Archive for the ‘consumerism’ Category

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m one of the very fortunate and blessed people who have many people to love. My wife, my daughters, my church and family and friends throughout the country. These people are dearer to me than my own life.

And, likely, you have people like that in your life too.

You have people whom you cherish; folks you’d trade your life for. And even though Valentine’s Day is the most fabricated pseudo-holiday we celebrate, it’s never a bad idea to let the people you love know that you love them. So make a point today to say “I love you” to those people.

But I want to give us (the Christians who visit this space) a moment of pause. Why? Because those of us who follow the teachings of Jesus are called not only to love the ones we love, we are also called to love those we might be inclined to hate.

Jesus, in one of the clearest teachings in scripture, tells us, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” Instruction in righteousness doesn’t get any more perspicuous than that. “Love your enemies.” There. Done. Over. Got it?

Jesus is telling us what we already know: Anybody can love the people they love and hate their enemies, but it takes someone with God on the inside to cut against the grain and love those they would otherwise hate. Even though Jesus is giving us a command, most of us treat it like it’s a nice idea that might be good to get around to…someday!

That’s why, some of our supposed American Christian leaders exhort the church to repeal and replace this basic tenet of Jesus’ to love both our neighbor and our enemy. Terrorists, secularists, those on the “other side” of politics, culture, religion and sexuality are objects to be hated and defeated, rather than the destination of God’s in-breaking love for the world flowing through his church.

In a strange way, these leaders are right in their pronouncements concerning the threat of secularization in America. Our country is becoming more secular; but the church may be leading the way! The failure to love our enemies leads away – not toward – the cross.

So what would a church look like that actually believed Jesus was giving a command when he said “Love your enemies”? Any ideas?

I’d love to hear them.

Since becoming the senior staff person at an organization I’ve injected my reading and development with a tremendous dosage of leadership material.  I’ve been to conferences, read books, watched webinars and basically immersed my life in leadership. This has been both good and necessary. But there is a sense – as a Christian leadership – that it all a bit too much.

Here’s what I mean.

Many of the teachers I’ve learned leadership from over the past two years are pastors themselves. Their books are about leadership; their blogs, their tweets, their conferences are all about leadership – which is both needed and good. I’m not throwing stones. But here comes the “but”….

What about “following?”

Being a Christian leader, particularly a Christian leader in the church, my first call is NOT to lead. It is to follow. In our current environment it would be easy for fair observers to say that most church leaders see themselves primarily as CEO’s. There is a temptation, I think, to spend so much time thinking and developing our leadership that we neglect our followship (yes, I know that’s not a word). This, obviously, doesn’t have to be the case. And I assume that the good Christian women and men I mentioned above are great followers of God, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and appropriately follow their church structure and governance. Yet, still, I want to offer my friends a moment of pause to stave off the leadership idol that many of us are unfortunately falling prey to.

An over-focus on leadership will….

1. …crush your humility! If you’re a leader, you have one thing: Followers. This mean there are people who will – whether rightly or wrongly – privilege what you think, say and do. Done long enough, it’s nearly impossible to not believe that you know more and are better at things than they are. What’s worse is that they’ll let you. Giving push-back to your boss or leader is difficult, especially if your paycheck or perceived “spiritual life” is dependent on it. The antidote is not to believe your own hype and continually place your leadership alongside that of Jesus’ and see how you stack up. You’re not infallible and, likely, not the only person in your organization who can do what you’re doing. God’s entrusted you with this season, steward it well.

2. …will make you think you’re supposed to produce something. Leaders love to produce and I’m a big believer in productivity, but that’s also why we need to remember that God is the one who produces. Turn to the Galatian’s “Fruit of the Spirit” for example. Our family has an orange tree in our back yard. In the spring and summer we have oranges at every meal, but not in the winter. Why? There are no oranges in December. But that doesn’t mean the tree isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing. The “fruit of the spirit” works the same way. The fruit is both inevitable (if you believe the Bible) and gradual (like all fruit). Too many times, leaders fear lack of movement and the stagnation of vision, yet, the wise Christian leader should know better. We should know that production cannot be manipulated or coerced…and it’s not up to us anyway. Sometimes we need to let the ground rest and stop trying to “lead” everything.

3. …contribute to a cult of personality. This one is obvious. How many times have we seen a congregational leader fall and the next thing you know the congregation loses 75% of her members? Who were all these people following in the first place? Well, common sense would suggest they were following the congregational leader. This was the wrong leader to follow, but the preacher (or whoever) was too egotistical to ever tell them to trust more in God than the leader. In the absolute worse cases, these cults-of-personality create a Jim Jones or David Koresh. In any event, and to any degree, the same thing is happening; the leader, in his or her own deficiency of following Jesus aids others in moving away from Jesus.

