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

Dancing Demons of Rage

Rage

Yesterday I worked a side-job that ended up taking me to a heavy-metal music festival.  I only did it for a little extra money, but I also enjoyed the change of scenery and getting to meet some new people, most of whom aren’t Christians.  I don’t know why, but I often find myself talking and praying with people who aren’t Christians.  I’m not one of those people who corner someone and make them talk with me about Jesus.  I detest that.  But for some reason, I often end up in conversations with people who want to talk about their pain and brokenness.  So many times I have to hold back telling them how broken I am.  Those conversations aren’t supposed to be about me.

So, back to the music festival…

First of all to be fair, there were a lot of genuinely kind people who said their please’s and thank you’s.  There were people who were there having a good time and enjoying the music.  I didn’t have many people act rude to me at all.  But there was a definite darker side to the crowd there, and it was spiritual.

The kind of bands playing there were not your Metalica, Guns ‘N Roses type.  Think more Devil’s Blood, Kill Your Mother, type stuff.  I smelled a lot of pot—I mean a lot, and saw more cups of $12 beer than I could imagine.  This combined with scorching August sun and extreme heat ended up sending a decent amount of people home in ambulances.  The people selling water might have actually made more money than the people selling beer.

What was really noteworthy to me were the faces.  Some faces had tattoos, some had weird makeup. I even saw a guy with a Sponge Bob ski mask (that was commitment). When I looked past the disguises though, I saw a lot of anger.  Some violent and vile, nearly physical force was floating around amidst the pot smoke and booths hawking phallus-shaped hash pipes.  I heard the anger in their words.  Most people dropped F-bombs like they were shock-and-awing Baghdad.  The word was on their T-shirts, giant belt buckles that said “F*@% You,” (but without the symbols) and passed around person to person along with the joints.  My favorite of the day was a shirt that said “I hate everyone.”

Some people wore a palpable rage that seemed to surround them.  I found myself getting angry at their anger.  I was mad that they would tattoo triple-six’s and pentagrams on their bodies, mad that they would rejoice in depravity, and even madder that they would bring children to such a place.  I was falling into the same trap.  I realized this and then I was angry at myself for being angry, and for having such a judgmental attitude for these children of God.

I wondered how people could allow themselves to become so angry and hateful.  I have been thinking about this a lot.  There are people I know who deal with a consuming rage.  Like a fire it starts small but builds up momentum as more fuel is introduced.  It isn’t long before this unchecked anger is starting brushfires in all the relationships nearby, and you’re unaware of this because all that you can think about is the fire within you.

I can’t figure out how we can become like that.  How does a terrorist ever decide to blow himself up on bus of schoolchildren, or someone decide to wear a shirt that says “I hate everyone?”  Inside I wondered if I was the only one there aware that demons of rage were throwing parties in their midst.  My second thought was, “What demons are dancing around me, as I dwell carelessly?”  -Ryan

Darkness and Butterflies

butterfly

“…All of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.  And I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.  Oh how He loves.” –John Mark McMillan

The other day I got into a fight with a butterfly.  No, it isn’t as silly a sight as it sounds…well not quite.  I was doing some evening gardening and had the garage door open.  When I went in to get a rake I noticed a beautiful butterfly fluttering around, trapped inside the garage.

Normally I wouldn’t think too much of this, and have from time to time even pinned butterflies. I am not some overly-indulgent animal lover.  But this time I felt a little bit of sadness for the poor creature.  To her, she was trapped in some inescapable cave.  I took pity on her.  I decided it was female, not because of some butterfly expertise, but because I simply cannot imagine a male butterfly, though I know they must actually exist.  So with the creature properly personified, I was committed to action.

I grabbed the ladder with the intent of reaching up to the ceiling and gently cupping her in my hand, then releasing her outside.  But just at the instant my plan was about to work, she deftly avoided my grasp in the way that only bugs and small children can.  This set off a several minute period of me moving the ladder and repeating the procedure repeatedly with utter futility.  The butterfly did not appreciate any of my efforts.

As I was pondering the absurdity of the situation and how terrifying this must be to the butterfly, I watched the butterfly frantically moving from ceiling to wall to ceiling and narrowly escaping multiple spider webs.  Convinced that I was beaten in the summer butterfly campaign of 2010, I surrendered and retreated to my house in defeat.

In the morning, the butterfly was far from the front of my mind as I opened the door to get in my car, and was surprised to see the butterfly sweep out of the door into the open air.  She fluttered about low to the ground above my flower bed, and then climbed into the sky with the semi-inebriated flight style that butterflies seem to enjoy.  I smiled.  She was free.

