Archives For pop culture

Last night I watched “Blue Like Jazz” for the first time.  It would be accurate to say I am a fan of Donald Miller, although I have to qualify that statement.  I appreciate the ART of Donald Miller because it is honest and insightful.  I do not look to Donald Miller for theological profundity.  Likewise I found “Blue Like Jazz” the movie to be beautiful in some ways, because it was honest and insightful, but not because it was theologically profound.

So people are asking me what I thought.  I’m conflicted.

Here’s what I like…

“Blue Like Jazz” tells the truth.  “Christian” art (a label I am rapidly liking less and less) doesn’t always do that.  In fact, much art slapped with a “Christian Art” label tries to paint a picture (in some case, I mean this quite literally) representing a sanitized world, safe for church people to enter without feeling too threatened or having their feathers ruffled out of alignment.  Thomas Kinkade is perhaps the poster-boy for this kind of art, which looks one the one hand to be deemed “safe” for Christian consumption, but on the other hand, is actually very dangerous in its “sanitization” of our condition.  In a brilliant critique of Kinkade’s work (read the whole article here), Daniel A. Siedell writes:

“The Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden is get our lives in order. Kinkade’s much ballyhooed ‘light’ merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.

Kinkade’s work is the meticulously painted smile on the Joker’s disfigured face. It refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. And more troubling, it enables his clientele to escape into an imaginary world where things can be pretty good, as long as we have our faith, our family values, and a visual imagery that re-affirms all this at the office and at home.”

This is a problem.  Art has power to disrupt and challenge, but the Christian marketplace comes with its own set of rules designed to protect us from offense.  Therefore, “Christian” art is almost never provocative to the degree that it might lead to actual life-change.  It sooner leads us to be comfortable, while reaffirming our faith.  And we need encouragement, us church people.

But don’t we also need to be disturbed and broken-hearted?  God is in the business of redemption through the ongoing process of death and resurrection.  The death part… it doesn’t look like a Kinkade painting.

Neither does “Blue Like Jazz” the movie.

In fact, “Blue Like Jazz” shows us the yucky side of churchiness without the transformative power of a life rooted and abiding in Jesus Christ.  It shows the carnality and brokenness and narcissism of young adult lives given over to the pursuit of pleasure and identity and meaning when God has been rejected wholesale.  The movie is dark and sad and tragic if you consider the eternal ramifications of the sea of lives surrounding young Don Miller.  If you are planning to see this and expect it to have the feel-good (albeit disquietingly “safe”) vibe of “Facing the Giants” or “Soul-Surfer,” you might find “Blue Like Jazz” disturbing.  Reed College is full of substance abuse and profanity and emptiness and sex.  Lots of it.  “Blue Like Jazz” isn’t unnecessarily graphic, but neither does it pull many punches.

I’m sick of Kincade.  In this, “Blue Like Jazz” was a refreshing change.  It shows brokenness.  It made me hurt for the broken people, and hunger to be bolder as an image-bearer for Jesus.  Broken people need Jesus.  I have Jesus.

“Blue Like Jazz” wasn’t written for the “Church” market, so if you are looking for a movie that is, consider yourself warned.  Instead, Taylor and Miller seem to be telling a story for spiritually curious people who want to know if God is real when the world is such a mess and the churches in many neighborhoods look more like social clubs for hypocrites than beacons of light and hope.

Here’s what I didn’t like…

“Blue Like Jazz” embraces a metaphor, woven throughout the narrative.  “My dad says jazz is like life, because it doesn’t resolve…”  Like much of Donald Miller’s theo-philosophical ponderings, neither does “Blue Like Jazz.”  And I understand that we are works in process, and that art is often more effective when it leaves some questions unanswered.  This leaves room for the consumer to wonder, and think, and search.  But it is unsatisfying in a movie that asks out loud, “Where do we find meaning and purpose in life?”

There ARE clear answers to many of the questions Miller and Taylor are asking, but it is cooler to leave them unanswered.  It is cooler to leave us to ponder on our own.

** MINOR SPOILER ALERT **

Sure, by the end of the film the young, restless Don Miller comes to some kind of ambiguous belief that God is probably real, and this Jesus stuff… he buys it. But there is little power in his transformation, because it is very hard to see what this transformation actually looks like.  Except, of course, for a compulsion not only to ask forgiveness for his own hypocrisy and lack of courage, but also for the many failings of the Church, writ large.  That may be cool, and more palatable to the jaded (or wounded) spiritually-curious viewers.  But my heart aches for them to hear a better story.

A better story starts with an all-powerful and very present God Almighty, who is not only Sovereign and perfectly Holy, but full of mind-bending LOVE that obliterates our best attempts to understand it.  That perfectly pure One created every soul who ever lived to be in a mutually joy-giving relationship with Him.  But we, the creatures, spat in His face because we thought we knew better what would satisfy.  We died that day.  And every day since, man clamors to find identity and meaning and lasting pleasure, but none of it really satisfies us.  Reed College exhausts us, and we feel the shame of it.

A better story would speak the truth of the Bible, that JESUS CHRIST came to save SINNERS, even the very worst.  That He offers HOPE and JOY that really is lasting and satisfies our longing for identity, meaning, and pleasure free from guilt.  This is THE true story the world needs to hear.

