Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jesus Isn't Against Religion

There's a new video that's spreading around the Internet like wildfire on a hot summer day during a drought in the Plains. The video was posted on January 10, 2012 and as of today, January 15, 2012, it already has 11,000,000 views on Youtube. The creator/author of the poem is a young man named Jefferson Bethke. You can watch the video below.

There are a lot of good things that the author says in this poem. However, there are some things that just aren't true that could lead some astray. The intent and motive of Bethke is pure. That's not questionable. However, there are issues in the poem that need and should be addressed, not because, as Kevin DeYoung points out, "this video will launch a worldwide revolution. I want to spend some time on this because Bethke perfectly captures the mood, and in my mind the confusion, of a lot of earnest, young Christians."

DeYoung has already parsed this poem far more clearly than I could. You can read his entire assessment here. But here are a few key points:

"More important is Bethke’s opening line: “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That’s the whole point of the poem. The argument—and most poems are arguing for something—rests on the sharp distinction between religion on one side and Jesus on the other. Whether this argument is fair depends on your definition of religion. Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it.

"But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want. “Jesus hates religion” communicates something that “Jesus hates self-righteousness” doesn’t. To say that Jesus hates pride and hypocrisy is old news. To say he hates religion—now, that has a kick to it. People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion.

"The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion. This was the central point behind the book Ted Kluck and I wrote a few years ago....

"...Christians need to stop perpetuating the myth that we’ve basically been huge failures in the world. That may win us an audience with non-Christians, but it’s not true. We are sinners like everyone else, so our record is mixed. We’ve been stupid and selfish over the years. But we’ve also been the salt of the earth. The evangelical awakening in England in the eighteenth century is widely credited for preventing the sort of bloodbath that swept over France in the “enlightened” French Revolution. Christians (and conservatives in general) give more to charitable causes than their secular counterparts. Christians run countless shelters, pregnancy centers, rescue missions, and food pantries. Christians operate orphanages, staff clinics, dig wells, raise crops, teach children, and fight AIDS around the globe. While we can always do more and may be blind to the needs around us at times, there is no group of people on the planet that do more for the poor than Christians. If you know of a church with a dozen escalators and no money and no heart for the hurting, then blast that church. But we have to stop the self-flagellation and the slander that says Christians do nothing for the poor.

"Thanks for reminding us about Jesus. But try to be more careful when talking about religion. After all, there is one religion whose aim is to worship, serve, know, proclaim, believe, obey, and organize around this Jesus. And without all those verbs, there’s not much Jesus left."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Joy of Books

Here's a great little stop motion video with some dancing books.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


When I turned thirteen, I joined a youth fraternity that was aimed at young men. The organization does a tremendous amount of good work in the communities where a chapter is located. The people who belonged as young men have gone on to be some of the most respected men of their communities. Some have even obtained national and international status. I was told when I was being recruited for the group that once I was in, my membership alone would be enough to get me into places that other people couldn’t go. Bright a boy as I was, I had no idea what that meant. I decided to join because most of my friends had abandoned our local Scout troop (which I was a part, too) and joined. I also wanted to know what a “fraternity” would be like. In my mind, I pictured a fraternity being a highly secretive organization where everyone wore crazy costumes and where, as part of my initiation, I would have to ride a goat or drink lamb’s blood. Reality was nothing like my exciting visualizations. For initiation, I had to memorize a few lines and repeatedly say “I will” after a series of very serious questions. In all honesty, it was rather boring. I left the group a few weeks later and stuck with the Boy Scouts where I eventually earned the rank of Eagle.

Gina Welch did something similar. However, she wasn’t curious about a young men’s fraternity. She was curious about a segment of a particular religion: evangelical Christians. As a young woman from California who came from a Jewish background, but was an atheist, she had been hearing a lot about “evangelical Christians” in the news. According to the types of media she paid attention to, these people were the reason her candidate had lost the past two Presidential elections to a rich cowboy from Texas. She wondered who these people were, what made them tick, and why did it seem there was such a divide from her own life and theirs. To better understand “Evangelicals” she went undercover at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church started and ran by Jerry Falwell. In order to get a better perspective on things, Welch pretended to be someone who was seeking answers. She joined a Bible study. Eventually she faked a conversion and was baptized. She attended worship services faithfully each week, joined a young adult singles group, and eventually went on a witnessing mission trip to Alaska. She sometimes agonized over her deceit because she soon came to see many of the people she was associating with as real people and one of them became so close to her that they actually became friends.

I really enjoyed IN THE LAND OF BELIEVERS. The book is well written and, though it tackles some difficult issues, it’s easy to read. Perhaps that’s because instead of an expose it’s a memoir. There are descriptions of events and conversations that the author has that are startling, if not shocking. However, as the author eventually learns, all of the people she meets aren’t exactly the same. They have a core set of beliefs they all agree upon, but beyond that they can be very different.

