Thursday, December 07, 2006

Five POSITIVE ideas...

I heard from a regular reader the other day. In a very loving tone he said: "All you do is bitch and moan, bitch and moan, bitch and moan".

I know, I know. Well, this blog is the outlet for my evangelically incorrect rants - so you're right. My readers tend to get the brunt of my criticism. But, I understand where my reader is coming from, and I've mulled it over. I'm going to start snapping myself with my WWJD bracelet when I start getting too critical a spirit and remind myself to look for solutions as well as problems.

I'm turning over a new fig-leaf (don't peek - and if you do - don't laugh). Here are a couple of positive ideas for our local Evangelical churches:
  1. Instead of thronging to the church's coffee bar - flood the Starbucks or coffee shop down the street an hour before church each week. Tip the baristas well. Make them wonder what the deal is. Create a buzz (caffeinated or not). What a great opportunity to witness. Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?
  2. Reach out to the local artist community. Turn your lobby into a gallery. Display works. Have a reception for the artists. Interview them and love them. The church might learn that creativity is a part of Christ-like-ness and the artists might find that creativity is rooted Christ, the creator.
  3. Better yet, make a mission of thronging to a local gallery opening, community theater show, coffee house concert. Instead of trying to compete from inside the church walls, commission believers to congregate and co-mingle outside the church walls. Again, wasn't this Jesus' intent when he said, "go"?
  4. Produce a play. It doesn't have to be a tacky, smarmy Christian play. It could be a good play about relationships - community - or a social issue. Use it as a springboard for discussions and conversation - an entre to a message about Jesus' response.
  5. Instead of building a larger, more expensive Evangelical fortress, use resources to build up the community. Sponsor a little league team (and provide them with treats after each game), help build a community center, work with the local government to take care of needy families, offer an army of volunteers to clean up after the local parade or community festival. I think that's what Jesus had in mind when he called us to be light and "a city on a hill".
[snap, snap, snap] Whew. I feel better now.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The Suburban Evangelical Mega-Church Hymn

An Evangelical Church Blues Original
by V.I. Wilderness
The the tune of "
A Mighty Fortress is Our God"

Verse 1
A whitey fortress is our church,
catering to yuppies;
We're found out in the suburbs,
with space to park your SUV;
It's landscaped oh so well!
God's blessed us you can tell!
The building is world-class,
but please stay off the grass!
The turf - it cost a fortune.

Verse 2
When you come in the front door,
the sight will take your breath away;
We've got a great big coffee bar,
where you can get a latte!
Just ask for extra foam,
and then begin to roam,
for elsewhere on the floor
you'll find the church book store -
where you can spend more money!

Verse 3
We've got our service on CD
So you can listen in your Escalade!
We even have the DVD
on THX it can be played!
There's Christian rock CDs
and Jesus novelties!
The latest worldly fads
like bracelets and mousepads,
stamped with a fish or Jesus name!

Verse 4
Then enter our big sanctuary,
complete with stadium seating!
My goodness, aren't you quite impressed
with the world we're competing!
Our sound's state-of-the-art,
and it sets us apart!
Most churches can't compete!
We've got the others beat!
With us we're sure God's happy!

Verse 5
With thousands thronging to our church,
we think we're doing something right!
We're sure you will be happy here,
if you're middle-class and predominately white.
Just don't forget your tithe,
so our vision stays alive!
Our elders all agree,
it's time to build phase three!
For bigger's always better!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Mega-Church Did Away with Drama

The local Mega-Church used to have a fairly active "Drama Ministry" (how the Church came up with its' nomenclature surrounding theater arts I'll never know). Somewhere along the way the whole kit-n-caboodle got nixed by the Senior Pastor. The reasoning was that the Pastor felt bound to "explain" the drama in his sermon to the congregation which meant that the drama had to link directly to the message, and if the Holy Spirit led the Pastor to change his message at the last minute the drama wouldn't make sense.

There are (at least) two problems I have with this line of reasoning:

First, the pastor is really dissing his congregation if they can't watch a short sketch and get the message without it being explained. Either the pastor is arrogant, the congregation is really ignorant, or the sketch is poorly written and performed. Knowing a little bit about Mega-Church, the people who attend and the talent of those involved - I would rule out the last two.

Sadly, this is really a common problem. We have strayed so far from our understanding of metaphor and our ability to use Christ-like creativity in communicating the message, that church leadership feels compelled to spoon-feed an explanation to the masses.