I don’t mean to saddle “Blue Like Jazz” the movie with the calling of the Church.  God did not call Steve Taylor and Donald Miller to use this movie to make disciples.  He calls me to do that, and you, too, if you love Jesus.  But I sense a missed opportunity here.  That’s all I’m saying.

“Blue Like Jazz” is smartly written, well acted, and cleverly rendered.  It works.  I see the need for movies and more art in general to explore faith while looking honestly at brokenness, although I remember the words of Paul to focus our minds and hearts on “whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)  In order to focus on what is true – on the life-transforming power of the GOSPEL – allow “Blue Like Jazz” to do the work it is intended to do.  Let it disturb you and stir compassion in you for the brokenness we live in.

Then get in the Word, read the Gospel, and do something.

Watch the trailer here…

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“blue like jaz” the movie :: thoughts and ponderings by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

 

Should the culture around our church influence the culture inside our church?  And if so, how much is too much?

The late, great Robert E. Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Worship, says the following:

Anyone who travels and visits churches will see that “program,” “theme,” and “creative” are the most dominant words of worship planning that force leaders toward designing culturally driven worship.  My concern is that culturally driven worship will nurture a culturally formed spiritual life.

Whoa doggie.  That right there is loaded.  I agree with Robert Webber.  And I don’t.  Let me es’splain…

Culturally driven worship?  What does that mean?

This reminds me of the false dichotomy that has often been leveled against “seeker sensitive” churches that are simply trying to remove unnecessary “churchy” barriers for people who don’t usually attend church.  Calling those churches “seeker-driven” ministries insinuates that thinking about how an outsider might feel coming into church equates to making the comfort and retention of the non-church-goer the HIGHEST priority.  Perhaps Dr. Webber intended to word this as strongly as he did, but I think describing the approach of most contemporary evangelical churches as “culturally sensitive” worship may be closer to the mark.

While I wouldn’t ever condone a ministry model that put people-pleasing above Biblical truth, I think the criticism of “seeker-sensitivity” often is unfair and counterproductive.  In its truest sense, I believe EVERY SINGE CHURCH should be “seeker-sensitive,” or in Webberian terminology, “culturally sensitive,” to the degree that we make our churches a place that welcomes sinners to hear the whole truth of God’s Word.  (1) God loves us and He created us to enjoy relationship with Him.  (2) Our sin has broken that relationship and we deserve eternal punishment and separation from Him.  (3) Jesus died on the cross to pay our penalty so that we could enjoy that redeemed relationship with God He created us for in the first place.  And (4) He’s coming again in victory to judge all of mankind and establish a new heaven and a new earth.  All to His glory.

I want people – anybody – who is willing to walk through the doors of our church to hear that message.  I don’t want unnecessary churchiness to shot block the Gospel.  I’ll encourage every church I serve to be unashamedly “culturally sensitive…”  But that isn’t what Webber is warning us of.  He’s warning of a worship ministry model that is “culturally driven.”

Dr. Webber says that a focus on program (service planning), theme (communication strategy) and creativity (artistic storytelling and response) will inevitably lead to “culturally driven worship.”  And that in turn, our worship services/experiences will inevitably lead to a “culturally driven spiritual life.”

Robert Webber is wise.  There is great danger in letting the culture drive worship service planning (i.e. “programming”) to the degree that we out-plan the Holy Spirit or creatively mask the simple and pure teaching of the Word of God with creative storytelling and culturally relevant analogies.

To that degree, I agree with Dr. Webber.  It is possible for contemporary churches to reflect our culture to the degree that there is hardly any difference between a “church event” and any given Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Maybe less swearing…

If the contemporary church leans into contemporary communication models and reflects cultural trends to the neglect of clear preaching of the Word of God and the traditional pillars of the local church (prayer, confession of sin, confession of faith, reverence, etc.), people’s spiritual lives WILL be shaped in the image of the culture, where religion is personal and relative, compartmentalized, comfortable.

Not with a fox…  One example:  Some contemporary ministries seem to have been called to reach out to the “hot young and trendy” mission field.  Sunday morning and evening worship events are led by Ambercrombie and Fitch.  And I understand that the 20-something hottiesneed to hear the Gospel, too, so we ought to present a foxy female vocalist and guitar playing Zac Efron with skinny jeans to reach them.  Makes sense.  But what if someone came in to our church dirty, broken and smelling bad?  How quick would we be – any of us – to befriend them and warmly welcome them to come again… or to come over for dinner?  Culture is about image.  The Church is about love.

Not wearing sox…  I remember the day one of my great friends and fellow worship team members came to the evening service at our national youth convention to play guitar wearing a t-shirt sporting the old-timey image of a service attendant holding a fuel spout with a smile and a dialogue bubble proudly displaying the words, “I’ve got gas!”  While his choice of apparel certainly reflected the Junior High culture we were steeped in that week, it was perhaps not the best choice to promote the deep reverence we hoped to model as we led the students into the throne room of the King of Angels.  My point has little to do with fashion.  It’s about reverence.  Depending on your culture, worship leading in shorts, flip-flops and print T’s may fit like a glove.  But remember that what we do is a high and holy calling.  We usher the local body of Christ into His presence, to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and to interact with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word.  Too many casual references to pop culture, edgy jokes, coarse language (and yes, some ministries use off-color language to reflect their “authenticity” and “cultural relevance”), movie clips, or fill-in-the-blank can keep people comfortably “stuck” in the cultural paradigm they walked out of when they entered our church.  Culture is about looking like we fit in.  Church is about becoming set apart.

