Month: February 2012

Relevance, Innovation, Creation

Remember those “If you like ____, then you’ll love ____ posters, propagandizing Christian music by comparing the latest and greatest Christian artists with “secular” artists?

If you like Nickelback, you’ll love Kutless!

If you like Eminem, you’ll love KJ52!

If you like Switchfoot, you’ll love…Switchfoot!

Christian music has been playing catch up for a long while now.  But sadly, this seems to be the larger reality of the Christian church as a whole.  The topic of relevance sounds and feels outdated but we continue to engage it anyways.  In self assessing, the church seems to ask the same questions endlessly: Is the music relevant?  Is the message relevant?  Is the pastor relevant?  Are the ministries relevant?  She has become an awkward middle schooler whose greatest concern is to fit in, while simultaneously wanting to stand out for the sake of uniqueness, but not too much lest she be ostracized as weird, peculiar, or, worst of all, irrelevant.  This longing for relevance has regrettably led to the creation Christian sub-genres.  There’s music, then there’s Christian music.  There are movies, then there are Christian movies.  There’s clothing, then there’s Christian clothing.  Christian sub-genres provide some with the sense that there is a safe, wholesome alternative to the perverse, secular versions of things.  But in creating these seemingly virtuous substitutes we may be losing something most Godly – the call to innovate and create.

Could it be that in busying ourselves with the struggle for relevance, we are missing out on opportunities to create something new or innovate something fresh?  Could it be that we’ve become so defensive in our posture that our focus has shifted from expressing the beauty of God and life in new, unique ways to simply homogenizing what already exists into a more palatable and literal evangelical version?

The very idea of Christian sub-genres is a paradox.  By their very natures, Christianity is about redemption and the healing of broken things, while sub-genres are about division, separation, and the fracturing of that which was once whole.  Why have we believed for so long that the sacred and secular cannot mix?  Why have we feared that when consolidated, the secular would outshine the sacred when in reality, the sacred is always amplified in the beauty and goodness of all things, both within and outside of Christendom?  When did we fall for the lie that God was only to be found in evangelical versions of things?

God did not copy.  God created.  And made in his image, we are, at our core, creators not copiers.  Duplicating or replicating the work of another, twisting and mangling a few details to fit our preferences and circumstances, just will not do.  At some point we must go about the business of dreaming, in our heads and in our hearts, what could be that has not yet been.  Then we must get on with the messy and exhilarating work of innovating and creating.

“I am God,” says Love

“I am God,” says Love. – Marguerite Porete

Lynsey Bishop gave me my very first Valentine’s card in elementary school.  She walked to my desk, placed the small card in my hand, and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Jay” with a kind smile.  I was in love.  But just as quickly as I fell into this unexpected love, I fell right out of it as I watched her repeat this delivery to my classmates.  First it was Todd, then Jimmy, then Kenny, then Garrett, etc.  This was my introduction to romantic heartbreak.

In a strange way, we never really grow out of this sort of scattershot approach to love.  We may become a bit more sophisticated and seasoned as we age, but even still, most of us continue tossing love out there without discretion, like splattered paint, hoping that our reckless repetition will somehow miraculously produce a Jackson Pollock masterpiece someday.  But while the canvases of our lives were designed for beautifully intricate and carefully crafted works of art, delicate and unique to our own personal stories, they are instead most often covered with senseless mess and chaos created by our irresponsible abuse of our own hearts and the hearts of others.  We give, take, and throw away love as though it was a cheap Valentine’s card.

But we must be mindful of the way we protect, uphold and express love, not just because love is of great value, but because love is God himself.  God is love (1 John 4:16) and therefore, love is God.  To love another is to see and feel them through God himself.  To love and be loved is to experience one another, in the fullness of our humanity, in the infinite expanses of God’s reality.  This means that we strive to see and treat one another the way God sees and treats us.  We open ourselves up to one another, selflessly and sacrificially.  Love is only love when God is at the center.  And if love is at the center of anything, God is at its center.  The entire world, regardless of religion, has experienced God because the entire world has experienced love.  Please understand, I am not attempting to make any sort of soteriological point here.  My intention is only to provoke a heightened awareness of God’s presence in anything and everything that is driven by and centered on love.

So today, remember that in loving another and in being loved, you are experiencing nothing less than God himself.   If you know love, you know God and you are not godless.  If you know God, you know love and you are not loveless.  May God ruin, recreate, and resurrect us all in the light of his great love, in the light of himself.

