about hanging on my wall.

As a tangent, I like the way that the conservative Southern Baptist Convention president Russell Moore talked about this,

“The Cross and the Confederate flag can co-exist for only so long before one of them sets the other on fire.”

That was true in my own life.

And I’m so grateful that the Cross won that battle.7595927876_56f66e7446_o

I grew up in a church of ten people. Most people would call that a small group, but it was my entire church, and I love the people from that church.

When I went to college, I would come back a few times a year to preach, and I would try to bring some friends with me to encourage my church family. One of those Sundays we had brought about forty people with us, and right before it was time for me to preach, Brother Foy, the patriarch of the church, stood up to introduce me.

This is funny in itself, because I was the only person there who knew everyone. This was the church I grew up in, and these were my friends who came home with me. But tradition is tradition, and if someone other than Foy was preaching, he was going to say something.

So Foy stood up and the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t help but notice that all of our guests are white.”  Immediately I was worried about where this was going, because Foy was crazy. He was crazy for Jesus, but he was crazy. If he felt like something was true, he would say it without regard for how you felt about it, and I could tell this was about to be one of those occasions.

“We have forty extra people with us this morning, and every one of them is a white person.” Then Foy pointed at the African-American teenage boy sitting on the second row and said, “I brought an African-American this morning. Why didn’t you?” (Obviously, political correctness was not Foy’s strong suit.)

“Now Brother Jonathan, come preach the word to us.”

Then I had to stand up and preach to a group of people who were just made to feel like they just stumbled in from their Klan meeting.

But to be honest, looking back, I’m glad Brother Foy asked that question. I wish all our churches had someone asking questions like that.

Whenever I get frustrated with church, this is the story that brings me back. It is a story that reminds me of why I need the church, even when I don’t want her…maybe especially when I don’t want her.

Elegant Racism

In his great little book, I Told Me So Gregg A. Ten Elshof talks about the pervasive nature of self-deception. This book is about how intelligent, self-reflective people often lie to themselves, oblivious that they are doing so.

Then Elshof says this:

We assume that each person is the unquestionable authority on the question of which beliefs he or she has.

In other words, none of us really knows clearly what we believe.

That is the nature of self-deceit. We need each other to help us see the blind spots we have. I think this is the reason that we Christians aren’t able to move very well on issues of race.

We have made this into the unforgivable, and therefore an un-confessable sin, and when the topic rears its ugly head we rush to prove how innocent we are, we scapegoat public figures and point out our own “squeaky clean” record instead of asking the dangerous but Gospel-bringing question…”Where is this in me?”

We are often guilty of what last year, an article in the Atlantic calls, “Elegant Racism” the kind or racism that has learned to be polite about its indifference. But the Gospel can help us here. Because when we are aware of the love of God we are able to be suspicious of our own virtues.

The well-known Social Psychologist Brene Brown points out that shame’s survival depends on not being able to talk about it. We’ve done that with racism. Everyone is so afraid to be “that person” who says or does something stupid and offensive that we just remain silent.

We clam up and ignore the sin we see right in front of us, and in the mirror. And sure it might be a bit racist, but at least it’s a more elegant form of it.

I believe that when churches don’t allow or create spaces to openly confess and receive forgiveness for sins like this, is dangerously close to believing that racism is a sin stronger than the Grace of God.

And that is a lie.

My generation quotes the verse “Do not judge” often. But the point of that verse isn’t that Christians can’t call each other out, the point is that we call each other out cautiously…confront others the way you would like to be confronted, and make sure that you have dealt with the beam in your own eye first.

Around thirty years earlier, when Foy had already been a Christian for a decade or two, he also became convicted that he was a racist. And for Foy that was unacceptable. So he moved to a predominately African-American town and spent the rest of his career teaching at a predominately African-American school.

He lived out the word repentance, and now he could call others to it as well.

He often took me and other young people to African-American churches, just so we could rub shoulders with people we weren’t familiar with, and help us to see how much we had in common.

From the time when I met Foy, he had African-Americans (and people from several different ethnicities) living in his house with him. He was Shane Claiborne before it was cool. And from the time I was a kid we were a racially integrated church in a racially segregated world.

I am a racist, I have prejudices and discriminations that I’m not proud of. But praise God that the church helped me know it, she taught me that it was wrong, and showed me how to repent.

I am a racist, but I don’t want to be, I don’t have to be, anymore.

This blog is a re-purposed version of something that I originally posted on Patheos

It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

– Martin Luther King Jr. 

Photo from Miami Herald

Photo from Miami Herald

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King stood up and preached the Gospel.

It might sound strange to Americans living in 2015 that Dr. King didn’t see himself first as a catalyst for political change, but that he thought talking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God was his highest calling.

In his own words:

“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

Dr. King knows what many Christians today have forgotten. The Gospel is the best news the world has ever heard, and the reason someone like Dr. King would devote himself to achieving excellence in Christian ministry is because he knows the Church isn’t just supposed to tell good news, She’s supposed to be good news.