Not in a box…  Some churches are admittedly “variety junkies” when it comes to worship programming.  As they run with a theme each week, they pour their best creative juice into the planning bucket and mix it up until something attention-grabbing, something arresting, something MEMORABLE rises to the top.  I’ll admit… I love it.  In my perfect ministry world, I would forever work with a team of creative programmers who would craft memorable, God-honoring worship-inspiring moments that teach God’s truth and allow room for the church to respond.  This leaves a congregation with a “what will church be like THIS week?” intrigue, and if it is handled well – and led by the Spirit – this can help keep people from “rote religious hoop jumping.”

The down-side, or danger, of a free-flowing “out of the box” worship planning paradigm is that congregations lose the many benefits of liturgy and the life-grounding repetition of the truth communicated through the corporate worship structure. Important traditional elements of the service, such as corporate confession of faith or time for personal confession, can get lost in the creative flow.  Variety for entertainment’s sake has limited value.  We mustn’t sacrifice age-old core functions of God’s church in our thirst to do something new. Culture is all about variety for the sake of entertainment.  When the Church embraces variety, it must be for the sake of more potent communication (or celebration) of God’s truth.

So should I worry that so many churches want to program their services creatively around a theme… or not?

Again, I agree with Robert Webber… and I don’t.  Look at his quote again.  In his estimation, the words “programming,” “theme,” and “creative” were the most dominant words in worship planning for many churches.  In a ministry where that is truly the case, I may agree with him.  There is danger in that ministry stepping past cultural sensitivity into culture-driven worship models… and that does run the grave danger of promoting spiritual life shaped more by cultural norms than by the transforming power of the counter-cultural Word of God.

Perhaps the most dominant words shaping our local church worship experiences ought to be JESUS, love, sin, forgiveness, brokenness, healing, wrath, grace, truth, and surrender.  It is the SUBSTANCE of our worship that must be dominant, not the METHOD.  It is the essence, not the form.

However, this is a babies and bathwater situation.  I plead with the Church to THINK as they program services.  To communicate truth with a thought-through focus that will resonate after the benediction.  To unleash their deepest and most beautiful creative efforts to speak the truth and celebrate the story of God.

Let’s look at the culture, but not look like it.  Let’s invite the culture in and redeem it.  Let’s creatively program services around a theme in a culturally sensitive paradigm that is driven not by cultural trends, but by the call of Jesus to go and make disciples… led by the Word and the Spirit.


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“culturally driven worship? :: not with a fox, not wearing sox, not in a box” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

“We’re not going down! Hold the line!”

Tears are running down my face now.  My sides hurt. Make it stop!

“Brace yourself! It’s coooommmminnggg!”

I’m sucking air. I haven’t laughed like this forever.  It feels good.  It’s therapy.

“I couldn’t help it man. I went down. The dude in front of me weighed, like, 250.  I didn’t wanna do it.  I’m so ashamed…”

My cousin is in storytelling mode.  He’s recounting the time he and his brother-in-law went to a Benny Hinn event.  Live. For them it was more like a trip to the circus than a trip to church.  Benny was in rare form.  Waving his arms and knocking down the crowd in waves of the, um, Spirit.  They were determined to remain standing as the crowds of devotees around them were “slain in the Spirit” or “blown away by the wind of the Spirit” or “succumbed to the onslaught of hot air coming in waves from the platform” or whathaveyou.  It was all going so well, too, until the six foot four linebacker directly in front of them surrendered to the bologna and went down. On top of them. Alas, try as they might to literally stand their ground on behalf of rational believers the world over, it was to no avail.  They were slain in the Spirit.  Forcibly.

See, that there is funny.

My question du jour is this… When it comes to all things religious, does having a sense of humor diminish our reverence in some way?  In other words, if we laugh at the charlatans and jesters, instead of responding with somber judgement, are we making light of the faith we claim – or worse… are we treating the reputation of Jesus and His church with irreverence?  It’s a serious question.

When charlatans and jesters dabble in the arena of religion, and if said charlatans and jesters are truly funny…is it OK to laugh? Or is it playing with fire?

Today is one of those days when I don’t necessarily have a hard answer.  I’m curious to see what you think about all of this.  I’m trying to find that nebulous middle ground… in the place where freedom and license mingle.  I’m open to correction, or at least to refining, because you guys might have a perspective I haven’t thought of yet.

Two people have prompted this post. First of all, Benny Hinn, the TV “evangelist” from the dark side.  Second, Niko Alm, the Austrian “Pastafarian” who recently won the right to take his driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head as a religious head covering.  We’ll get back to Niko and his dual-purpose head gear in short order.  But first…

Benny Hinn. It is appropriate to write this post today immediately after writing about my distaste for snark in the Church, because it allows me an important clarification.  I stand by my conviction that sharp, pointed, sarcastic characterization of other people is almost always ugly and unnecessary.  Nine times out of ten, I think Christians should err on the side of kindness.  And yet, I don’t feel any contradiction in calling out wolves among the sheep… if they really are wolves.  I’m not talking about character assassination – and often that happens between brothers who disagree on some point of doctrine or methodology.  But this is something else, I believe.  There is a time to call out the phonies who use the name of Jesus for personal gain.  There is a time to call a fool a fool.