Second, the pastor's reasoning assumes that a dramatic sketch can't stand on its' own as an effective communication tool, and that any struggling to grasp the metaphor is a bad thing. Even Jesus did not feel the need to explain the parables (a metaphorical teaching tool he introduced that was difficult for many of his listeners to grasp), and did so only when pressed by his followers. Jesus seemed content to communicate the metaphor and let the listeners and the Holy Spirit sort it out. A pretty good model to follow, if you ask me. If the body can't watch a sketch and "get it" without the pastor's help then perhaps the pastor should also explain each hymn, each worship song, and the cover art on the bulletin.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

God, Art & Metaphor (Part 2)

Instead of embracing our Lord's creative nature, the church has shunned it.
Instead of celebrating the Creator's Spirit inside each of us, the church has suppressed it.
Instead of using metaphor to be the Light, the church has hidden it under a bushel to control it.

Metaphor is a scary concept to church leaders. The church likes to control what we see, what we hear, what we read, and what we think. Our primary mode of communicating the Message remains the pulpit, and one person in the pulpit is very controlled communication. In addition, church leaders commonly view the members of the body as mindless sheep. They pridefully maintain that the sheep need very simple, direct communication from their rare, ordained, ecclesiastical knowledge.

"They won't get what you're trying to say in that painting."
"I'll only have to explain to them what the drama really means."
"It's too high-brow for them."

Artists, like the prophets of old, express themselves in metaphor - and people expressing themselves in metaphor can be very messy business. You could end up with Ezekiel building a model of Jerusalem out of Legos and acting silly. You might end up with Jeremiah running naked through Jerusalem with a yoke on his shoulders. You could have Isaiah using a used tampon as an expression of the nation's sin. You could wind up with Hosea marrying a whore. We can't have that. It will only confuse the simple, ignorant sheep. Besides,

It's not socially acceptable.
It's uncomfortable.
It will generate uncomfortable conversations I can't control.
People won't get it, and I'm not sure I get it myself.
It will cause a flood of angry letters and e-mails I don't have time to answer.
I might lose my job.

Let's just stick with what we know. Let's just do what's most comfortable; with what we've always done; with what works (or not).

Artists commonly complain that the church doesn't understand them and won't accept them. But really, it shouldn't be that surprising. Israel killed their prophets because they didn't like the message of their metaphors. The church kills the spirits of their artists by not even allowing them to express themselves in metaphor. If we don't even allow the artist-prophet in the door then we don't have to go through the whole bloody mess of killing them. Let them just waste away outside the church walls. It's much easier on everyone.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Yet, while the bodies of the prophets were hewn by their own and left for dead, the message (the metaphors) of the prophets endured and has spoken to endless generations. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it is a powerful communication tool. It is just as worthwhile as a thousand word sermon and more lasting - for while the sermon goes in the ear and is quickly forgotten, the picture remains before the eye as a constant reminder - an enduring message.

Our churches are dying. The Message is falling on deaf ears.

We need to find new and powerful ways of communicating the Message. We need to reclaim the Creator's Spirit within us. We need to express the Message in metaphors that stir the hearts of our generation.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

God, Art & Metaphor (Part 1)

God is an artist. God is the Artist. He is creator. He molds and sculpts us. He expresses Himself in the work of creation - in creative works. Like all artists, He communicates and expresses Himself in metaphor. Because we are made in His image, we are bound to be like Him in any creative endeavor. Our artwork, no matter the medium, is a metaphorical expression of ourselves – our mind, our will, our emotions, and our vision.

Art is metaphor.

Do you remember Jr. High English class?

Metaphor: something which represents something else without using “like” or “as”. If you use “like” or “as” it is no longer a metaphor, but a “simile”.

Art is metaphor and God is the Artist.

Yaweh/Jehovah – “I AM”


…the Light of the World
…the Vine
…the Gate
…the Bread of Life
…the Good Shepherd
…Living Water
…the Way
…the Truth
…the Life

(not like these things – He is each one – that’s metaphor)

God is

…the Alpha and Omega
…the bright and Morning Star
…the Lion of Judah
…a pillar of fire
…an encompassing cloud
…King of Kings
…Lord of Lords

God, You are

…my Rock
…my Refuge
…my Shelter
…my Sword
…my Shield

God expresses Himself to us in limitless metaphor. A rainbow is God’s promise. He is a stream of living water. Water saved Noah and his family and then becomes the metaphor for the washing away of our sin in baptism. Baptism by immersion (read any Greek lexicon – the meaning is to immerse, to plunge) is a metaphor for being buried with Christ and raised with Christ, our sins washed away (I don’t think other modes of baptism are wrong, but I do believe they are incomplete metaphors).

