The War Against Christian……. (America)
Imagine my surprise this week when I finally realized that the war has started. I come back from a weekend of celebration and worship to find that there is a war raging and the target is Christianity.
fox news shows the truth
Wait… that’s Christian America. The war is against Christian America.
Nevermind. I’ve just been reminded by fox news that there is no difference between the two.
My favorite example so far was the ‘hit piece’ above that recently ripped apart the University of Maryland’s student senate for voting to take a Judeo-Christian prayer out of the graduation ceremony. Imagine that – a public university made up of students representing multiple religions removing a part of a ceremony that only represents the beliefs of a portion.
Oh, thank goodness fox news is there for me. This senate is made up of “liberal professors and activist students.” Those dang profs and crazy students in Maryland… why must you hate Christians?
These are the same students who are showing porn at a closed event. Oh the whore horror (ha!).
Do you want to know what the real war on Christianity is? It’s agents like fox news and the heritage foundation and their goons who think that Christian college students can’t make their own decisions to avoid porn being shown on campus. That is a war on Christianity. It’s these ridiculous ‘news’ stories that continue to weaken American Christianity and drive it to the fringe. And good riddens. The sooner we can cast this fake, watered down version of Christianity into a fiery lake of sulfur where it belongs, the better.
Christians at the University of Maryland don’t need a student senate telling them there will be a theatrical prayer to open up the graduation ceremony. Christians at the University of Maryland, and apparently fox news and the heritage foundation, need to realize that every single person at the graduation ceremony can pray as much as they want whenever they want. They can pray as they line up to head to the ceremony. They can pray as they pull on their cap for the first time. They can pray as their name is called. They can pray as they walk across the stage and shake a trustee’s hand. They can pray as the ceremony comes to a close. Is some fake corporate prayer that was written weeks prior and vetted by a team of administrators somehow more powerful than individual Christians offering up words of thanks and worship?
Apparently so, according to fox news and the heritage foundation. Hope they enjoy their superficial white suburban Jesus religion.
The Year That Was
It seems like most people have some type of yearly reflection around this time. People start throwing out “best of” and “worst of” lists like their opinions should have some kind of authority. Ignoring subjectivity completely, readers immediately react to these lists with enough vitriol to float a boat. My solution? Make lists that I can say that I am the authority. So, here you go.
The Worst of 2008 for Me:
10. Getting my complete lack of drumming ability exposed by Rock Band 2.
9. The extended “sick, but not really really sick” battle I waged in November. Two weeks of congestion and exhaustion was pretty much a big crapper.
8. The Great Comcast Battle of 2008
7. The extended “remodeling” of the Red Lion that kept it closed all of 2008.
6. My catalytic converter getting stolen off of my Jeep. That really sucked and continues to keep the Jeep in Sucktown.
5. The seats when we took Sarah’s parents to see Jersey Boys. A bad view, uncomfortable angle, and they ripped my pants.
4. The complete unraveling of the Cleveland Indians and Browns. Both ended up being such letdowns after 2007.
3. The incredibly long and unrelenting winter of 2008. I don’t think we saw anything over 30 degrees until May.
2. Getting a parking boot. Stupid on many levels, but man, finding my Jeep with a giant yellow parking boot after work was just about the worst feeling ever.
1. Sarah taking a softball to the knee. It made life challenging for a while and kept her on the bench for the rest of the year. Oh, and the pressing fear that she wouldn’t be able to walk normally for the rest of her life.
Honorable mention: Owing taxes, the new Indiana Jones movie, and paying $10 for lunch way too often.
And now… the Best of 2008 for Me:
10. Sarah allowing me get away with growing a beard for the last several weeks of the year. I’m guessing her acceptance will be endless. If not, Sarah making me shave my beard will be on my 2009 “worst of” list.
