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The Real War on Christmas

It’s that time of the year again when journalists, bloggers, and politicos debate over whether or not there is a War on Christmas. This is one of the humorous yet uncomfortable realities of living in a post-Christian pluralistic society. I happen to believe that there is a war. And I think it’s well captured in the picture above.

Yesterday, we had a worship service that some might call “wonderful”. Not least because it was closed out by our children’s choir. All our iPhones were out to capture this mildly chaotic/boldy cutest of affairs (one child had to make an early wailing exit because my son poked him in the eye). Because this is what we love as Americans. A Christmas that is cute, heart-warming, and involving children. The children were leading us to sing songs of Christmas.

But what was the story of Christmas, sung from the mouth of babes? A story whose central characters, whose key eyewitnesses were the likes of Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and Magi. Watch enough holiday TV and these guys get reduced to cute cartoon characters. But read the actual story and it’s a story that begins with the least believable, least reputable of characters. Mom was a rural pregnant teen. Dad, a disgraced church leader caught up in another sex scandal. The key eyewitnesses: the night-time office cleaning crew. The first worshipers?  Not the local pastors association, but a cell of Muslim imams. And the man who is supposed to save us from empire, terrorism, and ourselves? Not a man at all, but a bastard child. This is the story our children led us to celebrate.

But what’s the Christmas story that gets told on our TVs, malls, and (gasp) school musicals? A story that celebrates sentimentality and unbridled consumerism. As long as we can all cram our sinful selves into the same Norman Rockwell painting, then we can call it Christmas. We think this season is different, but it’s just a sanctification of the status quo.

But what could be more anti-Christmas than the status quo? What could be more anti-Christmas than to silence the people of ill-repute in our society and our lives? The real war on Christmas isn’t the loss of freedom to utter the name of CHRIST in the public square (that’s something troubling, but different). The real war is the violence we do to Christmas by neutering it of it’s subversive power. The real war is giving the Christmas story such a whitewashing that it fits better in the annals of American mythology than the annals of Scripture. (In fact, wouldn’t it be truer to the Christmas story if we Christians expected more persecution each Christmas, not less?)

You want to fight back against the war on Christmas?

  1. Give up war. And hatred and violence; there was enough of that when Jesus was born. Practice humility instead.
  2. Tell the real story of Christmas. Give more credence to children, marginal characters & people of ill-repute. Spend less on those you already spend all your money on – and give more of it away. Contribute to justice, not just charity.
  3. Give more of your heart, soul, mind, and strength to Jesus. Because at the center of Christmas isn’t family, charity, presents, or peppermint lattes — but the one we’ve been waiting for, the one called Immanuel, the one who can save us from our sins.
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Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story

The grand jury report in the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I’ve read. “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” it states.

— Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

The moment we see the word “abortion” – most of us have already made a judgment about a person or an piece of writing.  So let me just preface this post by saying that this is not an opinion piece about the ongoing debate on abortion.  Policy is important.  But to jump to policy is to reduce Dr. Gosnell’s crimes from what it is:  Horror.

Notice, this article is not from Fox or WSJ.  It is from The Atlantic.  And that is part of the story – why have we not seen more of this from even the right side of the media, or much of the media at all.

But I dare you to read through this whole article and not begin weeping, not wanting to throw up, not wanting to do something out of violent indignation.  I want to share a word of hope, a word of exhortation.  But I am too horrified.  Usually people say that just to CYA before offering a strident opinion.  But I am truly and disgustingly horrified.

The only thing that comes to mind is that Christ weeps for those babies.  Christ was with those babies.  And Christ died with those babies.  For whatever you did to or for the least of these, you also did unto me.

Lord, teach us how to pray.

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What do Christians think of the Iraq War?

Source:  http://framework.latimes.com/2010/08/18/the-iraq-war/#/8

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the US-led invasion into Saddam’s Iraq, the first movements of the “shock-and-awe” campaign.

Last night, we prayed with our three boys for the Iraqis.  Explaining war to kids is on one hand easy – they see it in all their Power Rangers and Bakugan shows; it’s surprising how normal war is in juvenile imagination.  But on the other hand it’s hard to explain it in a way that’s not cartoonish, in a way that compels compassion rather than “coolness”.  I’d like to think they understood as we prayed for the kids who were maimed, who lost their parents, and who still live without much safety and security.  I was both encouraged and yet disturbed to be teaching my kids to pray for the Iraqis.

But what has disturbed me more has been the paucity of public Christian reflection on the Iraq War – 10 years later.  Understandably, it’s hard not to talk about the war without jumping for the political hoop.  War is political.  But considering how American Christians felt about the war 10 years ago.  Considering that 4,500 US soldiers, 3,500 US contractors, and 134,000 Iraqis (70% civilian) were killed.  And considering just how much of our public consciousness has been about Iraq over the last 10 years, you’d think that there’d be more to be said and done.

How has the Iraq War affected how we, as American Christians think about and support or protest war?  Our relationship with the government?

What responsibility do we feel for the growing persecution of Christians in Iraq since the war?

How does the present situation in Iraq call us to be act, even with grave risk as ambassadors of Christ, and not of any government?

I have little idea because of the lack of public reflection by Christian leaders, theologians, journalists, or even veterans.  Check your Facebook and Twitter from yesterday.  Check out Christianity Today or whatever source of Christian thought and news.  There is little to nothing to nothing.

