It’s a Starbucks Sunday: Are you Ready to Order?

Here's a re-post just to remind myself.  

It’s Sunday.

Not only will 11.7 million people visit a Starbucks and ask for something extraordinarily specific like a “non-fat soy sugar-free caramel macchiato with a shot of espresso,” but a whole lot of us will shop for churches with the same self-absorbed specificity.

“I’m looking for a youthful, semi-charismatic service with a hint of reformed theology and a Donald Miller vibe.” 

“Can you help me find a progressive Presbyterian congregation for my mother—one that has a robed choir, snacks between services, and a penchant for homeless missions?

“We’re visiting a new church today. It’s slightly Willow Creek with a touch of old-school Calvary Chapel. It caters to single parents, disenfranchised boomers, and men who don’t want to hold hands. And you gotta love the stadium seating.”

continue reading

Trayvon Martin as Shape Shifter: Why Truth Matters

I wrote this last year when the Martin tragedy first came to light. Today, it's still important.  

In literature and mythology, Shape Shifters are deceptive characters who cross boundaries at will, moving between worlds to confuse the sacred and the profane. Sometimes a character even finds its shape changed by someone else through a curse or spell. The transformation may or may not be voluntary. 

And so goes the tragic story of Trayvon Martin, the newest Shape Shifter in a long history of American journalism. 

In this world, some things are pure and innocent while other things are evil. Racism and bigotry are transcendent evils, while defending the innocent is universally just. But Trayvon’s tragic death--and its chaotic aftermath--teaches us that perception is often a Shape Shifter. Under the spell of one version, Trayvon teaches us that trigger-happy racial profilers are alive and well. Under the spell of another version, Trayvon teaches us that young black men often contribute to their own violent downfall. 

continue reading

Don’t Hang All Your Stuff on the Fridge: How an Audience Can Ruin Good, Honest Work

You love an audience. If you were born since 1985, you’ve always had one. For years now you and your circle of friends have become each other’s micro-paparazzi, watching each other dance in videos, sing solos with ukuleles, write fan fiction, and pose for photo shoots. Andy Warhol, who famously quipped that everyone in the future would be famous for fifteen minutes, was not some cultural prophet like some have suggested. All he needed to do was read about the Greek figure Narcissus who after staring at himself in a pool of water was dying to upload that pose. Since 900 BC, I guess, we’ve been needing an audience.  

Now that technology has caught up with our narcissism, I offer some principles that might help guide our pursuit of an audience. 

Principle One: The size of your audience should be proportional to the quality of your product.

continue reading

Ten Things I've Learned From Teenagers

Teenagers are a piece of work, didn’t you know? They are shallow, self-absorbed little beasts who eat their parents’ food, snicker at old ladies, and drop out of school every nine seconds. They break into grandpa’s liquor cabinet and sell drugs out of their ninth grade backpacks in the bathroom behind the baseball field. Teens destroy things. They sometimes torture cats. 

If this is what you think of young adults, come hang out with me for a few days. I see things differently.

It might help to know why I care so much. I started living in Teen Land at age thirteen, and never really left. I went from high school, then to college, and right back to high school having earned a secondary teaching credential at the tender age of 21. Since then, I’ve taught public high school in the rural Ozark Mountains of Missouri, the material world of Orange County, and a middle class suburb of California’s Central Valley. Twenty-five years later, I’ve earned the right to love them. 

continue reading

Education’s Revolution? You Might Want to Ask the Church First

This week the NYTimes posted an article about the impending demise of the traditional university. According to columnist Thomas L. Friedman, “massive open online courses” (MOOC) are the future,. The article cites how millions of students are now taking coursework once reserved for a handful of privileged elites. Students stifled by autism, remote locations, lack of funds, social awkwardness, or snob-deficit can now jump on the college degree train. The brick-and-mortar campus, speculates Friedman, should be already preparing its fossil record in advance of its extinction.

The now-legendary Kahn Academy looks downright rustic compared to the MOOC movement. Advocates say that the skeptics will eventually join the ranks of past naysayers who were also suspicious of the printing press, commercial flight, or the Roomba. All people deserve an education, one that can lift them from poverty and bring them into the modern world, say all the innovators, so step aside and let the revolutionaries do their magic.  

continue reading

Religious Artifacts and and the Twinkie: Why Some Bad Ideas Aren’t Worth Saving

After an acrimonious standoff between Hostess executives and the bakery labor union, our worst apocalyptic fears might be realized: Twinkies might disappear forever. Eighty-three years of children’s lunchboxes and Texas Fair fryers might not be enough to rescue the golden little fella from spongecake oblivion. 

But just because Twinkies have always been around isn’t reason enough to keep them there. Nostalgia shouldn’t hijack common sense. 

