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Sacred Doesn’t Have to Be Solemn

 

(wedding dance)

Courtesy of that great purveyor of pop culture YouTube, millions of people have seen this wedding processional.  I must admit that it didn’t look like any wedding I’ve ever been to, and my first reaction was, “That’s looks great, but isn’t a wedding supposed to be, you know, serious?  It’s a measured, solemn, sacred time, right?”

But as I thought about it, I concluded that sacred doesn’t have to mean solemn.  Yes, a Christian wedding is a sacred thing, for it is the living representation of the supernatural bond between Christ and His church.  But I don’t see any Biblical requirement to use 19th century opera music to introduce the bride & groom (Yes, that’s what “Here Comes the Bride” actually is).

But dancing? In a church?  Those are fighting words for some Baptists I know.  But as we ought to do in any circumstance, I turned to the Bible.  Hmmm…. dancing in the Bible on a very serious, sacred occasion…

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.  And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal.  And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. (2 Samuel 6:12-15)

Sacred? Serious? Oh yes indeed! Bringing the ark of the Lord, the holiest object in the world, into the holy city of Jerusalem for the first time.  Something so serious and sacred that a priest was struck dead by God for just touching the ark.  Surely if there was a time to be reserved & solemn, this was it.

Clearly, King David, the man who followed God with all his heart, didn’t think it was a time to be solemn; he was dancing his heart out in joy and wild abandon.  Maybe we need to remember that the next time we approach God: sacred doesn’t have to be solemn.

What’s Missing?

FirstEssentialWhen I was touring Mount Vernon last month, I was struck deeply by this statement.

It seems so totally foreign to the ears of Western culture today.

We laugh at our sitcoms filled with people we wouldn’t really want as our friends. Celebrities seem to be having contests of who can do the most disgusting publicity stunts.  Revolving door rehab seems par for the course for those we idolize and monetize.

What’s missing? What’s happened? I kept asking myself as I took in the exhibits on our first President.  I mean, he wasn’t a saint, he made mistakes and did things that I would disagree with and take exception with, but even a cursory glance reveals a man whose greatness stemmed from his character. How many men can you name in a place of national prominence today that could make that statement of Washington’s with firmness and conviction and actually be taken seriously by the public at large?  Think about it.  I can’t think of five men.

I’m not sure how we got here, and I don’t know how to get back.  I just know I am saddened by it.  I think God is too.

 

Chasing Beauty in the 21st Century

A lot of people have seen and written about the Dove video about how beauty is enhanced manipulated by 21st century technology. (If you haven’t seen it, click on the link to view it.)  For me, the saddest thing about the video was that the manipulation seemed to me to obscure her true beauty; it was like a computer generated “mask” was put on her; that it wasn’t her at all.

Not satisfied with just altering the beauty of a real woman?  How about this photo:

This isn’t a woman at all, but a computer composite of 22 finalists for the 2002 Miss Germany competition.  This website outlines some research in the creation & perception of computer generated beauty.  After showing people pictures of both beautiful “real” women and pictures of computer constructed “perfect” women the researchers concluded,

A remarkable result of our research project is that faces which have been rated as highly attractive do not exist in reality…Faces with such a smooth, pure skin, without any irregularities do not and cannot exist. But it is this kind of perfection that obviously overwhelmed (people choosing the pictures)…  a model agency from Munich chose 88% artificial faces… Natural faces cannot keep up with their artificial “competitors”.

The entire website is worth your while to look over— to think about how beauty beyond the reach of even the supermodel can be engineered by computer, and how I can see a perfectly “natural” looking photograph of a highly desirable woman who CANNOT EXIST in reality— who is more beautiful, more desirable, more perfect, than any of the 2 BILLION real young women on this planet.

Well, that’s interesting, you say, but that’s just research, not what I see every day. But what you DO see every day in the media is the subtle manipulation which before computers came along was known as “airbrushing”— removing blemishes and imperfections.  Now, nearly every photo you see in a magazine, a catalog, an advertisement, even of supermodels, has been enhanced to “superhuman” beauty.

What is the use of this technology doing to the women and men in our culture?  You might retort, “I’m not being influenced by that!  I’m rational! I’m spiritual! I’m above such manipulation!”  No, you’re not.  We are all subtly, subconsciously influenced by our environment. (an excellent introduction to the effect of the environment on our decision making is Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  Like it or not, admit it or not, we are all being tempted and manipulated into chasing beauty.  Joe Carter linked to this sad, haunting video which artistically portrays how the media is controlling our perceptions of beauty.

