the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyI think you know what I mean. I think you know what I really mean. Well, actually. Hold on there a minute. I haven’t said anything yet for you to even know what I could mean. Much less what I really mean.

So I suppose I should come up with something really clever to say here. Something about how the Weekly Town Crier is where I collect links of varying levels of interest and pas them along to you for your interest in the interesting links.

Enjoy.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of the year.

Read NPR’s piece: “Learning Soft Skills In Childhood Can Prevent Harder Problems Later.”

Now you can have a robot act as maid of honour at your wedding.”

Read as Salon considers “How the Samurai warrior inspired the Jedi Knights.”

Read as Sojourners considers “‘Firefly‘ and the Dignity of Humanity.”

Read an account of “Kurt Vonnegut’s Daily Routine.”

Read as NPR considers “The Neuroscience Of Musical Perception.”

Watch as The Atlantic considers “Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive?”

Read as The Atlantic considers the public zoning backlash against small community libraries.

Read as Consequence of Sound‘s catches up with Henry Rollins.

  • See Henry Rollins build and destroy a gingerbread house.

Read as Mother Jones considers Pete Seeger‘s FBI file.

Read as T Bone Burnett considers “Our culture loves music. Too bad our economy doesn’t value it” for The Washington Post.

Read as No Depression asks: “How Did You Find Your Favorite Albums This Year?”

See the “Secret catalog of gadgets police and feds can use to spy on your cellphone.”

Read as the Atlantic considers “Machines That Can See Depression on a Person’s Face.”

Read The Creator‘s Project‘s piece: “The Art of Reflection Within the Rothko Chapel.”

Read about “The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy.”

Read as The Guardian considers “Hidden gems of 2015: great records you may have missed.”

Read as KJZZ considers the “Mixed Reactions To Anheuser-Busch’s Plans To Buy Four Peaks Brewing Company.”

Read as Rolling Stone considers the impact of the Grateful Dead‘s farewell shows.

Read Okay Player‘s piece: “Killer Mike, Big Boi + More Will Testify On Hip Hop’s Behalf In Front Of The Supreme Court Today.”

Browse The Washington Post‘s ranking of the country’s best “food cities.”

See Shane McGowan’s new teeth.

See someone “Pouring a Thermos of Hot Tea at -40°C Near the Arctic Circle.”

See the card that caused Steve Harvey’s worst nightmare.

Browse “A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa“.

Read Stereogum‘s report that Lenny Kravitz is being accused of illegal dentistry in the Bahamas.

Read about many Muslim women asking non-Muslim women not to wear the hajib “in the name of interfaith solidarity.”

Read Noisey‘s interview with “The Founder of ‘Yeezianity’, The First Religion Based Onn Kanye West“.

Meet the finalists who could design the Obama Presidential Center.”

Read CNN‘s report: “Vatican paper says ‘The Force Awakens’ is not evil enough”.

Fueling the rumors that Apple is ditching the 3.5mm headjack, read Hypebeast‘s report: “Apple is Developing its Own High Quality Audio Format.”

Read Rolling Stone‘s article: “Cheap Trick‘s Bun E. Carlos on Possible Rock Hall Reunion: Any friendship we had went away when I had to file a federal lawsuit,” says drummer.”

Read as Christianity Today considers “Why We Get Religious About ‘Star Wars’.

Read The New York Times’ article: “New Novel From Jonathan Safran Foer Coming in September.”

Read “The Story Behind The Famous Portrait of André The Giant Clutching A Beer Can.”

Read CNN‘s piece about companies with “mandatory” vacation policies.

Read Noisey‘s report about the “rebirth” of CBGBs . . . as a NJ airport restaurant.

Browse Pixar color palettes.

Read Rolling Stone‘s interview with Leon Bridges.

Read about the new “451” internet error code for internet censorship.

Read The Stranger‘s piece: “How Christianity Infiltrated Seattle Music with a Little Help from Mars Hill Church and the City Council.”

Read as Noisey considers the rise and fall of Ozzy Osbourne.

Read as The Washington Post considers “Why it’s a good sign if you curse a lot.”

Read Amazon one-star reviews of some of the year’s biggest albums.

See bonsai skulls.

Browse Flavorwires‘s picks for the best literary criticism of 2015.

Read as Christopher Hitchens considers George Orwell.

Read as AV Club considers the year in band names.

Read as Literary Hub considers how “White Christmas” started the trend of popular Christmas songs.

Browse this list of “The Most Googled Artists of 2015”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “The Sultan of Brunei Has Literally Outlawed Christmas.”

Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “My husband read to me while I was sick. It changed our marriage.”

Watch as The Atlantic asks what you wish you had learned in college but didn’t.

See a fountain in China made from 10,000 toilets.

Read as Techly considers “Five Things You Don’t Know About Beer (But Probably Should).”

Go with Fast Company into the secretive world of Freemasonry in this photo essay.

Read the Washington Post‘s report that “The Republican debate stage could shrink considerably next month” based on new rules.

Watch Steve Harvey announce the wrong winner for the Miss Universe pageant.

Watch what could happen to your body if you drank 10 cans of Coke every day. Please don’t drink 10 cans of soda every day.

See “inflatable hotel rooms.”

Read Outside magazine’s ode to the VW Vanagon.

Since we no longer live in a culture in which people own important albums, you will soon be able to stream The Beatles‘ catalog.

Poor Nicholas Cage has been forced to return his T-Rex skull.

See the decaying church building repurposed as an artsy skate park.

Read as Slate considers the impact of “bro country”.

Read about how Facebook helped solve the riddle of an ancient artifact.

Read as Salon considers the possibility of an R.E.M. reunion.