God told the prophets to express their message in metaphor. Ezekiel builds a model siege. Jeremiah takes a yoke, puts it on his shoulders and walks through the streets. Jeremiah visits the potter’s house and sees God reshaping Israel like marred vessel. Hosea is told to marry a whore as a metaphor of God being married to unfaithful Israel. The tabernacle and the temple were metaphors in their design, in their decoration, and in their furnishing.

Some of Jesus’ parables were similes: “The Kingdom of God is like…”
But many were metaphors: “A certain man had two sons…”

Attempting to understand God without understanding art, creation and metaphor will lead to a conceptualization that is woefully inadequate and impotent.

Next post: God, Art, & Metaphor Part II - Why Care?

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Friday, June 09, 2006

The Church's Right-Brain Lobotomy

It's not rocket science.

God is creator. It's the first thing we learn about God in the Bible next to His existence. More specifically, Jesus is the author of creation. He is creative.

"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." John 1:3

Shouldn't being Christ-like then include being creative?

Made in God's image, we are given both a left-brain and a right-brain.

We see His right-brained creative expression in the work of art we call nature:
"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:20

We see His right-brain in the creative use of metaphor:
"This is what the LORD said to me: "Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck." Jeremiah 27:2

"So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?' declares the LORD. 'Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.'" Jeremiah 18:3-6

"Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel." Ezekiel 4:1-3

"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable." Matthew 13:34

To be Christ-like would then call us to be creative, as He is creative: expressing ourselves and His Word metaphorically in the visual arts, in written word, in dance, in film, in video, in theatre, in photography, in sculpture, in architechture, and in music.

If we are made in the image of the Creator, if the Spirit of Creation indwells us, then why do we relegate creative expression to "the world?" Vitamin Z recently asked "why does all the timeless music come from outside Christian music?" I could ask the same of any art form. Why aren't Christians producing creative masterpieces in art? Literary classics? Architechtural marvels? Breathtaking dance? Dramatic classics? Wonders of the cinema?

Conversely, why does our "creative" outflow so often follow what is fashionable and marketable in the secular marketplace? If we have the Author of Creation dwelling in us, why aren't Christians leading in creative breakthroughs? Why isn't the world looking at our creative expression with amazement saying, "where did that come from?"

Where is the tangible produce from the Spirit of Creation within us?

Who gave the Body of Christ a right-brain lobotomy?

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The Church Automotive Lexicon

There is a site out there asking "What Would Jesus Drive?". It made big news back in the day when everyone in the evangelical community was required to wear those WWJD bracelets or risk facing the inquisition. Anyway, this site is not really asking a rhetorical question so much as it's preaching environmentalism. It's our "it's not easy being green" brothers (God bless 'em) out there in the protected swamplands making a pitch for us to drive more fuel efficient cars because "obeying Jesus in our transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities of the twenty-first century."

You know, I'm not sure what Jesus would drive (though, I'd love to see him on a Harley). Despite the guilt-trip from the WWJD folks, I'm not sure I really care. But, I do know what people are driving at my local, hometown Evangelical mega-church and what it means in our own whacky but comfortable suburban sub-culture. So, for your own benefit, I present ECB's Church Automotive Lexicon so you can identify where you fit on the evangelical church food-chain:

If you drive: Luxury Pick-ups, Luxury SUVs, Luxury Sedans, Sports Cars
It means: You're obviously blessed. You must be successful in the the marketplace and therefore, you are someone to be taken seriously. God has chosen to bless you so it's a good bet (not that we actually gamble, of course - just theoretically betting here) other Christians should emulate you and seek to be like you. The church staff will respect you and listen to you because, let's face it, you're probably a big giver. Expect to be asked to sit on the building committee when it comes time for the next phase of our multi-phase mega-church building project - or to be an elder.

If you drive: Minivans or Standard SUVs
It means: You are obedient to God's command to multilply and subdue the earth. You are a family and will be a good customer at the church coffee shop and bookstore. Veggie-tales for the minivan DVD, worship CDs and Dr. Dobson books for mom who will certainly buy a latte at the coffee shop before women's Bible study, and the latest Promise Keeper's gear for good ol' dad. What we don't get in the offering plate from this young family "just trying to get by" we'll get in profit from the "Messiah's Marketplace" downstairs. We can count on your family to help pad our precious attendance numbers, as well. You are the backbone of our church.