Benny Hinn is no brother in the Lord.  Benny Hinn is a dangerous charlatan who has HARMED the cause of the Gospel of Jesus, using His name to bilk people of their money, providing staged “healings” and ridiculous false “Holy Spirit power” to literally knock people over… for what reason I don’t know.  So I have no problem calling him out.  I do think he may actually wield some spiritual power… just not God’s power.

With that in mind, please enjoy the following.  This makes me laugh every time…

Good times. Now, a great friend of mind posted this video clip on Facebook earlier this year and the response was… surprising.  Really surprising, to be honest.  He was raked over the coals for “mockery” and an unkind spirit toward Benny Hinn.  The comment thread was LONG and pointed.  My response… “That is funny.  It’s OK to laugh at funny.  Benny Hinn is a baffoon, and he does not speak for Jesus or His Bride.  I have no problem laughing at that.”

I’m curious.  Does that put a bad taste in your mouth? I’m not judging the laughers or the non-laughers among us.  But I’m curious.  Are there some of you who feel the same as those who criticized my friend? Is this kind of humor below the holy standard of the children of the King?

And that brings me to our Austrian atheist friend, Niko. The Pastafarian.

For those of you who are unaware of the growing Pastafarian movement, here’s the 411… Although the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a.k.a. “Pastafarianism”) claims to have existed underground for hundreds of years, it really came to the forefront with the publication of this letter to the Kansas School Board by one Bobby Henderson in 1995.  In response to their inclusion of Intelligent Design theory into the public schools as an alternative to Darwinian theory, Bobby proposed inclusion of the Pastafarian theory of creation, involving the Noodley Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and of course, propagation of the inverse relationship between the number of Pirates and global warming.

Brilliant.

Of course, it’s full blown mockery of the one true God.  So when Niko Alm, a devoted follower of FSM (that’s code for “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) was victorious in the Austrian court system and won the right to sport kitchenware on his cranium for his driver’s license photo, I felt a twinge of inner conflict.

But, truth be told, I laughed.  Out loud.  I lol’ed. ‘Cause that right there is funny.

So here I am, a voice to the Church for freedom and joy.  I really believe that in the eyes of the world, it doesn’t do the message of the Gospel any good when His followers refuse to acknowledge the funny amidst the irreverent.  Funny is funny.

Or am I off base here?  Part of me wonders, literally, what would Jesus do?  Forgive the cliche… but I honestly wonder.  Would Jesus laugh at Benny Hinn using the force?  Would He see the humor in the straight face of Niko the strainer-adorned Pastafarian?

There was a time Jesus wept for the lost souls of Jerusalem.  I’ve honestly wondered how, knowing with perfect clarity the eternal fate of those around Him who chose not to believe – not to follow… How could Jesus have walked among them without weeping all the time?

And yet, he didn’t.  He mourned the consequences of sin at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  He got frustrated with the stubborn hearts of the people he taught.  He grieved.  But he also sang hymns and shared jokes with his disciples and he laughed.

God is the author of humor.  He wired us to recognize it – to respond to it.  He created us to laugh. In fact, I’m walking proof of His sense of humor.  My foibles are epic-making, and He’s still trying to use my life.  So I look to Him as a Father I can trust to be good and who will respond to me in love.

And I fear Him as a Father who is not to be taken lightly.  He is a Father to be revered.  To be loved and adored, yes.  But respected and revered as the Holy One.

I walk in balance here.  Joy and freedom, yes.  And reverence.  They are not mutually exclusive. But they do live in tension sometimes.

The truth is, seeing anyone choose to align themselves with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, hoping to be “touched by his Noodley Apendage” is two things at the same time… tragic… and funny.  They are clever in their irreverence.  They do not hurl venomous insults at the Church.  Instead they subvert Christianity (and all organized religion, I suppose) with parody.  But it’s funny. I’m torn.

Benny Hinn – especially Benny Hinn with a light saber – is two things… tragic… and funny.  He is a wolf, not a brother, as far as I can tell.  And the staggering cost of his perverse “ministry” is hard to calculate.  But watching him flail around like a clown and shoot people with lightning bolts… I find it hard not to laugh.

God will be the judge of Benny.  God will be the judge of Niko.  One day every knee will bow and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Both the sinners and the forgiven sinners.  Benny and Niko and yours truly all need Jesus.  I’ve prayed for the three of us.  Unless my life situation somehow puts me direct contact with either of these two men, I don’t see how my laughing at their antics has one iota of impact on their eternity.

But for the sake of the name of Jesus, should I be laughing at all?

Today, for the sake of transparency, I’ll own it.  I rever the Lord of Heaven, and I am passionate about His reputation.  But I’ve been redeemed for freedom, and He knows my heart.  And doggoneit… I feel free to laugh.

Tell me what you think.