And last week, in the middle of all the tragic, bad news, She was again.

Bullet Proof

Last Wednesday night Dylann Roof walked into the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in

Roof entering the Church

Roof entering the Church

Charleston and murdered 9 devoted disciples of Jesus in cold blood. Roof would later say he was hoping to make a symbolic statement to spread his hate, and bring division. He wanted to start a race war.

In many ways, Roof got what he wanted, but he has no idea how foolish his actions were.

Roof gave the world a symbol, but not the one he was hoping for. He started a war, but not the one he was expecting.

See, in the Bible, murder doesn’t silence the voices of the murdered. In the Bible, their blood cries out to God, in the Bible murder only amplifies the sound to God, and I’ll bet that God’s ears are ringing.

In the Bible, war isn’t murdering people, according to the New Testament God’s kind of war operates at a level of attack on the principalities and powers of our world.

Reverend Goff, a pastor at Emmanuel Church, said that by how the Christians respond to these evil acts will “serve as a witness to every demon in Hell and on earth,” I think he’s exactly right.

For the past few days, every news source has been flooded with stories of family members going to Dylann Roof’s arraignment and confronting him by saying the most radical things, things like “We forgive you”

That’s a holy war according to Jesus.

That’s the war that Dylann Roof started and lost.

In the words of the Charleston Mayor:

“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide, And all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.”

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the Church shines in moments like these. This is when we put the Gospel on display. And so the Emmanuel Church  re-opened it doors on Sunday with both tears and laughter. They began their service with a standing ovation as the pastor read “This is the day the LORD has made let us Rejoice and be glad in it.’

They clapped and celebrated as a way of protest in the face of death… because that’s what Jesus people do.

A Baptized People

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr King said that the one mistake Bull Conner made when he released the water hoses on those unarmed church members marching in Selma was that he forgot that he was spraying people who had been baptized.

“We were people who weren’t afraid of water, because we know water is something you pass through…we know that there is a certain kind of fire that no water hoses can put out.”

There is a certain kind of love, a Gospel kind of love, that no hate can put out. There is a certain kind of person who you just can’t kill, because they’ve already died. There is a certain kind of community that you can’t divide with a race war because they belong to a New Humanity.

And on some days we forget that, to be sure there are days that the Church forgets the Gospel.

But not today and not now.

Today we are reminded that we are a baptized people, and so there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave or free, Male or Female, Black or White, Southern or Northern, we are all a part of the body of Christ.

And when one part of the body is hurting, we all hurt with them.

You know what I find so inspiring about all this? Last Wednesday night, when these Christians were gunned down, they had gathered around to study Mark 4:16-20, the parable of the Sower. The story where Jesus talks about the God the Farmer, who generously is planting seeds everywhere.

And some of those seeds fall on concrete, some of them fall on shallow soil, and some of them fall on ground that produces a harvest of 30, or 60, or 100 times.

The Garden of Flowers Outside the Church (courtesy of Ron Allen)

The Garden of Flowers Outside the Church (courtesy of Ron Allen)

I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind  how much they were acting like the God they had just read about?

I wonder if they realized that by inviting this disturbed young man into their fellowship and praying and spending time with him they were being exactly what Jesus pictures God like…throwing seed carelessly even on the concrete, even in places that look hopeless.

I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind that they were the seed? That what Satan would use for evil, God was going to use for good.

I wonder if they had any idea that people all over the world were going to revisit the Gospel because of them. I wonder if they had any idea how many people would be blessed by their faithful lives, and deaths?

I wonder if they knew that their blood, like the martyr’s before them would be once again the seed of Christianity.

I wonder if they knew that in the very place where evil would do it’s worst to them, hope would begin it’s good work.

I have no idea how God is going to use the tragic events of last week, but I don’t doubt that He will, I believe He is already using them.

I believe wholeheartedly that God calls us to be people who are not overcome with evil, but who overcome evil with good.

I mourn the victims of evil attack. but I don’t pity them. I greatly admire them. They followed a man who called them to pick up a Cross and they followed Him well.

So this Wednesday night, at the Highland Church of Christ, we, along with the Southern Hills Church of Christ and several other churches in town are hosting a city wide prayer meeting for the Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered loss in Charleston.

We will be praying for the exact opposite of what Dylann Roof was trying to accomplish. We will pray for God to bring racial reconciliation to the world, specifically by bringing it to His Church. We will be praying for the Church to live out the Gospel and to be the good news in the world and for the world.

If you are in Abilene, we invite to join with us, on Wednesday from 7:30-8:30 (the time of the attack last week) as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across this city, country and world.

Because their story is our story. And it’s a good story.

“Busy is a drug that a lot of people are addicted to.” -Rob Bell

“The only really happy people are those who have learned how to serve others.” -Albert Schweitzer

Unknown

I get it. You’re busy. You probably don’t have time to read this, much less give a few hours a week to the homeless ministry at your local church. Life is speeding by, you’ve got deadlines and mouths to feed, and between your job and family and kids sports leagues there’s just not enough hours in the day.