There were times that I was fascinated by what I read; not so much by what the author encountered, but by her own reactions and interpretations. For instance, the author describes that during one Sunday while singing, she experiences what she decides to describe as “Feeling X”. During this time, she doesn’t enjoy most of the songs she sings in church and as she mentions near the beginning of the book, she still viewed the people she voluntary decided to surround herself with as "shrill and prudish, they loved bad music and guns and Nascar, told corny jokes, and spoke in sound bites.” She can’t explain it and has no idea why it happens, but she gets this new, strange feeling. From the way she describes it, this new sensation is comforting and positive. Since she doesn’t know what it is, she begins referring to it as “Feeling X”. As the story progresses, Welch finds herself experiencing this emotion more often. I was fascinated by this account because Welch never seems to actually seriously consider that, perhaps, “Feeling X” is actually God or his presence. If one is truly open to all possibilities, then even that possibility, no matter how improbable, could be possible.

What I found most fascinating by the whole story is how little the author seemed changed by the experience. At the end of the novel she tells her friend Alice, “Church had changed me…I loved having the sense of community and also that serious, regular, self-inquiry. Our relationship had changed me; feeling so happy in our friendship had made me think differently about Christians.”
Friendships are important and I’m glad that the author now thinks differently about Christians, but beyond that, how did her life change? After she quarantines herself from all church activities as a way to detox herself from the life she had been living, it seems from the text that the author went back to being the same person she was before the whole experience. Granted, once we experience something we are never the same people because each experience changes us. Still, beyond the section in the epilogue, I never get a sense from the text exactly how the author changed as a result of her experience.

There are many Christians who might find it difficult to read IN THE LAND OF THE BELIEVERS. Some will find it difficult to read because of the way “evangelical” is used. According to the Bible, all believers should be evangelical. However, the term has a different meaning when used by those outside the faith and it is this use and its perception that some will take issue with. Other Christians will find the book difficult to read because they will let their emotions overcome them (something that Welch points out in the book as a kind of fault of the people she worships with for two years) at the deceit of the author in pretending to be converted, her fake baptism, and the two years she spent hiding her true life from all of her church “family” and friends. Personally, I can’t fault the author for what she did. I can understand why someone completely unconnected from Christianity would pretend to be a Christian for two years. After all, there are many people who attend churches who every Sunday for years on end for most of their lives who do the very same thing; they pretend to believe but never really do. Welch was correct in that the only way she could ever get a true inside perspective was to pretend to be something she is not because even though many of the people at Thomas Road would have been open and honest with her, she never would have been a part of the “inner circle”. She writes about this somewhat when she talks about a meal she attended just before Christmas when she was still pretending to be someone who was seeking. Despite her deceit, at least Welch eventually admitted what she did and came clean.

I think Christians can benefit a great deal from reading IN THE LAND OF BELIEVERS. I am a Christian and I think it’s beneficial for us as believers to really know what people outside of the faith think of us. Though we are not of the world, we are IN the world.

What I found most fascinating by the whole story is how little the author seemed changed by the experience. At the end of the novel she tells her friend Alice, “Church had changed me…I loved having the sense of community and also that serious, regular, self-inquiry. Our relationship had changed me; feeling so happy in our friendship had made me think differently about Christians.”
Friendships are important and I’m glad that the author now thinks differently about Christians, but beyond that, how did her life change? After she quarantines herself from all church activities as a way to detox herself from the life she had been living, it seems from the text that the author went back to being the same person she was before the whole experience. Granted, once we experience something we are never the same people because each experience changes us. Still, beyond the section in the epilogue, I never get a sense from the text exactly how the author changed as a result of her experience.

IN THE LAND OF BELIEVERS is a fascinating book that I highly recommend especially for Christians. Non-believers can enjoy the book, too, but I think Christians can take away the most from reading the book.

A Library Is Many Things

Here's a fascinating piece about a very special library.  It's filled with all kinds of letters like this.

The Importance of Customer Reviews

R. Scot Johns has written a very interesting piece about the value of customer reviews. As he writes,

"The days of benevolent gatekeepers looking out for our literary welfare are long gone. Regardless of whether it's independent or traditional, there is no one now evaluating the actual merit of what is being published but ourselves. Trade publishers tend to look at monetary rather than literary value, and self-published works are released regardless of value. Any given book published today can span the gamut of value, both monetary and literary. There is no real way to know unless someone has actually read the book and made the effort to give it an honest review."

You can read the whole post here.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Word About Netflix

I watch a lot of movies, usually around 150 a year. I love film. I'm a major movie buff and someday will be working (as in getting paid) in the industry. We have a pretty good video store nearby, but there are still a lot of really good movies I've never seen. I don't like watching movies online, but have watched a few that way because it's the only way they are available anymore. In order to brush up on some of my gaps in film history, I have been thinking about subscribing to Netflix. Netflix is in bad shape right now, however, I was told that they still have their DVD by mail service. For $8 a month, it would be a bargain for me because I know I spend at least twice that every month on rental fees.