If you drive: Cadillac Sedan DeVille
It means: You're old but blessed - you've obviously made a nice little nest egg for yourselves. You'll be a decent giver, but we can't expect you to be around between January through May when you'll be in Arizona, Florida or Palm Springs hanging out in your condo. You've put in your time on the Trustee board, the Elder board and various committees and we can count on you for the church work day when you're in town.

If you drive: Any Buick
It means: You're old and you drive slow (probaly in the left lane). You've done okay for yourself. You may be heading to Arkansas or Texas for the Winter in your RV. You're probably a stalwart on the missions board or a pillar of the church's "golden age" community. When there's a death, you're there with cookies and covered dish for the grieving family and you'll certainly be there to make ham buns for the funeral.

If you drive: Newer Mid-size car
It means: You're an up-and-comer. You're potentially a decent giver and a strong volunteer. You obviously have something on the ball so we can probably trust you to be on a committe, teach a class, or be a deacon. If you play your cards right, get seen by the powers that be at the Jesus' Java bar, keep up with the fads of the faithful then when you can afford a full-size sedan you might even make Elder.

If you drive: Compact car
It means: You're humble, poor, young or green. We can count on you to volunteer, to give of your time out of guilt for not being able to give more money. If you're young, there's still potential there for you to move up in the world so we'll be gracious as long as you're volunteering. If you're poor, we'll be gracious because we feel sorry for you and we're required to believe those pesky Beattitudes. If you're one of those green environmentalists you're probably a liberal and a democrat and absolutely not to be trusted. We'll smile and be kind, but don't expect to sit on any committees where you could spread your leperous rhetoric.

If you drive: Standard pick-up
It means: You're a good guy. We can count on you to be there at the church work day. You might even make deacon because you can probably do mechanical, electrical or other maintenance work for the church without charge.

If you drive: Older model, Junky car
It means: (see 'compact car') The additional caviat here is that you may have fallen on hard financial times, which obviously means a sin of some kind (gambling, divorce, debt, unemployment, etc.). If we deem that you're not a believer we'll show you grace and see if a relationship with Jesus might help redeem you into blessings and a better car. If you're already a believer then you're obviously the prodigal, back-slidden into automotive pig-slop. While we may smile at you from a distance, don't expect us to talk to you or, God forbid, have a relationship of any kind.

Hope this helps. Just remember, no matter what you drive, it's important to get one of those little chrome looking fish things for the back. Pick one up at your local Mega-church bookstore after the service tomorrow.

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Flickr photo courtesy of Brandy in Indiana

Sunday, May 21, 2006

You Just Thought You Knew What It Meant

I got a chuckle thanks to fellow blogger ckhnat who linked to Holy Office and their list of Christian definitions. Among my favorites:

Sex: Christians are not permitted to have sex. This unpopular doctrine was formulated by Pope Lactose LX at the Council of Disney in 1439. Despite this restriction, Christians have managed to increase their ranks to the point where there are roughly 2 billion of them. Scholars attribute this to the competitive health benefits and generous "flex time" arrangements offered by Christianity.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

ECB Promotes New Dance Ministry

I'm going to start a new dance ministry at my Mega-Church, as long as I can get Judson Laipply to head it up. See his audition tape at this link:

I don't know, man. It doesn't look good. I hear he's entertaining other offers. If either Willowcreek or Hillsong gets him I'm going to be pissed!

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flickr photo courtesy of danieliew

Thursday, May 18, 2006

DaVinci Code Conclusions

Everyone is asking me if I'm going to read the DaVinci Code (like it's going to give me leprosy or something). I read it over a year ago. Here are my conclusions:

  1. Dan Brown is a gifted writer who can spin a yarn that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
  2. Dan Brown is a flake.
  3. The DaVinci Code is both silly and preposterous.
  4. Christians have taken the whole thing way too seriously and, in so doing, have put a lot of money in the pockets of the publishers (all of the publishers - the "Code," it's spin-offs, and the Christian Publishers refuting it) and the movie studios.
  5. A year from now, people will be wondering what all the buzz was about.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Has God's Favor Left U.S.?

The message from the pulpit at Mega-church has been rather gloomy of late. It's being purported that God's favor has left the U.S. and North America and has shifted to Africa, India, and South America. Basically, we've blown it. God lost his patience with us and Holy Spirit has given us the ol' "hasta la vista, baby."

