Friday, December 9, 2011

God and Laws

I hate American politics, but I think about them a lot. I just noticed that I have two blog posts related to politics that are unpublished. I think this is because politics are so petty and polarizing and do little to stimulate the type of thought and discussion that bares good fruit, so I'll write something I might feel is important, read it, realize it will only breed friction, and then file it away. 

However, this topic really intrigues me, and since it's more of a spiritual approach I'm hoping when I finish I'll have the inclination to hit "Publish Post."

Where is God in politics? How do you reconcile what you believe with any form of political activism? What would Jesus do?

I was sitting around with a group of friends last week and we asked ourselves these questions. 

One of my friends was hurt by how people have used politics to take Christian prayer out of schools, and also lobbied to ban the Ten Commandments from display on public property. She was sad that teachers could no longer teach Christian history, and she wondered what would come of all this. She was sincere. She only wished that kids would have the opportunity to learn about the love of Jesus. 

Some of my other friends spoke up about how Christianity is portrayed in politics. They didn't like the right-wing pundits who claimed Christianity. They seemed fake. We all agreed that we didn't like Christians being defined by being anti-gay and anti-abortion or pro-war. We agreed that Christians should stand for justice and peace, not persecution of any group, that we should never challenge or demean our enemies, we should love them. (Matthew 5:9, Psalm 82:3Matthew 5:44, Luke 10:25-37).

So how do we do all that? How do we cultivate those ideals within our current political system, and in the face of such polarization?

This was a tough question. I think our natural reaction is to fight laws that seem to us as "Anti-Christian." We tend to (out of sincere concern) gravitate towards the idea that America will be damned if there isn't Bible reading in schools, prayer in Congress, and God in the Pledge of Allegiance. We're taught that our country is drifting farther and farther from the beliefs on which is was founded. The idea has been propagated that we used to be a Christian nation, but now we're drifting from the good graces of God. We're told by some that we're heading down the wrong path to destruction, and we must get politically active in order to turn our course back to God.

I have to tell you, I don't believe any of this. When was America a Christ-like nation? When we stole land from the Natives? Slaughtered men, women and children in cold blood? Used slavery and persecution to build our country? How about as early as the 1960's when racism was political POLICY (For more on this, read THIS book). Sure, our forefathers wrote God on things, but did that automatically make them Godly? And furthermore, does it even matter outside of perpetuating a political agenda that's impetus is millions in donations?

Let's go back to what started this whole America thing.
To sum it up, Puritans were facing persecution from the Catholic majority. Terrible things were happening. So they left to take religious refuge in the New World. To read more on Religious persecution that helped found America go here

When we read history, time and time again we learn this simple equation: Religion + Power = Persecution. Our forefathers knew this, that is why they believed very strongly in the separation of Church and State. You don't have to be persecuted to know this, you can just read about crusaders slaughtering "heathens" or conquistadors "converting" savages at sword-point. Power corrupts, it wants to control. Power wants to be God and to judge what is good and what isn't (Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1-5).

There are people in this country who, in the face of such obvious truth to the contrary, would want history to repeat itself. Some people actually want a Christian majority so that they can legally ban homosexuality or whatever is maddening them this week. They literally want power in order to persecute people. That is scary. It's also anti-Jesus, which is even more scary considering the implications of who else might be behind this movement.

As far as Christians being more and more of a political minority, I'm in favor of it. True Christianity flourishes through extreme persecution.

Why are we so afraid of persecution? Do Christians forget how this whole thing started? After Jesus left Christians were being hunted from house to house, thrown in prison, beaten and stoned to death, hung, filleted alive by knives, burned to the stake, crucified, and their numbers dramatically INCREASED! You see the same thing happening in China over the last fifty years. If you ask me, I say go ahead and ban Christianity. At least then we'll know who the real ones are. I am not afraid of persecution, I welcome it. It'll separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. This whole thing about fighting for a "Christian Political Majority" flies totally in the face of what Jesus established with the early church.

Think about it. Jesus said He came as a "humble servant," to "Seek and to save that which was lost." He said things like "the last shall be first" and "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." How can you reconcile these words of Jesus with grasping for political power?: 

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." - Mark 9:35

The truth is, you can't.

