the [good] news 2.0

If you’re anything like me, and I think a lot of you probably are, the way you receive the news has changed drastically over the past two or three years. Ever since the internet evolved into something called “Web 2.0″ (which is just a cute-techy way of saying the web is in it’s second generation) the way we receive and consume newsworthy information has quickly moved away from the old standards of opening a newspaper or magazine / turning on the radio or tv and being told what’s happening in the world (news in a structured, edited and rehearsed fashion), and it’s quickly moved toward things like blogs, message boards and perhaps the most influential of all the immediate news sources – status updates on social networks like facebook and twitter.

I’ll be honest, I get a lot of my updates on what’s happening in the world by reading what others tell me is going on, and rarely are the people telling me what’s going on doing their job (in other words, they’re not paid to report the news). While I don’t “tweet” very often, I do visit twitter a few times a day to see what’s trending (list of most commonly discussed things, updated in real time). I also find myself frequently scouring my facebook news feed (collection of updates on the activity and updates of my 600+ “friends”) as if it were the front page of the paper…and in many ways, it is. Think about it. If you looked at any major event that happened in the past several years – from Obama being elected president, Michael Jackson’s death, swine flu, the economic recession and federal bailouts, and who could forget one of the worst events in recent memory, Brett Favre becoming a Viking – all of these events were well-documented by the media, but perhaps more than anywhere else they were discussed on facebook and twitter (to the point where both sites were nearly shut down on June 25, 2009 because so many people were trying to share their reactions to Michael Jackson’s death, at the same time).

Why do I share all this?

This morning while eating breakfast – a time of the day when previous generations would have probably been sitting at their kitchen table reading the newspaper – I was sitting at my computer desk skimming through people’s status updates on facebook. Like most people, I’m not all that close with all of my facebook friends (although I do have a few rules about this: 1) I know them in real life, 2) they are at least 18 years old and out of high school).  Due to this new reality of what it means to be “friends” with someone, I often find myself reading very personal statements written by people I don’t know very well (which is a whole different topic for another day), but I also find out about all sorts of interesting events, organizations and causes because people are constantly sharing links or inviting me to join their groups and attend events for things they are involved with. And sure, sometimes people share funny videos, express frustrations about their job, coworkers, boss, etc., or my least favorite use – shamelessly plug the stuff they sell (realtors are the worst at this), but this morning, as I was finishing my oatmeal (I know you don’t care what I ate for breakfast, but this is a blog and by it’s nature that means sometimes you get more info than you care about); so like I was saying, this morning I was checking my facebook news feed while getting ready for work and eating my Quaker Apples & Cinnamon oatmeal (which by the way is delicious!). Similar to how a friend in the 1980s might have suggested a movie to watch or a book to read, one of my facebook friends posted a link in their status to a magazine article that I otherwise never would have known about. It’s an open letter from Shane Claiborne to his “nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends” and it was published by Esquire magazine. (In case that’s not an unexpected combination to you, read Shane’s wikipedia page and then visit the Esquire website.)

Shane writes a great letter full of confession and proclamation. I’m thankful to have read it, but I’m even more thankful that so many others will read it (and to have been “told” about it by a very credible news source; a guy named Charlie who I went to seminary with, and who I apparently share 40 friends in common with).

Anyway, since I wrote all this to share the letter and link with you, possibly making me a news source for you and others, I’ll now post a portion of the letter (please check out the full article on Esquire).

What if Jesus meant all that Stuff?
by Shane Claiborne (Esquire, Nov. 18, 2009)

It starts out simple and engaging, with an apology on behalf of all people who would categorize themselves as “Christians.”

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

That was the confession part. He then moves into story/observation mode, pointing out that he (as a person of faith) has experienced the same negative reaction to the behavior of a lot of “Christians” that others seem to have.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

This is where he starts to proclaim a bit of the Gospel (aka “the good news”), but it’s also where he points out the harsh reality of how Christians are perceived in society (the bad news).

