Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 2 (Cast List)

bus headerThis is Part 2 of a continuing series.  If you’d like, you can catch up and read Part 1.

During the course of the tour, I only actually got to know 3 other people’s names: Thomas, our tour guide; and Sherman and Yale (more about them later).  Most other people spoke very limited English, and I had to give them nicknames to identify them.  I didn’t do this to be mean, but mainly to keep them straight in my head.

Sitting across the aisle from me was Golf Shoes.  Knowing that she would be doing some hiking in the Rockies, she must have decided that wearing golf shoes the entire time would provide her the best traction for mountain climbing adventures.  This meant that almost everywhere she went her shoes made a click-clack noise on the sidewalk.  I never did see her walking through any open fields.

Further up the aisle were Fred and Ethel.  They were both well advanced in years, but quite peppy and adventurous.  Ethel never talked much or even acknowledged me, but was a constant source of conversation as we tried to figure out whether her jet-black hair was a wig.  It turned out that it was, although I’m not going to tell how we found that out.

Fred found me to be far more interesting than the scenery.  Almost any time I looked his direction, he was looking at me.  This didn’t bother me, actually.  I was often observing him.  He was a very cute old man and a smile was permanently etched on his face.  Every day, he looked ready to wade into the river for some fly-fishing, with his khaki fisherman’s vest and Gilligan hat.  I tried to ask him once if he wanted to fish, but he thought I was asking if he liked sushi or something.

Finally, there was Angry Asian Guy.  We didn’t interact much, except for the times when he’d throw a disapproving look in my direction.  I wasn’t quite sure what I had done to upset him.  It could have been for being the only white guy on the tour, or maybe he wasn’t getting enough dietary fiber, but I can’t really speculate.

There was one time that AAG did talk to me.  I had a camera sling bag with a small collapsible tripod lashed to the side.  It wasn’t very bulky or cumbersome, but I did have to be careful when moving through the aisle.  On the second day, as I entered the bus he loudly said “Be careful, your weapon!” as I passed.  I hadn’t come even close to hitting him with it, but my fleshly side thought about being less careful in the future.

There were others on the bus, but they took more minor roles in the events of the week.

Leading the Story in the 21st Century

Narrative HeaderStar Wars and Narrative

I recently bought the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD.  Together, the people in my household have been watching them one by one.  Unbelievably, everyone under my roof have not seen these movies up until now, except for me.  I have had to explain how one could not truly understand American culture until a person has seen—no experienced–those movies.

Most Americans have not only seen the Star Wars movies, they have memorized them.  But I’ll even take it a step further.  Most people have in some way become a part of the Star Wars narrative.  They have bought the merchandise, dressed up as a character a time or two, had some sort of light saber battle, and/or had some sort of theater experience.

My Mom was pregnant with me when she saw the first movie.  I saw the re-releases at a giant theater in southern California at midnight, where most people were dressed up and reciting the lines with the characters onscreen.  Star Wars is a part of my story.  It’s in my blood.

The reason why this is compelling is not because 1970’s special effects are still cutting-edge, or because no movies since have come close to that level of dialogue and character development.  It is because Star Wars is great narrative, or maybe even the best narrative.  That is what compels people to see it.  But I’m not just talking about the story on screen.  The greatness of the narrative has surprisingly little to do with the plot of the movies themselves.

Yes, the actual story in the movies is great, which is part of what fueled the original success, but there is far more than that.  There are the special features-type stories of where the characters came from, how the ships were built, and even how Lucas came up with novel ideas for filming.  People knew these stories long before home movies were even around.  But beyond that there are stories of “where I first saw…” and memories of all the times that each person somehow interacted with the idea behind Star Wars.  Star Wars is not a movies series, or even a brand.  Star Wars is a story…and it is all part of our stories.  And that is what sets Star Wars apart.

Star Wars is not peculiar in this regard, it is just a great example.  There are other movies, TV shows, books, and even events.  Nor is this a new phenomenon.  What is new is how communications technologies have transformed the popular consciousness and ways of processing information to make this concept of narrative far more important than ever before.

