Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Fun 2009

Here I am with my friends the Lion, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football player.

This is the Darth Vader pumpkin I carved for the boys this year. After several years of attempting to create unique pumpkin carvings, I'm finally starting to learn some tricks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steve Harvey's Tearful Admission

For those of us that are normal average people, it can be hard for us to relate to the rich and famous. It is easy for us to look upon celebrities as if they are not human or don't deal with the same kind of emotions that we deal with. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the famous deal with the same kinds of fears, insecurities, worries, sins and heartache that the rest of us do.

A recent video posted to YouTube demonstrates this reality. Steve Harvey, a well-known comedian and actor, was being interviewed on the Christian television station TBN by gospel singer, Donnie McClurkin. In a moment of vulnerability, Harvey shared how difficult it is as a celebrity to find someone to share about his life with who can truly understand what he's going through. He commented on the criticism that celebrities receive from those that don't know them and how it feels when people have misinterpreted what he's said.

He goes on to observe that even though he is a professing Christian, many of those that speak negatively about him are people that also consider themselves Christians. In an age where any of us can express our opinions for the world to see, Steve Harvey's tears remind us that the people we talk about are real people with real feelings. Although I think there is a place to express concern if there are Christians who are living lives inconsistent with their faith (see I Corinthians 5), we need to remember only God can judge the true motives and intentions of others. And we do need to question whether our criticisms are truly for the benefit of that person... or so we can feel better about ourselves.

For a glimpse into the heart of a celebrity, check on the video below. If the video player doesn't show up, please click here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Global Spread of Christianity

At the CCDA conference that I attended last week, I was riveted as Dr. Soong-Chan Rah shared about how the global spread of Christianity is affecting the world today. Dr. John Piper has cited some of these current realities in his article, "The Legacy of Antioch." Piper shares the following:
- At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 71 percent of professing Christians in the world lived in Europe. By the end of the twentieth century, that number had shrunk to 28 percent. 43 percent of the Christians now lived in Latin America and Africa.

- In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, which was about 10 percent of the population. By 2000, the number of Christians was 360 million, about half the population of the continent. This is probably the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred, anywhere.

- There are 17 million baptized members of the Anglican church in Nigeria, compared with 2.8 million in the United States.

- This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.

- The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States.

- Last Sunday . . . more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.’

- Kenya has more people in Christian churches on Sunday than Canada.

- More believers worship together in Nagaland than in Norway.

- More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada. In other words, the churches of the Global South are increasingly sending churches.

- Last Sunday more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.

- This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.
These facts demonstrate the significant role that people from South America, Africa and Asia are playing in the spread of the Christian faith. It gets me excited to think about the unique role that students from Bridges, Destino, Epic, Impact, Korea Campus Crusade and Nations can play in helping to fulfill the Great Commission.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Habla Espanol!

A hotel owner in New Mexico got himself into a heap of controversy after he required his Spanish-speaking employees to speak only English in his presence and to change their names to more Anglo sounding versions. Larry Whitten, a man with decades of experience in the hotel business, said he was worried that his Hispanic employees would talk negatively about him in Spanish while in his presence. Whitten explained that he asked the employees to change their names so it would be easier for guests to understand them.

The employees were understandably angry about these demands, particularly the request to change their names. After a number of the workers refused to Whitten's requests, he fired them. According to at least one of the fired employees felt the requests struck to the core of his identity:
"Martin Gutierrez, another fired employee, says he felt disrespected when he was told to use the unaccented Martin as his name. He says he told Whitten that Spanish was spoken in New Mexico before English. "He told me he didn't care what I thought because this was his business," Gutierrez says. "I don't have to change my name and language or heritage," he says. "I'm professional the way I am."
Is this simply a case of an owner making a simple requirement of his employees or is it something more? If Whitten had requested that his Spanish-speaking employees seek to speak English to English-speaking guests, then I don't think his request would have been unreasonable. But because he forbid them to speak their heart language, whether they were interacting with guests or not, demonstrates a certain xenophobia towards the employees.