9. The Great Nebraska Trip of 08. This trip has redefined the awesomeness of summer.
8. The Dark Knight in IMAX. Mind = blown.
7. Getting a Costco membership. I know that sounds lame, but trust me, it is. Even so, it has turned out to be pretty dang awesome.
6. Pastor Daniel’s “sex series” and forum. It’s been quite a while since a pastor has spoken words that hit me the way his series did a couple months ago.
5. The Wii… and Rock Band 2… and WiiFit… and taking my dad down in Wii Bowling.
4. Getting engaged. From the ring to talking to Sarah’s dad to postponed proposals to finally getting the word to come out of my mouth, this was probably the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done.
3. The Weber 22.5″ One-Touch Gold kettle grill that was provided by the guys from my “bachelor weekend.” This may continue to be on my 2009 “best of” list.
2. Brewing my first batch of beer ever with Jud. Hopefully it leads to continued brewing and eventually some stellar beer.
1. Well, it’s not that hard to guess what my number 1 might be. Obviously, it was discovering there was a Sonic in Ohio just off of I-70 near Dayton.
Honorable mention: Discovering the tv show Mad Men, Iron Man or Wall-E, Microsoft replacing my Xbox 360 quickly and for free.
Ok, for real, there were two pretty monumental occurences that will make 2008 incredibly memorable. Enough so that they deserve their own list.
So, here it is… the Greatest of the Great in 2008:
2. Hearing Wolf Blitzer say, “We are ready to declare that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States” while standing in Grant Park with my wife and some good friends.
1. A month before election day, standing in front of a gazeebo somewhere in Michigan and wearing a nice suit, a beautiful woman for some reason agreed to spend the rest of her life with me. That was pretty swell.
So that’s it. 2008 reduced to a couple of lists. Disagree with any of it and I will have my friend Corey poke you in the eye. He’s ready to do it too.
She Said Yes.
The first wedding I can remember was for my dad’s cousin Ken and his wife Alice. I don’t remember much except the big wooden pews. There are some great pictures of me (the ring bearer) and the flower girl and a few stories of the echoing effect produced by farting on said big wooden pews, but those are mainly reserved for rehashing each year when we get together at Christmas.
Then there was my cousin Mary Ellen. I think I was in high school and I remember arguing with my mom about wearing shorts to the wedding. My mom, as usual, was probably right. I think my brother and I both wore shorts anyway, which surprisingly enough turned out not to be a big deal.
I remember Sally Spencer, a friend from high school, getting married while I was in college. I made it back and felt a little out of place because it was the first time I was giving a card to a newly married couple and I had no idea what to write. I imagined them reading my well thought out nugget of wisdom and forever changing their outlook on life. Instead, I got nervous and scribbled something about a path always rising to meet the sun shining on their backs and thought about not signing my name at all. I got a thank you card in the mail several weeks later with a note from Sally thanking me for coming and I just assumed she was moved beyond words by my card inscription. Looking back, it’s probably more likely that whatever I wrote was complete jiberish and unreadable.
Since college, I’ve had the chance to attend and participate in some amazing weddings. Geoff and Becca encouraging me to start the slow clap before her procession down the aisle will forever be one of the greatest memories and stories recorded in wedding lore. I remember saying to Geoff, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if right before Becca comes down the aisle, someone stands up and starts the slow clap, and then a few other people stand up and join in until the entire church is clapping like crazy?!” Next thing I know, Becca has completely bought into the idea and, well, there was no way of stopping it.
I’ve been lucky enough to stand up as a groomsmen for two brides – my friend Rachel and my cousin Melissa. It was tough to explain how I knew the groom when folks asked, but pretty cool at the same time. Rachel’s brother-in-law’s speech at the reception is seared into my brain. If you’re curious, you can ask me about it sometime.
Then there was Joel and Jen’s wedding, all located on the W family farm. There were moments when we worried about a runaway golf cart possibly killing attendees, but the entire event managed to go off without a single fatality! There was even karaoke with a version of “You Give Love a Bad Name” that pretty much rocked… mainly because Joel’s air guitar was so amazing it actually made grown men weep. If it was not Joel’s wedding, there is no doubt he could have taken any single woman in attendance for his own.