Having a bit of a prophets heart, I don't mind a little fire and brimstone. I'm just at a bit of a loss for what my response is supposed to be. Pack my bags for the third world and chase after God's favor? Clothe myself in sacloth and ashes? Buck up and accept the fact that my Heavenly Father likes my African, Indian and South American brothers better than me?

I notice that the Old Testament prophets usually provided a message of hope in the midst of their tirades of gloom and judgment. I think that's what I'm missing. I feel beaten down and shamed without being given a remedy.

Oops, where has the time gone? It's time for my self-flaggelation.


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flickr photo courtesy of Tinou Bao

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Finding a New Church

I received this link from - not one - not two - but THREE different alert readers. Thanks to Blake, Mark and Brandon for passing it along. Enjoy!

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Three Reasons I Let My Kids Read Harry Potter

I have two teenagers. In spite my many faults as a parent, they're both intelligent, passionate, and committed believers. They get good grades, make (mostly) good decisions on their own, and they love others with a Christ-like humility that puts me to shame. One of them is heading to the other side of the world this summer for three weeks as a missionary. The other one told me, after attending an apologetics class voluntarily, that going to Africa to help the millions of AIDS victims may be God's calling.

Hm. Not bad. And to think, I let them read Harry Potter.

I really don't understand those who censor Harry Potter in the name of protecting their children. I think that it only creates a greater desire in the kids to sneak around to find out what all the hub-bub's about, and when they do, they'll wonder why their parents were so silly and freaked out.

Here are three reasons I let my children read J.K. Rowling's books:
  1. The story deal with universal themes. You have good vs. evil, man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. society - all those great universal themes I learned back in high school English. I personally like the way Rowling develops Harry's character as a protagonist. He's the good guy, but he must deal with the fact that he has the capacity for evil. Like all teens he's figuring out that choosing right isn't always easy or without consequence. There is truth in Harry Potter, by the way - and my wife constantly reminds me that all truth is God's truth. They are the same kinds of truths you'll find in Cinderella, Beowulf, The Odyssey, or Aesop's Fables.
  2. The magic and mystical devices used by the Rowling to tell the story are imaginative, funny and harmless. A talking hat, a map that shows you where everyone is in the school at any time, owls that deliver the mail - goodness they make for a great yarn. I honestly don't know what everyone's all worked up about. The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Shakespeare, Walt Disney, and the Brother's Grimm all have magic, spells, incantations as part of their stories, fables and allegories. My dutiful, Dobsonite, evangelical brethren always say at this point, "yes, but consider the source." Yeah, so? I think Rowling was a single mother trying to make ends meet. She had a bold imagination and the discipline to write. I've watched the interviews with her. Personally, I'd love to have coffee with her. She's a fascinating person (and I'd love to get her help with that novel of mine that's been gathering dust in my desk drawer). I also suspect that the same Christian brothers and sisters who tell me to "consider the source" would freak if they walked in on Tolkein, Lewis and the other inklings getting positively tanked at the pub each day (of course, most of them wouldn't be caught dead walking in a pub - so J.R.R. and C.S.'s reputations are safe).
  3. The book and the controversy are a source of great dinner conversation. We had a great talk the other night as a family. We explored the truths we've found in Harry Potter. We discussed why so many Christians think Harry's the anti-christ and Rowling the devil. It led to a Christ-centered discussion about literature, censorship, and creativity. I'd let my kids read Harry Potter for that conversation alone.

My teens just laugh at their friends' and relatives' parents who get so worked up about Harry Potter. They don't quite get it. They especially don't get why parents forbid their children from reading the books or seeing the movies simply because the evangelical culture and Christian media elite have dictated it. They don't know of any of these anti-potter parents who have read the books and made the decision for themselves in discussion with their kids.

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Flickr photo courtesy of curiouskiwi

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Allegory Shmallegory - Have Hot Sex with Your Spouse

I was loving my wife the other night. I mean, I was loving her. I was literally obeying God's Word in Proverbs 5:19 when God urges "may her breasts satisfy you always. May you ever be captivated by her love." As I was in the throes of my obedience, that verse literally coursed through my mind. My mind immediately retorted: "You'll never hear a sermon on THAT verse in church!"