How do we fight against this insidious and pervasive quest for impossibly flawless physical beauty?  For both men and women, we must first recognize the problem, that our minds are being toyed with by the media.  Second, we must consciously decide to reject judging ourselves or others by physical beauty, agreeing with Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Chasing beauty is a real problem, especially in the 21st century.  It causes women to be dissatisfied with the beauty that God has graced them with, and causes men to be dissatisfied with the beauty that God has given to the women in their lives.  Let’s not be fooled by the manipulation; let’s pray for the grace to appreciate feminine beauty as God has created it in the way He has intended it.

Have We Lost Our Way?

dollywoodToday I visited that bastion of multiple sensory overload, the American amusement park.  While I was at Dollywood (with probably 20,000+ other people), I started comparing and contrasting four distinct experiences that I had, all within a few hours of each other.  Let’s see how they stack up:

Experience 1: Mystery Mine

Cost to Dollywood:  11 million dollarsdollywood mystery mine

Popularity: thousands of people waiting up to an hour to get in

Duration:  2 minutes 30 seconds

Technology: latest engineering and computer controls

What my soul got: zilch

Experience 2: Rhythm of the Dance

Cost to Dollywood: probably six figures to book them for five weeks at 3 shows a daydollywood rhythm of the dance

Popularity: thousands of people waiting up to an hour to get in

Duration: 50 minutes

Technology: giant video screen, elaborate computer controlled lighting system

What my soul got: The most moving performance was a beautiful duet of a man on bodhran and a female step dancer.  By the way, the audience didn’t seem to mind the pulsating synchronized lights and giant video screen not being used during their number.

Experience 3: Fire in the Kitchen

Cost to Dollywood: a lot less than Rhythm of the Dance!fire in the kitchen

Popularity: a few dozen people wandered in to see them

Duration: 30 minutes

Technology:  didn’t need any

What my soul got:  live performance of Celtic music only a few feet away from me which had people smiling, nodding.  Peace and joy.

Experience 4: Bodhran Drum Lesson

Cost to Dollywood: probably zero, the lesson was from a distributor for Waltons that had a booth at Dollywoodbodhran

Popularity: about eight people, there were empty chairs around while thousands of others were milling past

Duration:  20 minutes

Technology: 17th century style: goatskin over wood frame

What my soul got: a few minutes to pick up an instrument and learn to make music in a way I never had before, using movements and rhythms that stretched over centuries and across an ocean.

 

Have we lost our way in our culture?  I don’t know how to make it any clearer.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with multimillion dollar ways to experience g-forces or dazzling lighting effects, but have we forgotten that we have souls to nurture?  Think about the nurture of your soul in your choices this week.

Passing by Beauty

There have been literally thousands of bloggers writing about this article entitled “Pearls before Breakfast” from the Washington Post this week, many of them probably far more eloquently than I.  But I’ve thought about it so much that I had to comment on it.

joshua bell violinThe story, for those who might try unsuccessfully reading it after the Post takes down the link, goes like this: violinist Joshua Bell, considered one of the greatest virtuosos of our time, plays a $3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin at a DC metro station anonymously as a street musician during rush hour.  What happens?  Nothing.  A thousand people pass by, and only a few even stop and listen.  Only one person who recognized him realized that they were in the presence of spectacular beauty and grace.  This man charges $1000 a minute for a concert, and yet a thousand people just passed by.

Two things strike me: One, how many commentators have specifically mentioned how it would have been different in Europe, how people would have stopped, would have recognized the beauty and appreciated it.  That doesn’t say much for the culture that I find myself immersed in, where millions of people take their time to vote for someone with a truly mediocre voice as their “American Idol” and yet can’t recognize a violin piece that has enthralled ears for hundreds of years.  A culture where tens of millions make a banal parody of ice skating the most watched movie in America, and yet where the majority of Americans have not read a single classic novel in years.  We truly are content with playing with mud pies, and do not even recognize it.

The second observation is much more personal: what would I have done? Would I have taken the time?  Would I have listened?  I’m not sure.  And though it is a shame and a waste to miss the beauty of a violin, what I really worry about is missing the beauty of human souls and of God Himself.  If we do not take the time, if we do not train ourselves, to see what needs to be seen and celebrated in the people we encounter, and if we do not intentionally live in the presence of God as we go about our day, where does that leave us?  The answer isn’t a pretty one, but it’s one we all need to devote some serious thought to. 