The Revolution in Culture

But the same point about movies is true about companies, products, and political candidates.  Truly, the world is nearing the end of a revolution in communication, a revolution that has changed very fundamental parts of the way people think and act, and ultimately is very good.  But, like any revolution, those who can’t evolve and those who refuse to understand will be left far behind.

You can see the revolution all around you.  You see it when you realize that movie blockbusters get people to wait in line for hours to sit through a brief film that won’t affect their lives all that much, while no one waits in line to hear a sermon on Sunday morning.  People flock to Lady Gaga concerts, when no one would suggest that she is the best musician on the scene.  But beyond these examples, the viral videos and memes of the Internet all become part of the lingua franca of our culture.  The evening news reports of riots in Egypt have been largely replaced by youtube videos and tweets of the average people there.  Story has become not only the message, but the way that messages are communicated, and the way they are absorbed.

Why is this the case?  It is because people crave the narrative.  People think in story.  A good story will draw people much better than a sermon about “3 ways to be a better dad.”  People love the narrative of Lady Gaga much more than her music.  Story motivates, enthralls, and ultimately inspires action.  And it is this concept that will either be a key to success for future leaders and motivators, or guarantee failure in the new social setting of the 21st century.

The 2008 Election

This is why people like Barak Obama and even Sarah Palin have seen success in the last few years.  The election of 2008 was a lock for Obama long before any votes were actually cast.  It had nothing to do with race, or even hatred of Bush.  It was really all due to one simple fact: Barak had a compelling narrative that people felt a part of, and McCain had none.

Remember the election?  Barak Obama stood for hope and change.  He stood for people chanting “Yes we can!”  He was the mixed-race son of an immigrant.  He talked a lot about what he believed and what we could achieve, and seldom talked about how we could do it.  What was his economic plan?  What was his health care plan?  How was he going to extricate us from Iraq and win in Afghanistan?

This isn’t to put him down.  It wasn’t that he didn’t have a plan, or even that his plan wasn’t any good.  Those issues don’t matter to his success, and didn’t matter to those voting for him in the election.  He wasn’t elected on his ideas.  He was elected on his narrative.  That is also the reason why people react to criticism of Obama with such rabid ferocity.  To attack his idea is to attack the narrative, and the narrative is not just his story, it is theirs.  That is why they wear his face on T-shirts, buy magazines and books with him on the cover, and give him Nobel Peace prizes before he’d accomplished anything.

What was McCain’s narrative?  He actually has a great one.  He’s a warrior from Vietnam who spent years being abused in a POW camp.  He is also a long time warrior with results in the Senate.  But during the election, he suppressed all of that in order to focus on the whats and hows of the issues.  When the recession hit hard, he suspended his campaign to come up with ideas to fix it.  That was very admirable, but it further removed him from the story.  Further, although the memory of Vietnam is still rather fresh for many Baby Boomers, it is not the narrative of the last 20+ years, and it certainly could not have been the central narrative of the 2008 election.

When election day came, people did one of three things.  Some voted for Sarah Palin’s narrative.  They marked McCain’s name, but it was the narrative of Sarah Palin that motivated them (look at the polling for McCain before and after her entry to the scene).  Some voted against Barak Obama, for one reason of another.  But many more than either of those two groups joined in the Obama narrative.  Barak won decisively.

Narrative in 2010

In the 2010 election, the story was reversed.  The narrative now was all about a “Tea Party.”  New leaders had arisen, talking about fiscal responsibility, and tying their stories to the story of the founding of the country.  They adopted the American story as their own, and called people back to the ideas that America was originally built on.

Speakers for the Conservative movement started talking about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Constitution.  The message was pretty simple, American exceptionalism as a kind of gospel, the Founding Fathers as apostles and martyrs, and the Tea Party leaders as evangelists of this new gospel.

Average Americans were showing up at rallies and speeches, joining the new narrative with their own.  No longer was the message about what one was being told by Rush Limbaugh.  Now people were calling Rush Limbaugh to tell what happened in their city, and they were posting photos on Facebook and hash-tagging it on Twitter.  The Mainstream media and liberal commentators were trying to stop it by using terms like “Tea-baggers,” but they were playing into the very hands of the movement.  They were simply adopting the narrative.