If that describes you, I’d like to invite you to reconsider for just a moment something crucial.

What if our hectic lives aren’t a product of a lack of time but a lack of wisdom?

Last year, one of the most disturbing things I heard about was the increasingly popularity of a bedtime storybook for children, each story was carefully selected based on one specific criteria.

That it could be read to children in under a minute.

The 1 minute bedtime story book, is a real thing, that parents actually use. As a parent of 4, I get it, there are some nights when you’re tired and ready to be done. But as a minister, I see the other side of this. I can’t tell you how many people I know who would pay any amount of money just to go back and read their child another bedtime story.

I think that telling people “I’m so busy” is our culture’s new, acceptable way of saying “I’m important.” It’s socially unacceptable to be seen as someone who’s not constantly moving, But this constant way of life is destructive to your soul.

So today, I’d like to write to the busy people. The ones who couldn’t possibly cram something else into their life, and give you my best shot at giving a few reasons why something as simple as volunteering at your local church is more important than almost anything else you can do.

1. You aren’t that Important

I think one of the great symptoms of a bad relationship with time is that we take ourselves too seriously. We are tempted to think that we are going to change the world, that if things are going to change, if the world is going to get better, than it’s up to us.

And in the process we lose the joy of just receiving life as a gift.

I honestly have this conversation with my peers a few times a month, and it tends to be with my successful friends who are in the same season of life as me. We grew up on a diet of self-esteem and being told that we were a cause-driven generation that was going to put a dent in the universe.

We believed the hype and it’s killing us.

So I’ll often ask my friends, “What did your great-grandfather do for a living?” If you don’t know the answer to that, chances are neither will your great grandkids. You’re not as important as your cable television leads you to believe. And one of the best places you can learn that is by serving alongside people who don’t buy your hype, because they are recovering from believing their own.

I’ve seen this time and time again, the great antidote for loneliness in the church is serving alongside brothers and sisters for a common goal. And the great antidote for an overstuffed schedule is getting outside of ourselves and realizing how much of what we do isn’t as important as fool ourselves into believing.

2. Your Time Isn’t Your Time

Have you ever considered just how delicate life is? No matter how stacked your resume is, or how successful you are in your field, you’re not even in control of your own pulse.

One of the most repeated commandments in the entire Bible is “Remember The Sabbath” and it’s telling to me that most Christians never really talk about this. Chances are If you’ve heard a sermon on the Sabbath in the past year it was probably how Jesus was against it.

But that’s not true, Jesus was never against the Sabbath, he practiced it! He just didn’t idolize it.

Just like any good Jewish Rabbi, Jesus would have gone to the Synagogue every Saturday and rested to Remember that God was in control of the Universe.

When the earliest Christians began to realize that Jesus was God, they didn’t abandon the Sabbath, they just changed the day they celebrated it on. Because of the Resurrection, early Christians began to honor the first day of the week as Holy. This was the day of the week that was set aside for God  (Some of you may remember an earlier time when shops and restaurants were closed on Sunday’s)

The problem Western people have these days is exactly what you’d expect from generations raised on a philosophy of Henry Ford and the neglect of a day of rest.

We’re always busy, and we’ve forgotten that this is a vice and not a virtue.

3. It Helps Clarify What’s Important (and what’s not)

A few years ago, I stumbled across a haunting question that I started asking myself a few times a year. It’s a life changing question if you take it seriously. ‘

The question is simply this:

 “Do my commitments match my convictions?”

John Ortberg points out that most of us worry over the big decisions…like who we will marry, or what our vocations will be, or where we should live.  But it’s the routine that drive our lives. It’s those habits we develop that look so small at first, but add up over time. And if we don’t pay attention to them, we don’t notice the gap that is slowly growing between what we say matters most to us and with what we are actually doing with our actual lives.

The Bible talks about sacrifice in terms of first fruits, or giving the best to God first, not just giving God what happens to be left over after you’ve watched everything Netflix has to offer, or put in your 70 hours at the office, or taken the kids to their 10 different team practices.

The problem is that we are over-committed. We make commitments without thinking about their hidden costs. Sometimes we buy a house because it’s bigger without thinking about all the hours away from family the extra hours of work will cost. Or we start another hobby even though it means that we won’t be as regular in a ministry God called us to.Unknown-1

And those might be the right decisions, but God wants you to pay attention to them.

Because we should never underestimate the power of routine.

Routine commitments look mundane, but they have great power to shape our life and the life of those around us.

If you are already living out the mission of God in your life, than maybe you don’t need to volunteer at your local church. I’m certainly not suggesting that we take away time of serving in a soup kitchen or shelter, but I don’t think that’s most of our struggle.

I think the problem most of us have is that we don’t honestly audit our time.

