Last Thursday, as I was scanning Instagram, I noticed that a number of my good friends were posting pictures of the letter X. Some wrote X on...
So I got an email from some “social media” expert (whatever that means) offering advice about how to write a great blog post in 6 minutes. Since...
The War on Christmas is really starting to grow on me, you guys. You know about the war on Christmas, right? The annual make-believe holiday conflict that...
Today, I’m introducing you to Pastor John Allen Bankson. I’ve known Bankson for years online as a Twitterer and blogger. But last month, the Mississippi pastor...
Stuart Shepherd with Focus on the Family released another episode of Stoplight! Yeah, I’d never heard of it either. But anyway, in this edition, Shepherd–who’s holding the...
In the trailer for his new book, A Call To Resurgence, Mark Driscoll is driving around in a hearse while talking about the ills of America’s culture...
At least once a day, I look into the eyes of my kids, wait for their glance to meet mine, and then I say this:
You are strong. You are brave. You are good. You are loved.
I want them to know they are strong—to believe it’s true—because someday somebody’s going to tell them they are weak or tell them they aren’t strong enough or knock them down and cause them to feel weak or unprepared or afraid.
I tell them they are brave to empower their spirits, to embolden the corners of their young minds with words that will affirm who they are, to remind them that I believe they are valiant souls made by God to be, when necessary, fearless, courageous, and daring.
I remind them they are good because I know that someday they will likely be tempted to tell themselves that they aren’t good, that they’ll look in the mirror and see their reflections and think that the image staring back at them isn’t good enough or cool enough or skinny enough or talented enough or smart enough. My prayer is that in those moments, my words will seep to the surfaces of their brains and that they will choose to believe what Daddy has told them all of their lives, that who God made them to be is good—perhaps not perfect, perhaps not the best, perhaps not making smart choices—but nonetheless, good.
I say they are loved so that they know they belong to something bigger, that they are strong, brave, good individuals who are part of a family, a group of people who they are spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to, and that they are important to us, that they are loved, that they are needed.
I tell them they are strong, brave, good, and loved because I believe these things are true. I tell them to remind myself of who I am and what I believe. I tell them these things, because if I don’t, somebody else will. I tell them because all of us need to know, to be reminded of who God made us to be…
So just in case you need a reminder…
You are strong, friend.
You are brave, child.
You are good, ma’am.
And you are loved…
You’ve probably heard about this World Magazine story regarding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill buying their placement on the New York Times.
Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.
According to a document obtained by WORLD, Result Source Inc. (RSI) contracted with Mars Hill “to conduct a bestseller campaign for your book, Real Marriage on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-To list.”
The marketing company also promised to help place Real Marriage on the Wall Street Journal Business, USA Today Money, BN.com (Barnes & Noble), and Amazon.com best-seller lists. SOURCE.
Driscoll isn’t the only pastor to do this. For years, the rumors surrounding pastors buying their bestseller placement have gone around the Christian publishing world.
The confidentiality agreements that happen around this practice are pretty insane. Most pastors don’t want to discuss.
The way I heard about RSI was through a friend. He said to me, “So, Matthew, you wanna know how Pastor ****** got on the NYT best-sellers list?”
“Sure,” I said.
“He knows a guy in California who makes it happen. He just pays him a couple hundred grand and he gets you on the list.”
“Does this man have name or a website?”
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t give me any names. But said he’d hook me up if I was interested.”
Well, a couple weeks ago, an anonymous source sent me the following, a generic contract that authors and pastors sign with RSI.
In light of today’s news, I think this contract showcases an interesting tale about the agreement and the processes RSI goes through to make the “magic” happen.
Much about the Christian music scene has been depressing in recent years. Mainly because there really isn’t a “Christian music scene” per se. Not really. Not like the scene that I encountered in 1996. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing. That scene was a bit crazy, self-involved, and had little to do with Jesus.
When I was working at CCM magazine, the writing on the wall became rather clear. Christian music was dying. The reasons why that’s true vary according to who you talk to. My opinion? Worship music killed Christian music. The worship music movement slowly, over time, suffocated the true creatives out of record deals, pushing them to the fringes of the music scene to fend for themselves. It wasn’t personal. It was business. Christian radio started limiting their playlists to include artists like Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, and Casting Crowns. And while they might be nice people with good voices, their music is safe for the whole family. And nothing stifles a creative scene like safety. And for a long while, there’s been a serious lack of good spiritual music coming out of Nashville. Sure, there have been a record here and there… but nothing that seemed to suggest a true revival might be happening.