The Democrats had no counter.  They had no narrative.  Health care reform had passed.  They were in charge.  There was no compelling story to sell, and no story was told.  The base was barely engaged in the election.  Even Liberal veterans in states like California were afraid, and digging their claws in to hold on.

The election was a landslide.  The story was believed and it motivated people to go to the polls and vote for their favorite story that now included them.  The incredible momentum of 2 years ago now seemed like a political eternity.

He Who Tells the Story…

Narrative is now the main force in American politics.  In a way it always has been, but now the image-makers and strategists cannot ignore it.  The winners of elections and the leaders with true influence will be the ones who control the narrative, and even more importantly include the average voter in that storyline.  The money and power of elections will be not the ones who spend the most on TV ads and bumper stickers, but the ones who leverage social media, viral video, and who tell the most compelling story.

This is because these media are where the narrative is being communicated, and further where the whole tale goes viral, where it joins with the people’s own story.  Facebook for instance, will not be nearly as important as just another type of billboard or position statement, but as a way to interact, and hand the baton of the story off to the community.  Successful leaders must think conversation more than TV ad.  For when Sarah Palin puts up a message on Facebook, people hear it.  But when someone comments on the message she just put up, in a real way now they feel as though they have entered into the conversation with Sarah Palin, and their friends are all now included.

This is not to say that money on print and TV ads will not be important.  On the contrary, those who don’t get their story told to the biggest possible audiences will have no ability to control the narrative or include others in it.  Nor does the focus on social media mean that money can simply be thrown into these technologies in the same way that they are thrown into TV and print.

The real center of power, and money-making potential will be in crafting the narrative and handling the exchange between one way communication and conversation.  The challenge will be in making the message  become a story, and making the candidate’s story become the people’s story.  And the ability to control and manage that narrative will be the difference between the future John McCains and the Barak Obamas. -Ryan

For further research on this, watch this incredible lecture by Simon Senek on Ted.com

Grinchoversy

GrinchoversyHeaderThe following is a reprint of an article published by Ryan Shinn in his channel on Examiner.com

This year the keep Christ in Christmas debate has heated up anew with First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, new website listing businesses that are refusing to acknowledge Christmas.  He has appeared on Fox News as well as local news outlets discussing this apparently controversial site.

The current debate seems to have three sides, those who support Jeffress for taking a stand on this issue, secularists who are attacking Jeffress for various reasons, and Christians who think the whole debate is distracting from the purpose of Christmas.

Eric Wallace’s blog, The Unwasted Life, summarizes this last perspective quite well with a list of reasons why Jeffress is off-base.  Yet while Eric makes very good points about why Christians should not take part in this debate at all, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

Most of the anti-Jeffress discussion falls into three basic categories.  The first is that while Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, it has always been primarily a secular holiday with most of its elements derived from pagan sources that have little to do with the actual birth of Christ.  People have pointed out that elements such as Christmas trees do not have Christian beginnings, but most of these things were adopted by early Christian missionaries as cultural touch points used to relate the gospel to the people’s pagan traditions.  This sort of evolution is happening currently with Halloween.  Many churches celebrate the holiday as a Harvest Festival and exchange the day’s original purpose with a Christ-centered message.

The second attack is that Christians have no business getting involved with political debates that play into the hands of the secularists. The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely.  Many Christians are simply tired of the expectation that they will spend a lot of money for gifts at stores that refuse to even mention Christmas.  The message is, “give us money while we disrespect you.”  Many Christians are responding with their dollars.  This is not as much a sign of protest, but capitalist democracy.

Finally, they attack Jeffress directly for more controversial statements he has made, particularly regarding homosexuals and Muslims.  This is not surprising.  When people have little of value to say in defense of their positions, they often resort to ad hominem attacks.  Whether Jeffress is against homosexuality or Islam, or kills puppies, it has no bearing on this issue.  -Ryan

Radio Talk

Radio Talk

In High School, shortly after Bill Clinton was elected President, I discovered Rush Limbaugh and talk radio.  I have been a regular listener every since.  In recent years I have become a little bit more picky about whom I listen to, filtering out those who seem to be mere spin-doctors and mouthpieces.  Yet still sometimes my car is playing a CD, but just as often it is tuned to AM talk.