Pastor Bill Hybels says that the most holy thing we can do is sit down with our calendar and a submissive spirit before God. I think he’s right.

Because some of us have unspoken commitments like watching TV, and while we’d rarely say this, what we are telling our hearts and our kids hearts is something like “I’m deeply committed to entertainment and escaping reality.”

I’ve been in ministry long enough to see the dark side of routine. I’ve sat on the couches and cried with people who wish they would’ve paid attention to this decades ago, before their kids checked out of church or stopped believing in God or before a spouse left the marriage.

It wasn’t bad parenting or an affair or anything malicious, it was just the slow erosion of a gap between what we say is important and how we fill our lives.

4. Your Time Is Your Testimony

I love my family too much to love my family too much. Leslie and I have intentionally made decisions to not let our world orbit entirely around our kids.

When I go guest preach at other churches, I take one of my kids with me, not just for the travel but for my kids to know what matters, what really matters, not something that’s just a job, but how to live.

We go to church when we are on vacation, not because God’s gonna zap us if we miss a Sunday, but because we know that our kids are not listening to what we say as much as they are learning from what we do…and just as importantly choose not to do.

Now, I’m not trying to present myself as the perfect parent (I recently stormed out of a room on account of losing a game of Go-Fish), and this post is not for those of us who are over-involved at church. The last thing you need is to feel guilty because you only volunteer 20 hours a week. But it is a post for everyone who belongs to a church.

Because Church is not done by the professionals. It’s not done by ministers, it’s not done primarily by elders, it’s done by the people. If something is going to happen, if a church is going to bless a city, or the world, it doesn’t primarily depend on any one person. Every church rises and falls, the vision and mission of every church rises and falls, on the people who are willing to give a little of their time to serve in ordinary ways and be a part of something extraordinary.

One of the great joys of my life as a preacher is watch God transform people’s lives. I get a front row seat to things like marriages being restored, natural enemies becoming friends, fractured relationships being reconciled and people waking up to a real, meaningful, awe-filled life.

And the majority of times that this happens, it has had little to do with the sermon or the programming. People might credit those things, and to be sure, I know God uses it, but the biggest thing that I’ve seen transform people’s lives time and time again is the power of serving others for a cause bigger than yourself.

And if you are too busy for that, chances are you’re just too busy.

Unknown

A few years ago, I saw one of the funniest and disturbing things on the internet. Someone had put together a collection of different reviews of all the wonders of the world, places like the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids of Egypt, and Niagara Falls, and the reviews all had one thing in common.

They were all written by people who gave these majestic wonders only 1 star.

As in 1 out of 5 stars.

Go look at some of these reviews People left 1 star reviews for the Pyramids complaining about being inconvenienced by not being able to leave out the same gate, someone referred to Stonehenge as “just a pile of rocks” and someone gave Sequoia National Park a 1 star review because, and I quote “I lost my keys in the restroom and nobody helped me out.”

These are people who are standing in front of some of the most mysterious breathtaking wonders that we know about. They are standing in front of things that when people first discovered them they were speechless. Imagine the first time a Native American stumbled across the Grand Canyon, imagine the amount of wonder and awe that they would’ve had.

But in 2009, one Brad M. saw the Grand Canyon and said this in his Yelp review:

“as amazing as the views are it is really kind of boring. Every 500 ft a new vantage point of the same thing: a really big hole in the ground.”

The Grand Canyon is a boring, big hole in the ground?!!

An Actual 1 Star Review of Yosemite Park

An Actual 1 Star Review of Yosemite Park

I know this is funny, but it’s a sad kind of funny because this is actually something I see in our culture and in the mirror a hundred times a day.

I also believe this is happening in the way American Christians are approaching worship. I think we need to start reconsidering why we worship, and also why we don’t.

This is at the heart of why this past Sunday at the Highland Church I preached on how important it was for Christians to engage in worship, specifically by singing together, and today I’d like to follow that sermon up by giving 3 Reasons Why I think Christians need to re-discover the habit to sing in church.

1. Worship is For God

Every week I see some article that someone shares on social media on their opinion on what’s wrong with the worship in the church these days. These articles range from: “There’s not enough Hymns or Hillsong or Tomlin” to “the music is too loud” and “the men don’t sing.” Sometimes they are saying “we should do high church liturgy” to “we should definitely not do that.”

And I get all of that feedback, I honestly do. But you should know that every week, your worship leader has a thousand problems and preferences that they are having to navigate as they plan out a corporate worship. But here’s the one thing I’d like to point out about most of the conversations I’m seeing about the churches worship.

It’s about me.

I like Hillsong, and the banjo and the Book of Common Prayer (all of which are true, and would be an awesome combination for some Sunday), but sadly most of our talk about worship preferences leave out a central idea that can save our shrinking souls.

Worship is, and has always been, for God.

I think when we forget this we become like the person who went to went to Niagara Falls and left a review saying it was just a “waste of time.” They were there, but they couldn’t experience what was right in front of them.