Read about U2‘s Bono buying the Eagles of Death Metal new phones to replace the ones they lost in the Paris attacks.

What If Preaching Isn’t The Primary Role Of A Pastor?

Preaching_TheoMatters3Yesterday I wondered about why it seems that so much of “American Christianity” resembles the self-help driven “pursuit of happiness” more than it does following Jesus through the Valleys as well as they plateaus.

Long-time reader, first-time commenter Jennifer noted:

It seems what you’re asking for is a Christianity in which people inside the body of Christ are authentic with one another.

“That’s exactly what I’m asking for”, I responded, continuing:

I’ve come to believe that most (well-intentioned) church programs exist because real relationships don’t. The main thing we’ve been called to is discipleship which happens best in relationships, not church classrooms. Since programs/classes are not real life, they’re not designed or equipped to deal with people’s real lives so we default by pretending everything is fine.

Many of our churches foster fake environments in which people pretend everything is fine “because JESUS” because they’re simply not designed to deal with real life. You come, sit in a sit, get told how to win at life, sing some rousing songs, maybe go to a class to learn some information and then go about your week until it’s time to charge your emotional batteries once again.

Many churches seek to fill our calendars “equipping us” with classes and programs because that’s what churches do. But what we’ve missed is that if we fostered intentional, “authentic” (the quotes indicate that I realize just how much baggage the word carries but I use it anyways) relationships. It seems to me that the trend has been to make Christians dependent on their churches for their spiritual growth. The default question has become “how will you feed me?” rather than “how can I serve?”

But we’ve been called to discipleship, not what fills the seats. Paul tells us that the role of church leaders is to equip everyday believers “for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13), not make them dependent on their leaders.

This has led me to think deeply about one of Evangelicalism’s (especially in “Reformed” circles in which I have traveled) sacred cows. Lately, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with posts arguing that preaching is the primary things a pastor should be concerned with. For example, Jason Allen writes in a piece about “5 words to avoid in every sermon” at For The Church:

Preaching is God’s ordained method to convey his Word and build his church. As such, preaching is every pastor’s principle responsibility and every church’s primary need. Therefore, every pastor must preach, and preach well, every Lord’s day.

Banner of Truth recently posted this memed Calvin quote:

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Let me go ahead and calm the frothing masses: I deeply value preaching. I think it should be an integral part of the regular rhythms of any local church. It is where a unified vision can be presented, it is where a church family can learn together as a whole, it is where the elders can help publicly protect from error and instruct in following Jesus. It is an essential part of what God has laid out for the local church. But what troubles me is the notion that it is the most important thing a pastor does.

I once heard John MacArthur say to a room full of seasoned, young and aspiring pastors that if they weren’t spending at least 40 hours a week in their study, then they had no business getting up in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. Their primary job, MacArthur urged, was preaching on Sunday.

There is a local church with one of those electronic billboards that flashes cheesy Christian sayings. A while back, the sign said: “Worth the drive.” What’s worth the drive? Well, knowing that particular church, the Sunday gathering is “worth the drive” and in particular, it’s “worth the drive” to hear that particular pastor talk for 40 minutes.

It seems to me that the assumption that the pastor’s primary responsibility is preaching must also carry with it the assumptions that Sunday is the primary point of a local church’s existence and that since discipleship is the primary point of a church’s existence, then preaching is the primary way we pursue discipleship. But I cannot follow such straight lines of thinking through the twists and turns of Scripture.

Pastors are compared to shepherds in the bible. As I try to make sense of all of this, I can’t help but picture a shepherd gathering his sheep once a week and lecturing them on how to live the rest of the week and then just sending them out to face the dangers of the world. Of course this is foolish, but when we over-emphasize the importance of the Sunday sermon, the analogy seems to fit. Shepherds were worthless if they didn’t spend time with their sheep, guiding, protecting, disciplining if necessary (it may shock you to know that the heartwarming picture of a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders was because he had broken the sheep’s leg because it wandered off so many times).

I am unashamedly going off of the notion that the church should be most concerned with discipleship; that is, helping one another become more like Jesus. This conviction leads me to the conclusion that preaching is incredibly important but it is potentially harmful to tell pastors that it is the “most important” part of their job.

I would rather be shepherded by someone who spends more time with people than books. I want to be the type of pastor who values people more than doctrine. If I ever pastor again, I want to know what my people need to hear because I know my people. And, as shocking as it may seem, you can’t know people without spending time with them. With all due respect to MacArthur, his advice is terrific for professional teachers but horrible for actual pastors.

Placing so much emphasis on the sermon creates passive Christians who tend towards a knowledge-based (rather than an experiential) faith. Placing so much emphasis on the sermon is a large part of why so many pastors feel so discouraged. Once, after a sermon, I had someone come up to me afterward and, very nicely, tell me that they really struggled to follow that week’s sermon. The very next person in line to talk with me told me that it was the single most moving sermon they had ever heard and they would remember it for a long time. Placing so much emphasis on the sermon creates unrealistic expectations that the pastor always “be on” and owes more to our desire to be entertained than our desire to be more like Jesus. Placing so much emphasis on the sermon has helped fuel the “celebrity pastor” movement rather than reminding us all that pastors are strugglers through this life just like they people they’ve been called to shepherd.

If we have primarily been called to discipleship then it seems to me that relationships are the single most important thing a pastor does. Sermons rarely serve to deepen relationships. In fact, sermons are sharpened the more a pastor knows the people to whom he is speaking. Shepherds must spend time with the sheep or they’re a lousy shepherd.

Again, I’m not discounting preaching (though I do question the monologue approach in its effectiveness to really equip the saints but maybe that’s another post for another day). I value preaching and it’s something I personally love. I’m simply asking if we have over-emphasized its role in discipleship. Are we actually hindering pastors from their true role when we tell them that the 45 minutes a week when they lecture people is the most important thing they do?