Currently, the big topic of talk radio discussion has been the current TSA screening procedures and scanning machines.  Today I heard Rush Limbaugh loudly telling America that we must not stand for this personal intrusion into our lives, that we must fight back.  He wasn’t telling people to take up arms, but that we needed to push back against our government in order to protect our freedom.

It is very true that we must be constantly vigilant to protect our personal freedoms, especially from a government that is always expanding and looking for more power and control.  Governments will always look to expand and exert more hegemony over their people, and there is no better check against government domination than an ever-vigilant populace.

Further, screeners putting their hands down people’s pants are a gross intrusion that is unacceptable.  Using terrorism as an excuse to confiscate personal liberty is an Orwellian nightmare that cannot be allowed in this country.  Our founding fathers warned us of this.  They even the Fourth Amendment into the bill of rights guaranteeing us that the government could not search us without probable cause.  This amendment is used to as precedent for things like the “right” to abortion, but is being ignored in this case, where the government is literally doing the thing prohibited.  Basically, Rush is right.

But as I was listening, I started to wonder how Rush’s conversation might have been different if President Bush were still in charge.  There would have been people out protesting.  The blogs would be full of people CAPS-ing vitriolic about how “the regime” is destroying American’s freedoms.  Rush would be on air telling people that the government was doing all it could to prevent another attack on the homeland.  He would be comparing this to all that America had to do during World War 2, and showing that it was really nothing in comparison.  He would tell listeners that, ‘we are at war and there is an enemy putting bombs in their underpants, trying to kill innocent Americans.’

The point is, that life is always more complicated than the pundits and partisans and talking heads would lead us to believe.  The TSA is staffed by people with advanced intelligence information that certainly includes ways that terrorists are actively trying to kill us.  All it would take is for some bombs to go off, and people would be crying out for more security and asking why these things weren’t done in the first place.

While it seems that this is a gross intrusion on the government’s part, talk radio and others are constantly seeking to increase the volume and frenzy of political debate.  They do this not just for ratings, although that is certainly a motive, but also because their goal is to motivate the people into action against the opposing side.  Active people lead to desired change.  It is dramatic and functional.  It also makes for good radio.

Unfortunately, riled and rowdy masses seldom act prudently.  Passionate people tend to pay attention to things that validate their world-view, and dismiss evidence to the contrary.  But it is pretty obvious that this is seldom an accurate picture.  In this case, while it seems clear to most people that this is a clear breach of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Americans, it is also obvious that there are strong indicators of impending terrorist threats that the government is straining to prevent.  While Americans must be vigilant in protecting freedom, we must enter into this conversation with the type of sobriety that people like Rush aren’t likely to give us.  -Ryan

In Defense of “God Damn!”

Mouth Header

Now that I’ve gotten your attention, yes I am talking about the epithet, but no, I am not really defending the curse.  Actually, I would just like to discuss language in general and why it seems to me like we are damning the wrong curse while completely ignoring its far more dangerous cousin.

This weekend I worked an event at the Texas State Fair.  It was for a campaign to screen people for COPD (just google it).  I will be doing a lot of work with the company running this campaign over the next month.  I know that this information seems to move away from any discussion of coarse language, but a few events this weekend made me spend a lot of time thinking about the words that come out of our mouths.

During my work, I had a great time meeting a lot of the people from the advertising company running the campaign.  They were nice, bright, and around my age.  We talked about all kinds of things and as always, they eventually asked about what I do for a living.  I told them.

The life I have chosen is not one which goes by unnoticed when I mention it.  I often try not to broach this subject until I know people a little bit, not because I am embarrassed, but because they always instantly put me in a little mental plastic box.  I become the somewhat strange person that they can observe, but must be kind of careful around.  It is like I’m suddenly Hannibal Lector.  It isn’t very fair to me, I must say.  I haven’t had someone’s liver in years.