Changing laws to coincide with morals doesn't change hearts, it only allows for persecution, violence, and hate. Unless of course they're changed for freedom or justice.

I think the place for Christianity in politics is not on the "moral-crusading" end, but on the justice end. Christian organizations like the International Justice Mission use global laws to free the persecuted and seek punishment for their captors. It's amazing the good that can come from people who take this verse literally:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

- James 1:27

How can anyone fight that?

Instead of Christianity being defined by the right-wing, anti-whatever vitriol, it'd be nice to have it be defined as loving, justice-seeking, poor-serving, and actually Jesus-following.

Those are just my thoughts on the matter.

For more on what Jesus thought about the Religious Political Majority in His day, read Matthew 23.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Parents Keep Each Other Sane

This is an iPhone note from 42 days ago. I was laying in bed, and I recorded this conversation with my other wife, Sleep Kristie:

She chuckles, mouth and eyes closed, lips smiling.

"What's so funny?" I ask, grinning as I roll over to look at her, suddenly excited at the opportunity to hear from Sleep Kristie.

"I remember..." She squints her eyes and rolls onto her back, putting her finger in the air. I can tell she's trying to remember her dream, which she usually has trouble with at this point...

"Remember what?"

"'Cause parents..." She pauses, finger still pointed at the ceiling, eyes still closed, concentrating... 

"...Keep each other sane..."

She seems satisfied with that, so she rolls into me with eyes still closed and nestles into the blankets.

"Parents keep each other sane," She mutters, "Then the baby. The baby second."

I'm laughing at this point, but trying not to make noise as I grab my phone and write all this down. 

Five minutes pass. She chuckles again.

"What's so funny now?" I can't believe I'm getting all this good material in one night.

"I guess so. Hm Hm Hmm Hmm Hmmm Hmmm." She's smiling and chuckling again.

"You guess what? What's funny?"

She sniffs.

"Being a parent."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Does Virginity Work?

I just read an article by Mark Driscoll on Dating, Relating, and Fornicating. Because I don't always agree with his word choices and in my opinion, mishandling of some "hot button" issues, I was surprised to find some interesting study results within his post that, at least scientifically, solidified my opinions on dating and marriage (For said opinions, see posts "How To Land a Wife," "Head vs. Heart - Marriage and Cynicism," and maybe "Surprised by Love" for some background).

Mr. Driscoll can be blunt and offensive, sometimes lacking the grace required to deliver the type of loving correction that people are naturally more receptive to. I don't want to get into a debate about who's team I'm on, or whether I'm a Neo-Calvinist or a Neo-Puritan, because I think we're all on the same team. Mark means well and I have grace for him, because I too have the propensity to pop off at the mouth when I think I'm right. I just wanted to share some statistics from his post that may or may not guide your actions and better your life. Here is the excerpt I'm talking about:

Culture and Dating

Sex outside of marriage is now the norm, a huge change from just a century ago. Today, over 5 million couples cohabitate. This is up from 1 million in 1978. And this number doesn’t take into account the number of couples who don’t live together but who still stay over at each other’s places enough to be classified as cohabitators.
Here are some shocking statistics taken from my book, Religion Saves:
  • An estimated quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 currently live with a partner.
  • Half of unmarried women in the same age group have lived with a partner at some time.
  • Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation.
  • The most likely people to cohabit are those aged 20 to 24.
This is problematic first because it is sin and against God’s design for sex, which is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, but also for a number of practical reasons.
  • Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with a higher divorce risk, with estimates ranging from 33 percent to 151 percent increased risk of divorce.
  • Annual rates of depression among cohabitators are more than three times higher than married couples,
  • Women in cohabitating relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse.
  • Two studies found that women in cohabitating relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than married women.
  • Couples who cohabitate before marriage report less marital happiness and more conflict when married.
This is in contrast to couples who marry as virgins:
  • Men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce.
  • Women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce,
  • Those who wait to have sex until marriage and remain faithful in marriage report higher levels of life satisfaction compared to adults who engage in premarital or adulterous sex.
  • Those who wait to have sex and are faithful to their spouse also report notably higher happiness scores.

