Monday, August 30, 2010

Glenn Beck, Al Sharpton & A Divided America

Photo Caption: Kevin Burkett
This past weekend marked the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" but the nation's attention was drawn to two very different rallies with two very different objectives.  The "Restoring Honor" rally, led by conservative talk show host, Glenn Beck, took place on the National Mall while the "Reclaim the Dream" rally, held at a high school and moved to the future site of the MLK memorial, was initiated by Rev. Al Sharpton.

Without going into the details of what was covered at each of the rallies, I do think that their existence should give us pause as we consider the implications for our nation.  While Beck's rally was primarily attended by white people, Sharpton's gathering was mostly made up of blacks.  Both rallies had a high proportion of individuals that would identify themselves as Christians in attendance.

How is it that people who claim to know and serve the same God can view the world so differently?  If we do, in fact, read from the same Bible, how can we have such radically different perspectives on the role of government in our lives, how to treat the rich and poor and the place of God in the public square?

There is no doubt that there is a growing division among Christians that is reflected in our political preferences.  If we were to place the average politically conservative, white Christian in a room with the average politically liberal, black Christian, there would likely be few things that they would agree on if the conversation turned towards politics.

As one that lives in both these worlds, I am honestly concerned for the witness of the Christian church in America.  But I am not necessarily concerned that we do not see eye-to-eye politically.  Jesus never said we had to agree on health care reform or on government spending.  What I am concerned about is the animosity that exists among members of God's family and the venom that can be displayed toward one another over matters that, at times, aren't even mentioned in the Scriptures.

In a famous 1858 speech, soon-to-be president Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."  Even though President Lincoln was referencing the divide that had been caused by slavery, it can certainly be applied to our modern times.  But more than that, it wasn't Lincoln who came up with this phrase.  It was Jesus himself who said these words in Matthew 12:25 in response to the religious leaders of his day who insisted that his works were from Satan.

In addition, shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to God the Father for those of us that would believe in and follow Him.  This was his prayer:
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."
In accordance with Jesus's desire for his followers to be unified, I'd like to offer some practical suggestions on how we can grow towards unity:

1.  Spend time together. Martin Luther King said,
"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated."
Instead of listening to the media tell you how to feel about those that don't think like you, intentionally spend some time with those that hold different political beliefs or have a different cultural background.  Visit a different church and invite somebody new over for dinner. Spending time with someone's family over a meal (and they with yours) will go a long way.

2.  Seek to understand where they're coming from. So much of our political discussions these days are one-way shouting matches.  After learning that someone views politics differently than you, simply ask them, "That's an interesting perspective.  Why do you feel that way?  How did you come to hold that view?"  If you're a member of the Tea Party, it should concern you that some African Americans view that party as racist.  If you're a supporter of President Obama, it's important to understand that most disagreement with his policies is not because of his race.  In hearing another person's perspective, don't try to argue their points or try to prove where they're wrong.  You'll be amazed at how they might ask your opinion if you listen to them first.

3.  Look to find common ground.  Refuse to apply labels to one another.  It is all-too-easy to assume we know everything about someone because of their ethnicity or political affiliation.  Don't put people in a box just because you disagree with them over a single issue.  There are few things that are disappointing as being judged as something that you're not.  Look for that which you can agree on and build trust with one another.  Try to find good points that person makes and agree with them where you can.

4.  After building trust, respectfully disagree.  Even if you're able to form a friendship with someone, the issues that you disagree about aren't likely to go away.  To be friends with someone doesn't mean that you have to compromise your core convictions.  But if you've gotten to know them, you've listened well and you've sought to find common ground, the likelihood of having a healthy, productive conversation in which you disagree with one another without being disagreeable increases exponentially.  Political disagreements these days can so quickly devolve into arguments about petty, non-essential things.  Don't be like that.  