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“pastafarians, benny hinn, charlatans and jesters :: it’s ok to laugh, right?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

There are three ways the church can respond to culture. And by “culture,” I mean normal walking-around life, surrounded by the contemporary marketplace of ideas, ideologies, philosophies, marketing, goods and services, media and entertainment. It’s “the world” in big huge air quotes (picture me talking more slowly and wiggling two fingers on either side of my face when I say that…) that we’re supposed to be “IN” but not “OF.” Culture.

Is it evil? Is it just our present reality – kind of a blank slate we’ve been handed to paint our redemption story on? Is it a war zone? Is it a playground? The church has to decide, because millions of souls are walking around in it. Many are curious and hungry – wanting there to be some peace of mind and freedom and meaning in our churches. Some are hostile. Enemy combatants. Many, many more are disinterested. I believe those souls all need Jesus, and if you believe that, too, you have to think through the options when it comes to culture. We’re surrounded. How are we going to engage or stave off or reach out to the souls we encounter in this space we call CULTURE?

Again, I believe the Church has three options:

(1) RECEIVE ::  Blue jeans, iPhones, microwave ovens, Facebook, John Mayer (A true artist), “Finding Nemo,” LifeTime Fitness, Cold Stone ice cream, email… there are many blessings of modernity that can be enjoyed without compromising Biblical values or threatening to undermine our moral standards. These are things the church can RECEIVE, grateful to God for the enjoyment and blessing they bring to our lives.

(2) REJECT ::  Illicit drugs, pornography, vulgar language, John Mayer (not ALL of his songs are innocuous), alcohol abuse, racism, rampant consumerism, Burger King breakfast food… there are many parts of modern culture that have no place in the life of a believer. Either they ascribe and proclaim anti-Biblical messages, or promote sin as acceptable or normative, or they taste like bacos and Velveeta rolled in salt with a side of salt and extra salt. All of these parts of culture must be rejected.

(3) REDEEM ::  And now, the rubber meets the road. We reflect God’s nature when we take what has been stolen or broken by sin and the devil and redeem it to glorify the Lord. Much of the technology, communication tools, trends, artistic efforts, etc., of modernity can be creatively and effectively REDEEMED by the church if we are willing to pray, use our imaginations, and have the courage to be IN but not OF. Social media, contemporary music, marketing tools, John Mayer (in the right setting… absolutely), film and multi-media, theater and dance, Braveheart… The church can harness much of the culture around us and “re-brand it” for Kingdom purposes as a reflection of the Redeemer God who is pursing us – to remake us again in His image.

The church must decide.

To throw out all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole, but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “OUT OF and NOT OF.” Easy. Safe, maybe. But not impacting the culture. Or saving souls.

To embrace all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole… but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “IN AND OF.” Also easy. Not safe though. And in like manner as its opposite extreme… not impacting culture. Or, many times, truly saving souls.

To parse all of culture on an ongoing basis is NOT easy. Nor is it always safe. But prayerful, carefully discerned cultural REDEMPTION actually DOES have the potential to change culture. And souls who would otherwise write off church as irrelevant might be willing to come in and take a look. And if they come in the door, they have the potential of hearing the life-changing Word of God which convicts of sin and rescues to hopeless and broken-hearted.

Where local churches fall on these issues becomes a matter of conviction, often dividing believers from one another along cultural boundaries instead of theological ones. To borrow a metaphor from my brother Mark Driscoll, we need to be clear on the theological difference between our “State” and “National” boundaries.

Mark says that “state” boundaries are those stylistic and secondary theological issues that often divide evangelical denominations one from another.  Baptists might not like social dancing, but that’s not such a big deal to Lutherans… as long as Toby Mac and Casting Crowns are in the DJ’s play list.  Some sprinkle their new babies, and some only dunk the professing believers.  Some think we’ll be snatched up “Jerry Jenkins style” at the Rapture when Jesus comes back, and others think we all have to endure the fury of the end times first.  Some like Southern Gospel.  I know.  Hard to believe.  But it’s true.

These are the “State” boundaries, theologically speaking. We’re not pulling out the heavy artillery to launch a full scale assault on North Dakota.  Don’t get me wrong… we’re glad to be Minnesotans.  But we embrace our wind-swept  brothers as perhaps lesser fortunate, yet fully embraced Midwesterners.  Like us.

But if you press us on the core stuff – Christ’s divinity, the Bible’s inerrancy and authority on all matters of faith, the universality of sin, the exclusivity of the cross as the only path to God – these are “National” boundary lines, and they are worth contending for.  If Canada ever sends a sortie of heavily armed mounties across the line at Biwabik or International Falls, those hosers are going down, eh?

Contending for the faith, after all, is a Biblical idea (Jude 1:3).  But it stands in balance with passages like John 17, where Jesus prays to His Father, asking God that we (all believers) would be ONE, just as He and the Father are ONE.  And contending for the faith also stands in tension with Romans 12:8, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  We can’t abide assaults on the primary biblical tenets that make the Gospel unique among all the religions of the world.  But we can agree to disagree on those state-to-state issues that don’t threaten the clear teaching of the one way to reunion with God – faith in the grace of Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins.