I suppose I say all this as a check to myself and my fellow Christ-followers who are leaders in organization to realize deeply that perhaps the best thing we can do as leaders in not to lead, but to follow God and get out of the way of His Spirit.

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Incidentally, uber-blogger, Scot McKnight has blogged about the same here.

A while ago, I began a conversation about how congregant could help their preacher preach better. You can read about those here and here. Today I’d like to turn our attention to how congregations can get the most out of a sermon.

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A sermon, like any form of communication, can go in one ear and out the other. Worse still, a sermon can find hospitality in the head and hostility in the heart. Many of us struggle with the weekly homily, but we don’t want to. We struggle with how to apply it, how to remember it, how to live it out, and make sense of it in a world wherein we hear so many messages all the time. So I thought I’d offer 5 Strategies to “Getting” the Sermon.

1. Dwell In The Word. If Sunday morning is the first time you’ve read the sermon text, much of what the preacher says will be lost on you. It’s cold. You haven’t had time to allow the scriptures to seep into your skin. At Redwood Church, we provide the entire congregation the sermon text(s) and a brief synopsis of the sermon every Thursday via e-mail. This allows the willing to read the text(s), get a feel for where the sermon is headed and allows God to work the mystery of His presence in a hearer’s heart before Sunday. Peeking at the text ahead of time gets you back into story – it’s probably been a long time since you’ve read about Judah and Tamar, my subject for this week – refresh your memory.

2. Take Your Own Notes. Our congregation provides notes for every one in attendance. These are largely useless! Why? Because these notes are limited to what I think is most important in the text and are typically subject heading. Don’t check your brains at the narthex. Surprise, surprise; God may have something distinct in mind for you. Each scripture passage is deep, rich and meaningful, only so much can be covered in 20-minutes, um, I mean 40 minutes. 🙂

3. Bring Your Own Bible. We provide Bible for new Christians and visitors, but for old hands, there’s nothing as good as thumbing through your Bible, making notes in it, highlighting meaningful texts and moving insights. My Bible is a kind of journal of my with-God life. When a teacher or preacher says something important or I gain a new insight, I jot it down inside the text and it serves me for the rest of my life. Not only that, by using my own Bible – and not being dependent on the screen – I learn the text and memorize where things are. It’s a way of taking responsibility for my own attention to God’s Word.

4. Listen Again.With modern technology, sermons don’t expire at noon on Sunday. Anyone in the world can download my sermons and listen to them as many times as they’d like. (This isn’t just about my sermons. I, too, listen to sermons each week from other pastors. I don’t just listen once. There’s too much in any given homily to get it all the first time.) If you do this, sooner or later you’ll get a feel for your preacher; how they walk through a text; what’s important to them, etc….This will help you glean more.

5. Ask, Prod, and Seek. Guess what? You’re preacher won’t be offended if you need further guidance or have questions about something. They’ll probably be shocked!! Though they may point you in the direction of a book with a fuller treatment of the issues, your minister wants you to “get it.” Here’s a crazy idea; ask your preacher to point you in the direction of the resources they use. Next week, you may be ahead of them!

Well, there you have it, 5 quick hitters to help you get more out of the “kerygmatic event.” Hope that helps.

As you know, I’m a big fan of books and reading. Our world needs more reading not less. So I found this video (posted on Michael Hyatt’s blog) very interesting.

Here’s to more reading…in whatever form it comes.

This is a reprint of a post I wrote several years ago. It has been updated since its original posting. Each Advent I read and re-post it here. It is my favorite piece, of all the things I’ve ever written. It continues to challenge me every Advent

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A friend of mine was walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Living in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place; shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before a renaissance in my own thinking over the last 7 years, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree.  A good Christmas meant I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was tasty.  It had nothing to do with Jesus.  In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event.

It was purely secular!

I remember asking my sixth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar.  No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing!  Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible.  That’s true, I suppose.  However, I also knew that my grandmother, as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi, had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledged her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught me that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: The stuff!

That teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around, I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing alluring – no iPhones or new cars.  I tell myself that I don’t need anything, don’t want anything, and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans.  Suddenly newer things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement.  Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately.  So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness for Christmas sales.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world, and the healing of our broken relationships with each other, and our broken relationship with God has somehow become a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience? Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously).  Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After an illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings.  He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor.  As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated!  His father took Francis to court and asked that the Bishop force him to give back all the money Francis had given to the poor.  Equally as irritated as his father, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out of the court proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism.  Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders.  Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property.  In short, they had no stuff!  For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. Jesus owned nothing. Francis owned nothing.  One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things, he detested money above all.  From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Might we imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house this year?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment who married “Lady Poverty” for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales.  Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus?  Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff already, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little.  Maybe he would say that during Advent and Christmas, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty.  Of course, there are a lot of us who give to good causes year round, but that’s not the only kind of poverty I’m talking about.

I’m also talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way many Christians display no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians.  I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves.  I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them.  I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole.  We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year.  We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven.  If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.  Yet we will certainly not find it.

This my review of Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in An Age of Excess which I also posted over on Viral Bloggers.

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I’ve been speaking to my friends and anyone else who would listen lately about the lack of exegetical living in the contemporary American church. By it I mean that my lifestyle, and the lifestyles of most of the people I know in the American church does not resemble that which we see in the New Testament. We are rich, white (though I am not), and overly concerned – some might say, “obsessed” – with politics, power and control (at least in my humble opinion). All that to say, Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess is part of a necessary corrective the church needs.

Following in the vein of Justice in the Burbs, Samson, offers forth an argument for people of faith to ask difficult questions regarding excess, the Other and how much “stuff” is “enough stuff.”

It should be said at the outset, as a reader of Justice in the Burbs and as one who is and has friends connected to Christian involvement in social justice and emerging churches, I strongly agreed with Samson’s assessment of American Christianity. I found his diagnosis predominately correct and his suggestions useful. Unfortunately, I suspected I would before the book arrived in the mail for review. Therefore, I attempted to read the text as someone who would be either neutral or suspicious of Samson’s views.

Enough establishes two dominant goals for itself. First, Samson wants to reveal to us how deeply consumed we are with “stuff.” Indeed, “consumed” is the operative word throughout Enough. Secondly, Samson offers to call us to an alternative consumption: A vision of God and God’s work in the world.

The Major Problem:

Enough is divided into two sections. The first six chapters lend themselves to theological concerns, while chapters 7-10 present issues and suggested actions and attitudes to alleviate or relieve the before mentioned issues. As Samson clearly states, if you have a strong theological background or formal theological education you can skip the first section of the book, and I suggest you do.

The major deficit within Enough is that it is simply not convincing – at least in terms of convincing those who need convincing. Reading as a neutral, someone in need of convincing, I continually thought that I didn’t understand what the problem was/is. Samson’s work simply does not lay out the argument in ways wherein someone who did not care would be caused to care. It was not until chapter 7 that Samson states, “…we are consuming ourselves to death.”

As a pastor, I know many good people who are casualties of commerce, one-sided political listening, and American exceptionalism gone mad, that they simply see nothing wrong with our culture of excess. What’s more, when presented with an argument like Samson’s, they respond to it as “radical liberalism” or “radical social justice.” This issue of contentment and consumption is important enough that I wish the theological rationale was as weighty as the issue itself. Oftentimes, I felt Samson voiced a strong conclusion that his argument either could not or did not support.

Part of the unconvincing nature of the work is the overt, left-leaning political messages. Throughout Enough, Samson takes us on his own political journey from a political, social, and cultural conservative to someone who has rejected much of what he once held dear. I fear that many who would benefit from reading Enough, will be off-put by a tome that too often reads as a quasi-treatise on “How Christians Can Be Democrats.” This, ultimately, blunts Samson’s message. It becomes too easy to dismiss. Again, this is not necessarily a repudiation of Samson’s ideas, rather I offer a perspective on how more people may embrace contentment over consumption.

The Major Benefit:

However, there is far more positive than negative to say about Enough. It’s greatest strength is that Enough does not leave the reader in the abyss of ideas. Samson furnishes some real, reasonable, and workable solutions to finding contentment.

First, Samson highlights the importance of the Eucharist as a lens in which we view the Other and what it means to live at table with others. This image alone should reshape much of what happens in the American church. Using the Eucharist as way of life has endless implications. Samson could have massaged and developed that metaphor alone and Enough would be well worth the sticker price.

Second, throughout Enough, Samson drops thought-bombs that prompt the reader to set the book aside and think about the repercussions.  Such lines include the following: “There is a big difference between being pro-life and pro-birth,” and “…without government spending, companies such as Amazon or Google would not exist.” Here Samson puts many of our assumptions under the microscope and reveals our forked-tongued lifestyles and rhetoric.