Since moving to Chicago, it seems like every other Saturday in the summer has been taken up by the celebration of nuptials. Each ceremony has so perfectly matched the couple – from outdoor weddings in the park with cornhole and volleyball to candle lit sanctuaries.
I think it was through a combination of all of these ceremonies that I began to truly understand the importance of marriage. Through a sacrificial submission to one another, two people stand in front of loved ones and express an emotion and commitment to one another that is the closest they will ever get to the love God has for us. In a fallen world that at times is overwhelmingly pessimistic, a man and woman decide to buck the trend and join together in a holy union that is only possible because of the death and resurrection of Christ.
The past couple of months have been heavy on my heart and soul. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of what it means to be one part of that union. What do I have to sacrifice? What do I have to gain? Will I ever be able to play Halo again? These are just a few of the questions that ran through my head.
But each time I would take these thoughts to God or to one of my close friends, I would hear the same things. My married guy friends confirmed that yes, you do sacrifice a lot. You probably will have to give up a large chunk of Halo time, they confessed. But they assured me that somehow it all is worth it.
So, being the mature person I am, I shake my head and give them a wink. I know what makes it worth it.
Apparently though, much to my surprise, it’s not just the sex that makes it worth it. I’m not sure what else it could be, but apparently there’s much more to experience.
That being said, what became so clear to me in the past couple of weeks was that I have found a person that I want to experience all of the new pieces of life that my friends referred to. I found the girl that I want to sacrifice for and love and even do her laundry (occasionally). So, on Sunday, after a walk through the park near my house, I asked Sarah to make that commitment to me. And she accepted.
This is a surreal feeling and the page is just starting to be turned. What awaits us in the coming months and years is completely unpredictable, but thankfully there are many who have gone ahead of us and seem to speak highly of the adventure.
Plus, she said we can register for a Wii. This girl is awesome.
Well folks, here it is. The introspective, reflective, clichÃ© sap-fest of a list of lessons learned over the past year. It might be interesting to look at previous versions of this list to see if I’m still learning the same lessons over multiple years, but that would most likely be slightly depressing. That being said, I’ll pretend this is the first such list and deny any part in the creation of previous similar writings.
A serious relationship with a great girl who luckily doesn’t take me too seriously, my brother officially graduating from my alma mater, and a complete change in careers after almost two years at DePaul were probably the big three developments of 2007. While my brother’s graduation was expected, the other two were surprises to even me. Who knew a friendly dinner with a girl could turn into… well… something much bigger? I know she reads this blog and is going to tell me I’m a sappy nerd after reading this, but she’ll get over it. I’ve never been the quickest when it comes to reading signs of interest from the opposite sex, which I suppose could explain my struggles in sending appropriate signs as well. Sarah was no different. Our stories differ quite a bit, but suffice it to say, somewhere around early February I had a couple dates with the girl and realized she was interesting and laughed at my jokes. I was hooked.
Somewhere in the first half of 2007, I realized that my personal life wasn’t the only part of me that needed to stretch and grow. A conversation with the VP of my department at DePaul, where I was basically told the main reason I accepted the job and moved to Chicago was not really something he considered part of the long-term plan, had me casually glancing at the idealist.org job list. Before I knew it, I was wrapped up in an interview process and accepting an offer to head back into the non-profit world. The first few months had me questioning my decision to leave the friendly confines of a role I understood to find myself overwhelmed and underqualified. Somehow things have worked out and the moments of feeling overwhelmed come less frequently, but I can say that the move was a smart one. I do miss my admissions family and the always-entertaining conversations with high schoolers, but there’s a lot of growth and potential that are keeping me on track in my current role.