So here we are.  In Minnesota.  We keep an open border with our North Dakotan brothers.  They do produce some tasty spuds in the Red River Valley, after all.  And we keep a wary eye on those Canadian insurgents who would press across our border, threatening our very American-ness with their alternative rock bands, rugged natural beauty, and generally friendly disposition.  Oh yeah… and with their summertime combination of plaid shorts and long black socks.  We can’t stand for it!

The point is, local church, you must decide. When it comes to culture, what must we reject, what can we receive, and what can we REDEEM for God’s glory?  I hope to be crystal clear on those first two, and to relish the third whenever possible.  And in the process, forgive me if I ever fire on a North Dakotan brother.

It’s the Canucks we need to contend with.

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“north dakota gets a pass, but canada is going down :: culture, church, and contending for the faith” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I’m not linking to a hundred blog posts.  I’m not starting another op-ed column.  Because this post isn’t about Rob Bell.  Or Hell.

If you haven’t seen for yourself what has the Christian subculture all stirred up, watch this…


So Rob Bell’s upcoming book may or may not suggest that there’s no Hell. Or nobody is in Hell.  Or they won’t be.  Or not for long.  We don’t know. The book comes out March 20 something.  But his publisher (HarperOne) says that Rob is (among other things)… “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”

Justin Taylor responded.  John Piper tweeted.  Boom.

But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell. To the point then.

Culture shifts.  It swings like a pendulum. I often find myself looking at the pendulum of cultural ideology with a mix of fascination for the psychology of it all (like watching people you don’t know in the airport) and concern for souls (like watching a family member get on a plane to fly somewhere far away… maybe for a long time).  I carry a mix of modern-age cultural realism and heart-ache-inducing care for souls.  Always there. Watching culture swing.

Watching Rob Bell, whom this post isn’t about, I was reminded again… and then again by the Twitter explosion last Saturday… and again and again by a dozen and a half bloggers in rapid response…

One thing this current parabolic shift in Christian evangelical sub-culture has embraced that we can be sure of is… we can’t be sure of anything.

I don’t mean to use hyperbole.  We might embrace mystery.  Wonder.  We might say we just seek Jesus.  Or we want to live like Him.  But we don’t really want anyone to tell us what that means.

Relevant Magazine (giving voice to the twenty-something generation at the intersection of Christian faith and real life) just published their list of “50 ideas that changed everything.”  Number 19?  Yep.  “Nothing says FAITH like DOUBT.” Then they sucker-punched me in my email inbox with this excellent article about “Why Doubt isn’t a Dirty Word.”

One of the many blogs that was sent to me on the whole “Hell” debate, which this post isn’t about, was from thirty-something faith-life observer and Christian sub-culture Pocket-Guide author Jason Boyett, whose latest book is titled “O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling.” (Which, by the way, I think you should buy for the cover art alone.  Genius.)

In the Christian realm of conversation “relativism” is frowned upon, even by those of us who have grown up steeped in post-millennial stew.  We know enough to reject “relative truth.”  Right? I mean… right?  I think the postmillennial babies that are now emerging (some pun intended) in the life of the Church as young adults believe that there are some things that are just unshakably true… if they are pressed.  But we aren’t supposed to press, as far as I can tell.

The truth is, doubt is cool right now.

In fact, doubt is seen as a sign of true humility, honest faith, open-mindedness, reasonableness, approachability.  Questions are hip. The guy this post isn’t focusing on asked 25 of them in his two and a half minute video above.  But that’s OK.  Questions make people think.  It’s just that while questions foster exploration of the possibilities, clear statements made with conviction don’t leave that kind of creative space.  Conviction communicates faith in absolutes. And absolutes are exclusive because they rule out other options.  And if you’re reading this right now, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth… exclusive, absolute, clear-cut conviction… I’m asking the question today:  why is that?

Somehow, conviction has become equated with haughty self-righteousness and narrow-minded mean-spiritedness, pride, vulgar stubborn offensive…  conviction is a lesser value.

My heart breaks.

Who will write the book, “My Faith is Strong, and I Know in Whom I Believe”?  What has happened to the William Wallaces, crying “FREEDOM!” against the odds?  Is it no longer admirable to take a stand for a belief, or is it only admirable to take a stand for somebody else? I know, that’s a false dichotomy.  But it has some teeth.

I think the next generation Church would readily embrace the poor and broken and marginalized in our communities – take a stand for LOVE – and that is commendable.  New passion to be Jesus-with-skin-on in a way our parents often weren’t.  In a way I haven’t been.  God bless those who LOVE in Jesus name.

But will this generation also take a stand for TRUTH?  Is it admirable anymore to hold to ideals even when those ideals may be unpopular, or uncomfortable?

If someone you love is on a self-destructive path, what is the most loving thing to do?  Comfort does not equal compassion. the Bible isn’t clear about everything.  But many, many things are ringing with clarity and urgency.  There is a life and death reality that follows every soul, every heartbeat.  Even among the hostile and the apathetic.

Church! For Christ’s sake – decide what you believe!  Stand for it. Live it out.  Doubt is acceptable as a process – a pathway to further understanding.  But I don’t believe it is a virtue as a perpetual excuse to substitute personal experience for higher ideals.

Doubt may be the new faith, but I have greater respect for those who can humbly, respectfully, but unflinchingly demonstrate that they believe something to their core, and they are willing to rise or fall on that conviction.