What do you think of these statistics?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why We Need Jealousy

I'm in my car yesterday and there's this doctor on the radio talking about a series of research studies he did on relationships. The host asks him about studies on open-relationships of straight people (for those of you who don't know, an open-relationship is one where you get to sow your seed all over town as long as you come home to your main-squeeze), and the doc replies, 

"Well, we actually haven't been able to do any studies on them. When we made appointments with open couples it was often the case that they had broken up by the time they were scheduled to come in. So I assume, from that data, that these types of relationships lack stability."

Of course, this is no surprise to us. Anyone who has listened to good 'ol Dr. Drew Lapinsky knows that the best way to get divorced/break-up is to 'de-exclusify' your sex life. That's not morals or religious doctrine talking, that's scientific fact. When people do this, trust is replaced with it's antithesis; jealousy, and jealousy quickly corrodes any healthy relationship.

When the doctor on this program was asked what it would take to have successful, long term open-relationships between a man and a woman he said, 

"It would take two very amazing people. It is an amazing person who can resist jealousy for a long period of time."

He went on to say that 100% of gay couples that last 35+ years are open, because they get less jealous and are more honest with each other, and straight couples have a lot to learn from gay couples.

At this point I choked on my Diet Coke.

I'm a pretty liberal guy, and I have close friends who are gay and I love them and they know it. So let me preface this by saying I have no qualms with the stats the good doctor quoted, I'm assuming they're quite true. But I have something to learn from people who don't feel jealousy? Really?

What I have a problem with is the crackpot idea that an exclusive relationship is an antiquated institution, and that in order to be truly enlightened we should be able to do whatever we want and not have jealousy enter into the picture. 

Is it really AMAZING when someone's spouse messes around on them and they don't feel jealous? Or is it inhuman?... In my opinion if your spouse is a philanderer and you're not jealous, you need some serious counseling and perhaps a professional to test you for a heartbeat and a spine.

The problem with this post-modern thinking is that the purveyors of it believe they are taking on traditional social structures that are out-dated, like we all should take cues from folks who feel nothing in order to have their cake and eat it too. What people like this doctor are implying is that these folks get to follow every sexual impulse, and thats a good thing because those are natural, where as feeling jealousy is bad because jealousy is primitive. They think they're progressing out of mindless tradition, but I believe they're actually messing with nature. 

And when you mess with nature it always ends badly.

The reason we feel jealousy is because it fills the void that trust leaves. Without trust, jealousy enters. We need trust because trust breeds intimacy, and we all long to be intimate, to have our true selves known completely and loved anyways. 

We all want to be known and loved despite our faults. This is a primary need for a human to survive, it's the heart of community. This is completely natural and has been for thousands of years. Without jealousy there is no true intimacy because there is no true trust. So why do some think in our modern age that we can rise above it? And more importantly, what are our motives for "rising above" jealousy? I'd argue that they are purely selfish and immoral and damaging to all things pure and good, but that's just me.

Jealousy is natural. You can't breed or train or counsel this out of the human psyche. So contrary to what the doctor said I don't believe I have anything to learn in the way of jealousy, other than perhaps what not to do. It doesn't matter to me that 100% of gay relationships that are 35 years and counting are open. 

All that tells me is that they've sacrificed the potential of true intimacy with one person to have plastic intimacy with dozens. 

That lack of jealousy comes at too high of a cost. The motives behind such thinking are selfish, and selfishness will quickly make shallow the depth in any relationship. I pity these folks (straight or gay), because they've traded the kind of beauty and depth of true intimacy (that I've personally experienced) for something fast and cheap. 

Without jealousy there is no trust, and without trust there is no intimacy, and without intimacy you're just rubbing skin together.

That doesn't seem enlightened to me, it seems entitled. Progressing doesn't happen when you invest in the temporary gratification of impulse. Any Grandpa still married to Grandma with loving kids and grandkids will tell you that progress is the lasting, unspeakable peace that comes from fortitude and integrity. 

