Thursday, January 30, 2014

Go Broncos!

I am a Dallas Cowboys fan.

I'll always be a Cowboys fan.

I grew up expecting Super Bowl victories in the 90s. They came easy. The love America's Team. I loved the Big 3: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.
But it has been a difficult stretch.

Since 1997, the Cowboys have won 1 playoff game. Ouch!

Over the past three years, the Cowboys have ended their seasons with an 8-8 record, which is quite a bit better than the 4 total wins they posted in the 1988-1989 seasons, but the team has fallen on hard times.

In the midst of many fair-weather fans who are switching their loyalties, Holly and I are staying strong. We're Cowboy fans during this season so we can enjoy being Cowboys fans in better seasons.


It sure is nice to be in a city excited to root for their team in the Super Bowl. In an attempt to be "all things to all people," I've grown into a Broncos fan as well. I like Peyton Manning and would love to see him win another Super Bowl.

Last time a team from the city I lived in went to the Super Bowl, it didn't go well. In Super Bowl XXIX, the San Diego Chargers lost 49-26 at the hands of Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the rest of the San Francisco 49ers, a team I loved to hate as a Cowboys fan growing up.
Let's hope the outcome is better this year for the Broncos.
Go Broncos. Beat the Seahawks!

And Jerry Jones...instead of watching the Super Bowl, please work on your draft plan. That's time well spent!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Socially Acceptable Religion

Recently, I was listening to Krista Tippett's podcast, "On Being," when she interviewed Phyllis Tickle. Phyllis, founding editor of Religion Department at Publisher's Weekly, is an important voice in the American religious landscape. Her book, The Great Emergence, is one of the best books I've read in the past few years.

On the program, she made a statement that has captured my imagination over the past few days:

"It's very dangerous for one's soul to be a part of a religion that's socially acceptable." -Phyllis Tickle

Which got me to thinking, "What is our end, our goal, when it comes to Christianity's impact on culture?"

It's something we ought to be crystal clear on.

What are we trying to do as Christians?
What is our goal?
And what is our means to that goal?

Do you have it in mind?


Now, a cautionary tale.

For its first 3 centuries of existence, the early church was not considered socially acceptable. Christians were the targets of persecution. Many were martyred for their faith.

But early in the 4th century, all of that changed. The church became socially acceptable.

The change was slow, but sweeping. Christians went from persecuted minority to the official religion of the Roman Empire within a period of 70 years.

Now, if you are a Christian during this period, this has to be the greatest development you could imagine. Who would have thought that a religion that began with several hundred witnesses would become the official religion of the Roman Empire? Who would have thought that the empire that killed the Apostle Paul would one day build cathedrals to house worship to Paul's God.

Can you imagine being a parent or grandparent who lived under persecution? All of those prayers you prayed to God have been answered. Your children and grandchildren won't have to live out their faith under the threat of persecution or death. God had finally come through.

Which is a change of sorts for this God.

After all, this God never seemed all that good at making his people socially acceptable. The people of God have always been on the underside of empires more powerful than they. They lived under several empires: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome.

And while being socially acceptable must have seemed like a positive development to Christians during that time period, it wasn't all positive.

Because when everyone's a Christian, very few are truly Christians. It's one thing to claim Christianity when it might cost you your life, but it's another thing to claim the name of Christ when the emperor worships your God.

And eventually, the church that had once been persecuted by the sword, took up the sword to persecute others. Moving from persecuted to persecutor, the church had become the church militant and triumphant. The Kingdom of God that had been known through a king who rules with a towel, a donkey, and a cross became the Empire of Christendom. In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church burned its enemies alive. And we still live with the reputation of the Inquisition and the Crusades.

And that story of Christendom brings me back to Phyllis Tickle's words once more: "It's very dangerous for one's soul to be a part of a religion that's socially acceptable."

What do we want?

Are we mourning the fact that our socially acceptable religion seems to be slipping through our fingers? Are we trying to recover a pristine American era when things were "better."

I'm a part of the Restoration Movement. My family has been a part of this movement for many generations. We've sought to restore the church back to the way it was in the first century.

It's a noble project.