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Although it may not be clear, Claiborne is actually a very positive dude with a deeply rooted faith and hope in God’s love, as seen in these thoughts…

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

Amen, Shane. I was in a meeting at the seminary where I work last week and we were talking to several staff members from a graduate social work program we partner with to offer a joint degree. Near the end of the meeting we were talking about the reality of working for social justice as a person of faith, and how often times that means working against the perceived understandings people have about Christianity, which is a sad situation. One of my colleagues from the seminary patiently waited as others shared their thoughts, then made the profoundly true statement that “the Christianity you see in the media is the not what Jesus lived and preached.”

Claiborne’s closing comments get at the basics of the belief conversation; namely, what does it finally mean to be a Christian, or not? And how does the distinguishing, self-selecting or labeling of “Christian” vs. “non-Christian” effect how we interact with each other, since God created us all in love and we have no choice but to live together on this earth (so we might as well get along)?

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

Your brother,

Shane

Dear God

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. To the handful of people who have noticed, I apologize. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about life and observing culture through the perspective of my faith, I just haven’t been making time to share my observations. Let’s not pretend this is the rebirth of anewdoxology.com, but if new content starts finding it’s way to this URL more often I hope a few people will see it as a good thing.

Like anyone else, my musical preferences have been changing, evolving, even maturing throughout my life. The first CD I owned was Hi-Five, but back then I pretty much listened to whatever was on Casey’s Top 40. I also had a Shaq CD (as in Shaquille O’Neal, the now really old basketball player). I’m not one to talk about liking “good” music, at least not when I was younger. In high school I listened to a lot of hip hop (2Pac, Notorious B.I.G. and Outkast being some of my favorites). I played basketball into my first couple years of college, so the rap thing never quite left my system, but I also began listening to a lot more acoustic and folk rock in college.

I realize that many young people’s musical tastes are influenced by their college experience (parties, friends, whatever the people down the hall decided to play LOUD), but for me I think it also had a lot to do with the specific college I attended. The Dave Matthews Band had been to Luther College twice in four years before I arrived in the fall of 1999 (including a live album that was released during my senior year of high school). During my four years as a student at Luther we hosted concerts by Live, Guster, G. Love, Jurassic 5, Blues Traveler and a couple singer-songwriters who at the time I had hardly even heard of; named Ben Harper and Jack Johnson.

College is also the time in my life when I discovered Christian music (and it’s sibling genre “praise and worship” music). Being a person of faith who also likes a lot of mainstream music, I’ve always had a hard time finding music that connected with me on multiple, meaningful levels. During my early music-listening years I probably would have responded to questions about my favorite music by saying “I like what I like, because I like it.” Bring up the fact that a lot of the lyrics in rap music are vulgar, violent and speak poorly of females, I’d tell you “I don’t really listen to the words, I just like the beat.” Try telling me that the content of an acoustic or pop rock song is all air (fluffy and nice, but without any real substance) and I’d probably have said “but it makes me feel happy,” or “it’s good background music when I’m studying.” Ask me how I can listen to cheesy love songs about Jesus and I’d struggle to come up with a response but eventually say it’s “encouraging” even though it’s also corny and unrealistic. (Thankfully, music made my Christians has come a long way in the last ten years and we now have artists like David Crowder, Bethany Dillon, Shane & Shane and the Robbie Seay Band making music that speaks of God and faith while maintaining some sense of human reality and musical quality.)

The music I most enjoy today falls somewhere between genres or categories (by the way, “Christian music” is no more a genre than “80s music” is). I love music that’s difficult to describe, but can be felt (especially at concerts or through really good headphones). Really great music is a form of art, and when the lines between genre, style and even religion are blurred you can experience something that is truly real and beautiful. I love hearing Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham sing specifically about God’s healing love and the hope they find in Jesus, but after a while I want to hear the vague words of Mat Kearney when he sings to a struggling young girl that “he hung in love just to draw you near” or even Kanye West when he honestly raps “I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid cause we ain’t spoke in so long.” (For an earlier example of this, listen to Jeff Buckley’s version of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah.”)