Some people think that the Christian music scene is pointless anyway. I disagree. While some Christian music is downright dreadful, Christian music gave me a lot of hope when I was a kid trapped in Christian fundamentalism. From my world, Christian music was a window to an outside world, a place where Jesus still had issues but nothing like the issues he had in my world. Christian music opened my eyes to different ways of thinking. It pushed me to explore theology. It challenged my worldview. It caused me to feel God’s presence in a way that I wasn’t accustomed to… Christian music isn’t perfect. And at times, it’s downright awful. However, it also created an environment that allowed me to be introduced to artists and songs that helped me believe that Jesus was bigger and more gracious and more hopeful than what I’d been taught for most of my life.
But Hillsong music isn’t going to do that. It might make me “feel” emotionally connected to God in the moment, it does not have the creative power or means to push minds and hearts to think and experience God differently. It doesn’t have the ability to create dialogue about theology, about culture, and about philosophy. And I’m sorry, Jesus Culture isn’t going to make music that spearheads anything more than fairy dust and goosebumps. But a true artist who’s passionate about life and faith and art and truth can cause you to not only think outside your comfortable box but experience worship at the same time.
But signs of hope might be on the horizon. There’s a handful of artists, songs, and rumors about artists and songs that make me wonder if there’s a springtime coming for music about faith and spirituality. While there’s no guarantee, here are few reasons why I think a new birth of creativity might be happening Christian music…
1) John Mark McMillan’s “Borderland”
That’s just the first single. The whole album is an amazing collection of intricately constructed songs. Click the picture below to view the record at Amazon.
2) Ellie Holcomb “As Sure As the Sun”
Holcomb’s “As Sure As the Sun” is a hopeful collection of melodies and words, a bright collection that’s filled with mystery and production intricacies. Listen to more at Amazon.
3) Shawn McDonald’s new song “We Are Brave”
You can sample it here. It will be a little too pop for some, but it’s so dang catchy. Definitely give it a listen.
4) Jars of Clay “Inlandia”
Yes, it’s Jars of Clay. And they’ve been around for 20+ years. But a bright path can’t all be spearheaded by newly discovered talent, some of it must come from longtime musicians and artists. And with this remix EP of their record “Inland,” Jars of Clay showcases they’re amazing ability to evolve with age (Check out the record at iTunes.
One of Nashville’s most poetic storytellers finally released some new music last year. If you’re not familiar with Sarah Masen’s previous efforts, check out these two songs: Carry Us Through and one of the best songs about faith ever written, Wrap My Arms Around Your Name (listen below).
6) And Nichole Nordeman is rumored to be working on new music. And that is good news indeed. Nobody writes songs about God and faith like Nichole. If you need reminding, listen to “Hold On” from her 2005 record “Brave”:
Other bright signs…
-Gungor’s “I Am Mountain”
And again, these are just signs of a little creative life happening among Christians making music about God, life, faith…
How about you? Have any “signs” of your own?
Last Thursday, as I was scanning Instagram, I noticed that a number of my good friends were posting pictures of the letter X. Some wrote X on their hands. Others wore t-shirts or hats featuring X. One guy even put an X on his forehead.
Suddenly, after seeing all of my friends posting their Xs, I felt compelled to Instagram my own X.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why everybody was putting Xs on their bodies and showcasing them online. Still, I started thinking about what my X would look like, how I would display it, what app I should use, and what filter would make it look cool(er).
Of course, I assumed it was a good cause, and I was pretty sure, based on the tweets and comments, that the X meme involved trafficking or slavery. But at the time, the only thing I knew about the End It Movement was the hashtag.
But not wanting to appear uninformed or uninterested or uninvolved, I quickly created my X and posted it on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Afterward, I Googled “End it movement” to make sure it was a decent cause, and it was, so I started writing/editing and didn’t think about my X for the rest of the day.
Not a big deal, right?
Sure, it was fake, an action caused more by peer pressure as opposed to passion.
But it’s just an X. And it’s for a good cause—to end slavery!
And yet it’s just an X, that for me was more about fitting in, the appearance that I am truly concerned about the millions of people around the world who are victims of various types of slavery. If I’m truthful, my X did nothing to bring awareness to slavery. It just made me look involved, look informed, and look like I was somehow passionate about the war to end slavery…
And I am passionately against slavery. I mean, I want to be anyway. I’d love to see it come to an end. Because I hate slavery… but I also rarely wake up thinking about how much I hate slavery, about how much God hates slavery.