Third, Enough places lifestyle over think-style as the major conversion from carnality to Christianity. It have an inclination that many of the young people in my faith-community and the larger community where I live would be easily won to the vision of Christianity outlined by Samson. It is both compelling and, at times, inspiring in terms of the what the world would be like if more Christians were drawn into Samson’s portrait of the Kingdom of God.

Fourth, the concluding chapters of Enough are choc-full of realistic, helpful suggestions for moving away from consumption. This is truly what people need. In fact, if someone does not need convincing, the last six chapters will serve as a valuable “how-to” that should be kept near your day-planner in order to check in monthly and ensure you are moving toward goals of repair and sustainability.

Conclusion:

Book reviews should answer one question: Should I buy this book? In the case of Enough, the answer is an adament “maybe.” It’s just hard for me to suggest making a purchase when we’re discussing consumption. I am one of those people who have read and own enough books for any two or three people, and often I purchase books I can’t possible read in a timely fashion. Currently, I have 5 books on my “to-read” list. For me, reading and books are a problem of consumption. I consume ideas and the articles, books and blogs that contain them.

At the same time, I know that books are the best way to disseminate information, and the information Samson sketches needs to get out. So the decision is ultimately yours. I will say this though; the ideas argued in Enough are good and worthy of integration. Shop wisely….

A few months ago I sketched out a blog post about the death of blogging. In the post itself (which never met the net), I described how boring blogging had become and how I felt that there wasn’t much being said on most blogs — including this one. I posited that the reaosn for this was that most blogs and bloggers I read were ministers/pastors and or professors which meant, like our preaching itself oftentimes, their writings had to be safe in order not to “offend” anyone. Therefore there was never space for authentic questions and genuine dialogue about the sticky issues of life and faith — fundamentalism, politics, sexuality, race, war, pacifism, and the like. Not only that, but some of my favored bloggers, like Scot McKnight, had gone “corporate” moving their blogs from independent site host like WordPress and began blogging with For-Profit companies like BeliefNet. Something seemed lost. I was done! In the post I intended, in my best Nietzsche-esque voice, to proclaim: “Blogging Is Dead” and announce that I was shutting down my little corner of the web. There would continue to be Palmer, but no more Perspective.

Then two things happened: (1) People started talking to me about my blog and about the things (read: ideas, thoughts, opinions) that they liked and disliked. Since I believe that writing best serves the world as discussion-starter, even the fact that some folks disagreed with me fulfilled the intent of the blog, and (2) Mark Love started blogging. Mark is not only a great speaker/preacher and the best missional mind in my ecclesiological tribe, he is my “pastoral coach,” a name I came up with for lack of anything better. Mark, for me at least, has the freedom to actually say some things, and as you would suspect, says it well. So I decided to file away my eulogy on blogging and committed to posting a blog entry from time to time. 

But now something else has happened that renews my faith in the power and usefulness of blogging. I have been invited into 2 new blogging adventures, and I’m excited about the possibilities for both.

The first is a project shepherded by Dr. Love himself. The object is to discuss missional ecclesiology. When the site goes live you will hear from learned professors, pastors and ministers working in church contexts, spiritual directors, and laity. The group is broad, and I expect will continue to broaden. We are men, women, African-Americans, Caucasians, scholars, young and old, as well as some international voices. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll get more information as the launch dates approaches.

The second is a partnership with The Ooze called Viral Bloggers. The folks at The Ooze identified some blogs/bloggers they liked and asked us to partner with them in the great American pastime of generating commerce. Every so often, I will review a forthcoming or recently released book aimed at the Christian literary market. I’ll post the review here, and copy/paste the same review over at Viral Bloggers. 

What will this do for you? It will help folks like you — in these economically testy times — identify which books are worth your dollars. At the same time, Viral Bloggers is a great place to find out what others are saying and what is happening in the Christian community (especially those of us with a slightly missional, emergent, social-justice bent). Some of these books will find there way to your bedside table and/or serve as starting points for small groups. 

What will it do for me? Well, none of your business 🙂 No. While you’re saving money by only purchasing the books you’re really interested in, I’ll be…well, none of your business! But there are some perks for me, too.

All this to say that I have entered the world of “Poly-blogging” or “Multi-blogging,” contributing to multiple blogs. Whether poly-blogging is for people who have large blog followings or for folks whose blogs don’t have the muscle to stand alone, I’m not sure. I don’t know how many readers other bloggers have.  All I can say is that I hope this reading (and largely non-commenting) blog community will join in the fun at these two other blog-stops on the road to Christian dialogue and conversation.