Monthly Archives: August 2013

Authentic Posers

MH900341678Speaking of yet another reason to be bitter an angry, I recently read an article in a major Christian magazine about young adults and older adults spending more time together in order to bring about healing between generations. Definitely a worthwhile endeavor, though I found myself rankled by one millennial’s assertion that she desired more transparency and authentic authenticity (not a clerical error) from us legacy Christians. Don’t get me wrong, I see much of the posing in the modern church. I’ve done some posing myself, and not for the camera. I also see it among, gasp, millennials. Posing is akin to pride and all humans struggle with it to some degree. Bot for the sake of crossing the generational divide, I will share some very authentic doubts and observations about hypocrisy that occasionally pop up in this boomer’s muddled mind.

Yes, once in a while I have doubts. Not just doubts about doctrine and interpretation of Scriptures. I have random BIG doubts, such as: what if Christ was just a man and there is no God. What if the universe is indifferent to humanity? What if the Bible was written merely from the fertile imaginations of men and, at best, is full of creative allegory? These doubts usually come upon me when reading National Geographic. You know what I mean; those articles that say the universe was formed billions and billions of years ago. Staring at those pictures from the Mars rover Curiosity showing the dry lifeless surface of planet Mars makes me feel small, alone, and incapable of comprehending the unfathomable distance in space. Such musings make me wonder if we are merely a cruel accident of chance and once we die the switch goes off and the lights go out. In other words, what if our lives have no meaning or purpose? Fortunately, hindsight helps me see the hand of God on my life and reminds me that he is real.

Need more authenticity? Why do we put so much feeling and effort into our prayers even when they feel flat and seem to go no further than the ceiling? Why do modern Christians focus more on some sins while ignoring others? Why do some congregations and clergy present a public image of caring when behind the scenes they remain unconcerned about people they wound? Why do we speak so glowingly about loving God when, at times, loving God can feel like trying to love thin air? For instance, if I tell my wife I love her, she usually smiles or gives me a hug. But if I tell God that I love him, my physical senses and my spirit do not always feel a response.

Why do many American Christians put on a front of having it all together when the truth is their life and relationships are a train wreck? Many Christian couples put forth the appearance that their marriage is healthy and good, but then one day word leaks that they are getting divorced and he has moved in with their former babysitter.

Why do we spend so much time and effort keeping up appearances? The answers are complicated. Nevertheless, I will venture one possible explanation. Do you remember when Adam and Eve screwed up in the Garden? Afterwards, one of the first things they did was to make clothes to cover their nakedness. Being completely authentic is a bit like being naked in public. Shame makes us want to cover up. We also do not feel safe when exposed. Ever since the Garden, humans have been trying to cover up. Metaphorically, the fig leafs and animal skins used by Adam and Eve have expanded to include personality and character adjustments that we cleverly create as a mask to cover our sins and flaws. We live in denial as to how we appear before God. We are always naked before God. There is nothing hidden from his eye. But we can at least hide our nakedness, wounds, sins, and flaws from each other . . . or so we think. We want to hide the ugly truth from the eyes of others.

Millennials who cry for more authenticity have a valid point. But a word of caution is appropriate: the depth of our imperfections and sins can run so deep that it can take God a lifetime to peel back our fig leafs and masks to reveal the truth that leads to healing and freedom. If God did it all at once, it might overwhelm and ruin us. That’s why we need to offer grace to each other . . . a lot of grace. Millennials might not know it, but I’d wager most of them are even now making masks and crafting fig leafs to cover the nakedness of their own flaws. And when my grandson is a young adult, he will probably call for millennials to be more . . . authentic.

Is Contemporary Worship Fading?

Catholic_monks_in_Jerusalem_2006What do you call a chubby, philosophical monk? A deep fat Friar.

We could use more philosophical friars, and parishioners (an archaic term used to describe a member of a church). How so? Well, for instance, I recall the first time I attended a contemporary worship service in the 1990s. The music wars were raging between traditional and contemporary worship enthusiasts in many churches. Before walking into church that day, I was unaware of those music wars. Afterwards, all I knew was that I had found a church that played and sang music I could relate to. Without looking back, I tossed the hymns, choirs, and organ music that suddenly seemed so ancient and boring.