Do we realize who we are singing to each week?

Do we realize what story we are singing about each week?

How in the world did we lose that breathtaking vision that Heaven is leaning over the rails listening to what we have to sing?

Do we honestly realize that when we sing, it actually pleases the God of the universe?

How did we start to approach this moment, as if it had anything to do with our preferences?

2. Worship Makes us Honest

I think that the real reason we don’t sing, is because singing makes us vulnerable. Where else in life do you normally sing out loud where others can hear you? Singing puts us out there in a way that can leave us feeling exposed to others, and I think that’s the reason we’re tempted not to do it..

I think we come up with all kinds of reasons after the fact, but the truth is that we don’t like feeling so uncovered. So we protect ourselves and we lose the very thing that drew us to church in the first place, the joy of feeling the pleasure of God.

This dawned on me back when I did jail ministry in Ft. Worth. Every week, I would worship with a group of 20 guys in a 10×10 room singing along with a CD, and every week these men, facing shame and years of incarceration, were singing with great joy, at the top of their lungs. We sang off key, we clapped out of time, and it was the best worship experiences of my life.

Because it was real worship done by people who had come to the end of themselves and had nothing left to hide.

There’s a reason that Paul, the earliest church planter, would write back to the churches he planted (often from jail) reminding them to sing together. Maybe that’s also the reason he had to write so much to churches to mediate arguments. Because when churches gather not everyone is going to get their way.

And not getting our way, is a really good thing for most of us to experience on a regular basis. Because I’m not sure we’re experiencing it in many other places. If you watch enough cable television and consume enough advertising, you will fool yourself into thinking that you are the center of the world.

I think corporate singing, is still a really good way to remind us of how small we really are, and where we really fit in the universe.

Inside of the Durham Cathedral

Inside of the Durham Cathedral

This is the very reason that The Church made huge Cathedrals in the Medieval ages, it wasn’t because they didn’t care about the poor, (they were the ones who taught the world to care about the poor). They made these huge Cathedrals, because they were, for most people, the largest things that they would ever walk into. They were the Grand Canyon of those people’s world.

They made the Cathedrals because the Church has always known that one of the deepest needs of the human soul is to feel appropriately small…To get outside of ourselves.

3. Worship Changes Our Heart

The Church has always known what the New York Times just stumbled across last month, that wonder and awe leads to service and justice and compassion. This is why the largest book in the Bible is the Psalms, because God knows that the Psalms can do what the Prophets cannot.

When we worship, it softens our heart and makes us more susceptible to the strange ways of the Gospel. I’ve seen this time and time again, the biggest lever to changing the human heart isn’t a sermon, it is what we hear ourselves sing.

I believe that the way Jewish/Christian ethics were woven into most of our hearts, wasn’t primarily from that Bible class, but from hearing our grandmother sing things like “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother” or our dad singing “Each day I’ll do a golden deed, by helping those who are in need.”

Our songs have shaped the way we view the world, and how we think about things like justice and mercy toward other people. They have given us courage to resist the status quo and to live in counter-cultural ways.

I like the way Richard Beck says this in his book Slavery of Death:

[Remember} how central and vital singing was to those involved in the American civil rights movement.  Singing is what drove the movement.  People would gather in churches and sing freedom songs before going out to face angry mobs ready to curse at them, spit on them, even violently beat them.  And then they sang in jail.  These civil rights activities never stopped singing.  Why?  For the same reason Paul and Silas sang.  For the same reason the early Christians sang in the catacombs. For the same reason we need to sing.  To find our courage.  Singing is a way to resisting despair and fear.  Singing is an act of resistance.

Now I don’t know what style of worship your church has, and maybe it does need to change, but I don’t think a church’s style matters as much as we think.  What really matters is that we learn to engage worship, not as an individual, but as a community, for the pleasure of God.

Corporate worship can’t be judged individually, because it can’t be done individually, and it’s never, ever done for the individual.

It’s done for God.

And while it may not look like much, and often has sounded like even less, it has changed and blessed the world.

So for God’s sake, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the poor, for the sake of the world, let’s stop giving 1 star reviews to our church’s worship, we are the Church, let’s start singing along.

What is happiness? It’s just that moment before you need more happiness.” -Don Draper

Mad Men and Bad Men

So I’d like to end this blog series on Mad Men with what was arguably the best scene from the whole show. It’s from the end of the first season where Don Draper is giving a pitch to Kodak to sell their new product, a slide projector called “The Wheel” Here’s what Don tells them:

[There is} a deeper bond with the product [than just technology]: nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent..In Greek nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

This device isn’t a space ship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. Takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘The Wheel.’ It’s called ‘The Carousel.’

It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.

I think this scene is so powerful because it pulls back the curtain on how much psychology is in the 3,000+ advertisements we see each day. These are very talented story-tellers who are trying to tap into our most primitive desires and are doing it well.