Well, I went to the Netflix website and discovered there is no DVD-only service listed. The only thing the website mentions about DVDs is that you can get DVDs at an extra charge when you sign up for the streaming service. I don't want or need the streaming service. I live in an area that makes streaming a laughing stock; it doesn't work well. So, I called the Netflix customer service telephone number (877-742-1480). The gentleman I talked to was very friendly and courteous. He informed me that the DVD-only service is available. However, at the moment it doesn't show up on the website automatically. You have to sign up for the streaming service, then sign up for the DVD-only service while describing from the streaming service at the same time. That's crazy. The gentleman said their "engineers are busy working on the problem and we hope to have the website corrected soon". Until then, I'm not sure if I'm going to subscribe or not, but I thought this is information that someone out there might find useful and informative.

What do you think about Netflix and all their crazy shenanigans the past few months? Do you think the company will survive after jumping the shark?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

When Worlds Collide: Rin-Tin-Tin and Tintin

--"Bizarro" Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I usually don't enjoy this comic very much, but for some reason I found this comic hilarious.

Beetle Bailey and Harvey

-"Beetle Bailey"  Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's amazing how and where Harvey will pop up. I love that pooka rabbit.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Addams' Family Gets a Google Doodle.

I didn't know this, but today is Charles Addams' birthday. For those who don't know, Addams was the creator of The Addams Family. In the land of television, I'm a Munsters guy. However, I really enjoy The Addams Family comics. In honor of the late artist's birthday, Google has given him a doodle today (Saturday, January 7, 2012).

For more information, read this article at the L.A. Times.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

I Wish I Had a Watermelon

-Jonny Hawkins, 2011 Teacher Cartoon-a-Day Calendar

Book Review: BRIGHTEST DAY, VOL. 2

At the end of the “Blackest Night” storyline, it was inevitable that Geoff Johns and DC would focus on another part of the Green Lantern Oath. So, after the “Blackest Night” has ended, the “Brightest Day” will take place.  BRIGHTEST DAY, VOL. 2 begins immediately following where the previous volume ended. Martian Manhunter learns that he isn’t the only green Martian alive. Hawkman seeks to rescue the kidnapped Hawkgirl. Firestorm tries to defeat the Black Lantern virus that is corrupting the Firestorm Matrix. Aquaman squares off against Black Manta and Deadman attempts to find the “chosen one” who will bear the power of the White Light. That doesn’t even touch the few minor incidents that happen. Despite everything that is happening, BRIGHTEST DAY, VOL. 2 seems somewhat lackluster.  The book reads like the quiet before a storm; you know it’s all leading to something, but that something doesn’t happen in this book.

Personally, the Deadman and Aquaman arcs were what I found most interesting in BRIGHTEST DAY, VOL. 2. Deadman doesn’t get a lot of time, but his arc in the book is more satisfying than many of the others, particularly his developing relationship with Dove. As for Aquaman, this is one of the best Aquaman stories ever. This is the type of Aquaman that Hollywood really could make a blockbuster movie around.

There’s a variety of artwork, depending on what characters and what part of the overarching story is illustrated. Sometimes the illustrations are gorgeous elaborations and other times they look like rejected images from SUPER FRIENDS!

Overall, though the overall story is lackluster, the book isn’t a bad one. It has some real fine moments.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Principal As Boss

-Jonny Hawkins, 2011 Teacher Cartoon-a-Day Calendar

I'm not for sure why, but I find this particular comic extremely funny.

THE LORAX Has Never Been Banned

After seeing the trailer for the upcoming animated movie THE LORAX, I recently purchased a copy of the Dr. Suess book. I really enjoyed the story. I found some similarities between the book and other Dr. Suess tales (does anyone else think the Once-ler's arms look identical to The Grinch?). However, I was surprised to discover that posted all over the Internet are these claims (and on some fairly reputable sites in some cases) that THE LORAX is a book that was banned because it made the logging industry look bad.  Well, I've done some research and this claim isn't true.  THE LORAX has never been banned by any school in the United States. In 1989 the Laytonville Unified School District in Laytonville, California did receive a request to have the book downgraded from mandatory on the school's reading reading list to optional, but the request was denied and the book remained on the list. That's it. That's the only challenge to the book on record. Beyond that, THE LORAX has never been banned.

So why is it that when you search of THE LORAX or you read reviews for the book, people talk about it being banned because of the negative portrayal it gives of the logging industry? The answer is because of Banned Books Week. THE LORAX is a book that is often included on the list of  "Banned Books". However, like many of the books on the list, the book has never been banned. The books listed each year on the "Banned Book List" (sponsored by the American Library Association) aren't really books that have been banned, but they are a list of books that have been "challenged" or are controversial. Very few of the books on the list have ever actually been banned.

I'm all for literacy and literary freedom. I used to be supportive of Banned Book Week. However, I've now discovered that it is a farce and it's something I won't be supporting in the future.