One of the most common reactions is “Oh, I’m sorry about my language.  I’ll try to be more careful.”  When they say this, I wonder if they secretly think that they are teaching me to use new forbidden words that I have never before heard.  Like some two year old child, I would be at the platform the next Sunday saying “Screw You” (OK—worse) and then claiming, “I dunno, I heard it at the fair.”

In all truth, I do appreciate their reaction.  It means that they recognize that some of their language is not healthy and that they should do something about it.  I know that it isn’t them fearing me feeling judgmental, because I always tell them it is OK, that they can be normal, and people always then tell me that they need to stop cussing so much anyway.

But in all of these situations, what never seems to change is their use of “god” as a random interjection in sentences.  Sure, if they get angry and say “God Damn it!” they look at me with a guilty look.  This has happened on numerous occasions.  But when they say “Oh god, I’m so tired,” or something like it, they think absolutely nothing about feeling guilty.

This isn’t unique to the secular world, though.  In church, almost on a weekly basis I hear the “God, I _____,” quote emanate from some teenager’s mouth.  In my little kingdom at church, I can say something about this.  I stop and kindly remind them that it is rude to God when we do that, and that He thought it important to even include this as part of the Big Ten.

When someone say s, “God Damn it!” what they are saying is that they are really angry about something.  This phrase literally means, “send this thing to hell.”  I don’t think that this excuses the comment  at all, really.  If someone had done something blatantly blasphemous, or persecuted God’s people, I suppose one could make a case for the appropriate use of that phrase.  I am not sure what I think on that.  It is not our place to play judge and jury, or to call for vengeance.  On the other hand, David and the prophets were often asking for God to do such things.

But when we slip “God” casually into every sentence, the word has no meaning whatsoever.   When I was a teen, I used to say “like” almost every other word for a while.  I wasn’t really comparing things.  In fact, like I didn’t know I was even like saying it at all usually.  Sometimes it still slips into my sentences.

I really think that was the point of God’s prohibition in the Ten Commandments.  In the Exodus 20:7 mention, the one that everyone knows, the word translated from the Masoretic text as “vain” is the Hebrew word “shav.”  In the rest of the Old Testament, this word either refers to meaninglessness, worthlessness, or falsehood.

Psalm 108 uses this word when it says “vain is the help of men.”  Psalm 144 uses shav saying “…whose mouth speaks vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.”  Both of these uses are commonly repeated in the Old Testament.  So which one is the case for the Exodus passage?

Partly , I think it doesn’t really matter.  There is no real doubt that God would want His name to be used falsely.  In fact, that would break another commandment anyway.  The real danger is in using His name without any meaning.  For when God’s name is used in falsehood, the person is trying to use God’s authority for trickery, not something we are commonly tempted to do.  That takes a real desire to rebel against Him.

But when we use God’s name without any meaning at all, it is lowering God’s position in our life to no different than an “and” or a “but”.  Yes, I know that this isn’t consciously done.  But doesn’t that make it even worse?  The fact that God’s people would be throwing His very name around with meaninglessness is deeply offensive to Him.  I think that this is just another reminder of the casualness that we have applied to God.

So let me say something a bit controversial in response to all of this:  There is no biblical precedent for approaching God casually.  It seems to me to be an American concept of God, that he is your best buddy who you can just hang out with.  When I was a kid, I used to tell God jokes at night that I heard during the day.  I still tell Him those jokes.  I think we all should, and I think that He loves that.  I bet He laughs—hard, even though He has already heard them all, and many of them were His inventions in the first place.

But under no circumstances is God our buddy.  He’s the Father, the Maker, The Omnipotent Mover.  Any response to truly being in His presence is nothing even approaching cavalier, but an immense feeling of being altogether different, and a healthy fear, reverence.  When we lose that, we lose our understanding of our place in the universe.  We begin to believe that it is all about us.