For those of us that are followers of Christ, we simply cannot allow our culture or our political affiliations to supersede our commitment to Jesus and his people.  We can be passionate about our views but we don't have to express them in a way that brings shame to Christ and distorts his purposes.  God's agenda is much bigger than any party platform and his plan is broader than what happens in our little country.  Yes, we can be bold in our convictions yet Christ-like in our humility.  And maybe, just maybe, if we begin to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with more civility then maybe others might be attracted to the God we proclaim.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Will the Nation's Growing Diversity Affect College Students in a Decade?

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks
As part of a leadership team that gives oversight to the direction of the U.S. Campus Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, I was involved in some meetings this past week in which we did some long-term strategic planning for the future of our ministry.

In order to meet the spiritual needs of an ever changing student culture, we cannot simply seek to respond to current realities. We have to be able to anticipate what will be coming down the road and pay attention to societal indicators of what students will be like in the next five or ten years.

One of the areas that I give particular attention to is the changing demographics in the United States and how that affects the life of college students and ministry to these students.  Within another decade, for most parts of the country, if a campus-based ministry is only effective in reaching those of European ancestry then that ministry will soon become obsolete.

We already know that close to four out of ten of the nation's college students are not white, but we have to look no further than the demographic makeup of the country's kindergarten students to see how rapidly ethnic minorities, particularly Hispanics and, to a lesser extent, Asian Americans, are increasing in number. 

USA Today covers this intriguing trend:
"The kindergarten class of 2010-11 is less white, less black, more Asian and much more Hispanic than in 2000, reflecting the nation's rapid racial and ethnic transformation.

The profile of the 4 million children starting kindergarten reveals the startling changes the USA has undergone the past decade and offers a glimpse of its future. In this year's class, for example, about one out of four 5-year-olds will be Hispanic. Most of today's kindergartners will graduate from high school in 2023.

More Hispanic children are likely in the next generation because the number of Hispanic girls entering childbearing years is up more than 30% this decade, says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. "It's only the beginning."

A USA TODAY analysis of the most recent government surveys shows:

• About 25% of 5-year-olds are Hispanic, a big jump from 19% in 2000. Hispanics of that age outnumber blacks almost 2 to 1.

• The percentage of white 5-year-olds fell from 59% in 2000 to about 53% today and the share of blacks from 15% to 13%.

"This is not just a big-city phenomenon," Johnson says. "The percentage of minority children is growing faster in the suburbs and in rural areas."
For those involved in education and in outreach to students, a growing appreciation, knowledge and experience with cultures other than one's own will be needed. For example, when Campus Crusade was founded in 1951 at UCLA, the campus had approximately 13,000 students and 98% were white. Today, there are 27,000 undergrads at UCLA and less than 1/3 are white. If estimates prove true, no one ethnic group within the U.S. will be in the majority after the next dozen years. If we want to be effective in reaching these students in the future, we need to make the necessary changes now. If we wait until then, it will be too late.

You can read the complete USA Today article here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gaining Hinds' Feet on High Places

Photo Credit: Noel Zia Lee
A couple of weeks ago my good friend, Charles Gilmer, led our Impact leadership team in a brief devotional from the Old Testament book of Habakuk.  We looked at Chapter 3 and focused especially on verse 19:
"The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places."
You may not be familiar with the actual scriptural reference but you may recognize the title from Hannah Hurnard's 1955 book, Hinds' Feet on High Places.  I was first introduced to Hurnard's classic through the Christian rock group, Jars of Clay, who based the title of their sophomore album, Much Afraid, on the main character from the book.

Even though I've owned a copy of Hinds' Feet for a number of years, I had never read it until last week.  The time my team spent examining the Habakuk passage motivated me enough to read the book on a recent flight and it ministered to me deeply.

Hinds' Feet on High Places is a fictional tale which describes the Christian life in allegory and tells the story of Much-Afraid, a lame and disfigured woman who desires to travel to the high places with the Chief Shepherd (who she tends sheep for), but lives in bondage to fear.  She lives in the Valley of Humiliation, along with her Fearing Relatives and dreads her arranged marriage to her cousin, Craven Fear.