Fifteen years later, I find myself sitting in a different church, but the music is still contemporary. I now struggle occasionally during worship to express what is in my heart for God or receive what God has for me. Has the newness of contemporary worship passed on? Is contemporary worship music, ultimately, too shallow? Was contemporary worship music a flash in the pan? Am I overly dependent on style? Is the problem the church? Is the problem the drummer?

Clearly, large numbers of Christians still feel close to God via contemporary worship. Contemporary worship fans often get little out of traditional worship. And many traditional worshipers get nothing out of the contemporary format. But even traditional worshipers can feel stale in their worship.

We live in a culture that provides a plethora of choices. Just look at the variety of music genres. But choice does not by itself broaden our horizons. Even though we have many choices available to us, we often gravitate to our innate likes. For example, when I was a child I naturally loved Kool-Aid. But I gagged when I tried coffee for the first time. Same goes for wine. Some pleasures in life are what they call an “acquired taste.” That is, if you keep gagging it down, you will often learn to love it. My parents used to insist that I try new foods. Otherwise, I had no right to turn my nose up when those new foods were set before me at the dinner table.

The principle of acquired tastes applies just as well to spiritual matters, such as worship styles. Now that my taste in beverages is more sophisticated, I would soon tire of Kool-Aid if I had to drink it all the time. Pondering, in a philosophical sense, the implications of whether contemporary worship is losing its ability to move worshipers towards God led me to the obvious realization that every style of worship eventually loses its newness and fades. At some point, contemporary worship will no longer be contemporary. Thankfully, God has blessed us with the ability to experience him and praise him in more ways than those that naturally feel good to us. I recommend such ruminations for all believers.

Perhaps the next big shift in worship will be towards contemporary prayer, though I haven’t figured out what that might look like.

Going Mental Over Money

Daffys_straight_-_jacketWhat happens when a loved one dies? (No, Google doesn’t bombard you with casket ads . . . yet.) Some relatives grieve while others lose the ability to hide the crazy. It doesn’t matter if the estate was worth millions or little more than a shopping cart full of trinkets, the greediness of some people springs forth. It seems like every family has one or more irksome souls who start grabbing as much for themselves as possible when a relative passes away. Along with their greed and selfishness is their compulsion to inflame old wounds and dissention in their family. What are they trying to prove? You’d have to ask a psychiatrist or Dear Prudie. Such loathsome folk are in grave (no pun intended) danger.

If a person is willing to steal or manipulate the law to get more than their share from the deceased at the expense of other living relatives, something has gone horribly wrong in their life. They may feel justified because they were wronged by the deceased or other family members. Or perhaps they feel entitled because they had a great relationship with the deceased. Either way, corruption in their heart can damage their mental health, and that of others. How so?

Believers and even many unbelievers know of that famous Scripture about the love of money found in 1st Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil . . .” But the preceding verse is even more chilling: “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.”

We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that just because we don’t desire to be a billionaire we are immune from this danger. If you are poor, a thousand dollars seems like a lot of money. Regardless of what number we consider to be rich, we should take note of the words “ruin” and “destruction” in verse 9. These two words can mean many things. So allow me give you an example of what it can look like.

After the death of the family patriarch, one of the patriarch’s son’s, Frank (not his real name), took more than his share of money, real estate, and other property from the patriarch’s estate. His actions resulted in many fights and raw feelings with his siblings. Tragically, Frank has gradually deteriorated into bitterness and periodic irrational thinking and behavior. One of Frank’s siblings has also started to display bouts of irrational thinking and paranoia since Frank betrayed their trust over money.

THIS is one example of what the Bible means by “ruin” and “destruction.” It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of letting money have too much influence in our mind and heart. If something goes wrong with our money, it can literally make us crazy (yes, I know that is not the correct clinical term) . . . especially if we are not on sure footing in our faith and thought life. We all have flaws and wounds. When we encounter a bump in the road with money, it can exacerbate those flaws and wounds. Fortunately, God can restore our mental health. But first, it may require letting go of our right to be angry over old hurts. God will take it from there.

Church: More Than a Building

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus ChristEvery now and then I come across a reminder that the church, even with its faults, is a beautiful and enduring blessing. The video below is such a reminder. When I watch a video like this, it lifts my spirit and reminds me that we are part of something that dwarfs every other institution on Earth. In fact, it is more than an institution. Some even say the church IS Christ. At the very least, the church is Christ (God) at work in the world through his followers. Anyhow, this video demonstrates that the church is way more than cool worship teams, Sunday school, dynamic preaching, and amazing short-term mission trips.