I look forward to your thoughts.

Have We Finally Reached The Tipping Point For “American Christianity”?

american-flag-cross-1It ought to confuse and convict Christians in America that no one can agree if America is or is not a “Christian nation.” Of course different people mean different things by the term but many argue that if ever a nation has displayed Christian virtue to the world, it is the United States of America. One Nation under God. After all, over 70% of our population claim to be Christians.

The very fact that the debate is debated should throw serious shade on those claiming that we are somehow a nation of Christians. Or even primarily Christians. Jesus said that we would be able to tell who loves Him(John 14:21). We have a Jude0-Christian ethic that was adopted by our founders but they intentionally shied away from establishing a state religion and this includes Christianity. This Judeo-Christian ethic provided the framework for many of our core values as citizens. All men are created equal, etc.. But this is not the same thing as saying that we are a nation of Christians.

In fact, the relationship between the Christian faith and American culture has been tenuous at best and strenuous most of the time, each pushing against the other, each trying to convert the other. Both are highly influential and adaptable. While it might be theoretically possible for both systems to exist side-by-side without changing one other, that’s not how it seems to have worked itself out.

America’s belief system is built on the idea of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps to success. It is intimately intertwined with consumerism, the pursuit of comfort, the right to property and free market tendencies. It is built on the idea of self-reliance and a good dose of morality and sadly sometimes, moral superiority.

Alan Wolfe considers the relationship between Christianity and American culture in his book, The Transformation of American Religion.  “In every aspect of the religious life,” he writes, “American faith has met American culture-and American culture has triumphed.”

That is to say, views certainly shape one another and in Wolfe’s opinion, American culture has won out over Christianity, at least for the majority who claim to be Christian. In fact, the burden of Wolfe’s book is to suggest that, for all the religious rhetoric, professing people of faith, including Christians, are remarkably just like everyone else: “Whether or not the faithful ever were a people apart, they are so no longer,” he says. He goes on to give a bit more insight into his meaning:

More Americans than ever proclaim themselves born again in Christ, but the lord to whom they turn rarely gets angry and frequently strengthens self-esteem.

To people of faith, I say this:  . . . your religion has accommodated itself to modern life in the United States.

How is it then that so many people in America claim some version of Christianity while living just like everyone else? It seems that, after having marinated in American Culture, many people who claim to be Christians have actually drifted away from Christianity altogether, coming up instead with something completely different. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have called this new brand of faith “moralistic therapeutic deism”.

In their 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the actual, daily-way-we-live faith of teenagers as it has been handed down to them by their parents and their churches. Smith and Denton found that the key distinctives of this strand of faith were as follows:

  • A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

This set of beliefs is markedly different than Biblical Christianity but fits quite nicely with the predominant American approach to life, giving credence to Wolfe’s assertion that, when pressed, we must admit that, at least for the most part, American culture has transformed the practice of Christianity in America into something else. Something somehow less. Less potent. Less dangerous. Less sacrificial. More commercial. More self-centered.

In fact it seems quite plausible to argue that Moralistic therapeutic deism has become, for many, synonymous with  “Christianity”. The term has been back-loaded with a different meaning and the result is that many people who may mean markedly different things using the term, can all call themselves “Christian” without being questioned. This is so much the case that  “preachers” like Joel Osteen quite intentionally steer away from the Bible’s themes of sin and judgment, instead promising that we can have Our Best Life Now  if we just live right and think happy. This is not Christianity.

Moralistic therapeutic deism has become the default American version of “Christianity”. This is certainly not to say that there are not people striving to faithfully follow Jesus in America. But they are rarer than we would like to believe. This helps explain why over 70% of Americans profess to be “Christian” and yet Christianity’s influence is so barely seen in our culture. Because Moralistic therapeutic deism has as much to do with Biblical Christianity as “American Cheese” has to do with cheese.

Since Moralist therapeutic deism is not Christianity, we are left with confusion and contradictions between what we as a nation claim to believe and how we actually live. Stephen Colbert has no problem pointing out the inconsistencies:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

The real issue, of course is that when a good many Americans say they are “Christians”, they really mean “One nation united under moralistic therapeutic deism”. Though we use the word “Christian”, we don’t mean Biblical Christian. We mean good, moral people, who do our best for ourselves (first) and maybe others; we’re generally nice people with God on our side. So to answer Colbert: of course we don’t help the poor because our faith doesn’t require it. Our faith is centered on personal contentment/fulfillment. We may help others when we feel like it but our faith doesn’t necessarily demand lives of sacrificial love. It’s enough, after all, that we attend a worship performance, show our faith by our bumper stickers and thank God for the good parking spot at the mall. This certainly helps explain why some get mad about coffee cups but not social injustice.

This is a critical time for those in America who really do want to follow Jesus. The name “Christian” has been co-opted and commercialized. What are we going to do about it? There are, of course, many people in America who are striving to live everyday life with the intentionality of following Jesus. There are certainly churches helping the poor. There are churches seeking social justice and promoting adoption and foster care. There are, of course, churches welcoming refugees and blessing others with the blessing of Jesus. But sadly, these churches seem to be the minority while countless others have simply confused Therapeutic Moralistic Deism with what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus said that you will know His people by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). He also said that you can tell who really loves Him by who keeps His commandments (John 14:21). James said that if we claim to have faith but don’t back it up with our deeds, our “faith” is worthless (James 2:14-26) and John said that if we claim to love God but don’t love others, we’re liars (1 John 4:7-21). Biblical Christianity teaches that, though our works cannot make us right with God, they are the evidence of a life transformed. They are the fruit of the seeds of faith. Being a blessing to others is a fundamental part of what it means to be God’s people (Genesis 12:1-3; Jeremiah 29:1-9; Matthew 5:13-16, etc.) and if our faith isn’t made manifest in sacrificial love to others, we’d better question the real object of our faith. If we as a nation don’t love and serve the “least of these,” we’re not a Christian nation.

