Monday, March 29, 2010

The Building Question

We're having quite a romp over at the blog my son, Andrew, writes for:

It began when Norm, one their contributors, saw my post about the Georgia church that has chosen to sell their dedicated church building, meet in a local theater and use the money to advance God's kingdom in their community and beyond. Norm was struck by this and did his own post about it. Before long, a member of the church in question jumped in to the discussion (isn't the internet age amazing?) and the ensuing exchange has been wonderful, stimulating and edifying. Check it out!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Breaking News: Adultery is Everywhere!

Turn on the radio - there it is. Flip on the tube: another breaking story! Surf the net - there it is again! Pick up the paper: front page item! And, down at the movie theater, it's all over the big screen. Yep: adultery is making a comeback!

Okay, it's not like it hasn't been around since forever, but - let's face it - these days adultery is a hot topic. You've got your Sandra Bullock and Jesse James, your Tiger and Elin Woods, your John and Elizabeth Edwards, your Mark and Jenny Sanford, your Ted and Gayle Haggard and a whole host of other public figures stepping up to the podium to acknowledge their sins and search for redemption -- often with their spouse quietly and uncomfortably at their side.

Adultery is most certainly bad for marriage, but it has been great for the National Enquirer, the Lifetime Channel, TMZ and Gloria Allred. That's 'cause (as they say in showbiz) adultery has "sizzle". It's about betrayal. It's about secrecy and discovery. It's about humiliation and human weakness. Anyone up for an episode of "Cheaters"?

Of course, it's hard for us plain folks to resist the weirdly reassuring evidence that all that money, fame, glamor, power and plastic surgery cannot save celebrity high-flyers from the ravages of unfaithfulness. Maybe, we conclude, they're not so different from the rest of us after all. Instead of protecting people from the human condition, maybe all those perks amplify the weaknesses that are already there. Maybe, no matter who we are, we need to work on sculpting our character at least as hard as we work on sculpting our abs.

Even though today's cavalcade of high-profile adultery is hard to avoid, I am starting to find it tiresome. I really appreciate those couples that either never stray at all or, if a breach has appeared in their marriage, repairs are made quietly and thoroughly thanks to God's healing grace, a ready supply of high-octane forgiveness and the courage to trust again.

So, here is my video tribute, a la Leonard Cohen, to those that find a way to dance one another to the end of love in an era of ever changing partners!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama's After Vote Remarks - With Snarky Comments by Me

Excerpts, followed by my observations:

"Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics". (is that what "we" did, Mr. President? Cause it looked a lot more to me like the "weight of our politics" is what was driving this thing from A to Z)

"We didn't give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear" (or to the will of the American people who really don't want this mess forced on them).

"We proved that this government - a government of the people and by the people - still works for the people". (or, er, the political ruling class...whatever).

"And I know this wasn't an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote." (why wasn't it "easy" if it was so good, so well-crafted and so timely? Hmmmm???)

(What follows is a festival of adjectives:)

"I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her EXTRAORDINARY leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their COMMITMENT to getting the job done.

I want to thank my OUTSTANDING Vice President, Joe Biden, and my WONDERFUL Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their FANTASTIC work on this issue.

I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own INCREDIBLE staff in the White House, who have worked TIRELESSLY over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve." (This is one extraordinary, committed, outstanding, wonderful, fantastic, incredible and tireless bunch of political opportunists!)

"To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard - it has been heard tonight." (provided you already agreed with our totally correct approach to all this to begin with...)

"Most importantly, today's vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a healthcare system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people." (Translation = God hates insurance companies almost as much as I, your President, does.)

"For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat - it's always been about something far more personal." (Really, cause it looked a lot more like a fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat to me which is why all the Republicans were firmly planted in their chairs while you were saying this and the Dems were clapping like wind up toys).

"Tonight's vote is not a victory for any one party - it's a victory for them. It's a victory for the American people. And it's a victory for common sense." (choke, snurf, aaackk, what did he just say?)

"Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight's vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration" (Translation = that sucking sound you hear is Democrats being extracted from both houses of congress this November...)

"So this isn't radical reform. But it is major reform" (or major radical reform, or radical major reform or...)

"Now as momentous as this day is, it's not the end of this journey" (not by a long shot, Mr. President, not by a long shot).