As for my brother, well, it’s pretty cool to watch a younger sibling walk across the same stage I did four years earlier. There were a few new faces, but it was great to catch up with faculty and staff and feel confident that my brother’s education was in good hands. I still didn’t know the words to the alma mater, but to see the whole day in a new light and spend it with my family was a welcome trip back to the Hill. Now in his first year of teaching, it’s going to be great watching him develop and adjust to adulthood.
Other lessons from 2007:
- If Jud tells me something is potent… say, his egg nog… I will listen to the guy and cap myself somewhere around the 2-3 cups range;
- Also – if Jud is bbqing, I’m there;
- One more about Jud – the guy is a safe bet when crazy things happen, like car windows falling into the door frame;
- Managing a rec league team takes up way too much time and causes a lot of stress;
- Adjusting plans to see Over the Rhine’s Christmas concert is always a good idea;
- Speaking of concerts – when your favorite band is doing a farewell tour, it’s OK to put out of a few extra bucks to see them from decent seats… even if they appear emotionally drained;
- One more about concerts – taking the chance that Ryan Adams is going to have a good show is worth it;
- Driving a couple of hours out of my way to play golf with my dad and brother is never a bad idea;
- Never turn down a free ticket to a baseball game;
- When a car starts making any noises that aren’t normal, get it looked at sooner rather than later;
- Always appreciate someone who buys Bell’s for you;
- Michigan has a few redeeming qualities;
- People come and go, so make sure to enjoy having them around while you can;
- Bickering and complaining doesn’t accomplish much;
- My church family is full of surprises and apparently knows how to put on a good potluck;
- Watching so many friends take on adulthood is… kind of cool… and makes me think I might have a shot… someday;
- <sap alert> Roadtrips are a lot cooler with a girl who falls asleep on your shoulder</sap alert>;
- If you have the chance to take a long weekend and get out of the city, do it;
- Leaving the city reminds you how much you miss stars;
- The American Girl store is a creepy, creepy place;
- When friends are in Chicago, make time for them;
- Always appreciate people who contribute greatly to your life and make sure they know it while you can;
- and… some people in Chicago take kickball way too seriously.
That’s it for 2007… I’m guessing 2008 will have some pretty great highlights. Here’s hoping I can remember some of these lessons over the next year.
Mama, Getcha Gun!
It’s about this time every year that I get full use of the ability to roll my eyes that I perfected between the ages of 13 and yesterday. Much to the delight of my mom, no scenario was immune to the eye-rolling… birthday morning wake up calls, church gossip conversations at family events, conversations about the lack of girlfriend in my life… Needless to say, there were/are many opportunities to practice the perfect sarcastic non-verbal response championed by teenagers everywhere, and the next month just happens to be the height of eye roll opportunities.
Usually about a week or two after major retailers begin displaying their pumpkins and ghoulish costumes for the Halloween holiday, a sinister mid-level corporate manager sends memos written in puppy blood on tusks of endangered elephants and walruses to store managers throughout the country to begin slowly clearing an entire aisle in the back of the store in anticipation of a shipment that will be arriving in a week. That shipment? A harmless set of towels emblazoned with a smiling snowman and a few boxes of clear decoration lights.
Then comes day two… a box full of snow globes depicting harmless “winter scenes” and whimsical children against a backdrop of the city skyline. A few older church-lady-esque shoppers are seen visibly shaking their heads as they walk by the mostly empty aisle with distinct shades of red and green backing the empty shelves.
It’s day three that really sets the world into a tizzy, though. Day three is when the heavens open up and reindeer, Santa, penguins, and all the Christmas schwag that had been collecting dust in warehouses for the past four months descends upon local Targets, Walgreens, WalMarts, Menards, Bass Pro Shops, PetSmarts, and Victoria’s Secrets. Someone hastily e-mails Bill O’Reilly to let him know of this calculating and sinister plot that has been unveiled in the middle of their trip to find a five gallon drum of mayonnaise and a pair of super-husky pants for their six year old at their local WalMart, and soon the media machine that is Fox News declares the war on Christmas has entered a new year and that God is angry.