We have chances in front of us everyday to help others distinguish between Christianity and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The sheep and goats will not fully be separated until Judgment but for now, those who love Jesus can help others understand what this truly means by feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and incarcerated (Matthew 25:31-46), caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27), etc.

Though we should definitely be clear in our preaching and doctrine to distinguish Biblical Christianity from “American Christianity” (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism), we also have the the responsibility to not just declare but demonstrate the difference. Biblical Christianity should look like love in action (1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 4). Biblical Christianity always points to Jesus rather than self. Biblical Christianity not only proclaims redemption but strives to demonstrate it. Following Jesus means loving others, seeking peace and reconciliation while admitting that we can only seek these things when Jesus enables us to do so.

Will we finally admit and demonstrate that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not Christianity? The world is watching. What will we show them?

 

 

Refugees, Terror Threats and Seeking the Path of Peace

800px-Entering_Arizona_on_I-10_WestboundIn response to the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris this past weekend, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey recently joined the chorus of elected officials trying to block the incoming flow of refugees.

As a citizen of Arizona, Ducey does not speak for me on this issue. In fact, his actions have prompted some thoughts.

I am not an elected official, much less governor. But I am a Daddy to eight children and I know what it means to want to protect them. But I have come to learn that what I think is best in protecting them may not always be what’s best to help them grow in to being responsible, loving adults.

I understand Governor Ducey’s reaction. But that’s exactly what it is, a reaction. It is reactionary. Reactions can be thoughtful But most of the time they are not, they are rushed and rarely get to the heart of the issue at hand. And the more I think about Governor Ducey’s statement, I can’t help but filter it through my own faith and how that faith would prompt me to react.

My faith prompts me to bless others because of the blessings I have received.

My faith pushes me to consider others as more important than myself. Yes, I might get hurt. Yes, it will most likely cost me but my faith enters into serving others with full awareness that I might get hurt and that it will cost. That’s what love is.

My faith dictates that I am not the arbiter of who deserves help and who does not. My faith pushes me to help, to seek the better, not primarily for myself but for others, even my enemies.

My faith demands that I seek the welfare of the disenfranchised, care for widows and orphans, clothe the naked, feed the poor and shelter refugees and seek the path of peace.

My faith says to meet hate with love, to somehow diffuse violence with love.

My faith casts out fear rather than being ruled by it.

My faith strives for peace and orbits around reconciliation.

My faith does not make sense and sometimes feels next to impossible to live out in real life, especially when wondering how a government ought to respond to terrorism.

You may not share my faith but surely you can agree that violence only begets violence. Hatred and fear boil over, dissolving reason. Retaliation knows no end. Rejecting others because we “might get hurt” only leads to separation and separation never sprouts unity. Disunity fosters ignorance. Fear plus ignorance equals . . . Nothing good.

While I understand that my faith does not dictate government policy, I at least want to live somewhere that is known for valuing people, rather than rejecting them. I don’t know how to do this other than to urge my elected officials to rise above fear mongering and do my best to love others. That seems like as good a place to start as any.

Is Pastoral Aspiration Permanent? What Happens If It’s Not?

a-preacher-in-blackI used to be a pastor. Generally speaking, it was something I loved doing. I was exhilerated when, through my equipping, believers began to not only take responsibility for their own spiritual well-being but also for those around them (Ephesians 4:11-13; Galatians 6:1-2, etc.). I love teaching, preaching, discipleship, counseling and leadership development. In many ways, it was my dream job and I’d love to do it again some day. But after ten years of pouring out our lives for others, our church’s needs shifting from visionary to implementation and some major family changes, I resigned.

I would not say that I had reached “burnout” (a topic I’d like to write more about soon, especially considering the stigma of spiritual failure and the spiritual machismo surrounding the idea. But more on that later.). In fact, part of the reason I resigned when I did was to protect myself and my church family from burnout. There were, of course, many factors that led to the decision to resign but they may all be summed up simply by saying that I didn’t want to elder at that time in my life.

This isn’t something many pastors talk about. In fact, you’re led to believe that your’e somehow selfish or that your faith must be in question if you entertain the idea. But I think it is something Paul himself understood deeply. When introducing the characteristics of spiritual leaders (overseer, elder, bishop, pastor, etc.) Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer.”

A lot of time is often spent on the idea of “aspiring” to the office of elder when men go through whatever their local church’s process to become an elder might be. A lot of time is spent talking about the difficulties that lie ahead; almost trying to talk the potential elder out of it. Are you sure? And this is good. There might sometimes be people who, though they might possess the right characteristics, simply don’t want to serve as an elder in a local church. Someone taking on the task of caring for other people’s souls should do so wide-eyed and they should certainly want to do it because, though incredibly rewarding, it can also be incredibly difficult.

What seems to be discussed less is the question of whether or not this aspiration is permanent? Just because someone had that aspiration at one point in their life, is it simply assumed that they want to continue indefinitely? Is this something that should be gauged at regular intervals and if so, how? Some churches impose “term limits” on their elders and have a rotating board of elders but I’m not sure that designated periods of time are necessarily the best option.

Complicating the issue is the fact that this “aspiration” is certainly tied to one’s spiritual health, but it is not correct to simply say that if someone does not wish to serve as an elder then their spirituality is not healthy. And yet, there is a sense of guilt often experienced by those who realize that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to serve at that time of life.