Furthermore, the requirement to change their names demonstrates an insensitivity to the employees as individuals and humans. In a country that has no official language, it might have made sense for Whitten to take a different approach. What if after buying the hotel and learning of the rich Hispanic culture of the community of Taos, New Mexico, he met with his employees and asked them to help him learn Spanish so that he could interact with the Spanish speakers of that community? Wouldn't that make good business sense and likely would have endeared him to his employees?

With all trends indicating a growing number of Spanish speakers in the U.S., businesses in predominately Hispanic communities would do well to respect and value the culture of people coming from those communities. In a diverse country such as ours, pursuing unity within our diversity only makes sense.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Christian Persecution in Our Times

A couple of months ago I wrote about the case of Rifqa Bary, a young girl who converted from Islam to Christianity who fled to central Florida from her Ohio home because she said she feared for her life. I don't know whether Rifqa's concerns are genuine or whether she was simply trying to exert her independence.

But I do know that the reality of Christians being persecuted for their faith is very much an issue for today. According to most research, there are close to 500 Christians killed each day because of their faith. Unknown to most American Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world face life or death consequences for professing their faith in the Nazarene carpenter.

Our church is currently going through the book of Acts and this morning we looked at the story of St. Stephen, the first martyr in the early church. Here are some of my notes and thoughts on this morning's message from our pastor, Mike Tilley, on the 7th chapter of Acts:

-- Unlike the suicidal terrorist bombers of the modern day who kill others and themselves because of what they believe to be righteous reasons, Stephen calmly gave his life instead of recanting his faith. Following the example of Jesus, he left his life in the Father's hand.

-- As American Christians, we may not have our lives immediately threatened because of our faith but the threat to us is more subtle. Like the frog and the kettle, we can gradually fall away from our devotion to Christ as we allow the cares of this world to take the forefront of our lives.

-- Our narcissism may not be that we make our own truth but that we live for our own glory. We become much more concerned with what we want than what God wants.

-- Our consumerism can mean that Jesus becomes just one of many things that we seek to satisfy our needs. He is not our "all in all" but a side item that we can take or leave if things become too uncomfortable.

-- Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the famed German theologian who was martyred at the hand of the Nazis, said, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." Our allegiance to Christ may not mean that we have to give our physical lives for His sake, but it may. The question is whether we will follow Jesus with our whole lives or only follow Him when it is convenient?

November 8th is known as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The Voice of the Martyrs explains this day:
"Begun in 1996, IDOP is a day for intercessory prayer and citizen action on behalf of persecuted Christian communities worldwide.

“As our staff meets with persecuted Christians around the world, their first request is that we pray for them,” says Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for The Voice of the Martyrs - USA. “IDOP is a day when the collective Body of Christ joins together to answer their request.”

Some churches devote the entire day to persecuted Christians, while others hold a special prayer time during their regular services. It is estimated that more than 100,000 churches have taken part in IDOP activities since 1996, and churches in more than 130 countries have participated.

"Our persecuted family is not asking us to pray that the persecution will stop," says Nettleton. "They’re asking us to pray they will remain faithful to Christ in spite of the persecution and pressure they face."

The Voice of the Martyrs has developed a special IDOP Church Resource kit, including a four-minute video presentation, that encourages church congregations to pray and that provides ideas about practical ways to help persecuted Christians. Visit for more information on the resource kit, as well as downloadable resources to help your church pray effectively.

"This is an important day in the church calendar," says Nettleton. "But we don’t want it to be something a church crosses off their list and doesn’t think about for 12 more months. Our hope is that this one day of prayer leads to 364 more days of prayer and action on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters."
Jesus told us that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus's sake and for the gospel will save it. Perhaps you could ask your pastor how your church might recognize this day. Our prayers, awareness, giving and helping all make a difference in the lives of those who follow Jesus throughout the world.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thoughts on the CCDA Conference

I had the privilege this past week of attending the annual national conference for the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Cincinnati. CCDA, which was founded twenty years ago by John Perkins, is a coalition of hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians that are committed to showing Christ's love in some of the most neglected parts of our country and world.