Eventually, she expresses her wishes to the Shepherd to be given hinds' feet and travel to the high places with him.  He agrees to take her to the top of the mountain but he first chooses two traveling companions for her -- Suffering and Sorrow -- who will be by her side each step of the way.

On her journey to the high places, a number of her Fearing cousins -- like Pride and Self-Pity and Bitterness -- try to stop her from reaching the high places.  In addition to obstacles caused by her family, her travels to the high places take her along a difficult route as she has to spend time in a desert (where she discovers a flower called "Acceptance with Joy"), along the Sea of Loneliness, in the Forest of Danger and Tribulation, and mired in the Valley of Loss.

Though frightened much of the way, Much-Afraid chooses to believe the promises of the Shepherd and trust that the way he has chosen for her will lead to the high places.  At each step of completion along the way, she collects a stone of remembrance.  And along with each portion of the journey completed, she finds herself getting stronger and stronger.  After some time, she comes to an altar where she must lay her life down so that human love is removed from her heart and the Shepherd's love is allowed to blossom. 

As a result of her altar experience, she finds that the Shepherd has healed her and given her hinds' feet.  Even though she is now free to enjoy being in the Shepherd's presence and living in the high places away from her dreadful family, the Shepherd's love, which has now taken root in her heart, causes her to view her family differently.  She begins to understand the sadness in which they live and desires to travel down to the valley so that maybe she might point them to the Shepherd that has so changed her.

Much-Afraid learns that her traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering, were needed for her to get to the high places.  They helped her build her strength and deal with the attacks of those seeking to do her harm.  In reaching the high places, she has learned to accept her trials with joy and to not hold bitterness towards her family.  Although she can also climb back to the high places at any time since she now has hinds' feet, she chooses to live in the valley with her family to show them a different way of life.

The Shepherd's love has so gripped her heart that she can't help but love those that were once like her.  Even more, the Shepherd gives Much-Afraid a new name and calls her "Grace and Glory" since "the old things have gone and the new has come." She, who was once dominated by fear, is now motivated by grace and the glory of the Shepherd. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What is True of This Year's College Freshmen?

Photo Credit: Earlham College
Each year around this time Beloit College releases what they call the Mindset List -- a list of important facts and events which influence the worldview and perspective that this year's college freshmen class brings with them.

This year's list, which is made up for the graduating class of 2014, represents those students who were born in 1992. You can read the complete list here but here are some entries that I found particularly interesting:
* For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

* Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

* Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

* Al Gore has always been animated.

* "Caramel macchiato" and "venti half-caf vanilla latte" have always been street corner lingo.

* With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

* Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren't afraid of immigration...unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.

* Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

* Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.

* Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

* Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

* They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

* Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.

* Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.

* Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

* Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

* They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

* Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

* "Viewer Discretion" has always been an available warning on TV shows.

* The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.

* Czechoslovakia has never existed.

* "Assisted Living" has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always offered an alternative to the hospital.

* Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

* Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

* Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

* Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

* There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

* American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

* Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

* The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.
*They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.

* Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

* Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

* Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.

* Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine.

* Their parents’ favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.

* They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

* Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

* They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

* It seems the Post Office has always been going broke.

* The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.

* The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

* They've always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi (SYFY) Channel.

* Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.
(h/t to Scot McKnight)

Friday, August 20, 2010

What is Love?

Photo Credit: Shanissinha_
I love my wife. I love Snickers candy bars. I love Michigan football. I love God. I love the smell of the air after a rain shower.

This simple word -- love -- is used in so many ways within the English language yet few uses adequately describe its true meaning. Unlike some other languages, we don't have multiple words to describe love. For example, when my daughter claims she loves Justin Bieber, I sincerely hope that it does not mean the same thing as when she says she loves me.

Love is more than a feeling and it's more than a preference for someone or something. We may love food or a certain hobby, but not in the same way we love our family or closest friends. At its deepest level, love is a state of being. It speaks to who we are at our core and represents the character that is within us.