It reminded me of all the references to Song of Solomon I've heard in Bible School and church [counting fingers on one hand]. The pastor or professor always goes on and on and on about how the book is an allegory of the relationship between Christ and His church and how someday the Bride of Christ will be united with Jesus and we will be one in heaven, yada, yada, yahda, blah, blah, blah. About this time I want to stand up on my padded pew (or chair if you're in a seeker friendly church) and scream "BULLSHIT! It's about a married couple having SEX - loving, hot, lusty, passionate, holy, godly SEX!"


[the sound of millions of Christians clicking out of this post in a panic of shame and terror]

Hello? What's wrong with promoting great sex as God designed it and desires it?!

A few choice morsels from God's Word:

  • A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Proverbs 5:19
  • Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Song of Solomon 4:5
  • You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. Song of Solomon 4:12
  • Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. Song of Solomon 4:16
  • I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment. Song of Solomon 8:10
  • [ Lover ] I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. [ Friends ] Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers. Song of Solomon 5:1
  • [ Beloved ] My lover has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies. Song of Solomon 6:2
  • The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. I Corinthians 7:3

Hmmmmmm...maybe I should go home for lunch today.

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Image: Gustav Kimpt's The Kiss

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Legalism: Breeding Stupidity

One of the things I've noticed through years of living in and around the fundamentalist and evangelical culture, is that legalism breeds stupidity. If you take a group of people and force them to follow a never ending set of rules, restrictions and behavioral rigor - they will flip the off-switch on their brains and wait for someone to tell them what to do in every area of their lives.

Case in point: it happened that I had to stop in a typical evangelical church in another town yesterday morning (I won't bore you with why I was there). I found myself sitting around in the requisite coffee bar area of the lobby [why is it that we rail from the pulpits on the evils of substance abuse, but we actively promote caffeine addiction?]. On every table of the "Compassion Cafe" the following rules were posted:


  1. Please keep all food and drink in designated cafe areas...dang, a little coffee would be welcome about half-way through the sermon.
  2. Please pay cashier...because we know how dishonest and untrustworthy our fellow Christians are.
  3. Please clean your table when you are done...don't expect us to actually provide service with your coffee and danish
  4. If others are waiting for a seat and you are finished, please allow them to use your chair...they don't mention anything about letting them use your table, but in any case we wouldn't want to actually promote fellowship and conversation - just drink your stinkin' latte and move along!

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Flickr photo courtesy of Guadalupe18

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Refreshing Look at the Stations of the Cross

ecb salutes Spencer Burke and the ooze for showcasing his photo series of graffiti used as stations of the cross. I highly suggest you take a look.

Oh, that the church would support and encourage work like this. If only we filled our lobbies with a presentation of Spencer's work instead of the safe, commercial stuff you too often see, like
Kincade. Maybe, just maybe, we could have meaningful dialogue. Maybe the lost would be intrigued and interested in what we're saying. Maybe we could finally fulfill our stated desire of being Christ-like. For, how can we truly be like the Creator if we continue to deny, hide and be ashamed of our own creativity?

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Jesus Laid in the Tomb used by permission of Cavepaint at

Top 10 Unpardonable Sins in the Evangelical Church

In Church last Sunday our pastor reminded us that suicide is not an unpadonable sin. I got to thinking about that. I know that scripture says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin. But sometimes, let's face it, what the Bible says and what our church practices are two different things. So, from the home office in En Gedi, here is our Top Ten Unpardonable Sins in the Evangelcal Church:

10. Being a Democrat
9. Being a Homosexual
8. Being a Catholic
7. Being Divorced
5. Being Post-millenial
4. Being Amillenial
3. Getting caught: in adultery, with drugs, in financial impropriety
2. Looking wierd (includes tattoos, piercings, colored hair, non-acceptable dress)
1. Being seen, socially connected to, or married to any of the above

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Reformation of the Mega-Church Name-o-Rama

Alert ecb reader, Andy Rau, has taken our How to Name Your Suburban Mega-Church in Three Easy Steps and (in true Calvinist form) REFORMED it!

Way to go, Andy! Kudos!

I had a bit too much fun with his name generator, and started to wonder what a name generator for churches in my own denomination would look like. Like most good Calvinists, I’m a member of the West Michigan-based Christian Reformed denomination. The lists below can be used to name your very own Reformed church in the Midwest—just pick one term at random from List 1, then List 2, and so forth until you have a full name for your church. (All in good fun, of course.) Click here to read the rest of Andy's post...

As I commented on Andy's site, ThinkChristian, this is pretty creative for a guy from the Christian Reformed denomination. I thought they frowned upon creativity, but maybe that was just on the sabbath!