Sometimes I’m far more Christ-minded online than I am in real life. Online, I stand up for what I believe to be right causes. I stand against what I believe are bad ideas. I promote my beliefs and thoughts about God with passion, emotion, and the occasional big words.
Sometimes my social media Christianity is far more engaged and aware and fearless than my real life faith.
Though I sincerely try to never say or promote or write anything online that I don’t believe or believe in, I fail sometimes. Sometimes I fall prey to using other people’s good ideas or good causes or some aspect of the Christian faith to promote me as opposed to those ideas and causes. Again, but for some of my sarcasms and punch lines, I do my best to only promote or retweet ideas/causes that I believe in…
I mean, I believe in what the X stands for. I believe in it wholeheartedly. But still, that X doesn’t reflect my real life passions… ending slavery is not something I wake up thinking about or go to sleep worrying about…
But it’s just an X, right? Yeah, for me, it’s just an X. But for others, that X represents a travesty that they shed tears over. It represents a concept that they are engaged in, informed about, and passionately pushing to resolve. So no, it’s not just an X. Not for a whole bunch of passionate people dedicated to ending slavery.
I don’t want to be just a “good cause” advocate on social media. If I promote a cause online, I want my words to reflect a part, even if it’s just a small part, of who I am or what I do or what I support in real life.
My feeds are buzzing with a plethora of social media Christianity, people making big statements about God, life, and faith online. And it’s so easy, regardless of who we are—from progressive Christians to conservative Christians to Christians who fall somewhere in the middle—to fall prey to using God and Christianity simply as tools to promote us, to reflect an ideal online that in truth, doesn’t come close to portraying who we are in real life…
Because it’s not just an X. It’s an idea or cause or belief that, on some level, affects real people…
let’s not make it about us forgive me for making it about me.
If hell exists, I believe it’s for religious people who put up signs like this in front of their churches…
And for people like those in Arizona whose love for God fills them up with such hate that they work toward creating inhumane laws and legislation against strangers, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members (who are gay)…
Hell might exist for the American Christians whose influence and money helped Uganda pass laws making it against the law to be homosexual…
But honestly, these kinds of people are already experience some form of hell, a hell defined by ignorance and fear and anger, a hell that they don’t wake up in but rather one that rages inside of them…
Friends, we better start speaking up… Christians who remain silent about the “faith-based hate” that is spewing out of the mouths and hearts of their “brothers and sisters in Christ” are a part of the problem… People who refuse to stand up for our GLBTQ brothers and sisters are a part of the problem…
YOU might be a part of the problem. Just by saying and doing nothing.
You might not make the church signs…
You might not tweet hateful words on Twitter…
You might not vote in favor of anti-gay legislation…
You might not even know where Uganda is…
But if you’re not speaking up against the “American Christian evangelical anti-gay hate” machine that seems to be raging out of control in this country, then…
Of the problem.
Standing up against the hate is bigger and more important than your doctrines and theologies. It’s bigger and more important than whether or not you might piss off a family member… it’s bigger and more important than the relationship between you and your church… Standing up for our GLBTQ brothers and sisters should be our doctrine, our theologies, and a good and holy and natural part of our relationship with the Church…
If hell exists, I believe it’s reserved for people who do evil in the name of God, who hate in the name of God, who use God as a reason to be ignorant and prejudice and intolerant and anti-gay…
Please. Speak out against the Christian hate against gays. Vote against it. Challenge it.
Take up your cross and follow me.
That’s what Jesus tells his followers to do. Those words offer a basic summary of what the Christian life is about. Most of us translate “take up your cross and follow me” to be about making sacrifices—you know, not doing things that other people are allowed to do like smoke, drink, cuss, or have sex outside of marriage. Some of us also have the impression that we’re supposed to be persecuted, that if we’re not Jesusy enough to make people actively dislike us, then we’re not being a very good Christian.
But is that what Jesus really had in mind? I think there’s a much more radical meaning to this basic call that few Christians today are actually living out.
Jesus asked his followers to pick their cross and follow long before he was crucified. At the time, the cross wasn’t a symbol of anything related to Christianity or the spiritual life.
In fact, to the those who Jesus was speaking to, taking up a cross meant one thing: A cruel and brutal death at the hands of the Roman Empire. Every week, these men and women watched as condemned prisoners picked up their crosses and marched out of the city gates, condemned to die. They knew what Jesus meant. Jesus was asking them to become nothing, to embrace a reality in which they would lose their identity, lose their legacies, lose their self worth, lose their social standings. The picture Jesus painted with those words was not the glorious spiritual pursuit that we often make it into today. In many ways, Jesus was asking them to become like those condemned prisoners, to take on an existence utterly without social legitimacy.