With this being my first CCDA conference, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I'm certainly glad that I attended as I was able to hear from and meet a number of people that have similar perspectives on the Christian faith as I do. Oftentimes, I find myself in circles where the label that is placed upon me as a white, evangelical Christian doesn't really fit. My worldview fit right in this week.

At the CCDA conference, I was able to hear about issues that are important to me like concern for the poor, racial reconciliation and justice for the marginalized. It was refreshing to be at home in an environment where all political preferences were welcomed and the common theme was a commitment to Jesus and to live out the Word of God in our communities.

I wasn't able to stay for the whole conference, but I got a lot out of what I was able to experience. I was able to spend some time with old friends and make some new ones. Some highlights for me were:

- Dr. Soong-Chan Rah's perspective on the changing evangelicalism in the world and the role that people of color are playing in that change. He highlighted the need to address power structures if those of us from the white community want to truly make a lasting difference in urban communities. This quote stood out:
"If you consider yourselves an urban missionary yet have never been mentored by someone from the community you are seeking to reach, then you are not a missionary; you are a colonialist."
- Jim Wallis' challenge that although faith is a personal matter, it is never private.
- Dr. John Perkins spending time in the book of I John with us and compellingly demonstrating how our faith in Christ must influence how we interact with others.
- Shane Claiborne, when speaking to the topic of being single and in ministry, commented that the pursuit of Jesus needs to be our ultimate goal (not getting married). He jokingly observed that he doesn't look at Mother Teresa and think "if only she had found a good man."
- Having lunch with Mark Charles, a new friend, and Charles Gilmer. We discussed American history and the relationship between Native and African American communities.
- Dinner with Ted Gandy, who has given most of his adult life to serving urban communities and working among under served people. Several years ago Ted learned that he was of African American heritage. Hearing his story was fascinating.
It was also great to run into former Impact students that we've worked with and other Christian leaders from across the country. If you are looking to become better resourced in learning how to serve the poor or to minister in urban communities, I highly suggest becoming part of CCDA. To learn more, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Cure For a "Me-Centered" Gospel

Upon collecting the day's mail after getting home from the office this evening, I flipped through a new catalogue from a popular Christian bookstore chain. The theme of the issue was Christmas and an assortment of CD's, greeting cards, rocks with inspirational sayings, DVD's, candles, calendar and books were offered.

What caught my eye in an advertisement geared around a holiday recognizing the birth of our Savior and the spirit of giving were book titles such as "It's Your Time", "You Were Born For This" and "Extraordinary: The Life You Were Meant to Live."

I don't know if you're catching a theme there but it has very little to do with Jesus or the giving nature of the Christmas season. There is a disturbing trend in Christian circles of our focus not being on God or even on others...but on ourselves. You, You, You.

We tend to think the Christian life is all about us. We believe we're special and that Jesus died for us and, therefore, we should get everything our selfish hearts desire. And make no mistake about it, my heart is selfish just like yours is. The point of the gospel of Jesus is to take our eyes of ourselves and place them on the One who deserves our attention.

When we interpret the gospel as being primarily about what God can give us, we fail to grasp the utter significance of the abundant life that Jesus spoke of in John 10. This abundant life is not wrapped up in cars and homes and jewelry and money. It is a life of fullness in relationship with God and others.

The picture that Christmas paints demonstrates the heart of the gospel. Jesus, being God himself, left the friendly confines of heaven to be born as a baby and live among us sinful people. He put on flesh and dealt with everything we deal with but did not sin. He died a cruel and brutal death because of my sin and yours. And He offers us forgiveness of sin and life everlasting.

When we treat God as some kind of cosmic Sugar Daddy that exists to give us whatever we demand, our attention is in the wrong place. Our focus should be on Him -- our Creator, Sustainer and Life. When our focus moves off of us and onto God, we see Him in His holiness and see ourselves in our unrighteousness. Our attitude is no longer one of demanding what God should give us but becomes one of gratitude for all that He has already done.