I wish I had some practical answers to wrap up with but I don’t. These are issues I’ve been wrestling with for over a year now. What I have concluded is that, in many cases, we need to be more sensitive to those in leadership. It is a very difficult thing when your job is tied to your spirituality. It can be really hard when your job is to care for people who will often criticize the way you try to serve them. How can we make sure that our leaders are there because they want to be?

What if it were as simple as our leaders being approachable and open and people treating them as real people; with care? What if it were as simple as our leaders being humble enough to realize that there might be seasons to leadership and the best way to lead is sometimes to get out of the way? We need to make it easier for those in spiritual to be real people.

I don’t regret my decision to resign and I think it was the right time to resign when I did. But after nearly a year away from vocational ministry, the call to serve in that capacity is returning and I’m trying to make sense of it all. In some ways after this break, I “aspire” to serve more than ever. But what about those who are struggling? How can we be sensitive to those who may be second-guessing? How can we encourage those to stay who should and give freedom to those who realize that it is not their time in life to serve in that capacity?

I’d love your thoughts.

 

the Weekly Town Crier

Town Crier

Yeah, whatever, nevermind. Where is my mind?

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Read the New York Times‘ piece “Independent Musicians Find Unexpected Rewards in Streaming.”

Watch Keith Richards Teach Matt Sweeney Some Acoustic Licks” at Stereogum.

Watch a Japanese Kokeshi Doll Emerge From a Spinning Block of Wood” at Colossus.

R.I.P. Joe Moss, manager of the Smiths and Johnny Marr.

See “Dually Sinister and Playful Solarplate Etchings by Jaco Putker”.

Read Time‘s tips: “How to Avoid Having Your Posts Show Up in Facebook’s New Public Search”

Browse Consequence of Sound‘s “Brief History of Prince the Weirdo”.

Read as Clickhole asks “How Many Of These Hayao Miyazaki Films Have You Seen?”

See the “new Super Mario Bros. speedrun record.”

Read Slate‘s piece finding that “Highly Religious People See Little Conflict With Science”.

Read Smithsonian‘s piece finding that “27 Percent of U.S. Adults Didn’t Read a Single Book Last Year.”

Read about the upcoming tour of Andy Kaufman and Redd Foxx holograms.

Read Uncut‘s piece: “The story of Television, by Richard Lloyd”.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Anthony Bourdain to open giant Blade Runner-themed food market in New York City”.

Browse CNN‘s collection of “7 terrifying airplane seat patents.”

Read Vox‘ piece: “The philosophical problem of killing baby Hitler, explained.”

Read AV Club‘s report: “Wes Anderson would like to make a horror movie”.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports “Maynard James Keenan wants nothing to do with Tool, or their fans” and Phoenix New Times‘ report: “Maynard James Keenan Has Two Things On His Mind: Puscifer and Wine. Tool Fans Will Just Have To Wait“. Also Read NME‘s piece: “Tool frontman labels band’s own fans as ‘insufferable retards.’ And don’t forget Keenan’s response to the hoopla surrounding his original remarks: “Our core fanbase aren’t fanatics. They’re music lovers & artists & good people. Its the fanatics that are insufferable,” Maynard James Keenan says.”

See “Newly Digitized ‘Phenakistoscope’ Animations That Pre-Date GIFs by Over 150 Years”.

Read KTAR‘s report that Phoenix has been named one of the top pizza cities in the country.

Ever wonder “What Happens When Your ‘Jeopardy!’ Response Goes Viral.”

Read as Aquarium Drunkard interviews Phil Cook.

Read as Paste reports that “Ballast Point is Going Public”.

Read as NPR considers the enduring appeal of Dungeons and Dragons after 40 years.

Watch free documentaries.

Read/Listen as NPR wonders “Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?” and read as the Atlantic wonders “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?

Browse “Augustine’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers”.

Read Food and Wine‘s report that Canada has a burger stuffed with peanut butter cups.

Read “A Deeper Look Into The Life Of Mansa Musa – The Richest Human Being Who Ever Lived.”

Read Wall Street Journal‘s piece “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”

The Keurig of Home Brewing Batches Craft Beer at the Push of a Button.”

Take “A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day.”

Listen as Terry Gross talks to Carrie Brownstein about her new memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. Also read Noisey‘s interview and read Spin‘s interview.

See a $39,000 knife.

Read Stereogum‘s interview with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar. Also read amNewYork‘s interview.

Read as the Daily Beast speaks with Ta-Nehisi Coates on “Why Whites Like His Writing”

Read as the Los Angeles Review of Books interviews Stephen King.

Read PopMatters‘ interview with Kurt Vile.

Read/Listen as Gloria Steinem speaks with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

Read about the French vending machine that will print you a short story.

Read Relix‘ interview with Jason Isbell or read The Planet Weekly‘s interview.

Read/Listen as NPR talks with Elvis Costello about his new memoir Unfaithful Music And Disappearing Ink.

Read as James Franco speaks with Variety about adapting William Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury for the screen.

Read Rolling Stone‘s report that Phil Collins is unretiring.

Read Paste‘s report of the new (unauthorized) Beastie Boys musical, Licensed to Ill.

Read BoingBoing‘s piece: “The more unequal your society is, the more your laws will favor the rich.”

Read Steve Martin‘s picks for “5-10-15-20” (featuring “people talking about the music that made an impact on them throughout their lives, five years at a time”).

Read Hi Fructose‘s profile of Mark Mothersbaugh.

Read as Consequence of Sound’s report: “Study suggests Spotify doesn’t have a negative impact on record sales.

Read as Richard Mouw considers the ever-growing Christian opposition to Halloween.

Watch the trailer for the upcoming Dave Navarro documentary detailing the murder of the Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist’s mother.

