Monday, December 19, 2011

The War on Christmas & Consumerism In the Name of Christ

Photo Credit: violscraper
Syke Jethani, an editor for Christianity Today, offers an intriguing perspective on what has become known as "The War on Christmas." In a recent post, Jethani writes of the historical view that American Christians have taken of the modern holiday of Christmas and how our materialistic culture has influenced our celebration of the birth of Christ.

He says:
"It amazes me that in less than a century Christians have gone from opposing over-consumption at Christmas to demanding it be done in Christ’s name alone. The explanation may be in the numbers. Two-thirds of the U.S. economy is based on consumer spending, and 50-75 percent of most retailers annual profits are generated during December. This means the weeks before Christmas are the high holy days of consumerism. If Christians engaged the Advent season as they did in generations past, by modeling moderation and self-denial or by ignoring the holiday altogether, it would likely destroy (what remains of) the economy. 
To ensure economic survival consumers are stirred into a buying frenzy every winter with the goal of making this year’s shopping season more prosperous than the previous. Santa Claus has been the mascot of this manipulation since the early 20th Century, but if more Consumer Christians have their way the season of shopping would be inaugurated by the appearance of Jesus Christ at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade instead."
As a Christian who can be influenced by the culture I live in as much as anyone else, I hope that I can remain true to my celebration of the birth of Jesus without being unduly sucked into the consumerism that so invades one of my faith's most precious holy-days. I'm not so concerned about whether a retailer that is more interested in my money than in the birth of Jesus wishes me a hearty "Merry Christmas" or not. I'm much more concerned about whether my heart rejoices in the birth of the Christ child more than in temporal presents under my tree.

To read Skye Jethani's complete post please click here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Christian Growth Is About More Than A "Personal Relationship With God"

Photo Credit: emdot
Richard Beck at Experimental Theology offers some challenging thoughts in a post he entitles "The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity." Beck argues that focusing on our personal relationship with God while neglecting how we treat other people is a trap for the modern Christian.

A highlight:
"The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories. 
Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth. 
I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point. Rather than pouring our efforts into two hours of worship, bible study and Christian fellowship on Sunday why don't we just take a moment and a few extra bucks to act like a decent human being when we go to lunch afterwards? Just think about it. What if the entire restaurant industry actually began to look forward to working Sunday lunch? If they said amongst themselves, "I love the church crowd. They are kind, patient and very generous. It's my favorite part of the week waiting on Christians." How might such a change affect the way the world sees us? Think about it. Just being a decent human being for one hour each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way. 
But it's not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn't considered to be "working on your relationship with God." Behavior at lunch isn't spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can't be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother."
Seeking to grow in our walk with God through personal Bible study, prayer, church attendance and worship are all good and necessary things. But if I don't become a more loving person towards others in that process, then my relationship with God might not be as strong as I think it is. The basic message of Christianity is quite simple, actually -- Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. The two really do go together.

To read Beck's complete post please click here.

(h/t to Matt Mikalatos for the link.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Hollywood Is Not The Place To Learn About Native Americans

Photo Credit: Paco Lyptic
Whenever I talk with others about doing cross-cultural ministry, one of the points that I emphasize time and time again is that building deep friendships with those from different cultural backgrounds than our own is the most effective way to learn about another culture.

As a missionary that has served in cross-cultural environments for most of my adult life, I view myself as a lifelong learner of people. In addition to building solid friendships with those from ethnic backgrounds different than my own, I am also intentional about pursuing resources that can help me learn from the experiences and the stories of members of the ethnic communities that I am learning about.

The types of resources that I often pursue are books, subscribing to blogs, digesting any newspaper or online articles that I can that speak to race and culture, watching films & documentaries and being exposed to music that is popular to specific ethnic communities. Even though many of these resources can be helpful, they can, at times, miss the mark. So is the case with the traditional portrayals of Native Americans in Hollywood movies.