There is nothing richer. /Rant

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Baby Girl

Last night I lay down next to my sleeping wife and put my arm around her and got kicked and punched. Not by her, of course, but by the little life-form dwelling in her abdomen.

I'll admit at times that being an expectant father sometimes feels like being in a Sci-Fi movie. Somehow, through some strange magic beyond my comprehension, my wife has been implanted with a growing, cognizant creature which will eventually burst forth in traumatic fashion and change our lives forever. At times, it's just felt, well... weird.

It hasn't been weird for Kristie though. At each stage of the pregnancy she gets more excited, more attached to the baby inside of her. Every week she announces the child's size, weight, and length, what she has developed physiologically, and the exciting new activities she is engaging in - like say, hiccups.

And then there is the nesting. All of our furniture got painted, re-arranged to fit the bassinet and changing table, and she has a written a list of needs and wants a page long that are organized by priority and the respective time frames in which they will be needed/wanted. She is in full-on mother mode.

Not up until very recently, the start of the third trimester, have I been anything other than a happy observer of all these "weird" changes. In my head, I've already wrapped myself around the idea that change and responsibility are coming. I know I have my work cut out for me. But Kristie has had a totally different experience, she's been developing a relationship. She feels the baby moving and kicking and turning over, growing inside of her! She's got this beautiful love for our unborn child that I've felt guilty at times for not sharing. I suppose it's natural for dads, that up until they hold their kids and gaze into the faces of their offspring, there is a sort of disconnect which disallows them to match the natural love of the child's mother. But still, I've felt a little guilty for my inability to get as excited as she does.

Kristie is reading this childbirth guide the mid-wife gave her. Every night she sits on the couch, grinning, pointing at diagrams and pictures, quoting facts about how our little girl is doing and where her head is now and how we're going to have to feed her when she gets here. She giggles and sniffs through her nose, staring at the book with one hand on her stomach, and I watch her. 

As I'm watching her I start to imagine scenarios; like what it will be like to wake up every morning to this warm bundle in the living room, to hold her close to my chest and whisper to her. To smell her baby smell and put my nose on her baby head and tell her she looks pretty like her mommy.

And suddenly I feel this thing in my chest, and my heart pounds, and I get butterflies, and I tell Kristie these scenarios, and I'm grinning, and she looks at me like I finally get it, like I can finally share in this miracle with her. So I'm slow on the uptake, but I'm getting there.

I used to think having kids was the easy way out, the cop-out alternative following your dreams in your twenties. Now I realize it's a miracle and an adventure and perhaps the most important thing two people can do together. I'm excited for this new adventure and new calling in my life, and I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about before long.

She is due November 28th, 2011.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Secret to Success In Music

This is a post expanding on the subject matter of one I wrote in 2010, titled: "Making It" In The Music Industry."

Lately I've been getting the question. People want to know how to do it, how to make music a career. It's a misguided question, because the truth is that I lack the qualifications to answer it. I do not currently enjoy a career in the music industry. I enjoy a hobby that sometimes pays for itself, but most of the time it accrues thousands of dollars in debt. I'd hardly call that a career, but nonetheless it is the assumption of many that I am privy to knowledge beyond that of the average music hobbyist. 

I was that kid. I remember starting out and believing that nothing could stop us, that our music was this magical, momentous force that would roll perpetually onwards until it penetrated the hearts and minds of the masses. We actually believed that. With delightfully naive hubris we'd suggest to people that if they were nice to us now, we'd remember them when we hit the big time.

Then reality sunk in, and we soon realized it was hard to get shows, hard to get tours, hard to sell records, hard to draw crowds, hard to get signed, hard to pay expenses, and extremely hard to make money.

But we still believed. We believed we could convert every music listener who wasn't already indoctrinated by some hipster-driven fashion-music dogma. We believed we made music for the people. So why weren't we blowing up? We had to be missing something. So we pressed on, like the young bands still do, searching ever so desperately for the Secret to Success.

