Derek Webb is doing some very interesting things:
For those interested, I’ve posted a few photos from our recent vacation to Virginia Beach on my photo page.
We spend a week vacationing with my extended family every year, which is always a lot of fun.
And now just a few random thoughts about what’s going on, and what I am thinking about blogging this fall, just to get the blog rolling again:
- I am listening to Imogen Heap on headphones right now, and I am very impressed. If you get the album, check out "Goodnight & Go", "Hide and Seek", and "Daylight Robbery".
- I’ve also heard that Leeland’s new album is ridiculously good.
- I am reading Stephen Ambrose’s history of the building of America’s trans-continental railroad (Nothing Like it In the World). Interesting stuff.
- I’m still plowing through Jesus and the Victory of God (N.T. Wright). It’s a masterful book, and challenges a lot of preconceptions about what Jesus was up to. Very rewarding reading.
- I just started Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton. I’ve heard good things about her stuff on spiritual formation.
- I also just started Emerging Churches, by Gibbs and Bolger. Many say it’s the best book on the emerging church so far, so that’s a good reason to read it. I also like to see what other church leaders around the world are up to and how it’s working out.
Movies I’d love to see but will probably not see until they come out on DVD:
- Talladega Nights – Will Ferrell plays a Nascar driver named Ricky Bobby, who named his two sons Walker and Texas Ranger. Sounds hilarious.
- Snakes on a Plane – The title is a spoiler. You have to love a movie like that. I’ve heard the beginning and end are hilarious, and the middle languishes a bit. But I mean, seriously, an entire movie about snakes that are… on a plane? How could it not languish in the middle, unless the snakes do some line dancing or something?
Stuff I’m thinking about that will probably end up in this blog:
- The fundamental dynamics of spiritual growth (or spiritual formation, or character growth, or whatever you’d like to call it). It’s still a massively misunderstood topic, from the old question of "Why bother, because aren’t we saved by grace apart from works?" to the more practical question of "How in the world can I actually change?"
- Church and culture. This has been a big theme so far anyway, but I want to continue to explore the question of how a rapidly changing culture affects the way we function as the church, the way we lead, the way we teach and disciple and preach the good news.
- Web/Church 2.0 – How does the church create environments that are truly interactive, without losing her soul? How can what we see happening in the world of technology or music or film or design or fashion or architecture or _________ prompt us toward a more healthy ministry model?
- I’m hoping to start a Master’s program this fall – I’m sure many posts will be prompted by my reading for that course.
So those are the happenings in my world as of late. I hope to continue conversing with y’all soon!
Someone lent me Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis so I am reading it (seems an appropriate use for a book). The book is quite good, kind of what I’d call a postmodern apologetic. It’s the kind of thing I am interested in nowadays: people who are articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ for postmodern culture, and doing it in a humble, winsome way. So, way to go Rob Bell.
The reason for this post, though, is a quote from the book. He explains well the lunacy of labeling anything (music, art, etc) "Christian":
Something can be labeled "Christian" and not be true or good. . . It is possible for music to be labeled Christian and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled cliches. That "Christian" band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name because they aren’t a great band. It is possible for a movie to be a "Christian" movie and to be a terrible movie. It may actually desecrate the art form in its quality and storytelling and craft. Just because it is a Christian book by a Christian author and it was purchased in a Christian bookstore doesn’t mean it is all true or good or beautiful. A Christian political group puts me in an awkward position: What if I disagree with them? Am I less of a Christian? What if I’m convinced the "Christian" thing to do is to vote the exact opposite?
Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.
Exactly. When someone asks me "is this a Christian band?" I always want to ask them "Do you have Christian plumbing installed in your home?" and watch the puzzled looks.
I would also say that "Christian" would make a great adverb (as in he does plumbing Christianly, he makes music Christianly). It would refer to the way a Christian does something, not the "products" she creates. Which lines up quite nicely with Colossians 3:17 – "Let every detail in your lives–words, actions, whatever–be done in
the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of
the way" (MSG). Let those things be done Christianly, in other words.
Recently we cut a few services from our church schedule, and thus a few "slots" for worship leaders and musicians to be part of church services. One of the things I told our arts community is that this was a great opportunity for them to find ways to express their gifts outside the context of a church service. Why do we assume that the only place to express a gift is in a church service? I basically told them to go out and find some gigs in coffee shops and bars, let us know when they were playing, and we’d come support them. Instead of assuming we are called to make "Christian" music by playing it in church services, why not learn how to make music Christianly, and do it where music is normally played and listened to? Why this need to re-invent the wheel, and put the label "Christian" on it? Why this urge to lock ourselves away in our own little Christian ghetto?