Reel Injun, a riveting documentary that examines how First Nations peoples have been depicted throughout the history of Hollywood, sheds light on the failure of filmmakers to offer an accurate picture of those the movies commonly refer to as "Indians." Documentarian Neil Diamond (no, not the singer...this one, a member of the Cree tribe) interviews such notables as Clint Eastwood, Adam Beach and Russell Means in order to uncover the unfair stereotypes that have typically accompanied the over 4,000 Hollywood produced films that have attempted to tell the Native American story.  Most movies featuring a Native storyline have been written by non-Native people, often featuring white actors who wore makeup and outfits to appear as Indians. It might be funny if it wasn't so sad.

What is sad is that for many Americans, the primary source for information about Native Americans is Hollywood films. So when the bulk of these movies lean towards negative stereotypical portrayals and inaccurate historical re-enactments, most Americans simply do not have a fair view of First Nations peoples. It is why personal friendships are so important. If all I knew about Native Americans is what I saw in the movies, I would have no other option than to subscribe to cliched stereotypes and outdated depictions.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
One of the most telling stories that Reel Injun tells is of Iron Eyes Cody, an American actor that was featured in a number of films throughout the 20th Century. If you're of my generation or older, however, you'll most likely remember Cody as the Native American who sheds a single tear over the increase in littering during the "Keep America Beautiful" ad campaign that ran during the 1970's. I remember this iconic image years later even though I was just a young boy when these commercials aired.

But in recent years, it was discovered that Cody, who passed away in 1999, was not even Native American. Though he had claimed to be of Cherokee-Cree descent, Cody was actually of Italian heritage. Cody lived nearly his whole life pretending to be someone he was not. It does not mean that his efforts to help the causes of indigenous people were insincere or unappreciated. It just means that the image that he gave of himself was not truthful. Sadly, the picture we have been given of Native Americans by Hollywood has also not been truthful.

Unfortunately, this has often been the case not only with Native Americans, but also with those of other ethnic minorities communities when it comes to how these people groups have been represented by Hollywood.  Often relying on caricatures and majority culture perceptions, we simply can't trust most Hollywood films to give complete and fair representations of traditionally marginalized ethnic groups.

If you want to utilize film to learn about a particular ethnic group, please seek to watch movies that were made by and star actors that are actually from that community. But even better than that is to seek to build friendships with members of that group. I've found that it is fundamentally impossible to subscribe to sweeping generalizations about a group of people when I've actually gotten to know people from that community. When you've sat with people, spent time with their families in their homes and listened to their stories, you can't help but grow in your appreciation and love for them.

All people, no matter what their ethnicity, are made in the image of God and are, therefore, image bearers of God. We get a small glimpse into what God is like when we look into the soul of another human being and appreciate them as another image bearer of our Creator. This is a simple reminder of the words of Jesus that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

If you would like to view the documentary Reel Injun and you are a Netflix member, the movie is currently available for live streaming here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Prayer From St. Francis of Assisi

Photo Credit: dawnzy58
A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi:
"Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace: Where there is hatred, let us sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is discord, union; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. 
O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek To be consoled, as to console; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved, as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born To Eternal Life. Amen."
(h/t to Josh Bales for leading us in this prayer this morning at Lake Baldwin Church.)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Is It Harder For Asian Americans To Get Into College?

Photo Credit: UBC Library
According to a recent Associated Press article, an increasing number of Asian Americans feel that their ethnicity may be working against them when it comes to getting accepted into their college of choice.

Although many of us in the majority culture might think being an ethnic minority makes it easier for someone to get into college, that may not be the case as often as we think.