I remember being 19 and talking to Bobby Darling from Gatsbys American Dream outside of Ground Zero in Bellevue, WA. He was the most successful musician I had ever talked to, and I naively believed he had the Secret. Like he might pull me aside and lower his voice to a whisper, and he might impart some piece of wisdom; a phone number, some information that would help us get signed, rich, famous, noticed, whatever...

Perspective is everything.

I've been on both sides of that coin now, so I'll let you in on a few secrets I've learned since. These aren't really secrets, they're just common sense, but sometimes we can get so deluded that we disregard them altogether.

I want to debunk a myth your supportive parents tell you about the music industry when you're starting out. Don't get me wrong, I'm certain they love you and may even think you're God's gift to Screamo, or whatever genre, but they're wrong about this. Ready for the truth?:


Parents and ill-informed managers perpetuate this lie. This is 2011, there is no big mean force standing between you and potential fans... you know all the important "WHO'S" already. Their names are Twitter, Facebook, BandCamp, iTunes, Kickstarter, and a hundred others like them who invite everyone to use their services.

Nobody is going to do you a favor, so do yourself a favor and make the best music you know how to make, that is your best shot at making it. The fairy godmother isn't going to come turn your pumpkin songs into a carriage that you can ride to the ball. You're going to have to carve that pumpkin and carry it yourself.

With social networking and the internet you can connect with fans, market your music, raise money, and distribute your songs all on your own. If you're still looking for a label and you think a label would be right for your band, here's some free advice:


Build something that a label wants to invest in. That's all a label is, an investor... they have a million bands to pick from so why should they invest in yours? Where is yours heading? What have you built? Facebook was started by a couple guys leveraging all they had to get it going... they didn't get seed money until it was already national, serving hundreds of thousands of people. If you believe in your music, leverage everything you have and don't expect any hand outs from anyone. Sending demo's to labels is pointless, I know, because I've seen the pile at Tooth and Nail Records... it's depressing to see all those beautifully decorated packages with home-made D1 sheets go to waste. This isn't 1995, it doesn't work like that anymore. Make a name for yourself independently, because if you can't do that, you have no shot of ever getting signed.


People ask things like, "Well if it's about the music then how come that sucky band made it big?"

Music is perhaps the most subjective topic on the planet. The truth is there are a lot of people who think that said "sucky bands" music is awesome, and someone at a label saw the earning potential of that band in a certain market, so they got that band on the radio and big tours and dumped a ton of money into that band. You and I might argue that the bands music is crap, but if there's a market for it, that means a significant amount of people like it, and if people like it, that means there's money in it. If you think a major record label went to that band and said, "Hey guys, I know you suck, but we're friends, so I'll dump a half million into you" than you're more than fooling yourself.

Music is your greatest asset.

So many ill-informed bands place too high a value on their equipment, hair/style, choreography, live show, market visibility and production quality. The Song is the magic. The Song is the thing that transcends the tangible and grips the soul. The Song is what spreads like wildfire through iPods and Facebook and at parties and on road trips. The Song is the thing you should spend 99% of your time perfecting before you ever step foot outside of your garage. 

This doesn't mean you break it down into a formula. I believe we all must have a healthy respect for the science of Song (basic principles of structure, key, melody, rhythm), but it's more important to immerse yourself in the art of songwriting. After all, a musician is an artist. Dedicate most of your time to the art. If you're diligent and you spend enough time, and your art is great, it will get noticed.

So when people ask me how to make a career in music I tell them this: Write great songs. Not good ones, great ones. Great ones spread quickly, while good ones are slow movers. If you write great songs, great things will happen. One of them is the simple economic principle of Demand. More and more fans will start turning up at shows and buying your music online. Bigger bands will want you to tour with them because you now draw a crowd. Labels will start calling you when they see how many records you're selling independently. Your need for a secret to success will be obsolete, because suddenly you have demand for your music. Not because someone hooked you up, but because your music is just THAT good!


Let me go back again to when I was 19 and starting this band thing. We we're so full of youthful optimism and blind faith, which can be a good thing, but we made a critical error: We believed the hype. All of our family and friends loved our music, so of course we believed that it was perfect. The truth is those songs were good, not great. We had not focused enough time and effort on honing our craft, we simply followed inspiration down the rabbit hole and whatever we experienced became set in stone. This is typical of young writers. We get praise for everything we do because we are precocious, and we start to think that everything we do is great.