Read FACT’s report “Jimi Hendrix’s London home to open as museum.”

Read Pitchfork‘s report that Digable Planets are reuniting for a Seattle show.

Browse “the 9 rarest plants in the world.”

Read The Guardian‘s profile of Mark Hogancamp, subject of the fabulous documentary Marwencol.

Read Hypebeast‘s report: “Apple Records Largest Profits in Corporate History.”

Read as NPR considers Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism.

Read about the Hatian roots of zombie myths.

Read Salon‘s report about Katy Perry campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

See a “floating” record player.

Read about the Japanese manga series revolving around a cast on unemployed men who decide to become great housekeepers to attract women. The series was pulled by the author after several men complained.

Read about the sock company making a point about differences through mismatched socks.

Read as Techly wonders if the music you listen to is having long-term effects on your brain.

Read a profile of the “hyena men” of Nigeria.

Watch an animated Bill Murray interview from 1988.

Read The Guardian‘s report that Anonymous plans to release the names of approximately 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members.

Read The Stranger‘s interview with Richard Bishop about the reissue of Sun City Girls’ class Torch of the Mystics.

Read this report that Goonies 2 has been confirmed, including the full original cast.

the Weekly Town Crier

Town CrierI’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure
Waitress comes over
Nobody in the place but me and her

It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around
She studies me closely as I sit down
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs
She says, “What’ll it be?”
I say, “I don’t know, you got any soft boiled eggs?”

She looks at me, says, “I’d bring you some
But we’re out of ’m, you picked the wrong time to come”
Then she says, “I know you’re an artist, draw a picture of me!”
I say, “I would if I could, but
I don’t do sketches from memory.

Welcome to the Weekly Town Crier. A weekly world wide web page where I gather links of interest for your interest. Please show your interest by browsing.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Read as Quora wonders “Why Do Car Buffs Dislike Tesla?”

Read as Ozy considers the cost of weddings: “the more you spend, the shorter your marriage is.”

Read as CNN wonders about “How to think straight in the age of information overload” and why so many smart people wear the same outfit every day.

Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Columbus Day Is Now Indigenous People’s Day in Seattle And Minneapolis.”

Read as the New Yorker considers Max Richter’s new eight-hour album: Sleep.

Browse Paste‘s list of “10 Hip-Hop Albums For People Who Don’t Like Hip-Hop.”

See “Gorgeous animated pixel-art depicting everyday Japan.”

Read The Art of Manliness‘ piece “The Lost Art of Cheap Recreation.”

Read as the AV Club reports: “Joss Whedon made more money from Dr. Horrible than the first Avengers.”

Read Pitchfork‘s report that “St. Vincent Working at New Dallas Restaurant.”

R.I.PThe Stooges‘ Steve Mackay.

See The World’s Largest Man-Made Wave.

Read Atlas Obscura‘s piece about “The Doomed Effort To Make Videos Go Vinyl.”

Read as Slate wonders how to “Become More Articulate in Everyday Speech?”

Read as The Atlantic considers: “The Cheapest Generation Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.”

Read The Daily Beast‘s piece: “Lou Reed “was a monster”

Read Fast Company‘s piece: “Getting More Done At Work Won’t Make You As Happy As Just Working Less.”

Read as First Things considers whatever happened to liturgy in gathered worship.

Read as American Songwriter considers “Lucero’s Never-Ending Tour.”

Read the New York Times‘ report that “Earliest Known Draft of King James Bible Is Found.”

Read IFL Science‘s report: “Study Claims People Who Like Their Coffee Black Are More Likely To Have Psychopathic Tendencies.”

See “A fully transparent solar cell that could make every window and screen a power source.”

Read as The Atlantic considers “Twilight of the Headbangers How long can the legends of heavy metal keep on rocking?”

See a “Bicycle That Lets you Play Records On Its Wheels.”

Read as Draft Magazine considers “Why the DOJ is investigating AB InBev” (SPOILER: It’s their war on “craft” beer).

Read Stereogum‘s report that Urban Outfitters will now carry cassettes.

Watch/read as AZ Central considers the “Day of the Dead” ritual.

See tattoos made from one continuous line.

Watch First Teaser for Netflix’s A Very Murray Christmas” at Paste.

Read about the move “to put DRM in JPEGs.”

ReadRelevant”‘s piece: “Playboy’s Move Away From Nudity Is Actually a Bad Sign.”

Help your kids discover punk music with this new new children’s book.

Watch Natalie Prass cover Slayer.

Read as the Guardian profiles Kristin Hersh’s new book on Vic Chesnutt: Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.

Browse this list of “The ten best rock docs of all time.”

Browse this list of “must-read books by musicians.”

Read/Listen as NPR’s Fresh Air talks to Berke Breathed about the return of Bloom County.

Browse as Pigeons and Planes makes their picks for “2015’s top indie music labels.”

Read/Listen as NPR‘s All Songs Considered profiles Elvis Costello’s memoir: Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.

Read as Paste profiles singer/songwriter Josh Ritter.

Browse years and years and years’ worth of KMart muzak.

Browse “a primer to the works of Flannery O’Connor.”

Read ABC‘s report that Phil Collins‘ “autobiography will be published in October 2016.”

Why Aren’t We More Troubled By Christianity?

downloadFor the past nine months, I have been wandering in my own sort of desert. Yes, I live in Phoenix, but that’s not what I mean. I have given the bulk of my professional career to what many call “vocational ministry.” I have served in some sort of paid capacity in three different churches in three different states and my two-fold theme has remained the same:

  1. No matter where you find yourself in your faith journey, may you be drawn closer to Jesus.
  2. Equip God’s people to do God’s work.