We talk about the cross as if God got in a really bad situation ‘cause He just couldn’t live without us, so He had to send His Son for a sacrifice, a last-ditch effort that luckily worked out.  This is very far from the truth, and dilutes power of the cross.  God didn’t need us, he loved us.  We don’t deserve this miracle of atonement.  We deserve judgment.  God never owed us.  He paid a debt we owed Him.

In response, we have changed His name to an “um” in the middle of our sentences.

I am not suggesting that we start screaming and acting like Pharisees to anyone who accidentally copies the same speech patterns of everyone around them.  Instead I am suggesting that His Church start acting Christianly.  I am suggesting that we stop making it cool to be a Christian because we can look like everyone else.  I am suggesting that we stop approaching church as a hang out time with God, because He misses us so much, and we really should stop by and see Him once in a while.

I don’t see God writing a letter to the Church today asking if we could tone down the fancy clothes and the formality.  He might see that as extraneous, but not offensive.  But I am sure that He is hurt by His people making the Cross nothing more than jewelry, His House a hang out place, and His name an interjection in our sentences.

Reference: James Chapter 3, Ephesians 4:29

Presidential Controvercy – part 1

Obama HeaderA couple of weeks ago, President Obama gave a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in support of Hispanic Heritage Month.  His remarks sent the blogs and talk shows all aflutter.  During his comments, which I have linked below, he talked about the great diversity of people that have always made up our country, saying:

We didn’t always get along. But over the centuries, what eventually bound us together —
what made us all Americans — was not a matter of blood, it wasn’t a matter of birth. It
was faith and fidelity to the shared values that we all hold so dear. We hold these truths
to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights:
life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What upset many people was the omission of the words “by their Creator” from Obama’s quotation of the Declaration of Independence, and that certainly is an area of concern.  I have heard commentators mention that Obama, who always uses a teleprompter when he speaks, hesitated very noticeably when it got to that part, proving that the “under God” was there, but he decided to remove it.  That argument is quite weak though, since it could have been missing from the prompter, and he could have been debating putting it in, but decided that the speech writers knew best.  All of this is extreme navel gazing of the sort that greatly annoys me.

In my mind there are a few other much more significant issues about the speech in general, that need to be mentioned.  I will spend the next few blog posts explaining what I believe are the areas of real concern that the circumstances of this speech should be bringing to the surface, starting with the very occasion for which his remarks were given.  But before we continue, consider taking the time to listen to Obama’s speech in its entirety.  It is one of his more eloquent and brief appearances.  The most controversial part is at 21:40.

Malignant Segregation

First of all, the whole [insert politically correct cause here] Heritage/History Month trend has got to stop.  For those of us who are not politically savvy enough, let us make up a fanciful illustration to illustrate the reality of how all this works.  The National Association for Annoying Political Correctness (known as the NAAPC), an advocacy group, gets together and brain storm ways of making more people pay attention to them.  The term advocacy group is usually just code language for a group of people who want more political power.   Like a 3 year old child, the worst thing that any advocacy group can imagine is to be ignored.  They are like fairies from Neverland, if you say you don’t believe they exist, they die.  They can only be revived by clapping.

So the NAAPC realizes that they need to be creative and do what every other advocacy group is doing, which is to create their own holiday.  There was a period of time in the late 80’s and early 90’s when they all came up with their own day to celebrate.  The NAAPC had Shove Through Ur Politics Day (STUPD) in ’91 and ’92, but soon after, they followed all of the other advocacy groups and expanded to a whole month.

All they had to do in order to get 1/12 of a year of attention instead of 1/365 was to send out a press release and print a few thousand free promotional calendars with the dates on them.  It all happened quickly, despite a few intense meetings on what to call the 25th of December, instead of Christmas.  They settled on Cold Celebration of Things Inoffensive. They were originally going to call it Winter Celebration, but people got upset that the other seasons weren’t included.  Kwanza made the cut, but the dates for Hanukah were removed entirely, leaving only blank calendar squares.