"It's time to bring this debate to a close and begin the hard work of implementing this reform properly on behalf of the American people." (Translation = "get in, sit down, shut up, and hold on, losers".)

"When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge - we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility - we embraced it. We did not fear our future - we shaped it". (and we did not respect the limits of our Constitution, we shunned it).

But that's another story...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Church Sells Building, Gives Away Proceeds

I think we are going to see a lot more of this sort of thing...

A Fayetteville, Georgia Baptist congregation decided to sell their church building, move into a movie theater for their meetings, and use the $1 million dollars they realized from the sale to "help people".

I love how they portray themselves as being "free of the walls".

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Money Madness - The Politician, Part III

Finished The Politician (today). When I began it a week or so ago, I expected it to be about Senator John Edwards and his recent fall into the abyss of his own making. And, of course, it was. But what I did not anticipate was the huge role that MONEY was going to play in Mr. Young's compelling narrative.

Like a shadowy character in a tragic three act play, money occupies a constant role in this strange, sordid story. It is the ever-present subtext of the events that surround the Senator, his wife, his mistress, Mr. Young, and all the other politicians, donors, helpers, friends, supporters and cronies that populate their weird little world.

The lunacy of these people's relationship to money unfolds in ever-increasing vividness as the tale gets told. These folks live in money, think in money, and turn to money as the solution to every problem and the means to every end. No wonder the government is printing it by the boat load. It makes their world go 'round.

The Bible asserts that "the love of money is the root of all evil." Again and again this timeless truth is played out in the dizzying series of events depicted in The Politician. At the center of the whirlpool are the rich, the super rich and the mega rich like Bunny Mellon. A widow in her 90's who becomes a True Believer in the Edwards myth, Mrs Mellon sends her private plane to fetch the Senator back to her estate for a personal meeting. We are told that the inside of the plane is decorated with paintings from the National Gallery. It seems that Mrs. Mellon is one of the institution's premier patrons.

Right from the top, Mr. Young, makes it clear that money is one of the key reasons he has even written this book at all. "My critics will say I am writing this book for money", Young observes. "They are partly right. The Edwards scandal has left me practically unemployable..." As he goes on to unpack the increasingly bizarre, deceptive and compromising events of the story he is telling, the Young confesses again and again that his participation in the chaos he helped create was fueled, at least in part, by his own appetite for money. It is stunning to see him talk himself, his wife, his family and a number of others into a wild array of lies, escapades and deceptions in the name of job security. After all, the ever-increasing demands of the lifestyle that came with his "success" required a continuous "whatever it takes" attitude.

At least the author is honest enough to admit his own weaknesses and foibles. But no such honesty seems to reside in John Edwards, his former boss and friend. What we see in him is a man who is so woefully vulnerable to his own self-deceptions that he comes across as a "double-minded man, unstable in all he does" (James 1: 8).

When events finally push Young's family and Rielle Hunter, Edward's pregnant mistress into hiding, the money factor goes to a frantic level. One hotel stay adds up to $18,000 in less than a week. There is another temporary hiding place -- a rented home in Santa Barbara -- that goes for a whopping $20,000 per month. Much of this money is supplied by another of Edward's loyal supporters, Fred Baron, who seems to have an endless supply of it ready to be employed for the Senator's ultimate benefit.

While it is easy to shake one's head while reading these dollar-soaked stories, it is good to remember that both Edwards and Young came from more humble roots. We would do well not to be smug as if we would be beyond such shenanigans until, presented with the same attractions, temptations and opportunities as these men and women are, we prove ourselves to be made of other stuff.

I plan to post a little bit more on this rather fascinating book. But I must say that, having now immersed myself somewhat in this alternative universe, I am quite ready to return to my own.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Taller Structure, Bigger Shadow - The Politician, Part II

Now 3/4 finished with "The Politician", I am struck by this reality:

even as John Edwards is closing in on a bid for the presidency, even as he is expanding maximum effort to achieve this incredible goal, he is vigorously feeding the beast that will devour him. Why?

Why did John Edwards work so hard on destroying his own hopes at the same time he was doing all he could to realize them? Why do so many of us do the same?