The Divine Image

Last week, I read a fascinating article from NPR about the history of the advertisement industry. Among many things, the article repeated the truth that “Advertisements aren’t about the product, they are about the myths and generalizations you can attach to the product”

Which is just a fancy way of saying what we know of as “The brand”

I know this may sound overstated, but it’s true, the most religious people in a secular society aren’t the crazy fundamentalists. They are the Mad Men, the religious priests of our world.  And they are hiding in more than plain sight. We wear shoes with the wildly successful brand-name of the Roman god for Victory. We call women in lingerie “angels” and people who buy Apple computers the “Church of Mac” Why do we do this?

There’s an ad executive named Douglas Atkin who pointed out that a transformation has taken place in what’s expected of the typical marketing firm these days. They’re no longer just responsible for design, packaging, and promotion. These days, marketing agencies are expected “to create and maintain a whole meaning-system for people through which they get identity and an understanding of the world.”

They are asked to create a religion system around something like Sprite or Skittles.

So Atkin decided to do his job not by researching Skittles or Sprite, he started by researching cults (obviously) He went around asking “What makes people believe this stuff? He wanted to know what inspired “loyalty beyond reason” in people.Brand New Religion

He knew that people join brands for the same reasons they join cults and religions: to belong and to make meaning. They stopped just being customers and now identified themselves as disciples, as “members of the tribe,” The ads aren’t trying to give you information about their products; their trying to tell stories—imagine worlds that matter and invite us to see ourselves within them. The goal of such marketing, this (very secular) documentary concludes, is:

“to fill the empty places where non-commercial institutions like schools and churches might have once done the job…[it is] an invitation to a longed-for lifestyle.”

The Good Eye

In His most famous sermon, Jesus tells his disciples that their eye is the lamp of the body, and if their eyes are healthy their life will be good, if they are unhealthy their life will be filled with great darkness.

I know that sounds awkward, but Jesus is tapping into an ancient metaphor called “The Good Eye” that had to do with envy and greed and how we see life, or more directly what we choose to see in life. Jesus is making a point that we must pay attention to what we choose to pay attention to.

Jesus has this crazy idea that what we see is also affected by how you saw it. Jesus has this idea (that was common to His day) that the eye was thought to be directly linked to the heart, to feelings, and to the will.

He has this idea that the good life flows from having a good eye. I believe today our problem isn’t that we don’t believe Jesus, the problem is that the wrong people know Jesus was right and use it in all the wrong ways.

In his book “Desiring the Kingdom” the philosopher James K.A. Smith points out how this works:

Consider a Saturn car commercial, voiced-over by a slightly twangy, down-home voice (like those Motel 6 commercials), inviting Saturn owners to the factory in Tennessee for a gathering akin to an old-time revival or “camp meeting.” Why? What brings them together? Why would owning the same kind of car be a reason to gather with people I’ve never met before? I don’t see Ford Escort drivers doing the same. The difference is that Saturn has invested the product with a sense of transcendence: Saturns aren’t just cars; they are also nostalgic connections to an older, communal way of life. The result? Forty-five thousand people attended the festival. Or consider the simple example of an advertisement for paper plates: It features brief glimpses of bright, cheery hostesses and hosts, surrounded by family, friends, and lots of good food, holding up paper plates on which various words are elegantly written. Against a charming soundtrack, a voice asks (with just that tinge of accusation we’ve noted): “What are you saying with your paper plates?” Because our hosts have chosen strong, durable, Chinet paper plates, theirs boldly proclaim, “Friends,” “Tradition,” “Confidence,” “You’re Special.” The paper plates are charged with values, suffused with meaning. So what does that mean you’re saying with your cheap, flimsy Dixie plates? Who would have guessed that disposable cutlery and dishware could say so much?

These days it’s popular to say that Post-modern people don’t believe in Meta-narratives (or large stories), but every ad tells a story, every sales pitch is an invitation to a new religion. And just about every one will gladly take your soul, as long as they get your credit card too.

I believe Louis C.K. is prophetically right when he says about the age of consumerism “We live in a world where everything is amazing and no one is happy.” We have more than we need, and we’re more lonely than ever.

There’s a reason Jesus goes directly from talking about “the Good Eye” to talking about being generous with our possessions. Contrary to popular belief or cable television, it’s not because Jesus cares about your money, it’s because he wants you to be able to see the world well.

He wants you to have clear eyes to see that the story that we really belong to is a story about a God who made everything, needs nothing and loves absolutely. It’s that God that our hearts, like Don Draper’s, is restless for. That is the story that every other story is really just a parody of.

It’s why your heart swells when Don gives his car keys to that kid at the end of the episode in a way it didn’t when he’s trying to sell you cereal. Because God can’t be bought, but He is constantly being given away.

Or in the final words of Bert Cooper, “The Best Things In Life Are Free.

