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Glenn Beck the Theologian: Product of Innocuous Preaching, Ignorant Church

March 15, 2010

Social justice, which I take to mean “fairness for all of humanity”—black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, male or female, American or not—is of great importance to me. As a Christian, I am convinced that social justice, though obviously an anachronistic term, was at the heart of Jesus’ life and teachings. As I understand them, even his death and resurrection encompass what we refer to today as social justice.

So, naturally, I was upset to hear about Glenn Beck’s recent remarks urging parishioners to “run” if they discover the words “social justice” and/or “economic justice” on their church’s website.

Just to be clear: on matters of theology, which I have a hard time separating from political matters, Glenn Beck doesn’t know what he’s talking about!

That said, my issue isn’t with Beck; it’s with those that listen to him, those that take the time to extract and call attention to his asinine comments from radio shows, those that eat up the healthy dose of media attention he gets every time he spews his misinformed theo-political logorrhea.

I really don’t care about Glenn Beck—he’s just a bigoted white guy that craves media attention and, like Pat Robertson, has learned how to get said attention. My real issue is with those that pay attention to Beck in the first place, those that make him matter.

But this raises an interesting question: Who is ultimately responsible for Glenn Beck, Pat Robertson, et al. receiving more media attention than, say, the Pope each time they wax theological?

Should we credit Beck himself? That is, is he actually using his esteemed high school education to say something so new, so riveting, so profound that he simply demands our attention on matters of faith and theology?

The obvious answer is no.

So how do we account for the deluge of media attention Beck received late last week when he told Christians to leave churches that promote forms of social/economic justice?

As with any television and/or radio personality, s/he is only as important as his/her audience deems him/her to be. We needn’t look any further than The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien or, conversely, American Idol to understand this fact: for good or for ill, when it comes to media, ratings always trump quality of content.

With this rule in mind, I think the church in America would do well to consider its own role in the emergence of Glenn Beck the theologian:

If the political components of the gospel and the subversive implications of the claim “Jesus is Lord” were actually being preached in American churches, would Glenn Beck still matter? If more pastors were voicing the prophetic spirit of the gospel, would we care when pompous windbags go out of their way to distort the gospel for headlines? If the church really knew the social character of its message, would Glenn Beck have a job?

I think not.


TN to MT: A Playlist

March 8, 2010

We made it to Bozeman last night at 9:30 MT.

Here’s a list, in chronological order, of the albums that got us here:

David Bowie, “Hunky Dory”

Bob Dylan, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”

Neil Young, “Live at Massey Hall”

Talking Heads, “Remain in Light”

Phish, “Picture of Nectar”

The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Blues Traveler, “Blues Traveler”

Matchbox 20, Mix

Counting Crows, “August and Everything After”

Bush, “Sixteen Stone”

The Grateful Dead, “Skeletons in the Closet”

Phish, “Junta” (Disc 1)

Blitzen Trapper, “Furr”

Drive-By Truckers, “Pizza Deliverance”

The Strokes, “Hard to Explain”

The Band, “Greatest Hits”

Robert Earl Keen, “Gringo Honeymoon”

Citizen Cope, “Every Waking Moment”

Kings of Leon, “Aha Shake Heartbreak”

Bon Iver, “For Emma, Forever Ago”

The Roots, “Things Fall Apart”

Old Crow Medicine Show, “Big Iron World”

K-Naan, “Troubadour”

Bobby Digital (Rza), “Digi Snacks”

The Allman Brothers, “Greatest Hits”

Jimi Hendrix, “The Experience”

Jimi Hendrix, “Blues”

Counting Crows, “This Desert Life”

Umphrey’s McGee, “Safety in Numbers”

Phish, “A Live One” (Disc 1)

Trey Anastasio, “Shine”

Sublime, “40 oz. to Freedom”

Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, “Americano”

Johnny Cash, “Greatest Hits”

On the Road

March 5, 2010

For the next week I’ll be “on the road” with Jason Sikma and Rob McRight. We’re on our way to Big Sky Country to visit our friend Justin Harkins.