S l o w   d o w n.   

B r e a t h e.

L i v e.   

L o v e.

L a u g h.

C a r e.

S e r v e.

W o r s h i p.

Thoughts on WinterJam 2007

WinterJam Winter Jam 2007I ventured out tonight for the first time in over a decade into the world of contemporary Christian concerts by taking my son to the opening night of the WinterJam 2007 Tour.  It was a surreal mixture of Christ and culture and capitalism.  A gifted evangelist passionately describing his abusive childhood while standing under a mirror ball, as people chatted or ate or bought various glow in the dark blinking headgear or gawked at someone dressed as a giant sweet potato (No, I didn’t make that last part up!).  Teens milling about buying overpriced t-shirts and other merchandise including $2.00 plastic kazoos (No, not making that up either.)  A President Bush impersonator singing a blues song about making the world safe for democracy and riding around on an electric scooter (too wierd for even me to make up).  Not to mention six thousand people somehow thinking that jumping up and down simultaneously while exposing their ears to sounds loud enough to possibly cause permanent hearing damage is a good way to worship God.

And then there were things that just made you go Hmmmmmm…like those funky psychadelic light pillars in back of the stage…pretty colorrrssss…I wonder how many wells in Africa could have been dug for what those pillars cost…and why did they get turned on for only Steven Curtis Chapman and Jeremy Camp?  More dramatic to use them for only the last two sets?  Did the rest of the acts not want them?  Or just not “rate” turning on the extra electricity to power them?  Note to Steven Curtis:  you didn’t have light pillars when I saw you in concert 20 years ago and you did just fine…I spent time focusing on the pretty colors and how they were controlled which I should have spent focusing on the music and the God behind the music…..so think about losing the pillars.

But in spite of all that, good stuff was there too.  Hundreds responded to an invitation, and doubtless at least a few of those genuinely came into the Kingdom tonight.  Dozens (including me) signing up to sponsor a child through Holt International. I genuinely worshipped (and rocked) (and cried) during Steven Curtis Chapman’s set, and God spoke to me through Jeremy Camp’s testimony.

So, what do I make of it all? That the concert was like me, a chaotic mess of spirit and flesh, of holiness and worldliness, that in spite of it all God condescended to use it to advance His Kingdom.  I praise God for the good, and I wonder about the not so good, both in the concert and in me.  Par for the course for living in a fallen world.

Comparing Two Kingdoms

 

Ok, this may result in my total readership from SBC churches going down to one (me!), but here goes:

Without trying to sound trite or blasphemous, I had this recurring meme that kept occuring to me throughout my week earlier this month at Disney World:  How is the Magic Kingdom like Christ’s kingdom?  Is there a faint echo, a slight shadow in the house of Mouse pointing toward our eternal home?

Yes, I know that God’s presence is what will define heaven more than anything else, but God’s presence will mean that heaven will be some of the following things as well, which Mickey has just a little bit of too:

  • Beauty: The Big D really is beautiful, especially the quiet spots in Animal Kingdom.  I think all places of natural beauty can make us think of the beauty that awaits us in our eternal home.
  • Perfection: O Yes, there’s plenty of things not perfect at Disney World, but they really do try to be fanatical about everything being just so, as much as you can be in a place that has tens of thousands of jostling people spilling through every day.  They know that people come to expect having that experience and they try to deliver.  Think about what it will be to be eternally in absolute unalterable perfection all around you, to the minutest detail!
  • Celebration: what’s Disney without a parade?  or without some really bad-for-you caloric consumption?  It just wouldn’t be the same! Heaven will be the ultimate celebration, the marriage supper of the Lamb, and it will be a blast!
  • Adventure & Wonder: Disney reminds me of Lewis’ description of heaven in The Last Battle, a place of adventure and wonder which will be inexhaustible, eternal and always expanding.
  • Community: Now think about this one—isn’t a lot of the fun of Disney seeing the faces of your family and even total strangers smiling? What if you were the only one in the park?  I mean, not having any line at Space Mountain would be cool the first dozen times through, but to be alone even in a place like Disney would soon wear thin.  It is meant to be enjoyed in community, just like heaven will be so much richer as we enjoy perfect community with all the saints.
  • Joy: what’s the end of beauty, perfection, celebration, adventure, & community?  It’s joy.  And that’s what Disney does in the heart of a child (even a 42 year old one!), and I do think it is a taste, albeit a very small, imperfect one, of the joy that awaits me not many years hence.