I think this is partially because we are so insecure. We're either inflated with ego or self-loathing, without much in-between. We're always viciously attacking or defending ourselves. A great artist says no to inspiration as much as they say yes. It's about knowing what is good and what isn't, and that often takes time and maturity. It's rare that someone can write a great song on natural talent alone, elements of greatness will be there with true natural talent, but it won't be complete. There is a certain amount of learned skill and experience required in order for the artist to say no to the cheap stuff and yes to the good stuff. A healthy sense of humility is good, and that's hard to find in the young and stubborn.

There are a lot of things that go into a successful career in music, some of which I may never understand. Is there luck? Sure. Intangibles? Yup. Often times you don't choose your band or musical background, you can't control chemistry and I don't care who you are, you NEVER have the corner on inspiration. So take all my advice with a grain of salt. Not everyone is cut out to do music full-time, and that may be the simple fact for many reading this.

With that said, I'll say that if there is one secret that is a non-secret it is this: Persistence.

Call it willpower, perseverance, determination, tenacity, resolve, whatever... we had it. The main reason we got as far as we did is because of our unwavering belief in our dream. 

By now you may realize that I don't believe in a "Secret to Success," but if there is one "non-secret" that I believe is more important than the rest, it has to be Persistence.

“Anybody who tells you to have a fall back plan are people who had a fallback plan, didn’t follow their dreams, and don’t want you to either.” - John Mayer

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflection for Direction

Something happened to me on stage at the Showbox Market in Seattle on April 6th, 2010. Something that I don't want to ever happen again.

I wrote most of the of the lyrics to our album Vagabonds in 2009, which was a positive year for me. It was the year that I let go of my desires to have more - more respect, money, recognition, fame, etc... essentially what every guy in a band wants. 

Lots of the dynamics of our band and our musical careers were changing, and I simply decided to give up stressing out about it. It was freeing, and a lot of the lyrics on Vagabonds were written out of that sense of freedom.

But something happened on stage in April 2010, the night our CD was released. I knew going into the show that our band wasn't fully practiced and on the same page with the new songs, but generally speaking that never stopped us from performing well before. We could always fall back on the emotional energy of our live show, lock in with each other and pull it together.

The new songs relied less on the wall-of-sound-energy that many of our older songs did, and relied on more of a joyful, whimsical energy - one that's hard to fake. No matter how happy you are, you can always direct any residual stress, anxiety, or emotional anguish into a song that tackles big savory issues like the meaning of life... but it's really, really hard to fake happy songs when you're not happy.

As a band, it was clear that we were not happy. We weren't together, unified, invested in the music, and how could we be? The writing process for the record resembled at best a lack of unified enthusiasm. To put it simply: we got jaded. I remember looking around at my bandmates on stage and feeling contempt. Not for them per say, because they were feeling the exact same thing I was, but I felt disgusted by our lack of energy. It was like we lacked the integrity to believe in the words of the songs we played. We were just going through the motions. I'd felt like this a few times in performances leading up to this show, but this was a home show, where our crowd was the most supportive. It was our CD Release Show and we couldn't even pull it together for them. 

I felt sick. I hated every word to every song. I didn't want to be in a band that made me feel like this. I couldn't talk to anyone after the show. I couldn't go out and celebrate the release of our record afterwards. I went straight to bed. 

Then we went on tour, and it got worse. Whatever happened on stage that night kickstarted a long, grinding period of hopelessness, and you may remember some pretty depressing blog posts I wrote from the road that year. Sorry for that... sometimes life sucks.

A couple weeks ago we were able to fully redeem ourselves on stage at The Showbox Market. We played old and new songs and we embraced them all, diving headfirst into the energy that inspired them to be written in the first place. Time apparently had set us straight, and I honestly believe we played our best show in years, to one of our smallest crowds in years (at the Showbox), that Friday night on July 29th, 2011.

