Monday, May 29, 2006

Hero Worship?

I have been thinking about what drives us to go to events (no not my mini-van). In a poll, is holding regarding the reasons behind people attending Christian Events (the poll is non-scientific) most of the people suggested that they go because of the talent that will be playing. Price and location were pretty far down on the list of what causes people to go to events.

It is interesting to me how people will scrimp and save to go to the best concert of the summer. I am captivated by how people will literally get in line at 2 in the morning to see James Blunt at a free concert on the Today show, when you have a better view on TV. I am just as stunned to see Christians pay high prices to go to conferences see Bishop Jakes or Joel Osteen or for single concerts to see Third Day or others. This is not a new thing. I remember seeing pictures of the Beatles arrival in NYC. Girls were actually fainting when they got a look at the Lads from Liverpool. I have paid high ticket prices myself to see playoff games, concerts, broadway shows and the like.

I was at an event recently, where a video was shown and even though the message was serious, the video seemed to be trivialized by the raucous cheering that came while some of the people participating in the video were on screen for just a few seconds. Even in the Salvation Army we have this sort of groupie following for some of our officers and talented musicians. I know most of them would not want to have the attention on them, but on God.

Especially, with Army and Christian events I have seen planning done and guests invited not on the basis of who would be the best person to fit our needs or best worship leader, but who would be the best "draw." It almost seems to downplay the importance of the message for the glamor of the messenger.

I understand wanting events to be of high quality. I understand (sort of) the draw to have large crowds. Although, I do find it funny the need to mandate people to come with quotas to fill to congresses, retirments etc. in our organization. I mean no disrespect, but if the people thought the event worthy enough, don't you think they would come? Maybe I am a bit jaded in my thoughts on this. But, I digress.

I worry about this phenomenom of what I see as hero worship. Not taking anything away from the giftedness of people, or their sincerity in sharing the message of the Gospel, but I am beginning to see an alarming trend. I wonder if we are setting up Christian heroes? You know, are we going to events and worship because of the speakers and musicians or because we want God to speak to us? Why is that there is not that kind of excitement generated in our local contexts, when are CO's or pastors or worship bands get up to lead us to the Father?

I have been to two events recently that were pretty much devoid of heroes (at least the kind you put up on a pedastool and say, "Wow, they're just terrific."). Last week, I was at the Northern New England Youth Councils and yesterday I spent time in worship at the Beacon, NY Corps. Honestly, there were not many bells and whistles. Although our worship leader was very good last week and the speakers were well-prepared and Spirit-led, there was not that "star" attraction. Yesterday, the music was a bit, tough. The message was meaningful, but not delivered with the oratorical charisma of a Bishop Jakes.

Something happened in both places though. God showed up! There was not a great deal of hero worship. There was a lot of God-focus.

I am wondering if I am being a bit too critical. I wonder is all the entertainment necessary? Maybe it is time for us to strip away all the bells and whistles and really concentrate on the important. Maybe, just maybe, we need to get away from the stars, the production, the plethora oF big events which are just too many to count and get back to basics, worship and the word.

Understand I see the necessity for a big event every once in a while. It helps us all see the bigger picture and realize we are not alone in this walk we call being a Christian.

Maybe we need to think about who the real heroes are in the faith. I think if we really took a long time to think about it, it would not be the talented speakers, musicians, writers or scholars, it might just be the local Sunday School teacher or kids' club helper, who just quietly does what the Spirit tells them to.

I am struggling with the idea of this whole hero culture. I think we could use a few more local heroes, ones that are not woshipped, but respected.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Becoming a Pirate?

I am digressing from my usual philosophical and theological discussion this week; sort of. Many of my blog friends know that Janet and I have just received word that we will be taking up a new appointment in The Salvation Army. We will be at the divisional headquarters in Cleveland, OH. It is more administrative in nature than our current appointment. We are excited and go in the confidence that this is God's will for us. We do admit to some trepidation.

It is not the nature of the work that frightens us necessarily, although we have a pretty big learning curve ahead of us. For me it is a departure from a world in which I am very comfortable. For half of my officership I have been a youth guy. In fact, Janet and I train youth guys now. Our ministry has been to younger adults and kids.

Many of my contemporaries have remarked over the years that I have never really grown up. In fact, I have been called everything from "the world's second oldest teenager" (behind Dick Clark) to a "lost boy," an obvious reference to Peter Pan.

I think the reason for this is that I really enjoy living in youth culture and feeling young about myself and have always wondered why at a certain age people decide you need to grow up. It is not that I am irresponsible and can't be serious. I just love to be, shall we say, young in my thinking. I definitely don't dress like my contemporaries, unless I am in my uniform. In fact, I like many of the bands that my kids like. My oldest son would not let me go with him to a Limp Bizkit concert a few years back. I just wanted to see what the big deal was with this band. Who cares if they did it all for the ........