Check out our route and pictures from the road (click the thumbtacks for pictures):

Jay, a Youth Minister by trade, is the proud son of basketball great Jack Sikma.

Rob, a seventh year law student at Vanderbilt, is a collector of Confederate flags and cites Dwayne Johnson as his all-time favorite actor.

Justin Harkins, a.k.a. "the beast of the blogosphere," makes his home in Bozeman, MT and enjoys relaxing on his couch on Sunday afternoons.

Sports & Capitalism: A Match Made in America

February 25, 2010

Let me begin this post with an honest question:

If grace, justice and forgiveness had even half as much expression in American public life as the hyper-competitiveness and consumerism that accompany today’s American sports, could capitalism and the inequality it promotes (and depends upon) survive?

Doug Irwin, one of the kids in my youth group, recently shared a great story with me. During one of Doug’s basketball games last week, a parent from the opposing team took issue with a foul that had been called on his son and wasted no time in voicing his disapproval from the stands. But after shouting and carrying on for several moments, the father, presumably expecting the referee to overturn the call, stood—with the score still 5-6!—and did what any loyal father and “unbiased” sports enthusiast would in the aftermath of such a flagrant injustice: he stormed the court, of course.

With one of Doug’s teammates still in the act of shooting his free throws, the dad walked out onto the court, crossing directly in front of the shooter, and made a B-line for the referee. A brief confrontation ensued before the father, apparently realizing his actions weren’t going to change anything, turned and headed for the scorer’s table. Parents began to yell as he tore the score book to shreds and threw it to the ground. And just for good measure, as he finally made his way out of the gym, he cut out the lights—the old kind that take 15 minutes to heat up and come back on.

The kicker: it was a church league game.

In case you were wondering how—never mind why—a society successfully perpetuates an unforgiving, ruthless system like capitalism, I’d like to suggest one answer: We surround our kids with sports; we teach them that sports are more meaningful than just enjoyment and general well-being; we teach them to consume sports, both collegiate and professional; we teach them to compete, to win at all costs; we teach them to view the world in terms of sides; some even teach them how to act like a total jerk in public.

And, through it all, we teach them that grace, justice and forgiveness are nothing more than ideals.

Thoreau & Rumbley: Wisdom on (Part-Time) Work

February 20, 2010

Henry David Thoreau

“I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler nations are still the sports of the more artificial. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.”

– Thoreau, Walden

(Thanks, Smokey Joe Wood and Salami)

I work part-time.

I make very little money.

To be specific, I make $17,000 a year (and that’s before taxes).

I only mention this figure here to highlight one thing: it’s enough.

I’ll admit, after stepping down from my teaching position last May—a decision that reduced my annual income by approximately 60%—I was a little nervous. I spent the better part of two months franticly researching positions, drafting cover letters late into the night, and submitting application materials to anonymous email addresses. It was a full-time job all by itself, and a decidedly awful one at that.

But, upon hearing how much I was still earning (17k) from my part-time position, my college friend, Chris Rumbley, offered me some terrific guidance, I suspect without even realizing it, in the words “I could live on that, dude!”

So, with no end in sight and my patience wearing thin, I decided to give up—no, not on life—on the pursuit of money. Maybe Rumbley was right. Maybe I could live on $17,000. Only one way to find out…

Six months have passed since I collected my last pay check from the school I taught at last year. And with the exception of the occasional subbing gig, I’ve been working exclusively part-time since last May.

Thoreau's cabin in Concord, MA.

Make no mistake about it, it hasn’t been easy. Even now, nine months since my retirement from teaching, I’m still struggling to balance my budget. But it’s far better than it was, enough so that I’m not ready to give up on this experiment just yet. There’s still ample room for adjustment. A cheaper apartment. Eating out less. Walking more instead of driving. Selling superfluous things. These are all worthwhile ways to set about sustaining one’s self with less money.

Yeah, that’s right, I said it—worthwhile. Living with less, the conscious choice to spend less rather than earn more, is undeniably difficult, often embarrassing, and, at least ostensibly, unappealing, but it’s incredibly worthwhile!