If you would like to learn more about how to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, please click here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Support for Abortion Waning

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, support for legalized abortion in the United States has been losing ground. 44% of Americans now feel that abortion should be illegal all or at least most of the time. Less than half of Americans (47%) now believe that it should be legal in all or most cases.

This study demonstrates a shift in thinking when it comes to the issue of abortion. In recent years, the majority of Americans supported the legal status of abortion but these recent numbers indicate that the country is now more evenly divided on the matter.

In commenting on these findings the Pew Center doesn't identify any single issue that has affected the change:
"No single reason for the shift in opinions is apparent, but the pattern of changes suggests that the election of a pro-choice Democrat for president may be a contributing factor. Among Republicans, there has been a seven point decline in support for legal abortion and a corresponding six point increase in opposition to abortion. But the change is smaller among Democrats, whose support for legal abortion is down four points with no corresponding increase in pro-life opinion. Indeed, three groups of President Obama’s strongest supporters – African Americans, young people and those unaffiliated with a religion – have not changed their views on abortion at all. At the same time, fully half of conservative Republicans (52%) – the political group most opposed to abortion – say they worry Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights."
It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and what changes will occur if a majority of Americans become opposed to abortion rights. You can read more about the report here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Balloon Boy & An Out of Control Media

While out this earlier this afternoon with my son, I checked my Twitter account on my phone and saw several "tweets" about some kid in an air balloon. By the time I got home a couple hours later, the six-year-old boy was found safe and sound as it was learned he was never in the runaway balloon.

But this "news" story doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Although questions have arisen about whether this whole fiasco was planned by attention-seeking parents, this case just goes to show how the media reports events these days and how a fascinated public eats it up.

Oddly, Seth Godin just wrote earlier this morning about the emotional manner in which news gets reported in a post entitled "The Problem With Cable News Thinking." Godin's thoughts probably deal more with political commentary but I think the twelve traits he identifies apply here as being all too common in the media:
1. Focus on the urgent instead of the important.
2. Vivid emotions and the visuals that go with them as a selector for what's important.
3. Emphasis on noise over thoughtful analysis.
4. Unwillingness to reverse course and change one's mind.
5. Xenophobic and jingoistic reactions (fear of outsiders).
6. Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform.
7. Things become important merely because others have decided they are important.
8. Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel).
9. Ill-informed about history and this particular issue.
10. Confusing opinion with the truth.
11. Revising facts to fit a point of view.
12. Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time.
Even though there is a lot of good things that can be offered through modern media, there seems to be an insatiable desire for "breaking news" that might not really be news. I guess if we quit watching and reading, it would stop getting put out there. But, of course, that's a big "if."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Having Childlike Faith

By way of Justin Taylor, the following is an excerpt from a sermon given some time ago by John Piper:
"Your daddy is standing in a swimming pool out a little bit from the edge. You are, let’s say, three years old and standing on the edge of the pool. Daddy holds out his arms to you and says, “Jump, I’ll catch you. I promise.” Now, how do you make your daddy look good at that moment? Answer: trust him and jump. Have faith in him and jump. That makes him look strong and wise and loving. But if you won’t jump, if you shake your head and run away from the edge, you make your daddy look bad. It looks like you are saying, “he can’t catch me” or “he won’t catch me” or “it’s not a good idea to do what he tells me to do.” And all three of those make your dad look bad.

But you don’t want to make God look bad. So you trust him. Then you make him look good–which he really is. And that is what we mean when we say, “Faith glorifies God” or “Faith gives God glory.” It makes him look as good as he really is. So trusting God is really important.

And the harder it seems for him to fulfill his promise, the better he looks when you trust him. Suppose that you are at the deep end of a pool by the diving board. You are four years old and can’t swim, and your daddy is at the other end of the pool. Suddenly a big, mean dog crawls under the fence and shows his teeth and growls at you and starts coming toward you to bite you. You crawl up on the diving board and walk toward the end to get away from him. The dog puts his front paws up on the diving board. Just then, your daddy sees what’s happening and calls out, “Johnny, jump in the water. I’ll get you.”