In my opinion, the greatest explanation of love is contained in the book of First Corinthians, chapter 13 in the Bible. Often recited at Christian weddings, this passage gives a glimpse into the kind of love that God has for us. The Apostle Paul challenges followers of Christ that all we do should be motivated by the selfless, sacrificial and unconditional love modeled by Jesus himself:
"If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.
If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance...

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love."

(Taken from the New Living Translation)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dr. Laura & the Use of a Loaded Word

A decision by Dr. Laura Schlessinger to use the "n-word" multiple times on a call from an African American listener has landed the radio talk show host in hot water and has reignited another national conversation on one of the most controversial words known to the English language.

Schlessinger, who has over nine million listeners each week, has apologized for her use of the epithet but that hasn't stopped the likes of Al Sharpton and other black leaders calling for boycotts of her show and for advertisers to pull their funding.

I don't know how the situation with Dr. Laura will play out but I do think her gaffe gives us the opportunity to examine the use of the n-word and its effects on those who use it and those that hear it.  As a white man that spends a significant amount of time around African Americans that frequently provides cross-cultural training for other white people, I am well-acquainted with the use of this particular word and its nuances when used among African Americans, as well as how it is typically used when directed towards black people by those of us of other races.

Unfortunately, there is not a cut and dried answer to how to handle the use of this loaded word.  The thinking, like Dr. Laura's, that because African Americans use the word it should be open to use by anyone is both naive and overly simplistic.  The reasons why we use it, the history behind its evolution and the place it plays in modern society all play a role in examining its effect in today's world.

A great resource in understanding the n-word is Harvard professor Randall Kennedy's intriguing book, N****r: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.  Dr. Kennedy adequately provides a proper historical context, examples of legal cases in which the n-word played a prominent role and how the "mainstreaming" of its use by black comedians and hip-hop artists has created confusion among white people.

On one hand, I sympathize with other whites that don't understand why it appears to be perfectly acceptable among African Americans in any context but it is off-limits to anyone else.  For young white kids who grow up listening to hip-hop (like I did), there is a high likelihood of the n-word being frequently heard. A white person could be innocently singing along to a favorite song on their i Pod and end up getting their butt kicked as a result.

Some blacks argue that their use of it in familial terms within their own community strips it of its negative power and alleviates it of its historical, racist baggage.  Also, a common defense is that the word used by African Americans is n***a and not n***er and, therefore, is acceptable.  But we have to look no further than the recent incident with Dr. Laura, as well as other examples, to see that this word, in either form, has not lost its power and is still an extremely loaded term.

On the other hand, I have personally seen how it can be used differently among African Americans.  Because of the nature of my ministry, I am often in environments where I am literally the only white guy in the room.  In some of those situations, I am privileged to experience a high level of trust and I hear conversations that most whites are not privy to.  So, yes, I occasionally hear the n-word used by African Americans towards other African Americans and it seems to be coming from a different place than how it is often used by non-blacks.

In the end, I really don't have a concrete answer to what we should do about it. There are plenty of words that are acceptable or non-acceptable based on the context of how they are used.  For example, how I use "Jesus Christ" is much different than how those two words are frequently used in television and in movies.  I use it as the name for my Lord and Savior; many others use it as a curse word.  Both uses can bring tears to my eyes...but for completely different reasons.

In the case of the n-word, because of its baggage and the negative energy that surrounds it, I wish it was no longer part of our vocabulary. But I know that is not happening anytime soon.  Because I am aware of its history and how it can be received when used by white people, the n-word is never uttered by my lips. Not in my humor.  Not in quoting others.  Not in public.  Not in private.  Not for any reason at all. No good is going to come of it.

My recommendation if you are white is that you take up the same practice as myself. You may assert you have a "right" to use it if others are allowed to. I say give up that "right." There are plenty of things I could do and say but I choose not to because it can bring hurt and pain to others. This word is one such example.  Right or wrong, it is simply not received the same way when we use it.  So I say let's not use it.  Ever.