So many times, I feel like that butterfly.  I sit in situations, toxic and painful, sometimes afraid to move, and bumping around my panic, avoiding traps both real and imagined.  I desperately want to find the light, to feel free and supported by fresh air and freedom.  I long for hands, caring and immense, to carry me to such a place.

I believe in those hands.  I believe that God frantically climbs ladders and reaches for me, but it is often difficult to tell those loving hands from giants bent on my destruction.  I know he loves me.  I pray for the doors to open so I can sweep into the sky with a clumsy sense of freedom. But right now, I just feel small.  And maybe if I quiet myself enough and don’t focus on the walls, I can just feel His hands envelop me.

Hold me and carry me.  I long for your immense gentleness to surround me and take me where you will.  I miss those hands, and I fear you will give up and let me bump around my prison in the dark.  You promise to strengthen your people and give them peace (Psalm 29).  Carry me.  Let me fly again in your light.  -Ryan

Investigative Journalism Awesomeness

Extra

According to Miriam-Webster one of the hallmarks of what defines journalism is “writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.”  The framers of the Constitution of the United States understood that this was a key aspect of a free society.  This was inherent in the protection of the fourth estate written into the First Amendment.

Bloggers and Foxy News types are always complaining that this has been forgotten, but sometimes we need a refresher course with some easily digestible facts.

Case in point

LA Times articleA recent Hot Air link from the Los Angeles Times gave a snapshot into statistics regarding the current immigration controversy in Arizona.  The Article by Teresa Watanabe, Immigration now a top concern among Latinos, poll shows, reported that the poll “of 504 Latinos” revealed that immigration was now the main concern of American Latinos, spurred by the new Arizona immigration law that they overwhelmingly opposed.

The article further stated  that this issue would “galvanize Latinos of all political stripes into voting in November,” and that the majority would only vote for candidates supporting an “immigration overhaul.”

All of this may be quite accurate.  But as usual, there is a lot written between the lines of this article.

To her credit, at least the author lists the sponsors of the survey, the Hispanic Federation and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  What Ms. Watanabe leaves out is that both the Hispanic Federation and LULUC have a very clearly presented agenda that is perhaps important in determining the validity of any survey that they undertake on the matter of immigration.

Hispanic Federation ArticleThe Hispanic Federation, whose mission is, “To serve our community by building and supporting Latino institutions,” has recently put out a statement both condemning protection of the border and demanding “comprehensive immigration reform” as the only fix for our immigration problem.  Keep in mind that “comprehensive immigration reform” is one of those liberal talking-point catchphrases for  amnesty for illegal aliens.  “We need comprehensive immigration reform so hard working undocumented immigrants, who do the jobs other Americans won’t do, can finally come out of the shadows,” I believe is the officially sanctioned wording these days.  When any of these phrases are used, it becomes pretty clear which side of the issue the author is leaning toward.

On its homepage, the Federation refers to the survey in question, and gives the community’s reaction to the “Racial profiling law.”  One could not by any stretch of the imagination consider the Hispanic Federation an impartial party in this issue.

Lulac's websiteLULAC is far more militant as an organization.  Their website has an open call to boycott Arizona, although they trickily word it as, “boycott Senate bill 1070,” superimposed over the state outline.  I guess this prevents anyone from saying they actually called for a state boycott.  How clever.  I guess they also  fail as a disinterested survey party.



One would expect better results from someone with a USC degree like Teresa Watanabe.  But oh, wait!  Her Facebook page lists her as a fan of Reform Immigration For America.  Their agenda is made perfectly clear.

Teresa Watanabe's FacebookReform Immigration for America's website

So to recap, Thoroughly researched article—fail; Objective writing—fail; impartial survey—fail; LA Times writer trying to uncover truth wherever it may be found—massive fail.  This is no surprise.  In a recent survey conducted by RyanShinn.com, the Los Angeles times was found to be unreliable by 92% of respondents.

Why is this so bad?

Thomas Jefferson said that, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”  He wasn’t the only one with this sentiment.  The press was understood as being the main instrument to counter inevitable propaganda intended to control and enslave a free society.

Dictators have also long known this.  Vladimir Lenin stated this principle quite nicely. “The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organizer of the masses.”