One of the reasons, I am thinking, can be captured in the phrase: "the taller the structure, the bigger the shadow". Yes, this explains at least some of what is going on with the man who would be President - and there is a lesson there for all of us.

The shadow or shadow self is a notion popularized by pioneering Psychologist Carl Jung, who wrote:

"Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected."

The shadow consists of the unclaimed parts of ourselves -- the parts of our personality, behaviors, desires, insecurities, sins and vulnerabilities that we cannot bear to own. As a result, we repress them, ignore them, and leave them to grow in silence like the black mold inside a wall. Finally, one day, these unclaimed parts of ourselves begin to attach to the people or things that will eventually make them plain to the world.

It seems that the larger your public image and the greater your opportunity to influence others (the taller the structure), the less likely it is that you will want to face the things that lie in your own shadow. Our refusal to claim these things and subject them to the light sets us up for the empowerment of two versions of ourselves -- each operating independently of the other. When they meet at last, it can be humiliating, explosive and contradictory. But, if coaxed into the light by grace, there can be a tremendous amount of healing, redemption and deep reassurance that we are truly loved "as is".

In the evangelical world, we have a growing number of stories of those who have come to encounter their shadow selves too late -- both King David and Ted Haggard come to mind. And yet, if anything, our faith - if it is truly biblical - should not strengthen the repression and disconnection that empowers our shadow. "If we walk in the light," John writes, "as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ, God's son, cleanses us from all sin". But, in speaking of the shadow in his own way, the Apostle also goes on to warn: "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (I John 1: 7, 8). And so, it seems, we meet Jesus, one another and even our true selves only when we do so "in the light".

"Edwards should have been more accountable", we might say and, indeed, he should. My observation, however, is that what is sometimes called "accountability" is only another form of repression and self-deceit that does not allow us to truly face the parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed. Accountability (as it is commonly practiced) may be good, but it will not bring wholeness and integration if we only wind up hiding from the light rather than courageously walking in it: "confess your sins (faults) to one another, and pray for each other, that you may be healed", James writes. Indeed.

There is a cautionary tale in the story of John Edwards. Imagine how his life and family, and the lives of many others around him, would be different had he chosen to deal differently with the growing disconnect in his life. But doing so requires some very unique kinds of relationships with God, a few trustworthy friends, and ourselves. Such relationships enable enough humility, vulnerability and honesty that we can claim what lies hidden in our shadow and expose it to the light. Sadly, high flyers risk much in developing such relationships and in keeping them intact while the wheels of achievement spin. But, as Edwards reminds us, they risk far more if they don't.

(Coming soon: More thoughts inspired by "The Politician")

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm Reading "The Politician"

I've been intrigued with Senator John Edwards for awhile now (see my earlier post about him). But then I am also intrigued by train wrecks, spontaneous combustion and those movies where a piano falls out of a window on to someone's head. Perhaps that is why I got my own copy of Andrew Young's insider book about John Edwards: "The Politician". It's a behind the scenes view of Edwards' rise and fall as a politician, family man and overall human being.

Frankly, if it was just another story of an ambitious political figure caught in the act, I'd probably pass. Plenty of those to go around. But I am drawn to the Edwards' story because, in a way, he is like me. Not politically, but on a more personal level.

Edwards portrayed himself as a "family values" guy, like me. So far (I'm about 1/2 through the book) Andrew Young portrays him that way, too -- of course, we haven't met Reille Hunter yet. But I note that Edwards married Elizabeth the year after I married Robin and, like us, they had four children.

John Edwards is also a sparkling example of a "successful" boomer. He was born two years before me, played football in high school and graduated college with a law degree. Okay, I don't have a law degree and I never played football, but, in my youth, I thought I might want to grow up to be a lawyer. As a politician, Edwards was fond of pointing out that he came from humble roots before he "made it big".

Like Robin and me, Edwards and his wife have also endured family tragedies and difficulties along the way including the death of their son, Wade, in a freak auto accident. Of course, Robin and I survived her accident, but we understand how your life can radically change in only a moment's time.

And, finally, Edwards is a North Carolina man which makes him a product of that classic Southern culture that also shaped the heart of my own mother, a Greensboro-born graduate of Graham High School in the 1930's. Many of my favorite childhood memories go to my summer-long visits to Edwards' home state of North Carolina. After crossing the country by train with my mother, we would spend weeks there visiting her family and revisiting her roots. It was in rural NC that I first encountered fireflies, chiggers, ticks, and fishing from brim in a mill pond. I also learned the glories of Southern foods like fried okra, pound cake, grits, biscuits and gravy, and vegetables straight from the garden.