Now to the passionate, to the men and women of conviction, the the truth-tellers and safeguards of Biblical inerrancy… please love people. It is rare to see someone stand for the Word with an iron will and the patience to engage in respectful discussion.  We have a responsibility to be Christ-like, which is impossible.  So I ask the Holy Spirit to keep shaping me, that I can be a man of great conviction and great humility.

There is this huge part of me that wants to tell you what I think about Rob Bell.  I know his book isn’t even out yet.  Certainly the world will be in a better place to have that discussion freely after four hundred bazillion of us buy his book on March twenty something.  Congratulations HarperOne.  There’s this part of me that wants to talk about hell – about the hundreds of references to this place of darkness and pain and fire spoken of in plain language in the Bible from cover to cover – and laced through Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom like a stubborn thread… making people uncomfortable.

But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell.

It’s about the value of CONVICTION.  And the necessity of HUMILITY.

UPDATE: A reader reminded me of the connection to another post that touches on the topic of speaking with conviction. If you’re curious, and you want a good laugh, check out this VIDEO and a few thoughts that follow… >> i believe, like, you know? :: in defense of the declarative voice


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“this post isn’t about rob bell… or hell :: conviction and humility” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This right here is funny.  That’s really all I need to say.  Enjoy


I recently stumbled across a list of the Top 20 Dwight Schrute (from “The Office”) quotes of all time. Or least the last seven seasons. Here’s number one…

“When my mother was pregnant with me, they did an ultrasound and found she was having twins. When they did another ultrasound a few weeks later, they discovered that I had adsorbed the other fetus. Do I regret this? No, I believe his tissue has made me stronger. I now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby.”

So good. And a ripe metaphor for the picking. Win win.

I am really uncomfortable right now. It has nothing to do with the hastily consumed lunch I ploughed through on the way to work. This is a soul-deep intellectual wrestling match… with myself. I have run headlong into a theological discovery/problem/question that doesn’t seem to square up nicely with what I’ve been taught… my whole life. And now I’m a Seminary student in a conservative Lutheran Seminary. And there’s this thing. This problem.

It’s like a little baby. In my brain. Growing, forming, stretching my mind. Kicking. Elbowing me in the brain. Taking shape. But not yet ready to be born.

I’m really uncomfortable. And that’s so good.

I know… you want me to let the cat out of the bag… or the baby out of my brain… or the idea out of my face. But this post isn’t about the idea/problem/question itself. It’s about having an idea/problem/question at all.

Frankly, I’m a little scared that I might believe something here that most of the people I’m in class with don’t believe. I’m a little afraid I might need to change my theological presuppositions. I’m afraid of the birthing process. It might be messy.

And yet, I LOVE THIS. I am energized and fueled by the reality that I’m growing, and thinking, and interacting with a living God… and all the while this idea is nudging me and kicking inside my head, wanting to be let loose. Do you know this feeling? The seasons in life when a really big piece of your philosophical or even theological grid is in the process of being formed, and you just know that at the end of the struggle, something new will be birthed in you?

So someday (before too long, I hope, because man… I am REALLY uncomfortable here) this idea/problem/question will make its way out of my face, out of my brain, and onto this blog, I’m sure. But it’s not fully cooked yet. It’s not fully formed. Still premature.

Whatever it is… this question I have for Him… He’s big enough for it. He knows me already, and he knows that kicking baby of a thought in my brain. I think maybe He planted it there, after all.

And this kind of uncomfortable lets me know that I’m ALIVE. I thank God I’m disturbed.  My faith is strong, not the weaker for my questions. I hope I never stop thinking, pressing in, birthing new ideas and deeper understanding. I don’t mean inventing new ways of understanding the Bible… I mean plumbing the depths of what He’s already given us all the more. Because a mature faith isn’t one in which we stop asking questions. On the contrary.

Ask your questions. Dig in. Press hard. Sweat. Lose sleep. God loves you. He allows His children to ask. He’s letting me be uncomfortable right now for my own good. He’s reminding me of His sovereignty and goodness, and birthing new ideas in me… painfully, slowly, both carefully and recklessly. But these uncomfortable times are so, so good. They mean growth. They mean my faith life has the strength of a grown man… (wait for it…)

…and a little baby.

What ideas/problems/questions are keeping you up at night? Kicking you in the brain?

 

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“the strength of a grown man… and a little baby :: uncomfortable is good” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I love the mix of video, audio, lighting, programming, and facial hair that makes this work.  All in one take.  No edits.  This is live art creation in real time by Edison.  How cool is that?

The first time I ever saw one of these “beatboxes” used in a live setting was Imogen Heap on Letterman singing “Last Train Home.”  You can catch that awesome performance here.

WOW! You can see forever up here. Looking down on all the little people. I love it up here.

Man, this seat of scoffers is comfy, too, the way it cradles my hind end. Like it was built just for me. I had it custom fitted here on top of this high horse. Which is awesome. I love getting up on this baby, and then we stand up here… on top of this pedestal. Good times. So glad I hardly ever sin anymore. That makes it way easier to judge all of you without feeling guilty. This works out great, too, because from up on this here high horse, on top of the pedestal I’ve erected, my very vantage point makes it impossible to even see you people without looking down on you. So that’s working out sweet.