Now, you have never jumped from one meter high and you can’t swim and your daddy is not underneath you and this water is way over your head. How do you make your daddy look good in that moment? You jump. And almost as soon as you hit the water, you feel his hands under your arms and he treads water holding you safely while someone chases the dog away. Then he takes you to the side of the pool.

We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do–especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God. That is why God planned for faith to be the way we are justified."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chuck Swindoll on Leadership

On the Out of Ur blog Drew Dyck lists some points that Chuck Swindoll, well-known author, Bible teacher and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, shared in a message last week at the Catalyst '09 conference. Dr. Swindoll's talk was entitled "Ten Things I Have Learned During Nearly 50 Years of Leadership" and here is a summary of what he shared:

1. Leadership is lonely.

2. Success is dangerous.

3. It's hardest to lead at home.

4. Being real is essential.

5. Obedience is painful.

6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.

7. Attitude is more important than actions.

8. Integrity eclipses image.

9. God's way is better than my way.

10. Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility.

It's always good to hear from those that have served faithfully and have a lifetime of experiences to share with those of us that are still young in our ministry careers. To read more of Drew Dyck's thoughts on Swindoll's points, click here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

American Idol Worship

For many of us when we think of the biblical concept of idol worship, we think of golden calves and false gods. But for those of us in 2009 America, idol worship is very much real and alive. In the midst of an examination of the Ten Commandments, well-known Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll was recently interviewed on ABC's Nightline concerning the topic of idols. He pointed out how our modern-day gods of sex, money, image may be just as destructive, if not more so, than those of antiquity.

Driscoll defines an idol as follows:
"An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life," he said. "[It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security. When the Bible uses the word 'idol', that's what it's getting at."
Simply put, an idol is anything which replaces God as the rightful center of our lives. We can look to idols such as movie stars, athletes, singers or politicians. Or our idols may be materialism, physical gratification, our work or even leisure. It could be anything where we say, "God, this is more important than you and I will give my time, thoughts, money and my heart to it in a way that not even you can compete."

Our hearts can easily stray and living within such a self-centered, consumerist culture such as ours does not help much. We are constantly bombarded with messages about what we deserve, what we owe ourselves and the luxuries that cannot be done without. If we are not careful, our affections wander and we end up investing our lives in selfish pursuits that will ultimately not matter when the final accounting of our lives takes place.

Pastor Driscoll's interview on Nightline can be viewed below. Please click here if the video player doesn't show up.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The One Who Knows Our Name

Back in the 1980's there was a hit television show called Cheers that told the story of rag tag bunch of misfits that found community at a bar in Boston. The bar was owned by a former baseball player and recovering alcoholic named Sam Malone. He helped to create an environment where an overweight accountant, a postal worker that still lived with his mom, a stressed out single mom and a dimwitted country boy could all find a sense of belonging and friendship. The popular theme song had the following chorus:
"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name."
It seems to be part of our nature as human beings that we want others to know our name. It is part of our identity and the fact that another person knows our name can communicate that we are known and accepted. It is why a recent encounter that I had left me feeling disturbed and unsettled.

I was part of a discussion with a small group of people where someone else was facilitating. The facilitator, who I'd met before but didn't know well, was genuinely engaging and did a good job with the material we were covering. But one thing bothered me. He didn't seem to know my name. But that wasn't really it. What troubled me was that he did know my name! It was right in front of him and was included in the exercise he was leading us in.

But even though he directly referred to the others in my group by name several times each, he didn't speak to me directly by name. To be fair, it wasn't as though he was rude. He included us all in the discussion. My voice was heard just like the others and my feedback was listened to. But where he spoke to the others by name (e.g. "Tom, what do you think about that? "Mike, would you tend to agree with that statement", etc.), he didn't refer to me in the same fashion.

I realized after this meeting how important it is to recognize people as individuals -- by name. It helps us to feel valued and important and part of the group. In this case, it probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if this individual hadn't exercised this principle with everyone else but me. He seemed to understand the importance of acknowledging others by name...he just didn't do it with me.