“What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me. To sell Nylons.” – Don Draper

“I messed everything up. I broke all my vows, I scandalized my children. I took another man’s name and I didn’t make good on it.” -Don Draper

Mad Men and Bad Men

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the final episode of Mad Men yet, stop reading now.

This 7 season show ended finally this past Sunday with an entirely different ending than I had expected. I was fairly certain that Don Draper was going to commit suicide, after all the show had been warning us of this from the very first opening credits.

But Don Draper didn’t commit suicide, he just created a new ad.

The Real Thing

I’ve read other people’s take on Draper’s enlightenment, many of them saw the finale with a smiling hippy Don as a happy ending. And I sincerely wish they were right, I’d love nothing more than for Don Draper to have gotten out of his vicious cycle and gone on to star in Scooby Doo.

But I think Mad Men was much too intent on being historically honest to end it with a Happily Ever After.

It’s important to remember that Matthew Weiner was trying to do something with this show, something that needed to be done. He was trying to do something that couldn’t be done in a sermon, but had to be done in a story.

Here’s an interview from Weiner about the way he was going to wrap up Mad Men:

Whatever happens to Draper will take place against the backdrop of an era Weiner clearly sees as disappointing, in which hopes are deflated, various hypocrisies are laid bare, and cynicism eventually reasserts itself. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” he says. “The revolution happens, and is defeated,” in 1968. “There is cultural change, but the tanks roll into Prague, the students go back to school.”

Weiner is writing about a time in American history that he lived through, and was extremely disappointed in.  A time when he grew up watching “the world being run by a bunch of hypocrites,[who] were telling us how they had invented sex, how great it was to do all those drugs, [and have no responsibilities. [They were] selfish, racist, money-grubbing …”

It’s important to remember the story he’s actually telling. Because it’s a story that still is happening.

The Invention of Lying

You probably have never heard of the name Edward Bernays, but he’s changed the world, more to the point, he’s changed your world.

In the early 40’s and 50’s Bernays was the inventor of what we call Propaganda. During World War II, Bernays helped the Western allies socially engineer consent. Think of posters like “Uncle Sam needs You” (America is your family) or “Loose Lips sink Ships” (fear of death)

He learned, from his uncle Freud, that everyone has a few base desires, like fear, or sex. And if you could just tap into those desires you could make people think a certain way.

But after the war was over, Bernays learned that he discovered 965E8773-DF09-4EBA-8506-02F2B4020DBBthis new power but no longer had a purpose for it. So he went into marketing. And now most of the way we have grown up thinking about the world has been shaped by Edward Bernays.

Have you ever heard that saying “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”? Do you know where that saying comes from?This 1950’s Listerine Ad.

It’s an ad that taps into our deepest fears of being alone and not being connected. Not so that we can connect, but so that we will buy mouthwash.

So back to Mad Men:I think Don Draper was so busy manipulating what motivated humans that he forgot he was human too.

I don’t think Don went on to live in a hippie compound. I think that Don Draper stumbled into the next season of eventual misery, he almost touched something outside of himself and that’s when it dawned on him that this was something that everyone was searching for, and so it was something that could be used as a very very powerful way to just sell stuff.

I believe that at the heart of the Gospel is that God gives us what we want, even if it destroys us, and if we want something other than God, more than we want God, it most certainly will.

But if we chase our desires deeper, like a river leads into an ocean, we will find that everything we want has always pointed us back toward God.

C.S. Lewis said this better than I could:

In speaking of this desire for our own far- off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Did you catch that? If we mistake these things for the Real Thing (God) they will turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

Part of the genius of the show Mad Men is that Matthew Weiner humanized Edward Bernays, but I don’t think he was ever trying to save him. I don’t know that Weiner thinks he can be saved.

I’m not sure I do either.

Not because I don’t like Don Draper, I loved him as a character. I hope that, within the universe of Mad Men, he really did find some kind of peace and that the Coke commercial ending was just a summary of the show and a way to take a jab at Pepsi.

But I’m doubtful that Don Draper can be saved because I believe the door to the human heart opens from the inside and once any son of Adam learns how to manipulate our desire for God, he can so easily forget that there is really a God to be desired.

We can so easily mistake our cravings for what we actually crave, We can find ourselves reaching for the Real Thing, and just come back with a Coke.

The ultimate question for each of us . . . “Do I want—really want, from the depths of my being, not simply in sporadic moments of high religious exaltation—the God who makes sense of my life and my desires, or some God-substitute, some idol?” -ANTHONY MEREDITH

Sometimes when people get what they want they realize how limited their goals were. -Joan from Mad Men

“So tell me what you want, what you really really want” -Spice Girls

Mad Men and Bad Men

Almost 100 years ago, the English author G.K. Chesterton came to America for the first time. And as he travelled through this country he made some incredibly profound observations about the blossoming American culture, but my favorite one is called “A Meditation on Broadway”

As he walked along the New York streets, and saw the neon lights flashing advertisements it dawned on Chesterton that the person who would really love this would be a poor, rural villager from a developing part of the world. If this person was suddenly whisked away to New York, they would be overwhelmed with wonder… as long as they didn’t know how to read English.