* insert prolonged barfing here *

To my non-Christian friends, can I just say that if I’m ever up on my high horse, hair blowing in the breeze (like Fabio), pecs bulging and loose fitted oxford unbuttoned to mid-sterum (like Fabio), you have permission to hit me in the face with a goose (like Fabio). This is all going to tie together into one glorious metaphorical union in a few paragraphs. I promise.

I’m not afraid of heights, per se. It’s more like a fear of falling from high places. And honestly, it’s really more about the landing than the falling, to be specific. But even with my weebers about falling from high places, I DO enjoy the occasional adrenaline rush of a good rollercoaster. Oh man. The higher, the faster, the gut-wrenching-er the better, baby. There’s nothing like the crushing g-force shift of being perched on top of the world, taking a leisurly perusal of the neighboring states, and then hurling over the drop at 90 mph into the abyss.  Adrenaline junkies, can I get an AMEN?!

And as much as I love a great rollercoaster ride, it is possible that I love the ironic happenings of March 27, 1999, even more.  There sat Fabio. Front row.  Hands alternately behind the safety bar, waving to fans, and flipping that cascading golden mane.  In all of his pectoral glory.  It’s the inaugural run of the new “Apollo’s Chariot” roller coaster in Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  During the first drop over the 210 foot descent, Fabio Lanzoni killed a goose.  With his face.

I’ll never forget hearing the news later that night.  Picture me eating pizza with friends…  “So.  Did you hear Fabio killed a goose with his face on a rollercoaster today?” Now picture me with Diet Dr. Pepper shooting out of my nose.  That’s pretty much how it went down.

Might be my favorite news item of the 90’s.  I mean, it probably would have killed a regular guy – probably would have taken my head clean off.  Thank goodness that goose connected with the regal countenace of the iron-necked wonder.

But all of this reminiscing has a point, after all. And I mean to say this for both my non-believing friends who are sick of feeling the judgment of the church folks you rub shoulders with, and for my fellow Christians who have gotten comfy up here, looking down on the little people from our lofty vantage point…

The truth is…  WE ARE JUST LIKE YOU. I’m not talking to sinners and non-sinners, here.  I’m talking to sinners… and other sinners.  We’re all just sinners. NO ONE is entitled to a comfy ride on the their high horse.  NO ONE has earned the right to look down on the regular people…  we’re all regular people.

Psalm 32 (written by David, one of my heroes) starts like this…

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Thank goodness he didn’t start with, “Blessed is the one who has never sinned before,” or, “blessed is the one who will never sin again.”  I’d be OFF that list. And so would you.  In fact, Jesus is the only man who would make the cut.  But it doesn’t say that.

Martin Luther writes about this Psalm and notes that even the saints are sinners.  They can’t become holy, forgiven, and reconnected with God without acknowledging that fact before the Lord.  Apart from our best efforts (which can’t get us anywhere with God), Jesus alone covers our sin. Luther writes…

“In short, our righteousness is called (in plain language) the forgiveness of our sins…  All the saints are sinners and remain sinners.  But they are holy because God in His grace neither sees nor counts these sins, but forgets, forgives, and covers them.  There is thus no distinction between the saints and the non-saints.”

Did you catch that last little bit?  NO DISTINCTION. We’re all sinners.  We’re all regular people.

“They are sinners alike and all sin daily, only that the sins of the holy are covered not counted; and the sins of the unholy are counted not covered…  both of them are truly wounded, truly sinners…”

So, um, I’m gonna just get out of this comfy seat up here, and climb down off this here high horse and, um, take the zip line down from this here pedestal.  Because the only difference between me and my non-believing friends is JESUS.  Still sinning.  Don’t want to.  But when it comes to my relationship with God, and he look at me, JESUS has covered my sins, and the Father doesn’t see them at all.

To my unbelieving friends… please give me a smack if I ever come across as if I’m on some higher plane than you.  I’m not.  You and I BOTH need Jesus. And this isn’t to say that sin doesn’t matter.  Quite the opposite.  But we can’t fix it. Only Jesus can cover, remove, clean up, and remake us.  From this eye-ball-to-eyeball vantage point, I’m asking you to talk to me about why Jesus matters.  But it’s not because I’m any better than you, or that my sins are any less significant than yours.  I’m just forgiven.

And to my fellow Christians… If you survey your surroundings and realize you’ve been looking down on all the little people below you, surveying your surroundings from the top of the coaster… the High Horse Express… it’s time to come on down.  And if you’ve gotten a little bit too cozy in that custum made seat of scoffers, God has a way of humbling the proud.  I’ve seen the forecast.  It’s going to be thick with geese all week.

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“Lord, please hit some Christians in the face with a goose like you did to Fabio. Amen.” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This album reminds me what art can do.

It can surprise, and make you feel, and reflect beauty, and shout about God’s genius.

My good friend Mark Edwards (aka Original Mark Edwards aka OME) is releasing his new album (“Tired Birds”) this Friday, January 14, here in the Twin Cities.  See details above.  If you want to know more about (OME), click here.  Get “Tired Birds” on iTunes here.  If you want advanced tickets to the Friday night CD release party, click here.

And if you want a taste, here you go…