I have not seen this streak in me as being rebellious. I just want to be a normal guy. I had a kid at youth councils this weekend walk up to me and say, "Thanks for being one of us this weekend." What the heck, I'm 47. He's 17.

One of my proteges (Yes, I did call you that Everett) walked up to me and said, "Don't become a pirate." Huh? He was making a reference to the movie Hook, where Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams) has actually grown up and one of the lost boys looks at him and says, "Peter, you are not a lost boy anymore." The opposite of a lost boy is a pirate.

I see pirates as losing their youthful attitudes and progressive thinking. I see pirates as functionaries who have lost the fun and spontaneity of life. I see pirates as people who take themselves and their positions too seriously. While I know ministry is serious, I often wonder why many leaders (please understand I am not aiming this at anyone in particular and may be making a sweeping generalization)become so set in their ways, conservative in nature and old in their thinking. Some may think it is a maturation process. I think that Satan wants us to be pirates.

Pirates refuse to take risks. Pirates are cautious to protect "their territory." Pirates are often recalcitrant in their attitudes. I am not sure that the Kingdom needs pirates.

I think the Kingdom needs lost boys. I think we need joyous, fun-loving, focused, risk-taking, incredibly energetic leaders for the Kingdom. The Kingdom does need maturity, but it doesn't need to be BORING! I don't want to be a pirate!

I am not saying that all leaders are pirates. I have seen a pirate attitude occasionally in leaders. I am not sure that helps the Kingdom.

So the questions for the day are: How does one not become a pirate? Should we keep a lost boy attitude? Do we take ourselves too seriously?

What do you think?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The "E" word?

My friend and colleague, Steve Bussey, (a.k.a. The Flaming Liberal:0 ) directed me to the article from which I have appropriated this title. John Bruckeridge in the UK magazine "Christianity," discusses the issue of the term "evangelical" in his article. Bruckeridge writes this, "Evangelical is increasingly shorthand for: right-wing US politics, an arrogant loud mouth who refuses to listen to other people's opinions, men in grey suits who attempt to crowbar authorized version scripture verses into every situation, or 'happy-clappy' simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe. Today in the UK [ and may I add in the US] 'evangelical' is often linked with the ultimate 21st century swearword 'fundamentalist'. The result is the name 'evangelical' which years ago, may have smelt of roses - now has the aroma of the manure that fertilizes the bush." Of course Bruckeridge is using this title playing on the controversy of the "n-word" which is painful to African Americans and abhorrent to me personally.

I have always considered myself an evangelical. I always thought that evangelicals believed some basic scripturally supported tenets. They believe in:

1. The supremacy of Christ
2. The authority of The Bible as the Word of the Lord
3. The need for salvation in Jesus
4. The necessity of fulfilling the Great Commission

There may be a myriad of other beliefs you would add to this list, but I see these as fundamental to the evangelical tradition. So what happened to make us the bad guys? Do we really resemble Ned Flanders from the Simpsons?

It is so bad that my youngest son, who is a political science major in college, was in a discussion with a friend who started ripping apart evangelicals. My son simply indicated that he considered himself an evangelical and that he did not believe that he resembled any of the characteristics painted by his fellow student. Now mind you, our son is a card carrying Republican. He does, however, disagree with many of the policies of his party. He chose the party not because of his religious beliefs.

His friend proceeded to just castigate him. He called after the exchange. He was devastated that the core values which he saw as evangelical, were nothing near what his friend had described. Our son was crushed.

So what has happened? I am wondering that. I am also wondering if I am an evangelical as the world sees it or as in fact, many of my evangelical friends are. Are we really like Ned Flanders?

Andrew Sullivan, a man who claims to be a believer, wrote and article in the most recent issue of "Time." He coined the term "Christianist" to describe this new brand of what he sees as flag-waving, moralistic religiosity. He believes that what he sees as the hijacking of evangelicalism and Christianity is like the Islamist movement which has put a new face on the Muslim community. In other words, does that behavior really reflect the mainstream of Bible-believing, Christ-loving, blood-washed, Spirit-filled Christians?

In recent days, I have been wondering if I am a post-evangelical. I deeply love Jesus and want others to love Him and experience His grace as well. I am tired, however, of packaged methods of evangelism which are more like sales pitches than invitations to loving relationships. I see those now as cheap excuses for the grace-based relationship our Lord wants to have with us. They seem more like contracts, where we seal the deal and move onto the next "mark." Is that really making disciples?