But the most intriguing thing to me about John Edwards is that he and I both confess a born-again faith in Christ. His faith was formed in the kind of Southern Baptist environment that formed the witness of another famous Southern political figure: Jimmy Carter. Like Jimmy, Edwards made no secret of his faith while in the public eye. This is one more reason why his story grabs me and compels me. I want to do my own postmortem on the public image of this ambitious political rising star so as to better understand his current descent into chaos and shame and to see if there are any signs of hope for someone who has so thoroughly lost his way.

I should probably confess here that I have never truly admired John Edwards nor did I feel that he was sincere about all that "two America's" stuff (a line, the book says, that came from the mind of David Axelrod). Nevertheless, I can't wait to get to the part about Reille Hunter because it seems to me that she entered his life like a guided missile.

The bottom line: I want to learn about John Edwards because he is human, vulnerable, and full of contradictions and, well, so am I. As I make more progress, I'll share any insights worth noting.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jonas Brothers at Saddleback Easter Bash

Hesitated at first, then decided to weigh in on a Facebook thread discussing the Jonas Brothers anticipated performance at the Saddleback Church Easter service at Angel Stadium.

Seems there were a number of folks who objected to the notion of the popular teen idols playing at this event. Some of the comments follow:

"what? for real? what? i'm hoping our church gets britney spears".

"You have got to be kidding me. Did the tickets come with the recent public plea for tithes? I guess Saddleback will do WHATEVER they feel they need to provide something for the masses. What a circus!"

"Whatever happened to the pastor delivering such a memorable message of the reason we celebrate Easter that makes people want to come back to hear more???"

"The motives seem 'off'".

Here is how I responded:

"Could be steppin' in it, but...What is the objection here? Do we know what financial arrangements have been made? Are the guys donating their time or coming at cost? Who knows? For sure, it's risky if it comes off as: "Come for the resurrection, stay for the Jonas Brothers". I get it -- but, if the J Bros offered to play at your church's 30th anniversary/ Easter bash, would you say "no". It's not like I have a personal stake in this (I help lead a house church and we are holding our Easter service on the street!), but I think it might be good to live and let live when it comes to these matters. Just a thought.

Celebrities. Big production worship services. Money. Right and wrong. The motives of high-visibility ministries. Pretty tempting stuff, eh?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bugged By An Angel

To my observation, stories of angel visitations have increased quite a bit over the past decade or so. Notable charismatic personalities such as Todd Bently, Bob Jones, Larry Randalph, Patricia King and many others claim to have been personally visited by angels bearing messages from the Lord. In some cases these spirit beings not only deliver spoken messages, but also accomplish other things in the spiritual and physical realms.

You don't have to look very hard before these stories of angel visitations and visions get pretty far out. For example, some of these angels have names such as Emma, Mary, Charlie and Irma (as far as I can tell, Kansas City "Prophet" Bob Jones seems to get visits from more "named" angels than anyone). Others are known by other characteristics, including: Swift, Financial Angels and Healing Revival angels. The infamous Todd Bently even describes one he referred to as: "Hunk of Hunks".

There are even accounts of physical feathers that miraculously appear where angels have supposedly been present. The assumption, I suppose, is that the feathers are shed from the angel's wings. Problem: in the Bible, only the cherubs are mentioned as having wings. These angels appear to be attendant to the throne of God, not buzzing around human beings and molting the occasional feather as they go.

In those instances where the Bible describes human interaction with angels, the angelic messengers are most often mistaken for other humans (albeit, quite remarkable ones!). This is probably why the writer of Hebrews cautions that we may actual have angel interactions of which we are "unaware".

Personally, I'm quite suspicious of the vast majority of today's sensational accounts of angel interactions. Too often, they appear to be little more than spiritual bragging rights for those who can't wait to tell us all about their latest angel encounter. As a believer in the Bible, I am convinced that angels exist and that they, at times, interact with human beings as divine messengers. I'm just not as convinced that any of them are named Irma and suffer from feather dandruff.