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Lent Day 22: Pray through the local news

I’ve been documenting (most of the time) my journey through the Lent Experiential Calendar.  Today:  Read or watch and pray through the local news.

I’m not quite a news junkie – but I do follow the national news, especially politics.  I read the NYT, I listen to a handful of newstalk & political podcasts, etc..  National news is interesting, intellectually stimulating, and of course, riveting (read:  sequester, fiscal cliff, FLOTUS’s new bangs, etc.).  But national news, while sometimes affecting us on a day-to-day level, most of the time is of symbolic value (and distraction).  And unfortunately, with the continuing shrinking of journalists and therefore increasing syndication, national news is more prominent than ever.

But the task today is to pray through the local news.  And I’m in a city that is fortunate enough to still have a local paper (although, most of its content is from the wires).  And even more fortunate to have a local edition of Patch.com.  And so part of this morning was spent praying through the local news.

Union City Patch

Local news is challenging to pray through.  Seagate is moving into the old Solyndra building – so I guess I praise God for the jobs and tax base?  One of the local middle schools is considering a mildly controversial name change – so I pray that this will bring the community together?  A robbery & false imprisonment suspect is at large – Lord, let’s catch that sucker!  This stuff actually affects my local community, but it’s a lot harder to imagine the kingdom-goal I’m praying for; it’s a lot easier to pray that Congress will finally do something, or that the President will be just.  It’s like trying to pray through an episode of Parks & Rec.

But this is a challenge I want to take up permanently.  In fact, I’d love to get to the point where at the mention of any local news, my first reaction is to pray – even if you can’t tell I’m praying.

The story that has stuck with me this morning, though, is about a local police shooting late Saturday night.  Right outside of where our church meets on Sundays, a man was shot by two Union City police officers, who allegedly pulled a gun out on them.  He’s now dead.  And his identity was just released.  His name was Amos G. Smith, a resident.  It’s too late now to pray for Amos.  But I prayed for his family, his neighborhood, the police officers, and for truth to prevail as they investigate.

If you have a chance, please pray along.

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Do Universities Discriminate against Asian-Americans?

Some like to joke that an A- is an “Asian Fail”.  And pretty much most of this attitude comes from the experience of going home proud with an A- to Mom & Dad, only to be greeted with a “How come not an A?”

Well, it turns out that Asian parents might not be as harsh as they are dealing with reality.  Some believe that when it comes to admissions into elite universities, Asian-Americans are at a disadvantage; when you compare to their test scores, there should be way more AA’s in these universities than there are presently.  And that, on the average, AA’s need to score an average of 140 pts higher on the SATs in order to be on par with similar non-AA applicants.

This is far from an open and shut case though.  I thought this debate was an interesting foray into the discussion.

Do Universities Discriminate against Asian-Americans?: Forum | KQED Public Media for Northern CA
http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R201003261000

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What would I do if I had more time?

So I’ve been recently feeling way busier than I usually do.  A big reason is because now we have 3 kids and, really, I’m not gonna ignore them the moment I get home.  At the same time, despite our efforts, they love hanging out with us so much that they sleep pretty late.  I’m accustomed to working in the evenings, but since my wife now can’t handle all the kids alone (cus we’ve got 3), the whole working in the evening thing has been falling to the wayside.  It’s just the way it is.  (Okay, the fact that I’m getting older probably plays a hand in all this too, and my capacity/energy level is shrinking…)

But the question recently came to my mind…even if I had more time, what would I do with it?

I’ve been noticing through my FB feeds that a lot of church leaders are heading in a direction where they’re not only leading in their churches, but they’re leading movements that transcend the confines of the proverbial church walls.  Initiatives relating to poverty, sex trafficking, leadership development, church planting, etc.  My senior pastor’s the same way.

And so, being as self-absorbed as I am, it made me wonder:  What would I do?

No answer yet.

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This Friday can seem distant in this Modern world

I should be the last person to poo-poo modern life. Far from being a naturalist, I’m a man of the great indoors. I enjoy a comfortable bed, functional indoor plumbing, a fast computer, and being to travel what used to be considered long distances because of cars.

But today, I feel the oppression of modern living. Although, as Christians, we call this Friday ‘good’, it is only good because we have seen the ending. It is only good because we have been given the privilege of seeing behind the curtain to what God saw. And so, on this Good Friday, I think the most meaningful response–before all the truly worthwhile celebration–is to pause. To pause to remember the pain, to remember the abandonment, to remember the sacrifice. And to let that pausing be our gratitude. To let that pausing be our worship. To let that pausing be our response to this mind-boggling act of love.

And the oppression I feel isn’t so much the evil that surrounds me, although that is always there. It is the unrelenting pace of this world. It is the constant demand to go-go-go. It is the whip of this world. But it is also an impulse that has been internalized into the very rhythm of our souls. The brand of modernity, seared into our insides.

Who has time to reflect when there’s so much work to be done? Who has time to pray when we have video games, TV shows, and Facebook walls to occupy our time? Who has time to remember when there never seems to be a convenient time anyways? Oh the oppression!

And if you think I’m poo-pooing others. Think again, because I am speaking about myself. But today isn’t a day of self-flagellation–I’m not into that anyways. It’s a day to pause to think about my Lord, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross and all the shame therein. To pause with all creation, to remember when all the world dimmed to its darkest at the murder of it’s Creator, even if few people noticed.

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