It’s a liberal plot to roll Christmas and Thanksgiving into one big holiday with none of the religious thought! It’s the next step in destroying all Christian holiday observances! This is opening the US to a Hitler/Stalin/insert horrible dictator here!
Really, Bill? If big box retailers are creating such an atrocity by allowing customers to purchase Christmas decorations and Christmas-themed candy before Thanksgiving, why not pull your book from their shelves, cutting off their ability to make a profit on your words of wisdom and insight?
And Bill, if you thought about Christmas as much as a big box retail chain, perhaps it is your heart that would grow and your faith that would find new depth.
But it’s more than just Bill… it’s every day normal Christians that buy into just enough of the corporate Christmas, but become disgusted when others buy into it just a little bit more. They write letters to the editor of local newspapers decrying the row of plastic evergreens that are now available at your local Home Depot, never mentioning the fact that they bought their husband’s Christmas present in May when they found it on sale.
It’s a good thing there’s nothing else in the news to report and that the biggest and most important talking point is the evil, watered-down, crafted by Satan himself message of “Happy Holidays.”
Meanwhile, the message of Christmas… the hope and joy and redemption found in a Savior… is lost amongst petty squabbling by “christians” more worried by the way the city square depicts a menorah next to the manger than their own belief and observance of the day itself.
When you allow others (read: big box retailers looking for the highest profit possible and public officials putting together holiday displays to make everyone feel welcome) to shape your belief in and observance of Christmas, you have much larger issues than the jack-o-lantern/turkey/snowman display at your local Target.
Besides, if this means we get to enjoy Great Lakes Winter Ale a little earlier, is there really any harm?
A Dark Night in Calcutta
Breaking news… Mother Teresa’s life was tough.Â Tough enough that she struggled, at times, to feel the presence of the very God she was serving.Â Surrounded by death and an endless amount of pain, Mother Teresa acknowledged that she struggled in her faith.
She didn’t brazenly stand in front of her order and flash a fake smile and use false words and slick catch phrases to convince the world that she was somehow closer to God than anyone else.Â She didn’t build a megachurch, promising her followers that if they just had faith, God would bless them with abundant worldly riches.Â She didn’t stand in the church and pray at the top of her lungs to make sure all would know how devout she was.Â Instead, she lived a life of faith through actions, professing the love and Good News of Christ to the poorest of the poor through her servanthood.Â And she struggled.
I get upset when I open my dryer and find my clothes still somewhat damp.Â I slam the door and huff and puff and storm up the stairs, frustrated that my freshly washed clothes would have to wait for another 30 minutes as I run the dryer again.Â My cycle is thrown off!
And yet, I have no comparison to the struggles Mother Teresa went through.Â When my shower runs low on hot water in the morning, I feel like the day is ruined.Â Mother Teresa was providing hands-on care to thousands on the brink of death and felt like God had abandoned her.Â But if you continue to read her letters, she identifies that very feeling with the feeling of Christ on the cross, and by extension the rejected of our society.Â Yes, Mother Teresa felt like she was moving through the deepest of valleys at time, but it was in those valleys that she was reaffirmed and strengthened to take on the very task she had committed her life to.
When non-believers see these letters and begin to see the humility and brokenness that God called Mother Teresa to, I can only hope that they see a clearer picture of the Truth of Christ and what He has called us to do… to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
To the false believers… the believers who stand behind a pulpit of greed, corruption, and vanity, I can only hope that their pride would be broken.
And to myself, that I can be broken just the same… that I can somehow realize the humility expressed in Teresa’s letters.Â That I could somehow realize the closeness that Teresa shared with God through her pain.
Workers, not Master Builders.