If you are an African American, I do not feel it is my place to tell you what to do about it. But if you do choose to use this word as part of your vocabulary, I would offer a word of caution that you do a self-examination as to who you use it with and the places and contexts that you use it. There are certain things we do with our family and closest friends that we don't do out in public around strangers. I would contend that use of the n-word would be one of those things.

It is because of ignorance and hatred that this word came into being with the meaning that it now has.  My hope is that further ignorance does not allow the current controversy with Dr. Laura to not allow for a healthy and intelligent dialogue on race.  There needs to be further discussions behind the "whys" of the charged nature of the n-word.  Once we sincerely hear from one another on how things got to where they are now, perhaps we can then attempt to work together on what to do now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

John Ortberg on Spiritual Formation

Photo Credit: Garrett Crawford
From John Ortberg:
"When I started working at Willow Creek some years ago a staff member I will call Pastor X (not his real name. His real name was pastor Y) thought churches had to choose between evangelistic effectiveness and spiritual depth.

In a question that used to come up periodically from outsiders when I worked there, somebody asked me recently if I thought Willow was a place that sacrificed spiritual depth in order to reach seekers.

The quick answer is no. Actually, that would be the slow answer, too.

I thought the response to the Reveal study was very interesting. I think the core finding was that, at a certain point, increased activity in church programs does not predict increased spiritual maturity. A number of folks who tend to be critical of Willow interpreted that as a failure of Willow Creek, or Willow-style churches, or seeker-oriented ministries.

That’s a total mis-read of the data. EVERY church faces that problem. Even if a church offers nothing but Bible studies 24/7 in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic taught personally by N.T. Wright, they will still face this problem. Willow was simply naming the big kahuna challenge we all grapple with. To be transformed; to have Christ formed in you, is quite different from being church-ier, or more traditional, or better informed. Of course, churches vary enormously in our effectiveness at it. But it’s not about contemporary versus traditional versus emerging."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Are Michigan's Winged Helmets Made?

Photo Credit: *ejk*
With just over three weeks until the start of the college football season for the 2010 Michigan Wolverines, one could say that I am looking forward to this season with a high degree of anticipation.

Having endured losing records the past two seasons, I am hoping for a return to winning ways this year.  I would be extremely pleased with eight wins and a return to a good bowl game and a win over Ohio State would be the icing on the cake.

Michigan's success is good for the Big Ten, good for the rest of college football and good for my sanity on Saturdays in the fall.  Plus, the it is fun to learn about how the Wolverines unique traditions are passed down from era to era.  Not only does Michigan possess the most wins in the history of college football and once again has the biggest college stadium, but it arguably has one of the most recognized and cherished uniform elements -- Michigan's winged helmet.

But just how does Michigan's unique design get made?  Check out this video from mgovideo below as long-time Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk explains the process.  (Click here if video player does not show up.)

(h/t to for the link)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Have You Heard About Global Short Film Network?

Photo Credit: Andrei Z
I remember taking a seminary class several years ago in which we examined the various worldviews held by adherents of the world's major religions and philosophies.  The professor, Alan Scholes, frequently used a wide variety of movie clips to demonstrate these perspectives on life and the world.

In order to prove the significance that film plays within our culture, he asked a simple question.  He queried the class on how many of us had seen the television show 24, the most popular show on T.V. at the time.  Approximately a quarter of the class indicated that they had seen at least one episode of the Kiefer Sutherland drama.

He then asked how many of us had seen the movie Titanic, the highest grossing movie of all-time.  Even though Titanic had been released a handful of years before, all but one of us in the class had seen it.  This was a small demonstration of the role that cinema plays in our society.

Recognizing the power of film to tell stories, Campus Crusade for Christ has developed a ministry called the Global Short Film Network. Global Short Film Network, or GSFN, produces short-films that deal with everyday topics that can easily lead into spiritual conversations about things like life, death, forgiveness, love and redemption.