Music doesn’t need to include the name Jesus, or any of the other Christianese words to express faith and a longing (or searching) for God. I still remember the first time I heard Matt Wertz sing about life, love and faith in a style that spoke to the core of my music-loving soul, and it wasn’t long after that I discovered his buddy Dave Barnes and felt a similar response. More recently, I’ve discovered Brooke Fraser, Needtobreathe and MuteMath. They all make good music that is honest about life but also recognizes the role of God and the influence of faith. You can add your own favorites to this list, but these are just a few examples. I suppose two obvious bands that haven’t been mentioned yet are U2 and Lifehouse, whose music is laced with God and faith, whose music has inspired worldwide organizations, been used in worship, and even a youtube famed dramatic skit and other/lesser-viewed projects.

There are many artists or bands whose music doesn’t include consistent theological themes or undertones, yet in select songs (or albums) it’s definitely present. Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” is an example of this, as is Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album (check it, yo!). But in the end, the reason I started writing any of this on a Thursday afternoon while sitting in my office is because I ran into a student on campus here at the seminary this morning and he asked if I was going to the Monsters of Folk concert in Minneapolis tomorrow. I mentioned that I hadn’t really listened to their album much, but that I’d check it out soon. “Soon” became reality when not even five minutes later I was back at my desk facing MOF’s myspace page, listening to the first track from their album, “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.).” Wow! Talk about music in the grey area between sacred and secular, the church and the world, theology and life…this is it. Click play on the video below to listen to the song. I’ll post the lyrics below in case you want to follow along.

Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)
by Monsters of Folk

Dear god, I’m trying hard to reach you
Dear god, I see your face in all I do
Sometimes it’s so hard to believe in
Good god I know you have your reasons

Dear god, I see you move the mountains
Dear god, I see you moving trees
Sometimes it’s nothing to believe in
Sometimes it’s everything I see

Well I’ve been thinking about,
And I’ve been breaking it down without an answer
I know I’m thinking aloud but if your love’s
Still around why do we suffer?
Why do we suffer?

Dear god, I wish that I could touch you
How strange sometimes I feel I almost do
And then I’m back behind the glass again
Oh god what keeps you out it keeps me in

Well I’ve been thinking about,
And I’ve been breaking it down without an answer
I know I’m thinking aloud but if your love’s
Still around why do we suffer?
Why do we suffer?

goodbye to good friends

Boyz II Men was right when they jacked that Beatles song back in the 90s…it’s hard to say goodbye to yesterday. Yesterday, without even realizing it, I walked into an emotional trap. I was forced to say goodbye to some very good friends earlier than expected. There were several people involved, all of them real characters, but it was most difficult to say “see ya later” to a couple of guys who could always get me to laugh – even if I wasn’t having a very good day. That’s probably what made them such good friends, they knew how to cheer me up. Their names were John Dorian and Chris Turk, and for the last few years they’ve been my best TV friends.

Yesterday, as I sat on the couch to hang out with them, I assumed it was like any other week, but somewhere near the middle of that hour (44 minutes not counting commercials) I realized we were about to say goodbye, whether I liked it or not. And although I’ll miss Elliot, Carla, Ted, Todd, Bob, Perry, Janitor and the others – like Snoop Dogg intern/resident – it was Turk and J.D. who I was closest with, and they are the guys I will miss hanging out with the most on Thursday or Wednesday nights, depending on what year/channel I’m looking back on.  And sure, I realize I could hang out with them four times a night on several different channels (reruns), but that’s just not the same. It’s like looking at a photo album to revisit past memories compared to doing things that are photo-album worthy and making new memories. Remembering is never the same as experiencing something new.

So, although I’m not quite ready to say it…farewell friends, thanks for all the laughs (mostly in seasons 1-6).