It comes as no secret to anyone paying attention that the American main-stream press has largely abandoned the value of a free press in favor of acting more as a mouthpiece for propaganda that more easily fits their world-view.  But this fact needs to continually be brought back to our collective consciousness, lest we forget.    -Ryan

Small Miracles

Little Feet

One of my favorite quotes comes from G.K. Chesterton.  I won’t quote the whole thing verbatim here (although I can from memory).  But basically it says that God has the eternal appetite of youth, and makes every single sunset and daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them.  “For we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is far younger than we.”

The more I think about that, the more I see the beautiful truth in that.  The more every sunset becomes special, and the more even simple little acts become miracles.

I have always had a difficulty with people who find an angel around every corner.  When I slip and fall or cut myself shaving, the natural order of things is for the wound to heal.  It is no miracle.  The human body is meant to heal itself.  Even deep wounds usually fix themselves over time.  People who loudly proclaim miracles in everyday occurrences have always been a minor annoyance to me.  It has often felt that these people are grasping at straws, as if God healing a minor abrasion or stopping an itch is the proof of His existence that they need to keep on going.

Recently, a small boy reminded me of the foolishness of my position.  The boy had a particularly painful insect bite that was significantly bothering him.  He came to me and a group of others to pray for his bite.  He looked cute limping along as if the leg was going to need amputation.  I suspect that he had been approaching quite a few others for prayer as well.  We prayed for him.  I confess that although I was sincere in prayer, I wasn’t praying the “Oh God, help us,” type prayer.

The next day, the boy ran in to meet me and loudly told me that I had to “come see what God did for me!”  He had no pain.  The bite was there, but it was much smaller.

Do spider bites naturally shrink and grow less painful overnight?  Of course they do.  Was this a true miracle?  It was to the boy, and I don’t think that anything else matters.  I believe in a God who would heal a young boy of a vicious and non-life-threatening spider bite for no other reason than that He wants the boy to know He loves him.

The Message version of Ephesians 5 says, “Mostly what God does is love you.”  I find that passage annoying mostly because it isn’t what the actual text says.  But I’ve been thinking for quite some time over the possible truth of that statement.  I am still not sure.  What I am sure of though, is that God uses a lot of outrageous and extravagant gestures to show His creation that He deeply loves them.

I believe that God created stars millions of light years away.  There are galaxies that dwarf our own.  There are cosmic events that make our lives seem less than footnotes of universal history.  God also made the platypus and the frog, small, strange creatures, which in my opinion exist primarily for me to giggle at.  I can’t believe that complexity and the intricacy of it all is by chance any more than I can believe that my cell phone is the product of random chemicals.  It must all have a purpose.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, it all exists to glorify God and enjoy Him.  I concur (which I am sure validates it all).  I can’t picture God with the sternness and seriousness of the crotchety old man that we make Him out to be.  In art and fiction we’ve envisaged Him as gazing down on humanity with some serious need for Botox for the frown lines.  I picture God in some heavenly council somewhere, leaning off the edge of His great throne gazing on us with our small needs met, with a giant smile on His face and a glint in His eye.  The God I see in my head is more like some Norse king with laughter echoing through the great hall than He is diplomat.

The story of God and humanity is one of continuous extravagant love.  It is the story of God caring deeply that two people suddenly had lost intimacy with Him.  It is the story of God promising a childless old couple that they would have not just one, but millions of kids.  It is the story of God rescuing a slave nation in dramatic fashion.  It is the story of God becoming part of His creation and paying the fine that He had set.  It is the story of God creating sunsets and stars and galaxies and platypuses, and healing a little boy’s bug bite for no other reason than that He enjoys loving us.  And that brings Him glory.


Sun Chips Green Bag

Have you seen the new Sun Chips eco-bag?  It’s the one that makes a ton of sound whenever you touch it.  I had a hard time eating the chips, because every time I tried to eat my neighbors would stop by and tell me to “knock it off!”

In all seriousness, I love the idea of eco-friendly bags.  There is no reason that everything known to man needs to be wrapped in plastic.  If you really think about it, half of our landfills are filled not with things that are broken and don’t work anymore, but the packaging for all of our new stuff.  So, I enthusiastically support Sun Chips in their effort.

In case you aren’t aware of exactly what I’m talking about, here is a crash course from the Sun Chips people, themselves.

So, being the really scientific guy I am, I decided to conduct my own experiment.

I have my own compost bin at home.  So, gathered up some of the compost, and put it in a plastic tub.  I’ll be checking back with the bag each week, and showing updates.  We’ll see if the bag is really gone in 12-14 weeks, as they claim.  Here are pictures of the bag, and a short video showing the start of week 1.

Sun Chips bag

Sun Chips back of bag

Here is the video of me setting up the experiment.