The news media was all too happy to do a whole series of stories about PCHM (Politically Correct History Month) because the Democratic National Committee was only producing enough material for 15 minutes of the newscast.  So they only did the weather twice during the half hour broadcast (instead of the usual 3 times) and cut out the stories about Rocky the water-skiing squirrel, and why you shouldn’t leave your pets in the car when it is 100 degrees outside.   This left a full 15 minutes of each newscast to advertise Politically Correct History Month.

Suddenly the entire country was celebrating a whole month of Political Correctness as if it had been handed down by the Holiday Gods.  Hallmark was even making some cards for people to buy, and the NAAPC had a few big parties to celebrate, which they bankrolled with all the new donations coming in.

Back to reality:

The NAAPC is fake, but the situation is all too real.  These organizations aren’t trying to be malevolent.  They are catering to their own interests.  That, my friends is why every month is now covered by some special interest group, telling you about their history.  My personal favorite is Women’s History Month, which isn’t really about the history of women, or it would be all about how an egg got fertilized in the first place, Eve, and evolution.

So here is Barak Obama giving a speech about how we are unified, while at a meeting of only Hispanic people, talking about Hispanic issues, for a holiday invented by people who want more attention for Hispanic causes.  Keep in mind, I am not anti-Hispanic.  I am anti special interests.  If a group is being seriously abused, minority unity is important to get past the repression.  But in all circumstances, special interest groups exist to separate themselves from the bulk of the population and segregate.  If you don’t believe me, listen to where the applause is during the speech.  The cheering does not come when Obama talks about unity.  The people applaud when he says “Mexico.”  Crowds are actually pretty easy to psychoanalyze.  They cheer for the things they are committed to, and boo or ignore the things they aren’t.

The words of the Declaration say,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…[skipping to the end] And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

So, Obama’s speech at the Hispanic Caucus was troubling not just for its omission of God, but for its catering to a continued idea that celebrating America’s diversity is best accomplished by segregating its citizenry. We won’t be truly diverse when every interest has its own day, or month, or colored ribbon.  We will be truly diverse when no one desires any of those things at all.

RACISM!!!!—oops

After finding out that your charge of great injustice is groundless, sometimes the easiest way of saving face is to keep accusing.  As evidenced here.  *update–link now working after I switched to YouTube.  It seems that it was removed from the original ABC channel 7 site.

Let’s follow the logic on this one, shall we?  So Hallmark, a card company that makes its money from selling cards that make people feel good, actually decided that it would totally break with tradition and just record a racist statement on one of their cards?  Further, they decided to put that message in a card themed around space.  Perhaps they should be mad at Walmart for also selling racist stockings for

Learning Faith -Part 3

This is part three in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Raising Parents

Parents mentoring their kids in matters of faith and life isn’t what seems to be happening as much these days.  Gone are the days of boys learning to mow the lawn alongside their fathers.  Now, they pay to have someone else do it.  Most girls aren’t learning how to cook with their mothers.  Dinner is now too often provided by KFC.  With all of our modern conveniences, we have forgotten to teach our children how to live and how to be adults.

The same things can be said for matters of faith.  As consumers, we have fallen prey to the idea that spiritual education is what happens at church.  Spiritual education does happen at church, of course.  But if that is the primary place that we plan for spiritual education, we are destined to fail at this task.  This kind of outsourcing will not work.  When spiritual matters are reserved for church, the lesson is that one may do whatever one wants and live however he chooses, as long as he puts on a smile on Sunday.

Parents are the primary teachers about faith, not necessarily how to exegete a Pauline epistle, but about how our faith affects our daily lives.

I don’t want to sound like I’m griping, and I don’t level any accusations on everyone.  But I think one of the largest complaints I have about the state of the family is that it seems to me that many parents have forgotten that one of the primary roles of parenting is to end up with your offspring as functioning adults.  The goal should be to produce adults that are even better than you were.  This is true in regard to career and intelligence, and it is also true about faith.

Case in point: In the last 10 years of ministry, I know of no teen (male or female) who has access to the Internet in their own room and does not have an addiction to pornography, or inappropriate sexual relationships online.  I know this, because the students come to me and tell me.  I have gone to their homes and moved their computers for them (upon their request).  I have prayed with them for freedom from these addictions.