He is Risen (yawn) He is Risen Indeed

I wrote in a post a while back about the typical Evangelical Liturgy. Yesterday was the big celebration in my mega-home-church. Everyone was dressed to the nines, the removable wall was out and chairs set up in the fellowship hall for overflow. You could feel the electricity (read: spirit) in the congregation as everyone got to their seats. The worship team came out and went into a kick-butt rendition of Hillsong's "My Redeemer Lives." Everyone was on their feet. The place was rockin'. People were clapping. A brave few were raising their hands, and ordinary white anglo-saxon people were moving back and forth - some even in time with the music. The Holy Spirit was on the move. There was excitement and anticipation. What's going to happen next???!

Are you kidding? We followed the Evangelical Liturgy to the letter. One fast song, then greeting and announcements. The associate pastor got up and told everyone to sit down. About ten mintues of his droning followed with a couple of random scriptures thrown in along with some kind of boring story about the church he grew up in (you guessed it - Lutheran).

[exit Holy Spirit - stage left]

It was downhill from there. I tried not to be critical or cynical. Maybe it was just me. On the way to Easter lunch at grandma's I asked my wife and teen-age daughters, "Did you sense anything change after the first song?"

[spoken with teenager inflection; eyes rolling] "Yeah! Like the whole atmosphere died."

Okay, guess I'm not the only one.

Can we...please...just once...follow the Spirit when it's moving? I sometimes think that church leadership keeps the liturgy in place because they wouldn't know what to do if Holy Spirit did something unexpected and a revival broke out.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Jesus was a Ninja!?

You've read the recent accounts telling us that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had kids, and that Judas was really the beloved disciple whom Jesus asked to betray him. Well, hang on to your hats! There is ground breaking news traveling around the blogosphere that Jesus was a Ninja! The idea is that between the time Jesus confounded the teachers of the law in the temple at age 12 and when he began his ministry at age 30, he made a trek to Japan where he studied and learned many things:

Takeogokoro also taught Jesus ancient Japanese magic tricks and several accounts list these tricks as being able to conceal yourself, to jump high into a tree and to throw a bamboo pole into water and walk on it.

The Japanese legend goes on to explain that Jesus did not die on the cross, but in some silly Shakespearian twist of mistaken identity, it was his brother. They claim that Jesus slipped back to Japan after the whole crucifixion mix-up and retired in a quiet valley in Japan where he died.

Hmmmm. This brings to mind a couple of questions:
  1. If his brother died on the cross, then it must have been his brother that everyone saw risen from the dead. Have we been worshipping the wrong guy all this time? Dang, do I feel stupid.
  2. If Jesus knew these cool ninja tricks to conceal himself, why were the crowds always finding him? Maybe he was a bad ninja and that's why he came back to Israel.
  3. Where in Galilee did Jesus find a bamboo pole long enough to be walking on it in the middle of the Sea of Galilee?
  4. So was he really praying those nights he'd go up to a mountain? Maybe he was marauding the Capernaum countryside in black pajamas!
  5. If Jesus knew the ninja trick of jumping high in a tree, why on earth did he tell Zaccheus to come down? He could have just jumped on up to talk to the wee one.
  6. Did his parents send him to Japan at age 12? "Son, your mom and I have been talking. This whole business with you going missing in Jerusalem and making us worry for days. We've had enough! You're grounded to Japan for 18 years!"

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Divorce of Reason

I went through a divorce a while back [waiting for exlamations of repulsion to die down]. It has been interesting to experience, first hand, the church's reaction to it. Recently, a friend told me of a mutual acquaintance who was interested in taking a recurring class that I teach (of course it took a while for the church to let me teach after the divorce - apparently divorce invalidates your spiritual gifts for a vague period of time - I never knew that). "I don't know if I can take the class," the person communicated to my friend. When asked why, this person responded, "He's divorced!" - spoken in a tone that would suggest I had just contracted AIDS or had voted Democrat or something.

Fast-forward. It became public that I was engaged to marry a wonderful woman from our church. This person approached my friend with excitment. "I'm so excited. I can take the class now!" they exclaimed. When asked why it was suddenly okay, the person said, "because he's getting remarried! It's okay now! It makes all the difference!"


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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jesus: Jewish Hippie or Roman Couture?