The fury of grace

If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.  So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest. – John Mark McMillan

I love these lyrics from John Mark McMillan’s song How He Loves.  They express a sort of grace that is more honest and true than the deceptive facsimile I often conjure up in my head.  For many of us, grace has become a tourniquet to stop the bleeding when sin cuts us open.  For others of us, grace is a resting place visited from time to time when in need of respite from the rigors of a self-indulgent life.  And for some, grace is simply an acceptance letter into eternity, set aside, to be dusted off when the next life begins its approach.  But I am beginning to see grace as something else entirely.

Grace is not a tourniquet for covering self-inflicted wounds.  Grace cuts into us, into parts of us deeper than sin could ever reach and it heals us from the inside.

Grace is not a fixed place in life where we can rest at our own convenience.  Grace is everywhere, saturating the air, filling our lungs, giving us life even when we don’t realize it.

Grace is not something to be set aside and dusted off sometime in the future.  Grace is a present reality, consuming our space, compelling us to live out the ways of the next life in this one.

I had a friend named Grace in college.  She was petite, gentle, and sweet.  She spoke softly and giggled often.  I used to think her name captured her personality well.  I was wrong.  Grace is not soft nor is it sweet.  The grace of God is fury and fire.  It rushes at us more violently than we expect most times and often takes us by surprise.  Sometimes, grace burns and breaks us for the sake of remaking and rebuilding us.  Grace will hurt us in order to heal us, but it will never harm us.

John Mark McMillan was on to something.  Grace is indeed an ocean.  Its waves rush and roar toward the shores of our shortcomings and failures.  They crash against the jagged edges of the messes we’ve made and they chip away at them.  And as grace crashes into us, over and over again, we find ourselves looking more and more like the people of God, reshaped and transformed by the sheer power of his furious grace.

And we are all sinking.

Digital addictions and everlasting splendor

There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. – C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory)

I have digital addictions.  My laptop, my phone, my television.  These things own me more than I’m usually willing to admit.  This has been true for a while now but I finally came to a clear realization of it just the other day while in line at Starbucks.  I must’ve walked in at a particularly busy time of the day.  There were at least five people in front of me and another four or five behind me.  The Starbucks itself was full of people, all busy with their laptops and conversations.  Without any sort of conscious awareness of what I was doing, I pulled out my phone.  I went online to check my facebook.  Nothing was happening.  No notices, no invites.  I checked my email.  No new emails.  Or at least, none I was interested in reading.  I checked my calendar.  Nothing important going on and nothing interesting to look forward to.  I checked my text messages.  No new messages.  I don’t have an iPhone, so pulling up a game to play was not an option.  So I stared.  The line was still long and I wasn’t going to be helped any time soon, so I simply fixed my gaze onto the menu screen of my Blackberry.  Intoxicated by the faux safety I felt in the comfort of my phone, I clutched it as my dearest friend.  As if too afraid to look up at the real life people surrounding me, I continued to stare at my phone, without intention or need.  I simply stared at the inanimate so that I wouldn’t have to face the dynamic and alive all around.

This is the world we live in.  Next time you’re in a public place, look around at anyone and everyone not talking to another person.  Count how many of them are on their phone, laptop, or some other digital device.  Most of us are digital addicts.  It’s as though the circuitry mysteriously finds its way into our veins and our devices become our organs.  Without them we feel helpless and confused.  When the network is down in our offices or the internet connection is bad in our homes, we panic.  But the panic that really ought to be setting in is the one driven by the undeniable reality that in improving our connection to the digital world, we are compromising our ability to connect with the real world – the one full of people, stories, emotions, and wonders, the one that digital circuitry will never be able to replicate or produce.

C.S. Lewis lived in a world much different than ours.  Technology then wasn’t what it is now.  However, technology is not the evil we are fighting.  Our real enemy is the tendency to isolate ourselves in the controlled safety of solitude for fear of losing control in the expansive reality of people.  But as Lewis writes, it is in the midst of people, in both their most wondrous and most mundane, that we experience everlasting splendors.  There is indeed great risk in putting down our digital devices to take time to be with people.  Our devices can’t hurt, harm, or betray us.  Our devices never judge us or challenge us.  They await our commands and comply without complaint.  But people are dangerous.  We’ve been hurt by people.  People have betrayed, harmed, judged, and challenged us.  And they will continue to do so.  But they are also the walking, talking, breathing, living icons of God in heaven.  We are all, together, the full expressions of God’s love manifest in flesh and bones.  So put down your phone and take some time to be with people.  It’s risky but the rewards are spectacular.