You might summarize this as helping people “love God and love people” and, though this can take on many different looks, it is more than enough to keep any local church busy until Kingdom Come. Literally.

Nine months ago, I resigned from ministry for personal reasons. The ensuing time has given me a different perspective on the Church in America and what we do and what we don’t do. Did you ever watch the show Monk, about an OCD private investigator played by Tony Shalhoub? There would often be a scene in which the police would be fumbling about the crime scene and Monk would enter the building and almost immediately see things the police didn’t. I know, I know, it’s a tired plot device used by Psych and countless others, but indulge me for a moment.

These private investigators enter the crime scene with a different perspective than the police. They are asking questions the police might not be asking. The past nine months out of vocational ministry have prompted me  to ask questions, not just about how I am doing in ministry or how our local church is doing but how are WE  are doing. By this, I mean the royal “we”, “the” Evangelical Church in America. And I’m left with more questions and concerns than ever.

One of the questions that has haunted me recently is why “we” are not more troubled by Christianity. David Dark has superbly summarized this question in The Sacredness of Questioning Everything:

Will we let the double-edged indictments of the scriptures cut us to the quick, creating problems in the lives we are living? Or will we enlist the words to serve only in our projects of self-congratulation, skipping the bits that question our beliefs and practices? Will we read the Bible only to reaffirm our beliefs and practices?

I worry that much of what passes for Christianity in America simply uses the Bible for affirmation and self-congratulation. Instead of submitting ourselves to the Spirit’s questioning of our lives, we use the Bible to simply affirm what we’re already doing.

How else can we explain the complacency of so many professing Christians? How else can we explain the prevalence of poverty in our midst; our acceptance of and participation in injustice? “Worship” gatherings that resemble rock concerts more than worship? Local churches who spend more money on buildings than widows and orphans? So many professing Christians chasing the American Dream of upward mobility and Suburban stability? How else could we be so sure that God supports our political agenda except that we’ve stopped listening?

The list goes on and is equally directed at me. I include myself in tis indictment. But it is an indictment nonetheless. There is certainly assurance to be found in following Jesus. But what if we’re sure about the wrong things? The message of Jesus should cause us to question ourselves more than we do. It should cause us to squirm and perhaps sweat a bit. Though there are many angles through which to view this issue, I want to focus today on the broad notion of social justice.

After all, Jesus is pretty clear about what He expects of His people: love people, even (especially?) your enemies. Share your stuff. Practice forgiveness and practice reconciliation. Look out for those who can’t look out for themselves, especially children. If you say you love Jesus, do these things. It’s that simple. And yet, for some reason, we believe it is not. We say it’s more complicated than that with the result that we do very little except assure others that God is on our side.

How well are “we” doing at the things Jesus says mark His people? Are we pursuing peace through meekness? Are we sacrificially caring for others, even those we don’t like? Are we pursuing reconciliation or taking partisan sides?

Francis of Assisi is credited with trolling Reformed Christians with the saying (even though it is likely he never said any such thing):

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

My Reformed friends immediately point out that the Gospel is “good news” and that it must be articulated in words or it is not the Gospel. Yeah, yeah, I get it. But Francis is certainly in line with Jesus Himself who told us to live lives of light so that those around us might glorify God (Matthew 5:16) and I worry that, while we argue about the articulation of the Good News of Jesus, we fail at its demonstration. We argue with one another’s proclamation while few of us actually do anything with it. Why else is the call to live “radical” lives for Jesus so prominent except that we are simply swallowed by the mundane and even vain expressions of faith in commercialism masked with spirituality?

When we sit under God’s Word rather than over it, we should be deeply unsettled. We should be willing to question our lives. Do they match Jesus’ descriptions of His people? More and more, I’m worried that my life does not. More and more, I’m worried that we have lost our witness in America simply because we don’t do the things that are expected of us (no, our actions do not merit our salvation but they are certainly not negotiable).

And I am not alone. Lest you think I’m just alarmistly promoting a “social gospel,” Stephen Colbert calls us to the carpet quite directly:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

How in the world can we write off such sentiments so quickly? Do we have the ears to hear what Jesus expects? How in the world can we pursue lives of comfort when Jesus calls us to sacrifice?

I am convicted that it’s been far too long since I’ve been deeply unsettled by the call of Jesus to give up everything (maybe even literally) and follow Him. Truth be told, our lives are our primary apologetic. We can use words, but if we don’t live it, we must question whether or not we actually believe what we’re saying. Can we say we love Jesus and not love others?

Lord, wake us from our slumber. Remind us once again that forgiveness breeds forgiveness. Convict us once more that they will know we are yours, not by our political affiliation or the family-friendly movies we watch and “uplifting” radio we listen to but by our love.

Unsettle us. And move us to action.

There is work to be done.

 

 

 

the Weekly Town Crier

towncrierBlippity bloppity boo to you too. So what of it?

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Outside‘s 2015 list of “The 16 Best Places to Live in America”. Did your town make the list?

Read about the “121-year-old bottle of whisky” found in a “Scottish time capsule”. Would you try it?

Browse Paste‘s list of the 10 best things on Crackle (other than Seinfeld, though Jerry does make an appearance).

Read as Oregon Live catches up with NPR’s/”Portland’s Own” Ari Shapiro.

Read Time‘s report: “J.J. Abrams Says Nazis Inspired the New Star Wars Villains”.

Read about “One Woman’s Attempt to Become a Wrestling Fan”.

Browse this list of “15 Composers To Watch” in 2015.

Read reports that “Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence are writing a movie together”.

Read as Salon explores “Why the ’90s are literally disappearing from history”.

Read FACT‘S piece reporting: “Spotify demands access to your contacts, photos and location”.

