Wednesday, June 25, 2008

God Makes Headlines

Last weekend I was browsing headlines the lazy way, by seeing what comes up on the default AOL homepage, and one caught my eye, “Flood victims turn to prayer”. And I thought to myself, have we become such a secular society that when victims of a natural disaster pray, it makes national headlines? It sounds obvious to me, not at all newsworthy. I didn’t click on the headline, so I don’t know the context, but when I looked for it again today it took forever to find this story from the NY Daily News. Not a lot of surprises in the story, it mostly describes people’s reactions, weather service reports, and impacts on communities. What is interesting though, is that despite the headline, only the first two paragraphs in a two-page article mentions anything at all about prayer. Ok, maybe we’re not so secular that prayer makes headlines, but maybe we’re so polarized by religion that adding “prayer” to a link generates hits?

Then there’s the case of the teen who lost an arm to an alligator in Florida. I saw the first headline and ignored it, thinking it was too bad, but equating it with the all-too-common headlines of someone losing an arm or leg to a shark while surfing. I didn’t give the story a second thought until I saw the headline “Teen: God was with me when gator bit” and I checked it out. I was expecting a self-righteous “God saved me” but what I found instead was a humble acknowledgement that he couldn’t have survived if something divine didn’t intervene. But just like the NY Daily News article, only one paragraph out of 24 said anything related to the headline.

And then of course, who can forget the catchy headline, "God Busted for Selling Drugs Near Church"? Nothing religious at all in this article, but I still clicked.

But seriously, our God doesn't need headlines. Our lives should be all the publicity he needs. What kind of press are you giving God? At work we have what we call "the 60 Minutes Rule", meaning we should always ask ourselves if we would want what we're doing to be reported on 60 Minutes. The hyper-religious might have a similar "700 Club Rule" or "World Net Daily Rule" but you get the picture. If you were interviewed on camera would the world know you're a Christian? If you loudly proclaim it for the world to see, would those that know you best agree? Think about it, you never know when a headline might find you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Standing Your Ground

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been hard keeping up while chasing around my three year old or holding my eight month old. Even harder with a single computer that has to be shared. So not only haven’t I been able to post, but I haven’t been able to keep up with related news either. So it’s easy to go another week without finding the time to read up on all the blogs, Christian news, “main stream media,” and so on to come up with something to write about.

I haven’t been motivated spiritually either, but I’ll get into that in a second. I don’t go into too much personal here, because that’s not the point of this blog. But I can relate my personal struggles to the headlines of the day. So I want to flash back a few weeks to the headline that Sen. Barak Obama finally severed ties to his church of 20-ish years. I defended Rev. Wright here and here although I don’t necessarily agree with, yet understand, the reverse-segregation of that church. I also don’t really buy into Obama’s politically expedient religiosity, or his stated motivation for leaving his church. So I wasn’t surprised by the news. I was disappointed though, that it took so much grandstanding and media-whoring, from a guest preacher no less, to expose that church for what it is.

I feel for Barak. Despite my doubts as to the sincerity of his faith, his church was still a community he was a part of for a long time. I sure he has many deep relationships in that church. He’s probably shared as many victories as defeats while, “rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice, and mourn[ing] with those who mourn.” (Rom 12:15) And as he would frequently state in his defenses of Rev Wright, that here was the man who married him, counseled him, and baptized his children. But he had to say, “Enough.” He had to turn his back on so many memories, so many friends. All for the sake of politics. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but I understand why he fought so hard to postpone the inevitable.

I relate to some degree because right now I’m wrestling with my own congregation. I look at all the relationships, the victories, the defeats, the spiritual growth, and spiritual setbacks. And I ask, was it worth it? I ask, because I look around my congregation and I see a group of people who don’t seem to get it, who appear to be going to church for the sake of going to church. And I can tell by the focus of the recent sermons that I’m not the only one who sees it. It wasn’t always this way, and in talking with other brothers, no one can really put their finger on what’s going on. There are the easy buzzwords of “discipleship” and “evangelism” followed by the usual pep-rally preaching to try and stir up some "spiritual fervor" (Rom 12:11). But our history has shown that in the long run that doesn’t work. And that’s probably why it’s not working now.

It would be easy (not emotionally, granted) to walk away. From the outside looking in, one could understand, even sympathize. I could justify the decision as being expedient. And I could look at the example of Sen. Obama of doing what has to be done. But I won’t, I can’t. Unlike Obama, I won’t make the easy decision. I can’t do what would be expected, what would be understood. No, I’m going to stay and fight. Make the hard decision, do the unexpected, be misunderstood. Why? Because that’s the right thing to do.

Sen. Barak Obama speaks eloquently of change, inspires those around him, and offers hope to so many looking for a better country. But how can I trust the rhetoric when he won’t stand up and fight for his faith, his community? How can I trust his faith when it is so easily cast aside for the sake of politics?

I have news for Sen. Obama, the most crucial battle he’ll have to fight in his bid for the White House isn’t foreign diplomacy or a struggling economy. No, the most crucial battle will be for his very soul. And it will be the hardest fought and can’t be won with rhetoric or with a smile and a handshake. It can only be won with sincerity and deep conviction. “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Is 7:9) “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22)