I am also becoming more and more uncomfortable about the idea often is implied that "church will fix someone." People don't need church, they need Jesus.

How tolerant should we be? That is my real struggle. Maybe that is what happened. In our right-intentioned drive to be pure people and lead others to the purity of Jesus, have we just become so hard-nosed that when we should have been lovingly engaging behavior, we have been afraid to get dirty to clean the wounds of lost people?

Is the Salvation Army an evangelical movement as the world describes evangelicalism? Should we be? If we do, what will that do to our credibility with those we are trying to bring to Jesus? What about grace? Does the "E" word really line up with our core values? I am struggling with this.

What do you think?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Do you feel like singing or gathering all the time?

Recently, I went on to read through some of the articles. I enjoy the site and highly recommend you take a look at it when you have the opportunity. The site, which is edited by John McAlister and Geoff Ryan does challenge me at times and also gets me to laugh.

As I went through the site I came across an article by Geoff Ryan called, "Real Men Don't Sing (Or Do They)?" Geoff eloquently poses some questions on whether or not we need to sing in the church. He side-steps the worship wars which rage ever-so-angrily in the church as we question whether "praise choruses" or traditional hymns are the best to bring us to the presence of God. He simply addresses the whole idea of corporate worship and singing. He sees many of the new hymns as overwhelmingly feminine in their approach to God.

Gender issues and songbook vs. new hymns aside, I have been thinking a great deal lately about corporate worship. Many of my worship leader friends who once thought they were bringing people into the presence of God now wonder what they are doing in front of people. In fact, one of my friends is considering whether or not the whole concept of worship leading is worth it.

I am not sure I would go that far. I am concerned that for years we went through the motions of playing church in much of our worship gatherings, but now have almost a contrived "let's work up a good cry" motif as a result of people wanting to experience God. I am not sure why we project words many times because we have so many people with contorted faces, with their eyes closed, hands raised and emotional temperature worked to a fever pitch, I wonder if anyone is actually reading the words. Then again, I am also way uncomfortable with the, "Turn to song 64 and let's have a good sing" way of doing things. I am not sure the idea of blended worship is good either. What usually happens is that we end up short-changed on both accounts. Both sides feel cheated. Honestly, I am feeling so much more at home with liturgy and symbolism these days. I can hear my militant Salvationist friends now, "Larry has drank too much of this emergent Kool-aid." Maybe I did. Or maybe I am just really traveling through a time in my life where God is speaking to me in a different, more contemplative way.

Is singing really worship? Is it necessary? I must admit I have been hot and cold on the issue of worship as it pertains to singing. There are times when I feel exhilarated in singing. There are times it brings me to my knees. Then I must admit I think from time to time, "OK, what's the next 'Jesus is your girlfriend' or 'boring old unsingable song' we're going to sing next?" I then wonder what's wrong with me. Everyone else is having a having a hand-raising, face-contorted, hallelujah or hand-clapping experience. There I am wanting feel something, wanting to know God is near, even having prayed before the gathering earnestly seeking Him, and nothing.....Absolutely, nothing. Do you ever feel that way?

So I struggle with these questions. Are singing and worship leading really about worship or performance? Do the Quakers somehow have it right? Does anyone else feel an empty experience in worship gatherings? Do we try too hard sometimes in our worship and then miss the point, no matter what style we enjoy? Anyone been to a big flag-waver lately or a praise gathering and wondered "What is the point?" If you have, you will know what I mean and what I am feeling.

In fact, there have been some times I have even been in "age-appropriate" worship. (I love these and have led quite a few) You know, it has been youth worship and it has seemed like it is more for the youth leader than it was for the kids.

To quote a friend, when he talked of worship, "I think we are very much stuck when it comes to worship. We want something new, but we don't have anything new to draw from. Most of us aren't that creative. So we end up cranking out a souped up version of the same old thing." What an indictment. I think part of it has to do with singing. But is it also our lack of intimacy with the Creator to Whom our worship must go and inadequately and uncreatively loving Him? Think about how creatively He loves us.

So what about this worship thing? Is singing really worship? Is our gathering in that type of setting a necessity? Is a large corporate gathering even needed? What about the emptiness some of my worship leading friends are feeling? These are people who really love God and want to please Him. They come prayed up and deep in the Word and nothing seems to fill their spirits as they lead.

I am really struggling with the worship gathering. Is it necessary? Did we buy into this style of worship because we got comfortable and figured that is the way we can domesticate God? I would also like to brainstorm with you ideas as to how we might help make worship creatively, lovingly different and pleasing to God.

Do you feel like singing or gathering all the time? If you are like me you have to answer, "Definitely, maybe."

What do you think?