Festivals of Fake

Chesterton said it would seem to this peasant that he had stumbled upon a paradise on earth as long as they never ate from the Tree of Knowledge that was the A-B-C’s

Because, when this poor peasant came to New York, he would immediately believe that he had stumbled into a giant festival of some kind. Seeing all the symbols and the artificial lights blazing, the peasant’s soul would sore as he tried to understand what great celebration he had happened upon.

He might assume, if he knew anything about America, that these flashing lights said something like “Government for the people and by the people” or “Life, Liberty, Justice” but if he ever had the misfortune of learning English he would be extremely disappointed to learn that the fire in the sky was just trying to sell him sugar water.

Here’s how Chesterton puts it:

It is not true to say that the peasant has never seen such things before. The truth is that he has seen them on a much smaller scale, but for a much larger purpose…the real case against modern society [all the advertisements] is not that it is vulgar, but rather that it is not popular…the [peasant belongs to] the remnant of a real human tradition of symbolising real historic ideals by the sacramental mystery of fire… The new illumination does not stand for any national ideal at all… it does not come from any popular enthusiasm… That is where it differs from the narrowest national Protestantism…. Mobs have risen against the Pope; no mobs are likely to rise in defence of [Pepsi]. Many a poor crazy man has died saying, ‘To Hell with the Pope’; it is doubtful whether any man will ever, with his last breath, say the ecstatic words, ‘Try [Wrigley’s] Chewing Gum.’ These modern legends are imposed upon us by a mercantile minority, and we are merely passive to the suggestion. The hypnotist of high finance or big business merely writes his commands in heaven with a finger of fire.

For the past several years, I’ve been enchanted with writers like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, primarily because they were writing when the world was still enchanted, and they were watching the levers that were being pulled to dis-enchant it.

This is the same reason that I have loved the show Mad Men. The show that centers around the genius and misery of the first advertisement agencies. These people from the 60’s who became known as the “inventors of want”

A few weeks ago, there was a painful scene in Mad Men where Don Draper is wrestling with his existence. He’s talking to a co-worker about what his dreams for the future are, what he wants his life to be about. And his friend tells him that he’d love to land an oil company or a pharmaceutical.

“Bigger accounts? That’s your greatest desire?”

So Don goes to one of his copy writers and asks her what she really wants. She tells him “to be the first female creative director.” He asks “What then?” She says “I want to land a very big account.” He asks “What then?” She says, “I want to invent a catchphrase.”

Don asking Peggy "What do you want?"

Don asking Peggy “What do you want?”

Don “So you want to be famous? What then?”

And that’s when Peggy storms out of the room, because what she wanted wasn’t worth her life, and both of them knew it.

What do you Want?

There’s a scene in Mark 10, much like this episode of Mad Men, where Jesus asks a few different people what they want. One is a pair of power-hungry brothers and they immediately respond, “We want to sit at your right and left when you become King.”

And Jesus tells them no. He tells them he can’t give them what they want, because they really don’t want it. At his right and left will be crosses, and these are people who don’t know the beauty of the Cross yet.

But then Jesus immediately bumps into a blind man, a man who has probably had one thing on his mind his entire life. The desire to see. He knows what is absent from his life, and he’d give anything to get it. And when Jesus asks him the question he doesn’t miss a beat, “I want to see”

And Jesus gives him his sight.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that the most powerful thing we can do is sit alone with God and honestly answer this question “What do you really want?”

Not what people tell you to want, but what you really, really want. Because I’m convinced most of us are walking around without any idea of the answer to that question. We’ve got glib answers that were created for us by people who make a lot of money connecting our deepest desires to crappy products, and our truest desires end up buried under a pile of junk.

This is the beauty of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner is shining a light on this one truth that we’d rather forget because change is just too hard. The people who are telling us what we should want, the ones who make the big bucks to manipulate our desires, those people are just as lost as anyone.

Again, I like how Chesterton says it:

Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden; but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for. Every man has a house somewhere in the elaborate cosmos; his house waits for him waist deep in slow Norfolk rivers or sunning itself upon Sussex downs. Man has always been looking for that home which is the subject matter of this book. But in the bleak and blinding hail of skepticism to which he has been now so long subjected, he has begun for the first time to be chilled, not merely in his hopes, but in his desires. For the first time in history he begins really to doubt the object of his wanderings on the earth. He has always lost his way; but now he has lost his address.

I’m willing to wager my life that buried underneath all the superficial brands connections and capitalist spin you have a heart for something bigger. Maybe it’s to be connected to community, or to know and give a deep love, or to give your life for a cause bigger than yourself or to know what it feels like to be wanted.  But behind it all I believe is the tug of the heart’s greatest desire to know and be known by God.

In the words of Chesterton “we want to go home.”

Or in the words of Don Draper

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.”