The church has had its own share of bad products which, like the the Twinkie, have been unhealthy, strangely enjoyable, and made on the cheap. I say it’s time to retire all those evangelical products that made us so happy at the time. Here’s a start:

  • Children’s flannel boards with all those Caucasian Bible characters
  • Pyramid-shaped photo arrangements of church staff (pastor on top, with his wing men in dark suits in descending order according to seminary degrees and paychecks)
  • Padded, mauve sky-box chairs
  • The badly-proofed collection of typed praise songs with the plastic curlicue binding
  • Round, plasticized communion wafers
  • The dual-handled pouch-bag-offering-thingie (passed down the aisle with choreographed wonder)
  • My Texas pastor’s clear plexiglass pulpit with the laser-cut cross cutout
  • The 3-D silver dove for my bumper
  • Big screens that disappear into the big slit in the ceiling
  • Hand-made banners with silk tassels
  • Powerpoint slideshows (golden wheat stalks blowing? Multi-racial families smiling? Clouds billowing?)
  • Black electric keyboards from Wal-Mart with pre-set beats “for the young people”
  • Four Words: Bob. Tomato. Larry. Cucumber
continue reading

Do Capitalism and Christianity Fit Together? Let's Just Say It's Complicated

I like doing more than having.  Anti-consumerism just seems right to me. To be a lover of God and humanity more than a lover of things, to be a Christ follower who chooses abstracts like love and peace over crass commercial objects--this world view feels, to me, like a soft blanket I just discovered in my closet. On most days Henry David Thoreau feels legit. 

But my house is full of those same crass objects I claim to dislike. I bought a new messenger bag the other day when I already have two, and I was certain that the made-in-China wooden bird I bought for my kitchen table would make my house feel, you know, more bohemian. The capitalists who have custom-built their jacked-up mansions along the bluffs outside my city have also bankrolled dozens of charities and helped pay my salary as a public school teacher. In short, the paradoxes of capitalism are keeping me up at night, especially in an election year. To make things worse, most of the Christians I know don't see the paradoxes at all. 

continue reading

Since Democracy Stinks, How About a New Idea?

Democracy is so outdated. If we Americans can customize our laptops, our dream homes, our low rider trucks, and our pizza toppings, we can surely come up with a way to manufacture a custom-made President.

Choosing one candidate to represent the dreams, idiosyncrasies, causes, beliefs, and common sense of 300 million people doesn’t make any sense at all. I mean, doesn’t Washington realize that we have a very specific list of demands?

So I submit a new idea, inspired by those geniuses at Apple: iLeader.  It would fit beautifully with the American ethos of individuality and self-absorption. This impressive gadget—still several years away from a workable prototype—would allow us to be governed by a flawless, personalized platform of ideals. Call it anarchy without all the depressing chaos.

continue reading

The Hoax of Private Faith

Paradoxes are so cool these days, they’re hot. We’re reading more these days just as we’re reading less. The underground rock band Gotye is mainstream. Less clothing apparently gives women more power. I demand to know what else is upside down. 

Oh, and there’s one more thing: the Christian faith--made up of countless public followers of Jesus Christ working as one body for thousands of years--has also been made the most private. 

Since when?

In the past ten years, the growing consensus is that “faith is a highly personal matter.” In  particular, we are told to keep radical Christian beliefs tucked away. Sexual closets have been flung open, and serious followers of Jesus have been asked to get inside instead. University campuses may accept private faith as authentic, but public faith is flogged in the intellectual town square. Faith is good to have around for some things, like yoga or kindness to strangers, but rather worthless when it comes to intellectual vigor. 

continue reading

Ten Ways to Redeem Your Summer

I need to re-post this reminder of how to keep summer from slipping into nothing much at all. 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The American summer is a child’s season.

It is not designed, it seems, for grownups who associate the smell of sunscreen with skin cancer prevention, or worry about watermelon seeds falling on the carpet. Perhaps our educational system sets the rhythm of our bodies at the time we enter kindergarten, where children, like Pavlov’s dogs, follow their conditional reflexes right to the swimming pool every June 1st. The impulse to earn A’s or do chores for mother gets squashed like so many blades of grass crushed under the Slip-n-slide.

I thought I was a grownup, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve been a public school teacher for a long time now, and except for the four years preceding kindergarten (when life is one continuous recess), I’ve never missed a summer vacation. But there’s a familiar paradox that hits me right about now every year when my mind and body prepares for the summer shift. Man is not designed for extended vacations, despite what my childish heart years for. The more discretionary time we have, the less we get done. The longer the Honeymoon package to Maui, the more we yearn for home. The more late nights we option, the fewer meaningful hours we have left in the day.

continue reading
Syndicate content
»  Become a Fan or Friend of this Blogger
About
Why Cracks? Because in my suburban world, the collision of faith and modern life is sometimes messy. Can I find beauty, not only in Christianity’s smooth concrete, but also in the broken places?


Media
Resources
Link Roll