How different would Christianity be if Christians understood that their basic vocation is to be illegitimate?
Among the evangelical tribe where I come from, one of core doctrines that gets drilled into us more than most is “justification by faith,” a spiritual understanding that suggests we can’t do anything to earn our way into heaven except put our trust in Jesus Christ.
Properly understood, this doctrine is beautiful: to be justified by Christ should mean that we exist in a reality where we stop trying to justify ourselves and rather embrace fully and completely our illegitimacy. And while most of us evangelicals would say that we are justified by Christ, our lives showcase a much different story, one of proving ourselves, seeking the justification of others, jumping through spiritual hoops for praise and affirmation, and endlessly hoping, working, trying to feel justified.
In the Jewish faith that Jesus practiced, there was one basic mark of legitimacy: circumcision. It was more than just the physical mutilation of an infant boy’s penis; it was a metaphor for a life of being set apart from the world, being clean while the uncircumcised outsiders were unclean.
In Christianity’s earliest days, one of the biggest decisions that was made in the council of Jerusalem of Acts 15 was to renounce the requirement that Gentiles be circumcised, which meant that Christians consisted in the uncircumcised and those who renounced their circumcision by hanging out with the uncircumcised.
And yet, even today, evangelical Christianity is still all about circumcision. Not literal circumcision. But since we live in an ideological age, our “circumcisions” have become things like our positions on issues (political and social), our doctrines (beliefs and theologies), and a myriad of other spiritual, social, and emotional litmus tests.
Do you believe in hell?
Do you oppose same-sex marriage?
Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?
Do you believe that Jesus died to satisfy God’s wrath against humanity?
To answer any of these questions incorrectly is to become an “uncircumcised” outsider.
It isn’t only Christians that have “circumcisions” that legitimize us; every sociopolitical tribe of people does this. There are things you’re supposed to say, ideas that you’re supposed to agree with; fashion that you’re supposed to wear in order to show that you belong to the tribe. People obey the scripts and litmus tests of the tribes they want to be a part of and they police each other for deviating from the script. But when Christians play the “circumcision” game, we’ve lost the one thing that is supposed to be our liberation: Jesus’s command to be illegitimate.
Most of my favorite parables of Jesus are about embracing illegitimacy: the Samaritan heretic who cares for the wounded man because he’s not worried about keeping himself clean like the priest and Levite (Luke 10:25-37); the tax collector who beats his breast and receives God’s mercy instead of worshiping his own righteousness like the Pharisees (Luke 18:9-14); the father who humiliates himself by picking up his skirts and running to throw his arms around his prodigal son who had so utterly disrespected him (Luke 15:11-32); the banquet where the king invites only the people without status because the VIP’s won’t come (Luke 14:15-24).
Almost every evil in the world can be explained in terms of peoples’s needs to legitimize themselves. How many kids get into fights or even shoot each other every year on the basis of defending their honor? How many marriages end because two people who really did love each other once can’t admit when they’re wrong? How many stupid wars have killed millions of people because of the needs of nations to assert their legitimacy?
Being illegitimate means that we must stop being defensive and stop needing to win every argument in order to show how “circumcised” we are. It means that we’re able to see beyond our own honor. There is no more desperately needed freedom in our world today than the freedom to be wrong. Through his cross, Jesus says to humanity: you’re all wrong, every single damned one of you, but put the blame on me so you can be free!
I’m not suggesting that we’re supposed to try to make our illegitimacy legitimate, to revel in a sort of cynical filth like a floor full of heroin addicts in a mid-nineties Fiona Apple video. The illegitimacy to which Jesus calls us means living in the perpetual astonished perplexity of knowing that we are infinitely loved without merit. It’s one thing to say that God loves everybody; it’s another thing to live every moment in the truth of God’s love for you.
The rare few who have actually discovered and embodied the beautiful secret of God’s rich unconditional love have no inhibitions that prevent them from loving unconditionally themselves. They stop for wounded travelers; they clothe the naked; they welcome the stranger; and they don’t do it for points or photo ops. This doesn’t mean that they’re doormats who enable abusers. It just means that winning arguments and being justified in every circumstance are needs they have been liberated from having. If that’s a gospel worth sharing, then share it with the Christians you know so they can be set free from their litmus tests and paranoid boundary policing to join the uncircumcised, cross-bearing followers of an illegitimate king.
Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Northern Virgina. He blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.