It inspired me because I think I learned to accept where we've been and embrace where we are going. I can't deny the past and I can't force the future. My focus on our next record will be to capture the energy that comes from not only loving, but living the music we create. Music made and played with integrity is good music. I'm in a mental state now where I can play A Perfect Voice, Vagabonds, and Four Chords and mean them again, and they feel and sound better when we play them with the same positive energy that wrote them.

I can see the new record start to take shape, and I can see already a huge progress in our collaborative effort. We're writing together more, and enjoying the songs we're playing. There are stressful moments, but no good album was ever made without them.

I can say that I never want to feel contempt for my music or my band again. I don't want to half-ass the calling we have. I don't want to give less energy to it than it requires. I don't want to hate what I create. I do this because I love it, and if I some day I stop loving it, well, I'll spare you the disappointment and hang up my tour boots. I won't cry. I'll just wave goodbye and say thanks.

But for now LP4 is in the slow-cooker, and I think it's going to taste great.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Smoke, Drink, Cuss

Since the Jesus Movement in the seventies, the average church-going Christian could probably be outwardly defined in action as someone who doesn't drink, smoke, or use rough language - a fact that has kept pastors awake at night and inspired thousands of sermons. 

It's not because the conviction to not drink, smoke or cuss is a bad conviction, it's because the average Christian is defined by inaction rather than action, a problem that Jesus spoke so passionately against.

I can see the heart of the conviction to not do certain things. It's a good heart. Christians are called to live differently, and not drinking, smoking, or swearing is a practical way to show that you've set yourself apart. It's not just because the Bible says to watch your tongue and not be a slave to anything, it's also a great conversation piece, and I'm sure many a spiritual conversation got started when someone asked, "Hey Joe, I noticed you don't say the F word, you only drink soda at the bar, and you don't laugh at my dirty jokes... what's your deal man?" And Joe gets an opportunity to share his deal, which is Jesus, and that's a good thing because Jesus is good.

But somewhere along the way this inaction became the Gold Standard. The frosting on the cake became the entree, and church-going Christians all across the western church have been primarily viewed as people who don't do what other people do because of religious reasons.

There are a number of problems with this. One is that the same thing that attracts some people to christianity, this projected cleanliness, has at times alienated others. It's also caused self-righteousness (which is the most unattractive thing in he world), and it's been used as a ruler to judge a persons spiritual healthiness. "Do they drink, smoke, use coarse language? Then no, they're not walking with the Lord." I can't count how many times I've heard something along these lines. 

For a lot of church-going people, the definition of a true Christian means a person who does not drink, smoke, or use foul language.

I'd be remiss to not point out that one could define a Mormon, Muslim, or a Buddhist the same way. In fact, I'd wager that so many other religions do a much better job of "living righteously" when it comes to vices and speech. These are religions that would make the average western Christian uncomfortable to be categorized with, but when it comes to the category of inaction, most religions reflect the same values.

The problem is obvious. If the focus is on inaction - the list of things you don't do - then you are free to live your life however you want. What I'm saying is there are plenty of people who don't smoke, drink or cuss, but do business like the majority in every other aspect. They are viciously self-centered at work, stepping on anyone to get ahead. They do what benefits them the most regardless of who gets hurt (which is usually justified under the guise of "What's best for my family"). They value money the same way everyone else does. They criticize the underprivileged and justify not helping people. They are vindictive and prideful and selfish. Their coworkers would not define them as loving, gracious or compassionate.

So if Christian really does mean "Little Christ," we should probably see what Jesus said about all this, after all it's His name Christians carry. What does Jesus say about what our focus should be? Turns out he said a lot. In fact, the entire chapter of Matthew 23 is Jesus getting angry with the Pharisees, the religious elite in Israel at the time, because of their lack of focus on the things that truly mattered. They followed all of the outward aspects of the religion, tithing, fasting, wearing the garb of "holy people." But they did it for the wrong reasons, for selfish reasons, and they had long lost touch with what truly mattered.