So, what do you think?  Am I a full-blown heretic, or just plain nuts, or am I seeing here something worth savoring while we wait for eternity?

 

How to Dress to Catch Sheep

There is a national self-help guru that has been phenomenonally successful:

  • His first book shot to the top of the best-seller lists, selling over 4 million copies even though Publishers’ Weekly deemed it “overblown and redundant” “shallow” “superficial” and “repetitive.”
  • He has reportedly negotiated a $10 million dollar advance on his next book.
  • He draws over 40,00 people when he gives a motivational talk.
  • His total yearly revenues are over $100 million.
  • and all of this without even graduating from college!

 

Who is this master?

 No, not Stephen Covey

No, not Dr. Phil

Oh,for crying out loud,

no, no, no, not William Shatner!

No, those glowing stats describe only one man:

Wait, he’s not a self-help guru, he’s a minister.

Oh really?  Analysis from theologians and atheists alike agree that the main thrust of his messages are in the same vein as any other self-help guru.

Here’s the 100 million dollar a year question:

How can he do it better than Dr. Phil?  How can he draw bigger crowds then Stephen Covey?

Because he has dressed like a shepherd in front of sheep.

America is still a nominally religious culture: by and large most Americans still feel good about going to church and “hearing about God.”  It’s a good thing to listen to a minister.  Joel Osteen can sell more books and reach more homes and rake in more money than any other self-help guru in America for one reason:  he isn’t seen as a self-help guru, but as a faithful servant of God.

America is still filled with millions of sheep.  And they are getting fleeced.

Men’s Liberation

 

 

 

Actress Uma Thurman, speaking on being a single Mom to Parade magazine July 2006:

The stay-at-home mom is over not just because of women’s liberation but because of men’s liberation from wanting to be the breadwinners.

I think the consequences of “men’s liberation” are just as dramatic and pervasive in this culture as of “women’s liberation.” 

We have men by either active decision or by passive indecision setting a lifestyle requiring more income than their paycheck, or even worse being so lazy as not to be able to hold down a honest job and de facto forcing their wives to work.

We have men not taking active leadership in their home, leaving their wives to try and fill the gap. We have men not working and leading in their churches and the schooling of their children.  We have men who want to be liberated from any form of marital, fatherly or other masculine responsibility through figuratively or literally walking away from wives, children, job, or any situation, difficulty, or relationship that doesn’t suit them.

For all these men I have a few choice words:

Husbands, love your wives… as your own bodies, nourishing and cherishing (Ephesians 5)

But if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  (1 Timothy 5)

Be men of courage, be strong. ( 1 Cor 16:13)

 

 

A Journey Home

 

 

This film documentary could be titled “Extreme Extreme Famiily Makeover.”

It shares a basic premise with all of the “reality TV” shows— fairly typical American dysfunctional family gets thrown into lifestyle and situation totally foreign to them.

But then the REALLY extreme happens— God shows up.

Not in a fire or earthquake, but in a still small voice.

In plowing a field together.  In sharing meals and reading stories.

In playing in fields and ponds.  In conversation at a country store.

In living a radically different life, not for money or a new house or to be ogled at by millions of people, but to walk with God.

Six years before this film was made, Tommy Waller left his suburban job and suburban house and suburban income and suburban lifestyle and took his family to a house without electricity in a remote Tennessee Amish community.

The results?  A Journey Home– a journey to a true home, to a place and a lifestyle that became a lot closer to God’s original intent for a home and a family than many of us in Western culture today experience and live.

Is this video telling you to sell your house and give up electricity and have 11 kids?

No, and neither is God.

Am I going to sell my house and buy a horse and plow?

No, God isn’t telling me that either.

But am I willing to listen to God, to the still small voice that is so hard to hear in the midst of this awful din of Western culture, to carve out whatever time and space, whatever lifestyle that would help me best walk with God and glorify Him, no matter how counter cultural or difficult?

I think that’s the question this video is asking, and the question that God is asking me too.

Interested?  This award winning documentary is available for purchase here.