Despite this, when parents tell me that their child wants a computer in their room (this happens often), I tell them my experience, yet 100% of the time the student ends up with a computer in their room within a month.  When I occasionally ask the parent why this happened, they shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Oh well.”

No, not “Oh well.”  Children don’t need a buddy.  Teens don’t need a hip mom or dad.  They need a parent.  The teens that tell me how cool their lenient parents are, are the same teens that come to me crying to say that they feel constant chaos.  Kids need parents.  The message that parents send to teens when they don’t take leadership on these issues is that there is no moral standard.

I have no doubt in my mind that parents who are not teaching their kids important skills for their future adulthood are not teaching these kids the stories, principles, and reasons for their faith.  I cannot believe that the Church will fail and disappear.  But I do believe unless this is changed quickly, the state of the Church in the West will read like a passage in Second Kings.  This is an emergency.

Learning Faith -Part 2

This is part two in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part one here, and stay tuned for part three.

Shoveling Dirt, and other spiritual lessons

So, we have seen how the Bible is pretty clear about the importance of passing on faith memes, in order to cement and pass on our rich Christian faith and heritage.  We have seen how in the past Israel’s neglect of this duty led to apostasy, syncretism, and moral decline.  The next obvious question is, “So how are we doing now? Are we passing on these memes?”

I contend that we aren’t.

OK, that seems a bit harsh.  Yes, there are Christian children and teens who are growing up with a deep faith.  There are young people learning how to lead worship services, run ministries, and do evangelism.  But there are also ridiculously high numbers of men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are leaving the church, never to return.  The percentage of Americans who are claiming an allegiance to Christian faith is declining, and the socio-political influence of Christianity on Western culture is undoubtedly in retreat.

A large reason for this according to the book Essential Church, is that many Americans (This book deals with American church statistics, although I would contend that this holds true in other Western countries) see the Church as an institution that is not essential to their lives.  They see the ceremony and programs, and can’t find a vibrant and valuable relationship with God happening.

More anecdotally, in 14 years of youth ministry I have noticed a growing loss of biblical literacy within the next generations of the Church.  There is also a lack of practiced disciplines of faith in these generations.  Many teens know each and every part of the church service, but don’t have any understanding of fundamental elements of Christianity.  This is not something I have noticed as tied to a particular church or denomination.  It is much more of a cross-section than that.

To take a small detour:

After I take a shower at night, I use a squeegee to wipe down the walls.  This helps keep my shower from getting mold and mildew.  But that isn’t really the reason I do it.  I use the squeegee because my grandfather did the same thing.  He had a squeegee in his shower and I heard him use it after he finished with his showers.

Every time I sweep the grass clippings off of my sidewalk I hear his instructions in my head.  When I sort laundry I hear my Mom’s voice, and when I spell Renaissance, I hear my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Maddox.  I am who I am because of those people’s example in my life, and not just in instructional ways.

I read my Bible because I know that God grows me through that communication channel, and He makes me more like Him.  But every time I open my Bible I remember my Grandad with his Bible open on his desk, and all of the highlights and notes he had put in it.  In case I ever forget, I have his Bible on my shelf.  It is one of the few things of his that I have.  In it is a picture of generations of my family together at a family reunion.  My Mom was pregnant with me, her only child.

My grandfather obviously had a mental connection to reading his Bible with the faith strain running through the generations of our family, and that connection has passed on to me.  It is a meme.  It is good.  It is the plan of God.

These things came to my mind recently as I was moving a large amount of dirt in a pile with one of the students in my High School group.  He is a good kid—a little squirrely—but a good kid.  He has a good dad.  But as we shoveled dirt, he needed me to explain how a shovel is used.  I didn’t mind explaining.  He responded by saying that he didn’t know, because he never did these things with his father.  I told him that his dad was a busy man with too much on his shoulders, and that is true.

The point of this is that things even as rudimentary as shoveling dirt have to taught, and that requires things like mentoring.  Boys and girls learn how to be men and women by watching their parents, teachers, and mentors, and by doing things alongside them.  How much more is it important to instill things of faith to your children?