If you haven't read the chapter you should. It's a pretty good one, because Jesus is the underdog sticking up for the little guy, and he gives the bully a lashing like he never had before. My favorite verse in the NIV translation is verse 23:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Isn't that great? What wonderfully creative and harsh language. The truth is they were so religious and so focused on a thing like tithing - even down to their herb gardens! - that they forgot about justice, mercy, and faithfulness, the things Jesus says Christians should be characterized by. Of course, Jesus does validate Jewish law by saying "You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former," so he's not saying don't tithe, tithing is a good thing, but only when done out of faithfulness. You have to have the right focus, otherwise you risk hypocrisy like the Pharisees did.

Over the last ten years or so we've seen a gradual change in the western church. People are meeting for Bible study in pubs, Bible college students are picking up a tobacco pipes to look more like C.S. Lewis, and even pastors have shortened their list of forbidden words. Of course this has been met with resistance, especially from some in our parents generation, who have always defined Christianity as an alcohol-free, smoke-free, slang-free way of life. They struggle to see any good in even moderate delineation from these staple rules, and I can't blame them. I can respect their conviction, especially when it's out of a heart of faithfulness and obedience. 

What is hard for me to put up with is the type of pressure, criticism and judgement that sucks the joy out of a room. If you look carefully you can read the underlying script at some wine-filled conservative Christian weddings. You can look around and see it in some of the guests eyes, it reads "We disapprove of this, and thus we cannot fully celebrate with you." 

I find it sad when people are so tainted with judgement that they cannot see the beauty in something. They can't see the beautiful moral of a story because the characters used harsh (realistic) language, they can't celebrate the beauty of a marriage because of champaign toasts, they can't connect with co-workers on a deeper level because they refuse to enter a bar. (Side note: When I was 11 years old I was kicked out of my Sunday school class for arguing with my teacher that Jesus would enter a bar and love the people inside. I still believe I'm right about that.)

Convictions in the grey area can be wonderful until you try to apply them to the group, and then they start inhibit beauty and joy and love and all things good. We should be giving a reason for the hope that we have, not giving a reason for why we don't say the S-H word when referring to poop. Hope is beautiful, so let's make it part of the entree. Who really gives a shit about poop anyways.

In the last ten years there has been a movement in Christian culture trying to shift the focus from inaction to action. Some Christians are trying not to major in the minors anymore, and that means that loving, passionate people who give their time to the church and put others before them also enjoy a beer with friends and don't get offended when someone drops an F-bomb. 

I think this is a good thing. 

I also think it's a good thing that those who have convictions follow them when it comes to their personal choices. If you have convictions for not drinking, don't drink. Have a Diet Coke or something. The problem arises when we want to blanket a group of people with our personal convictions. We want to play God and decide what is wrong and right for everyone, but the Bible leaves a pretty grey area when it comes to consuming alcohol or using slang (For my opinion on language use, see blog post Profanity vs Slang), but one thing Jesus is very clear on is criticism. He starts out Matthew 7 saying this:

 1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.   3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I think the point is you'll never get the plank out of your own eye. We'll never be righteous enough to be justified in our criticism of our brothers and sisters. Or perhaps the point is that the action of trying to pick the speck out of our brothers eye reveals the fact that something in our own souls is fundamentally flawed. That if we were truly living right, we would never criticize our brothers and sisters on the grey-area issues. Perhaps our criticism reveals the plank in our eye, the plank that is our lack of focus on the fundamental dietary staples that Jesus laid out for the Christian life. Our focus should be inward. Jesus was very clear when he said "Do not judge," so why do we allow judgement to run rampant in our churches?

I think we have to take a hard line on things like love, mercy, justice and faithfulness, and leave a lot of wiggle room for the little things. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
and then...
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

It doesn't matter what you don't do, it doesn't even matter what you DO do, if you don't have love, whether in inaction OR action, your efforts are meaningless. Plain and simple.
Everyone will be convicted in a different way about the grey area, and we can't be quick to judge or criticize those who think differently than we do about the "frosting" issues. We have to show love. 

So for those who lean conservative, don't go sucking the joy out of the room when not everybody follows your convictions, and those who lean liberal, don't go criticizing those who choose to abstain. 

Let their hearts decide what is best, but in all things, may we have love.