Adding traffic sound effects on ants makes them entertaining to watch“.

Browse Time’s list: “14 of China’s Finest World Monument Replicas”.

Read Outside‘s piece: “John Muir Knew How to Live”.

Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “How Coolness Defined the World Wide Web of the 1990s”.

Enter the debate: “Are Older Whiskeys Really Better?”

Read as Banksy interviews Run the JewelsRead about Banky’s Dismaland. See the trailer.

Read about “Pop Tart Beer”.

Watch Seinfeld Recut as a Devastating but Heartwarming Lifetime Movie.

Apparently “Axl Rose and Slash are friends again” prompting many to wonder about the possibility of a Guns n’ Roses reunion.

BrowseUncut’s 50 best bootlegs”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Paul Thomas Anderson to Release Documentary on Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood”.

See a $20,000 opal, which looks like “a nebula trapped in a gemstone”.

Read NME‘s report: “Morrissey announces release of debut novel. See the cover.

Browse Paste‘s list of “6 Fictional Languages in Literature”. What’s your favorite?

Read as the Washington Post laments: “We’re now averaging more than one mass shooting per day in 2015.”

Read Flavorwire‘s report: “Bruce Willis Probably Got Fired From the New Woody Allen Movie”.

Hear “Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp’s Hollywood Vampires cover The Who’s ‘My Generation’.

See photos of rarely seen cultures.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report that Odd Future rapper Tyler the Creator has been banned from the UK.

See “Harry Potter re-imagined as the villain of a horror movie”.

Read the Washington Post‘s report that the Mormon Church will continue its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.

Watch “a Supercut of All the People Batman Has Killed”. For a guy with a no-kill policy . . .

Browse Spotify‘s list of “the most timeless songs ever”.

It Was The Prime Of Our Discontent

amazon-prime-day-1Unless you live in North Korea, you probably knew that Amazon, (the giant on-line retailer) celebrated their 20th anniversary by throwing themselves a party with, what they proclaimed would be “more deals than Black Friday”. Apparently, this was such a big deal that WalMart (the giant, giant retailer) wanted to celebrate Amazon’s birthday by also offering discounts!

One of the most notable things that has made this a cultural moment rather than just another sale was the immediate blowback against the products Amazon chose to discount. And yet, the site’s sales soared. So, we all complained about what was being discounted and yet still ended up buying more! I do wish I had known about the “Beard Growther” on Prime Day, but I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t see a single thing I needed.

Of course, “Prime Day” was first and foremost a way for the company to push Prime memberships and only secondarily a real sale. And yet, the loudest thing about Prime Day were the complaints.

I wonder what this says of us as a culture? A business has no obligation to discount its merchandise. Especially when sales remain strong. So, when a company does decide to discount merchandise, there is always a financial reason. They need to move certain merchandise, clear certain inventory, etc. When Amazon discounts merchandise, it does so for itself, not the consumer. Amazon said it would have more deals than Black Friday. Apparently, they did, because their sales topped Black Friday. And our response is to complain that they didn’t have what I wanted at a cheaper price.

What Prime Day forces us to consider is that we are selfish creatures who feel entitled to more. Amazon may have gotten people’s hopes up with the hype, but that’s good business, not false advertising. We, who were owed nothing, complain that we didn’t get what we wanted. We truly are the culture who, hours after getting up from a meal with family celebrating all we are thankful for, will trample one another at WalMart to get more cheap crap.

Content hearts don’t complain.

We who love and follow Jesus must be keenly aware (2 Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:1-4) that we are marinating in a cultural stew of consumerism that places self at the center of the universe. How else could someone like Joel Osteen pass off as a Christian? The man literally teaches that we should have our “Best Life Now,” which Jesus says is actually a sign of judgment rather than favor. But I digress.

Why is contentment so difficult?

I would wager that most of the people who read my posts (if there are any?) live pretty comfortable lives. You may live in a smaller house than someone else. You may drive an older car than someone you know. You may not eat out at restaurants as often as that friend of yours or have the new appliances like your neighbor. But we are among the wealthiest population the world has ever known. Most of us may not have private jets or yachts, so we tell ourselves we aren’t rich, but that’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Try telling a subsistence farmer with no electricity that you’re not rich.

Consumerism idolizes the self.

Contentment is so difficult because everywhere we turn, we are told that we deserve more, we deserve better, cheaper, faster! One of advertising’s key functions is to create discontent in self-image so that the product in question can fill that void. And, even we Christians who owe everything to grace (Ephesians 2) believe these lies from time to time. We believe that life (or Amazon) somehow us us special treatment. Could be because we let people like Joel Osteen tell us: ““God wants to give you your own house. God has a big dream for your life” (page 35, Your Best Life Now). Osteen has allowed consumerism to color his view of our relationship with God. We know we are loved because of more stuff. We feel secure because we have a firm grip on our stuff and we feel better about ourselves when we get more stuff and since it’s all about me, I will complain that Amazon didn’t discount the right items. The items I wanted.

But what if we already have all of the love, acceptance we could ever hope for and that our identity is not found in what we do or what we own. What if, in Jesus, because of Who He is and what He has done, we don’t need stuff to find identity? What do I have to complain about? Because of the Spirit’s work uniting Believers to Jesus (Romans 6), the Father says that I am His beloved child in whom He is well pleased (Matthew 3:13-17)! Because of Jesus’ continued work of interceding for His people (Romans 8:34), we can know that our seat (our “position” // our “identity”) is in the heavenly places with Jesus and because of Jesus, it is secure (Ephesians 2:6), in spite of us!

What a great opportunity Prime Day turned out to be to examine our hearts. Do you feel entitled to anything? What? Why? What do we really deserve and for what should we be thankful? How might thankfulness change the way we live?