Being in Christian ministry, I have the opportunity to meet an awful lot of people. I try to make a concerted effort to remember people's name but, like others, I forget from time to time or immediately forget after asking for someone's name. I can get caught up thinking about the impression I'm making or what they're thinking of me or just being distracted by others that are around.

Fortunately for us, our heavenly Father knows us in a way that other people don't. Look at what Isaiah 43 says:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior"
The God of the universe knows our name and, not only that, but He'll be with us no matter what we may be going through. He knows our name in the good times and the bad times and in the valleys and on the mountains. But, ultimately, it is His name that truly matters. I really don't need to be about making my name known. If I make His name, Jesus, known then it doesn't matter if someone knows my name as long as they know His. I look forward to one day being in "a place where everybody knows HIS name."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Roman Polanski, Hollywood & Morality

The curious case of film director Roman Polanski has been drawing quite a bit of attention recently as a result of his arrest in Switzerland on charges stemming from something that happened over thirty years ago. In case you're not aware, Polanski, who is an Oscar winner and a highly regarded filmmaker in Hollywood circles, was arrested in 1977 for having sex with a thirteen year old girl after providing drugs and alcohol for her.

After entering into a plea agreement at the time, Polanski spent six weeks in jail for evaluation and was released. Upon learning that he might be sent to jail, he left the United States and has never returned. Polanski has avoided any country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S. and, therefore, has never been fully prosecuted for his crime.

His case has stirred up a lot of controversy as many in the Hollywood establishment have come to his defense and called for his release. But the general public doesn't view Polanski primarily as an Oscar winner. What most of us see is someone that raped a barely teenage girl and has escaped judgment. Paul Harris frames it well:
"The Polanski backlash has spread far and wide. He was never popular at all on the right wing of America's culture, but now middle America is firmly in favour of seeing him in a Californian courtroom. Talk show hosts, radio commentators and newspaper editorials from coast to coast have all insisted that the arrest was long overdue and that Polanski needs to be brought to the US.

"Hollywood people really don't see the world in the same way as average people... that is why there is a backlash," said Mike Levine, a Hollywood PR expert.

But it is perhaps no surprise that the gap between Hollywood and the rest of America has grown so large on this particular case. Because of his long and illustrious career, Polanski is a friend and colleague of nearly all the main players in the film world. They are his confidantes and his peers. His movies have made them stars and helped them to earn millions. They live in the same rarefied world of global fame. "Elite Hollywood culture is protecting one of its own," said Alexander Riley, a professor of sociology at Bucknell University.

It is also speaks to a certain type of Hollywood culture which appears to insist that its top stars are in some ways elevated above the law and should be treated differently to ordinary members of the public.

If Polanski was just an ordinary man instead of a world-famous film director, the bare facts of his case would be likely to elicit little sympathy – especially from the world famous. Hollywood stars seem to be arguing, in some ways, that Polanski's talent should allow him some sort of free pass for his past behaviour. "Hollywood... looks at the Polanski case and says, 'You have to make allowances for genius'," said Gallagher.

Hollywood's elite also functions as a kind of club and Polanski, seen by the elite as a great European auteur director, is a firm member. That requires a certain degree of success but also a great deal of ideological conformity. It is a cliche that Hollywood is uniformly liberal in its politics, but one with more than a dash of truth in it. It is certainly interesting to see the reaction to Polanski's case and compare it with the reaction to Mel Gibson, when he was caught mouthing drunken anti-Semitic abuse.

Gibson, a rare conservative in Hollywood, was brutally condemned by his fellow stars and sent into virtual career exile. Polanski, whose crime is far more serious, has seen a vast outpouring of sympathy. Being a member of the Hollywood club certainly seems to have its privileges.

"The difference between the reaction to Gibson and the reaction to Polanski has been just huge. Huge!" said celebrity interviewer Gayl Murphy. "That says a lot about what Hollywood thinks is important to them."
In some respects, Polanski is a sympathetic figure. A diminutive man who survived the Holocaust and had his second wife, actress Sharon Tate, killed by the Charles Manson gang in 1969, he has certainly gone through his fair share of suffering in life. But his suffering does not give him a free pass to perform criminal acts on young girls. Perhaps those in Hollywood will eventually see this.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hip-Hop as Religion?