From the USA Today:
"For years, many Asian-Americans have been convinced that it's harder for them to gain admission to the nation's top colleges. Studies show that Asian-Americans meet these colleges' admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population, and that they often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission. Critics say these numbers, along with the fact that some top colleges with race-blind admissions have double the Asian percentage of Ivy League schools, prove the existence of discrimination. 
The way it works, the critics believe, is that Asian-Americans are evaluated not as individuals, but against the thousands of other ultra-achieving Asians who are stereotyped as boring academic robots. Now, an unknown number of students are responding to this concern by declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications. For those with only one Asian parent, whose names don't give away their heritage, that decision can be relatively easy. Harder are the questions that it raises: What's behind the admissions difficulties? What, exactly, is an Asian-American — and is being one a choice? 
The article continues...
Asian students have higher average SAT scores than any other group, including whites. A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it's 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100. Top schools that don't ask about race in admissions process have very high percentages of Asian students. 
The California Institute of Technology, a private school that chooses not to consider race, is about one-third Asian. (Thirteen percent of California residents have Asian heritage.) The University of California-Berkeley, which is forbidden by state law to consider race in admissions, is more than 40 percent Asian — up from about 20 percent before the law was passed."
The ramifications of our country's checkered history as it pertains to race continues to affect us deeply today. To assume that hard working and high achieving individuals will always be given a fair shot regardless of their ethnicity might be a little naive...even in 2011.

To read the complete article please click here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Why Biblical Submission Might Not Mean What You Think It Does

Photo Credit: Daniel Andre
There are many positive ways in which the Bible can be read. It can used to comfort, to encourage, to challenge, to direct, to instruct, to guide, to teach, to discipline and to train. Unfortunately, there are other ways that the Holy Scriptures has been twisted and distorted to demean others, to subjugate others and to hate others.

One of these areas in which the Bible has been misused is the topic of biblical submission. This subject relates specifically to how men and women are to relate to each other in marriage, church leadership and society at large. There are a variety of perspectives on this matter but, in general, there are two specific camps when it comes to the area of submission.

Complementarianism is the belief that God created men and women distinct from one another with differing, yet complementing, roles. For example, the man is the head of the household and the role of a pastor is reserved exclusively for men. Those that hold to this view will typically hold to more traditional roles between men and women when it comes to vocations and service in their local church.

Egalitarianism is the view that any roles both within the home and within the Church are not limited by one's gender. This would mean that a woman could be the final decision maker in a marriage relationship and that woman could hold any leadership role within the Church that she is gifted for. Egalitarians typically advocate women stepping into positions traditionally held by men if they feel they are called by God.

The proponents of both of these positions use the Scriptures to back up their views and both believe that their view is correct. My point in this post is not to argue for either position but to offer a different slant on what biblical submission truly means. Russell Moore explains in a recent post why he feels that even if one subscribes to a complementarian position in marriage it doesn't mean that women are to submit to all men everywhere.

Dr. Moore says this:
"Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman? 
Submitting to men in general renders it impossible to submit to one’s “own husband.” Submission to one’s husband means faithfulness to him, and to him alone, which means saying “no” to other suitors. 
Submission to a right authority always means a corresponding refusal to submit to a false authority. Eve’s submission to the Serpent’s word meant she refused to submit to God’s. On the other hand, Mary’s submission to God’s word about the child within her meant she refused to submit to Herod’s. God repeatedly charges his Bride, the people of Israel, with a refusal to submit to him because they have submitted to the advances of other lovers. The freedom of the gospel means, the apostle tells us, that we “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). 
Despite the promise of female empowerment in the present age, the sexual revolution has given us the reverse. Is it really an advance for women that the average high-school male has seen images of women sexually exploited and humiliated on the Internet? Is it really empowerment to have more and more women economically at the mercy of men who freely abandon them and their children, often with little legal recourse? Is this really a “pro-woman” culture when restaurant chains enable men to pay to ogle women in tight T-shirts while they gobble down chicken wings? How likely is it that a woman with the attractiveness of Henry Kissinger will obtain power or celebrity status in American culture? What about the girl in your community pressured to perform oral sex on a boyfriend, what is this but a patriarchy brutal enough for a Bronze Age warlord? 
In the church it is little better. Too many of our girls and young women are tyrannized by the expectation to look a certain way, to weigh a certain amount, in order to gain the attention of “guys."
Biblical submission, when properly understood, doesn't mean that men are rulers over women. Too many men treat women as second class citizens or "less than" in the eyes of God because they are of a different gender. A wife who graciously submits to her husband is to be loved by her husband just as Jesus loved His followers, even to the point of death. A man that seeks to abuse submission to his own advantage simply does not understand the gospel of Jesus. Pastors on ego trips that play the submission card whenever someone disagrees with them probably need to find a new line of work.