To my neighborhood, I’m officially a gentrifier. Less than 4 days after I moved in, a note addressed to me let it be known that I had been labeled and judged because of the color of my skin. The catalyst of the letter was a parking ticket, but what flowed from the author’s pen over two handwritten pages carried a generation of hurt and pain from a broken world and an unjust society. Growing up in 99% white Appalachian Ohio, I will never completely understand the displacement and race-fueled politics that have shaped the lives of my black and Latino neighbors, but I do believe that God has brought me to this place. Regardless of my naivety, and with God’s grace, I can contribute to the efforts of community development and racial reconciliation around me.
There’s something about this mixture of experiences and education that have been intertwined to prepare me for this particular point in life. Working with my boys at camp, spending a year in community centers in Erie, and somehow stumbling across The Sanctuary while in the Twin Cities – there’s a reason these seemingly separate experiences have fallen into place. There’s a reason that statistics that once could be shrugged off now stick in my gut and weigh on my heart and mind, and why losing an entire generation of black boys presents a call to action, rather than a momentary grief period.
But I’m not here to save the world. It is so easy to take a paternalistic savior approach to service in a community that has been hurt for generations… to believe that I have all the answers and can change the world if people would simply listen and do what I say. There’s a power that comes with that approach that is oh so tempting, but must be prayerfully avoided. The wisdom of the community far outweighs any books or seminars, and a genuine approach of a united community must be taken, rather than the first instinct of trying to be a hero.
Oscar Romero is often attributed with a quote that was actually taken from a homily written by Fr. Ken Untener that challenged the paternalistic overtones that come with serving the poor and oppressed which basically says liberation will only come in realizing that we can’t do everything, even if it means I get to struggle with a feeling of incompleteness.
Great. I love that feeling of incompleteness.
“Creating the Church of Tomorrow” by Fr. Ken Untener
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the
magnificent enterprise that is Godâ€™s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Churchâ€™s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lordâ€™s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Written by Fr. Ken Untener (later Bishop Untener, bishop of Saginaw) for John Cardinal Dearden; given by John Cardinal Dearden as a homily at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, Detroit, October 25, 1979.
True religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom
“Love thy neighbor is not a piece of advice, it’s a command. And that means… that in the global village, we’re going to start loving a whole lot more people.”
“Because where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.”
“God, my friends, is with the poor. And God is with us, if we are with them.”
This is what happens when you let Bono speak at the NAACP Image Awards.
Some recommended listening… do it.
When I moved to the Twin Cities back in ’04, finding a church right away wasn’t something that was heavy on my heart. In fact, I was rebelling just a tad, leaving my drifting away from the faith I knew, but giving me the chance to sleep in a little Sunday morning. A friend from AP was checking out a church on the northside of Minneapolis that she had heard about, so I tagged along. What happened over the course of that one church visit was indescribable, and I somehow knew as I was walking out that I had found a church home.
Over the rest of my time in the Cities, I had the chance to become a regular attender and even dive a little into the Men’s and Young Adult groups. After hearing Pastor Efrem speak at an event, we soon had a small cadre of AP folk hitting up Sanctuary on Sunday mornings and sitting down to a delicious meal at IHOP after the service. Leaving the Cities for Chicago felt like the best step to take, but there are times when I really miss Sanctuary and the growth and worship I felt there. It is because of my time at Sanctuary that I know that I need to be a part of a relevant church that incorporates racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic worship into every aspect of its existence. That’s why finding River City (with the help of the EB) has been such a blessing here in Chi-town.
Thankfully, Sanctuary still throws up Pastor Efrem’s sermons on the website and through Podcasts. A couple of weeks ago, the pastor of Church of All Nations, a Korean PCUSA church in the Cities, spoke at Sanctuary, and his message dug into me pretty deep. If you have a chance to take a listen, I’d really recommend it. You can either download the Podcast from 11.26.06, or you can go to the Sanctuary’s Sermon Archive and listen online.
Give it a chance.