Taken from Chanel Graham at
"Pioneering hip-hop artist KRS-One is releasing a new book this fall called The Gospel of Hip-Hop. The 600-page book is modeled after the Christian Bible and said to serve as a life-guide manual for 'Hiphoppas," the term KRS-One uses to describe members of hip-hop culture. Including a hodgepodge of philosophy on faith, peace, and self-reliance, KRS-One hopes to help Hiphoppas change their circumstances to live a life that encompasses what he's termed the H-LAW (Health, Love, Awareness, and Wealth).

This isn't the first time KRS-One has talked about hip-hop as a religion. Back in 2000, he spoke with Beliefnet about what he called the Temple of Hiphop, a group whose membership included Lauryn Hill, Kid Capri, and Busta Rhymes among others who declared hip-hop their life. KRS-One, whose real name is Lawrence Krishna Parker, described the Temple of Hiphop as a "hip-hop preservation society." He said, "We believe that not only is hip-hop divine, but the temple is divinely ordained, because we accept it as that."

The Gospel of Hip-Hop is a continuation of the Temple of Hiphop ideals, as well as KRS-One's 14-year study of the music subculture. The rapper claims, "In 100 years, this book will be a new religion on earth." Bold statement.

We're not so sure KRS-One has stumbled onto the next Nation of Islam or anything, but his language does strike us as sounding a bit cultish. It is interesting, though, to ponder the idea of hip-hop as more than music. It has already evolved into a culture that transcends race and class, but at what point does the music evolve into a religion? Should we be concerned about false prophets springing up from the world of hip-hop?

I don't know about you, but it sounds to us like KRS-One is ascribing to hip-hop the kind of faith and devotion that should only belong to our Father in heaven. Perhaps he's found a purpose and fulfillment in hip-hop that he's been unable to find anywhere else. I'm sure there's millions of young men and women in our cities, suburbs, and rural communities who may have a similar testimony. Still, KRS-One and each of us need to step back from the idols we've embraced in life and realize that anything that's righteous and true is a gift from above, not from Jay Z or Lil Wayne."

Thursday, October 01, 2009

LeBron James & "More Than a Game"

Lebron James is one of the few youth basketball phenoms that went onto live up to the hype. On the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, James went directly from his prep team in Akron, Ohio to superstardom with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA.

Although I've never met James, there are a lot of connections that have enabled me to follow his journey over the years. I lived just outside of Akron for several years and was a member of a church in west Akron, The House of the Lord, that James attended with friends periodically throughout his youth.

That is why I'm looking forward to an upcoming documentary film, More Than a Game, that will be opening in a few select cities this Friday. The film follows the story of the friendship between James and several friends that grew up together and went onto win a national high school basketball championship.

Their coach, Dru Joyce, was interviewed by Christianity Today regarding the movie. Joyce, a strong Christian who was also a member at The House of the Lord during my time there, reflects upon how he views his role as a basketball coach:
"As a Christian, I don't believe that you can separate your faith from anything you do. When I got the opportunity to do the travel team, I saw its purpose as using basketball to teach life skills. And as time moved on and I became a better coach, seven principles developed as the foundation for everything we did: humility, unity, discipline, thankfulness, servanthood, integrity, and passion. So now I hope to grow young men that exemplify those qualities and will carry them into life, whether it includes basketball or not.

Also, I've tried over time to emphasize the relationships. When it's all said and done, the relationships are all the players are going to take out of here. I want them to understand that basketball is a vehicle to help them get from Point A to Point B. It's not the be-all and end-all. They should use basketball and not let it use them."
I appreciate Dru's perspective on the influence that he has on the lives of these young men. Games will come and go but it is the lessons that are learned through athletics that last long after the buzzer sounds. As a coach myself, I hope that my players are much more concerned about the type of people they are becoming than what a scoreboard says.

You can view the trailer for the movie here.