It’s hard to be salt and light if you aren’t coming into contact with corruption and darkness. Christian is a great noun, and a great adverb, but when we make it into an adjective, the results are disastrous.
I’ve been posting some lyrics from Derek Webb’s provocative new album, Mockingbird, along with my own thoughts. "My Enemies Are Men Like Me" goes like this:
I have come to give you life
And to show you how to live it
I have come to make things right
To heal their ears and show you how to forgive them
I would rather die, I would rather die
I would rather die, than to take your life
How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love?
My enemies are men like me
So I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well
My enemies are men like me
Peace by way of war
Is like purity by way of fornication
It’s like telling someone murder is wrong
And then showing them by way of execution
Later in the song, we hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice: "Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions
of our time; the need for man to overcome oppression and violence
without resorting to violence and oppression." I believe later in that same quotation he says, "the foundation of such a method is love." Sounds like Jesus to me. And it is remarkable what Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished without resorting to violence. Up until Augustine, I think all the major church leaders believed war and capital punishment were wrong. This song begs questions of pacifism and a "just war" and execution by the state. The case for pacifism is pretty strong, in my opinion. Especially in light of the kingdom of God, and our call to live in the present age in a way that will make sense in the future, when the fullness of the kingdom comes. "How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love" is a pretty hard question to answer in light of Christian discipleship and the ethic of love.
I don’t think there is one correct Christian answer to these questions, because we live in a twisted and dark world. Check Jesus on divorce, for example: it’s a horrible thing, but he makes concessions, he meets us where we’re at. And check John the Baptist talking with Roman soldiers who are asking "What should we do? We want to repent." John doesn’t tell them to quit the Empire, he tells them to stop extortion and practice contentment. It’s hard to imagine a better case for a "just war" than World War II, but there are lingering questions there as well (people like Noam Chomsky have deconstructed the West’s "official" reasons for going to war). But then you look at what people like MLK and Gandhi managed to accomplish without resorting to violence, and you wonder if there could have been another way in World War II.
Jesus pretty clearly showed us that the way of love is not the way of violence, it is the way of the cross. Jesus conquered not through superior firepower, but through love, bleeding to death on the ultimate symbol of Roman violence, a cross. That’s why death is swallowed up in victory, why the powers have been defeated, why we can receive kingdom life "ahead of time," because Jesus didn’t retaliate. So it’s a tricky question, one that we should wrestle with. But it’s not one that should divide us. I believe the pacifist can worship with the soldier, because there should be "charity in all things" and what unites us is not our belief systems, but Christ himself. We are part of Jesus’ body along with everyone else who names him as Lord, even the "parts" we don’t agree with. This song just serves to provoke some of the issues we often think are "givens", especially in conservative evangelical faith. Where do you lean: pacifism or "just war"? Captial punishment or not?
Derek Webb’s new album Mockingbird is filled with provocative, challenging lyrics (as well as beautiful music, I might add). This song is called "Rich Young Ruler":
Poverty is so hard to see
When it’s only on your TV
Or twenty miles across town
Where we’re all living so good
Now that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
Where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
From going through our trash
He says more than just your cash and coin
I want your time, I want your voice
I want the things you just can’t give me
So what must we do?
Here in the West we want to follow you
We speak the language and we keep all the rules
Even a few we made up
Come on and follow me
But sell your house, sell your SUV
Sell your stock, sell your security
And give it to the poor
Well what is this? Hey what’s the deal?
I don’t sleep around and I don’t steal
But I want the things you just can’t give me
Because what you do to the least of these
My brothers, you have done it to me
I want the things you just can’t give me
I played this song for the youth group the other night, and it provoked a few good questions. Obviously the song is a re-telling of the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and follow him, and the young man went away sad, because he couldn’t bring himself to part with his wealth. In speaking about this story, we often point out that Jesus told the rich young ruler to do that, not everyone. So it’s not a cut-and-dried requirement for following Jesus. I agree with that, but I think too often it’s an excuse to dismiss the idea, like Jesus would surely never ask that of us. So this song provokes us to think about what it is we just won’t give to Jesus… and then provokes again in saying maybe we’ve gotten so used to our wealth that we really wouldn’t be able to part with it if Jesus asked ("sell your house, sell your SUV…"). Sometimes we read that story and think "Thank goodness Jesus isn’t asking me to do that." But maybe he is. Are we open to that? Or do we dismiss the idea out of hand?