But while we've tried to restore many things from the first-century church, I've never heard anyone interested in recovering the social context of the first-century church.

We like our socially acceptable religion in America. Many of us pray that our kids and grandkids will be able to live out their faith without the threat of persecution or death.

But which is more dangerous for one's soul?

Following Jesus in a culture where Christianity is not socially acceptable?


Following Jesus in a culture where Christianity is socially acceptable?

And the answer to that question might very well define our goal for how following Jesus might just transform our culture in new, imaginative ways.

So, tell me. What's your your vision for how Christianity should impact our culture in the 21st century?

Saturday, January 04, 2014

What You Lose When You Win the Culture War

What comes to mind when you think of the "Culture War."

Democrats vs. Republicans? 
Blue States vs. Red States?
Liberals vs. Conservatives?

Since the early 1990s the term has been a constant in political and religious discussions in America. 

From James Davison Hunter's 1991 book, "Culture Wars," to James Buchanan's 1992 Republican National Convention Speech, known as "The Culture War Speech," to Bill O'Reilly's 2006 book, "Culture Warrior," the language of "Culture War" has become a common designation for the clash of worldviews between conservatives and progressives.

For Christians who engage in the Culture War, the past few years have presented several key skirmishes that have upped the stakes. 

-The Dan Cathy Scandal (Chick-Fil-A)
-The Phil Robertson Scandal (Duck Dynasty)
-The War on Christmas (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays)

In response to these incidents, Christians have become vocal on social media. Boycotts have been called for. Chick-Fil-A Appreciation day gave conservatives a day to vote in favor of Dan Cathy with their pocketbooks. Apparently, there is also a Chick-Phil-A Day scheduled later this month in support of Phil Robertson.

But before you (My intended audience are those whose first identity is Christian above any other identity) wear your camo into Chick-Fil-A on January 21st to engage in the next edition of the Culture War, it's important to consider the possible casualties of joining the war.

Just a consideration of the language of "war" has certain implications. Because wars have enemies. Wars demand winners and losers. Wars include collateral damage and casualties.

Before we try to win the war, perhaps we ought to consider if winning is worth losing as much as we are sure to lose.

Every war has two sides. And when you fight any war, there are people who inevitably become enemies in the course of the conflict. Make no mistake. When you declare war in a Culture War, you are declaring war on a group of people you are eventually trying to reach. 

In the recent flap over Phil Robertson, I saw many Christians post things on Facebook and Twitter that could do nothing but cause further damage to the relationship between Christians and the gay community. 

If winning the Culture War was the number one goal of Christianity, then we would be obliged to do whatever it takes to secure victory.

But as I read the Bible, winning a Culture War is way down the list from making disciples of Jesus Christ. In fact, I don't think it would have even made Jesus' top 10 list.

Jesus couldn't care less if the Roman Empire had religious symbols and Bible verses on their statues and monuments. He wasn't offended that "under God" wasn't in Rome's Pledge of Allegiance. He didn't fight to ensure "In God We Trust" was on every bit of coinage Rome manufactured.

He spent his life making disciples who would make disciples who would make disciples.

When we fight the Culture War, we are intentionally making enemies out of people with whom we should be building a relationship. 

And when we fight the Culture War, we completely misunderstand who our enemy is. Our enemy is not the gay community. Our enemy is not a particular political party. Our enemy is not Al Qaeda.

Paul says it well in Ephesians 6:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12)

If you have a human enemy, you have already misunderstood the true battle. Because every bit of evil in this world is animated by spiritual forces. 

Satan loves it when we make enemies out of people. 

And that's why I love the Civil Rights Movement so much. King and his followers refused to make enemies out of their oppressors. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that his white oppressors were not the enemy. 

One of the key principles of King's notion of nonviolence was to win the friendship and understanding of the opponent, not to humiliate him. Another key principle was that evil itself, not the people committing the acts, should be opposed.

King understood Paul's words in Ephesians 6. And though many of his opponents likely never desired a relationship with King, he had done nothing to close the door on future relationship with them. 

It's time to put down our weapons. It's time to take great care in what we post online. 

Because there's a whole lot more to lose than a Culture War.