One passage that is often quoted in this discussion is Ephesians 5:22: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord." However, it is rare that the verse right before it is also included -- "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:22 specifically speaks to husbands and wives; Ephesians 5:21 speaks to all of us.

To read Russell Moore's complete post please click here.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What's Really Behind The Tebow Bashing?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall
I am not really a Florida Gators fan nor a Denver Broncos fan but I have been following the strange twists and turns of Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow's journey in the NFL. Tebow, who had arguably one of the most accomplished and recognized college football careers in my lifetime while winning the Heisman trophy and two national championships, was predicted by many football experts to be an utter failure in the NFL.

It was said that Tebow's style of play, his unorthodox throwing motion and the previous lack of success of many QB's coming out of a pro style offense in college would mean that Tebow had no chance of a productive NFL career.  The Broncos surprised most football observers by taking him with the 25th pick in the 2010 draft and some commentators scratched their heads in what they felt was a wasted pick by Denver.

Fast-forwarding late into the 2011 season, Tebow still has much to improve in his game (as most young quarterbacks do), but his team is consistently winning games and looking towards a potential spot in the playoffs. In a league where winning is supposedly all that matters, I've been surprised by the consistent negativity that has been directed towards Tebow.

Larry Taunton has written a splendid piece in the USA Today that, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head as it pertains to Tebow. Taunton says this about the Tebow detractors:
"Now 5-1 as a starter, Tebow's critics are indignant that the Gainesville upstart didn't pack his cleats and go home the moment they declared him inadequate. The simple fact is, they want him to fail. And now, after so much ink and vitriol predicting just that, they need him to fail. So what gives? Why does even Tebow's own coaching staff and management offer so little public support? 
Jake Plummer, the latest to take pot shots at the embattled Denver quarterback, might have been speaking for anti-Tebowites everywhere when he said in an interview on a Phoenix radio station that he would like Tebow more if he would "shut up" about his faith in Jesus Christ. And with that little comment, the cat, as they say, was out of the bag. Plummer said what the commentators wouldn't say. Their dislike for Tim Tebow is not, as they would have us believe, about his throwing motion or his completion percentage; it's all about his open professions of faith and his goody-two shoes image. 
When it comes right down to it, we don't want heroes who are truly good. We want them to fail the occasional drug test or start a bar fight from time to time. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Tebow, however, doesn't make us feel better about ourselves. People like him make us feel a little convicted about the things we say and do. So we find a reason to dislike them. Or, when Tebow says that glory goes to God and the credit for a victory goes to his teammates, coaches, and family, we are suspicious. An increasingly jaded culture, we don't believe that anyone can say such things and really mean them."
As a fellow evangelical, I can't help but feel that at least some of the animosity that is directed towards Tim Tebow has to do with the openness with which he talks about his faith. It seems to me that Taunton is onto something here. The amount of criticism that Tebow has received is simply not commensurate with the winning ways of his team. There has to be something else beyond just football to cause so many "experts" to be so fixated on Tebow and I think Taunton has it pegged.

When it comes down to it, Tim Tebow is a winner, is well-liked by his teammates and is someone, from all appearances, that lives a life that is consistent with the beliefs he professes. From my perspective, I wish more professional athletes were like Tim Tebow and I find myself rooting him on as the season progresses and frustrated analysts seek to find new ways to justify their negative views towards him. Tim Tebow is far from perfect but I hope he finds years of success in the NFL.

To read Larry Taunton's complete article please click here.