The films, now being used in over 70 countries around the world, are well-done and easy to access at the GSFN website located here. If you have a friend that you'd like to talk about the deeper issues of life with but have found it difficult to bring up spiritual matters, perhaps a movie from GSFN might be the springboard you need.

To learn more about how to utilize Global Short Film Network, check out the video below. 

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Diversity in U.S. Continues to Grow

(Photo by kate.gardiner)
From Haya El Nasser in USA Today:
"Record levels of births among minorities in the past decade are moving the USA a step closer to a demographic milestone in which no group commands a majority, new Census estimates show.

Minorities accounted for almost 49% of U.S. births in the year ending July 1, 2009, a record high, according to data released Thursday. They make up more than half the population in 317 counties — about 1 in 10 — four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas) and the District of Columbia.

The USA TODAY Diversity Index shows increases in every state since 2000. The index was created to measure how racially and ethnically diverse the population is. It uses the percentage of each race counted by the Census Bureau — white, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian — and Hispanic ethnicity to calculate the chance that any two people are from different groups. The scale ranges from 0 (no diversity) to 100.

The 2009 national index is 52, up from 47 in 2000. That means that the chance of two randomly selected people being different is slightly more than half. In 1980, the index was 34, a 1-in-3 chance.

The level of diversity varies widely from region to region — from as high as 79 in Hawaii and 68 in California to as low as 10 in Maine and Vermont and 13 in West Virginia.

Much of the rapid growth in diversity is driven by an influx of young Hispanic immigrants whose birthrates are higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, creating a race and ethnic chasm and a widening age gap. "There are more than 500 counties which have a majority of minority children," says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. "The population is changing to minority from the bottom up."

Nationwide, 48.3% of kids under age 5 are minorities, while 19.9% of people 65 and older are."
To read the complete article, click here.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Anne Rice Says No to Christianity...But Yes to Jesus?

Well-known author Anne Rice, who has penned such popular titles as Interview With the Vampire, has recently renounced the Christianity that she re-embraced a dozen years ago.  Rice, who had abandoned the Catholic faith of her upbringing upon reaching adulthood, returned to that faith and publicly identified herself as a Christian in the late 90's.

But in a well-publicized series of posts on her Facebook page late last week, Rice said that she is longer a Christian.  Here is some of what she had to say:
"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else...

In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."
What is interesting to note here is like many of my generation, Ms. Rice seems to have more of a problem with organized religion than with Jesus himself.  While disassociating herself from the Catholic Church, she doesn't say she's done with Christ.  On the contrary, she claims that her "faith in Christ is central to [her] life."  But as far as the Church goes, it's over.

I wonder, perhaps, if she were to encounter a group of Christians that were more pro-Jesus than anti-other things, if that would change anything for her.  It's disappointing that her encounters with the Church have left her wanting and ready to give up on Christians.  I hope that at some point she would be able to meet some Christians that were not focused on organized religion but were sincere in their desire to live in relationship with Jesus.

Is it possible for a person to be in relationship with Christ apart from being involved in a local church or belonging to a particular denomination? Yes. Is that person going to grow in a way that causes them to be all that God wants them to be when not involved in Christian community? I doubt it. Even so, because Anne Rice has quit the Catholic Church it does not mean she's quit on Jesus. But I do hope that she finds a Christ-honoring community of believers that is different than her limited experiences of the past.

I, too, grow frustrated with how some so-called followers of Christ represent him to others. I believe that we can give the world a picture of Jesus that is not accurate and it causes some to ignore Christ because of how we as Christians behave. But in the end, I don't think God is going to excuse our failure to respond to him because some who identified themselves as Christians lived inconsistent lives.

If we see those who identify with Christ not representing him well, it is for us who care about that sort of thing to give a different picture. When others are hateful, we should love. When they are greedy, we should give. When they are prideful, we should be humble. When they demand their rights, we should give up ours.  As soon as we start living as Jesus lived, then I'm guessing that there will less people wanting to quit the Church and more that will be drawn to it.