I was on an airplane today and had a very pleasant conversation with a young lady. She was studying a statistics text book, which was very suspicious - but I try not to be judgmental. Anyway, it seems that we both had the experience of attending a conservative Baptist college for one semester before realizing our mistake. The conversation brought back a flood of disturbing memories.

I remember sitting in Hermeneutics class (That's Biblical Interpretation to you and me. This particular college threw around Greek and Hebrew words like the F-bomb in a Quentin Tarantino movie.) and the professor apparently thought good Biblical interpretation included a lecture on the subject "How We Know Jesus had Short Hair." No, I'm not making this up.

The good doctor, holding up a picture of Julius Caesar, made the observation that the style of Jesus' day was the "Julian" haircut - so it was only obvious that Jesus would have looked like the Roman emporer's marble bust.

Ummmmmmmm, yeah. I'm sure Jesus and his fellow religious Jews were simply slaves to Roman fashion. I mean, the Romans were so popular with the Jewish community. You certainly get that from a conservative hermeneutical exegesis of the canon. I mean it would be preposterous, not to mention theologically liberal, to suggest that Jesus the nazarene might have taken a nazarite vow not to let a razor touch a hair on his head.


Sometimes, my fundamentalist brothers absolutely astound me with the mental gymnastics (or maybe contortions is is a better word) they have to exercise to find their man-made legalistic rules in scripture.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I Don't Think You'll Find Pat Robertson There

A friend told me last weekend about the Church Has Left the Building conference in Seattle. I love the name and spirit of the conference. I perused their blog and site. If I were able to attend, the following workshop would be on my list of musts:

How did an instrument of torture wind up in Madonna’s cleavage? Hosted by Mark Pierson, the executive director at Urban Seed, Melbourne. Worship as mission...curating worship, art as worship, worship without censorship, anything goes is worship… a workshop to explore putting it all together… no boundaries, no right ways, not for the faint hearted. Mark describes himself as a GenX-er trapped in an aging boomer body.

Somehow, [rubbing chin thoughtfully]I don't think you'll find a booth from Focus on the Family at this conference.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Edifice Complex?

I recently heard about a church building a prayer tower and, [scratching head] I guess, I'm just wondering about that. The only time a tower was built in the Bible, it wasn't God's idea. In fact, if I remember correctly, He sent a not so subtle message of disapproval.

The only other prayer tower I'm familiar with was the one Oral Roberts built and locked himself in claiming God was going to kill him if people didn't send him their money (I distinctly remember that, at the time, I sent my contributions to a different cause).

Do we need to build towers to pray in when most chapels and sanctuaries sit empty all but a few hours a week? When Jesus told us to go into our closets to pray, was it implied that the closet was in a tower the church constructed specifically for the purpose? I don't know. I'm just askin'.

It seems to me the two examples I mentioned were more "edifice complex" than anything else - erected for man's glory. I'm just leaning towards believing that God cares more about building people than building towers.

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Flickr illustration courtesy of Bill Ayton

Sunday, March 26, 2006

How to Name Your Suburban Mega-Church in 3 Easy Steps!

Originally uploaded by opheliates.

It's a dilemma. You're building the latest-greatest church in the burbs. It's got to have a cool name. Never fear, e.c. blues is here to help! First, you select a hip, eco-friendly word from list one:


  • Pheasant
  • Aspen
  • Prairie
  • Timber
  • Eagle
  • Mountain

Next, you select a descriptive landscape word from list two:


  • Run
  • Ridge
  • Valley
  • Vista
  • Heights

OPTIONAL!: It's kind of hip to use just words from the first two lists, but you could go ahead and add to it. After all, more is better and you definitely want to differentiate yourself from that mega-church down the street. They're "so-yesterday," aren't they? Of course, because you don't want denominational baggage keeping people from flocking to your church, toss your denominational name and add one of the following church descriptors from list three:


  • Fellowship
  • Community
  • Group
  • Gathering
  • Conclave
  • Campus (you really need more than one building for this one - though that large storage shed for your vehicle fleet will do. I personally like this one. It does have that intellectual sound doesn't it?)
  • Assembly (watch out with this one - you could get pegged as a Pentecostal - you might try "Assemblage")

I hope that helps. My pick for today is: Aspen Heights Fellowship.

Pretty cool, huh? If you use my handy service to name your suburban mega-church, please contact me about my royalty fee. Don't worry - it's not much. Maybe just a cut from the tip jar on your lobby's coffee bar (the e.c. blues is a non-profit ministry, so you can still say it's going to charity without lying).

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Flickr photo courtesy of opheliates.