But here’s where I need to take issue with the stereotypical evaluations of people like me that don’t work a traditional 9:00 to 5:00 job. My choice to attempt to live on $17,000 a year is not about being lazy. It’s not about sitting on my duff, eating pizza and watching ESPN all day. I may joke with people at times, but the reality is almost the exact opposite of the stereotype. In my case (and in many others’, not to mention economic studies), working less has only increased the quality of my life. I read more than ever. I run on a regular basis. I eat healthier. I write. And, best of all, I have the freedom to put my time and energy toward more meaningful things. But that’s another post…

Simplicity: It’s Far From Simple

February 15, 2010

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9.23)

Since sharing my three practical suggestions for the pursuit of simplicity (see De-Clutter, Live Intentionally and Relocate), I’ve been struggling with a serious case of writer’s block. Not that a week- or month-long (or permanent) hiatus from blogging is necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that I expected the topic of simplicity to yield more (72?) than three posts.

But I’ve given it some thought and I’ve come to the conclusion that my struggles to produce more than three posts on the pursuit of simplicity stem from the misleading emphasis my previous posts placed on simplicity alone while completely ignoring the pursuit thereof. As it turns out, there’s preliminary work to be done in order to attain the simple life.

Simplicity isn’t simple precisely because it necessitates self-denial.

We are culturally conditioned creatures. Every one of us is shaped in one way or another by the people and events, narratives and philosophies that define our respective world(s). Sure, we tend to consider our personalities and general dispositions in terms of our “nature,” but it doesn’t take too much introspection to discover the undeniable connections between your life experiences—influenced as they are by your predetermined social identities—and your so-called nature.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it’s disadvantageous (and a lie!) to hide behind our “natural self” as we all do to varying degrees. “That’s just the way I’m made” is a poor justification for the way we treat one another and choose to structure our lives. For in so many ways we are who we are on account of the corrupt world in which we live. There’s very little that’s truly natural about that which we call our “nature.”

Of course no two people are the same (nor should they strive to be), but there’s good reason for each of us to undertake the work of self-denial, difficult though it may be. But too often our theologies serve to rule out the possibility of embracing even the slightest degree of asceticism in our lives; for why should I consider denying myself if God made me this particular way?

It seems to me, however, that this question is based on an incredibly false premise. For Christians, God doesn’t make people exactly the way they are. When the psalmist writes “it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” we need not (and should not) extend this proclamation to all areas of our lives. The God of love revealed in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t create your hyper-competiveness, your greed, your massive ego or your alpha dog disposition which accounts for your need to control and manipulate every situation. (But these are just random examples.)

Face it, each of our lives depart from goodness and truth—that which God has truly created. But the very real potential for embodying such goodness and truth in our lives, just as Jesus and so many others have done in their own lives, is none other than the everlasting hope of the Gospel. That we can depart from our “natural” selves is truly good news. It’s far from simple, but let us deny ourselves as we seek to let the potential for goodness and truth come to a full realization in our own lives.

Gandhi on De-cluttering, Jettisoning, Contributing to Flotsam

February 2, 2010

Gandhi’s Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, which I’ve been reading along with too many other books for the past several weeks, has proven to be a slow but nonetheless enlightening and profoundly challenging read with respect to my Western lifestyle. I thought I’d share one of the great passages I read last night, as it relates to my previous post on de-cluttering.

Some of the incidents during the voyage [home to India from South Africa] are well worth recording. Mr. Kallenbach was very fond of binoculars, and had one or two costly pairs. We had daily discussions over one of these. I tried to impress on him that this possession was not in keeping with the ideal of simplicity that we aspired to reach. Our discussions came to a head one day, as we were standing near the porthole of our cabin.

‘Rather than allow these to be a bone of contention between us, why not throw them into the sea and be done with them?’ said I.

‘Certainly throw the wretched things away,’ said Mr. Kallenbach.

‘I mean it,’ said I.

‘So do I,’ quickly came the reply.

And forthwith I flung them into the sea. They were worth some £7, but their value lay less in their price than in Mr. Kallenbach’s infatuation for them. However, having got rid of them, he never regretted it.