The Soloist

My dad reads, a lot. When he was in Tanzania for three months last year he read something like 12 or 13 books. Put simply: the dude likes to read. One of the great things about knowing someone who reads this much is that they often tell you about the books they’ve recently read, and in the event that any of the books sound interesting, you can usually borrow them. Several months ago my dad told me about a book he had just read about a newspaper columnist in L.A. who met a homeless man who was a former Juliard music student, and thanks to their friendship and the power of the press (the man wrote about his new friend in the Los Angeles Times) the homeless man slowly got back on his feet…kinda — it’s a true story, so it doesn’t have a perfect/happy Hollywood ending (even though the events transpired in the shadows of the Hollywood hills).

The book is The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, and it’s on sale at Amazon right now for only $3.99. If title or the storyline sound familiar, that’s because it was recently made into a movie (starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.) and it comes out this Friday. Here’s the trailer:

The real stars of the story – Nathaniel Ayers (mentally ill musician who has lived on the street of L.A. for years) and Steve Lopez (columnist for the L.A. Times whose articles about Nathaniel — and the response they received — inspired him to write the book) – were on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago.

what’s happening now

Interesting new commercial from Sprint. I’m not sure if their statistics are accurate, but they’re certainly believable. This might sound crazy, but I feel like this ad is a collage of our culture right now. It’s obviously a very limited collection of snapshots, but it definitely says something about the life-trends of many people in our world today. I’m not sure if the progressive reality represented in the commercial should evoke more hope, fear or caution, but watch it for yourself and see what you think. Then google “miracle banana diet.” But don’t forget your phone in a cab!

f.o.t.s. // self-control

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Nice job. You made it to the last day!

It wasn’t that hard, was it?

I hope that living out the Fruit of the Spirit has been a good experience for all of you and that it will last more than just these past 9 days. I hope you have learned a lot about yourself by living out the virtues God planted inside of you when you were created. Allowing the spirit to water and nourish those virtues so that they bear fruit in your life. I hope you realize that even though living by the spirit won’t guarantee that life will be easier, it’s a lot better than living by your sinful nature. It brings glory to God, love to your neighbor, and joy to your heart.

Tuesday is the last day of the challenge, Day 9 – SELF-CONTROL

Self-control could mean different things to all of you. It might mean not playing video games so much, not spending so much time on the internet, eating less junk food, or maybe even cutting down on how much you swear. Whatever it is that you need to control in your life, Thursday is the day to start making that change.

I realize I can’t think of all the possible things you need to do more often or less often to make your lifestyle healthier, but let me just give you an example in my life – hopefully it will help you figure out what things you need to work on.

I stay up too late. It’s not a mystery to me why I’m still tired when my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s because I stayed up later than I should have. I know how much better I feel when I get enough sleep, and I also know how terrible I feel when I wake up after staying up late the night before. The amount of sleep I get affects me all day (sometimes more than just one day). I know that to be the best person (and best Christian) I can possibly be…I need my sleep; that’s one thing I can control in my life.

Another things that many of us probably need help with is reading our Bibles more often. But it takes discipline and self-control to choose to read our Bibles instead of doing other things, like watching TV or talking on the phone.

My challenge for you on the last day of this is to make a list of some things that you need to change in your life that will be good and healthy for you. This doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate some of the things in your life that you really like, but cutting back on some of these things is probably a good idea. Try making the changes you came up with for at least one day, or maybe even a few days, then see if you notice a difference in how you feel. I think you will, and you’ll probably even like yourself more because of your new self-control.

Again, thanks for taking this challenge and doing such an awesome job with it. Keep these emails to look back on if you think they’ll help you in the future. If you didn’t already notice, I posted each day’s message on my website – http://www.anewdoxology.com – so you can always find them there (or share them with others) if you’d like.

May the Lord bless and keep you. May his face shine upon you. May he be gracious to you and give you his peace. Amen.

(p.s. By the time many of you read this, I’ll be in Haiti to continue working on a documentary I’m hoping will be done this spring. Please pray for health and safety for me and the others I will be traveling with.)