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Category Archives: Culture

Reading James Through an American Lens

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A Reading of James 2: 14-17 with a 21st Century,

United States Gun Violence Hermeneutic:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t act on it? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is a victim in a mass shooting, or has had a child shot to death at school, and one of you says to them, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” and you do nothing to oppose the senseless madness of such horrific violence, allowing more madmen to easily acquire weapons of mass destruction, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it doesn’t lead to action, is dead.

Barna: Youth Leaving Church After High School is a RECENT Trend

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So says the Barna Group, in its report, “Five Myths About Young Adult Church Dropouts.”     What some have decided is a normative part of transitioning to adulthood is actually a myth, the Barna Group says.  Instead, they trace this trend of youth leaving church to become prodigals, exiles or nomads back to the Boomer Generation:

Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s….Today’s young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today’s dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem.

Why the Boomers?  I’ve had a few thoughts on this. 

Another issue Barna addresses is the explosion in communications technology and its widespread availability.   As was the case in the Reformation, people have discovered that they’re able to bypass established channels of communication with new, internet based, wireless technology.  On the big-ticket issues and news of the day people can now  engage in two-way communication rather than remain the recipients of one-way communication.  Also resembling the Reformation is the widespread awareness that institutions have become so corrupted that they no longer behave in ways that reflect the best interests of the citizenry, whether it be a branch of government, a financial institution, an established media channel for news, or an institutional incarnation of church.   Combine these two trends and you quickly realize that the Church can’t continue to stake out the same old ground.  The Church can’t continue to operate under the assumption that people will come to the building and want to join the group there, trusting that this is the best way of finding some higher spiritual truth.   Nor can the Church assume that youth are destined to leave after high school, or that they won’t find any meaningful spiritual growth after they do.

A Clashing of Powers, A Parable About Two Sons and A Vineyard

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Here’s this coming Sunday’s lectionary gospel text along with thoughts it inspired.   Maybe, just maybe, there’s a community of faith out there somewhere that would appreciate hearing a message based on my preliminary  impressions.  My inner cynic tells me it’s doubtful such a place exists; another small voice tells me to hang in there and have faith.  We’ll see.

Matthew 21:23–32 (NRSV)

(Mk 11:27–33; Lk 20:1–8)

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

The question remains, “What exactly is the vineyard?” Bundled into that question is another, “What exactly WAS the vineyard?” Jesus tells a story about about a father, two sons, and a vineyard that needs attention. To folks in the audience, the vineyard would resonate on several levels. One, it’s a dominant symbol of the agricultural economy. Lots and lots of folks make a living in the vineyard. Two, it’s a symbol and metaphor used by their prophets, especially around the time of the conquest of Israel and Judah, the Babylonian exile and the return from exile. Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard” lays it out plainly:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice, but saw bloodshed;

righteousness, but heard a cry!          Is 51: v. 8

The parable of the two sons, the dad and the vineyard is told in the context of the Jerusalem Temple, one of the great marvels of the ancient world. If God Almighty had a mailbox on earth, it was there.

The story is told in the midst of an audience that had been steeped in the religious/social/political/economic cultural traditions that basically held that God had chosen this particular group of people to be first among all the ethnic peoples of the world, had given them this geography as sacred geography, and had called them to be a light for the nations. Ummm, do we find similarly held assumptions in our time and place?

Isn’t our geography seen as the land that has been given by God to God’s chosen people, who are of a particular ethnicity and religion? (The Patriot’s Bible, anyone?)

When Jesus uses the vineyard touchstone to make his point, he is certainly calling on the prophetic understandings of justice and injustice that are wrapped in the vineyard metaphor.  And he was speaking to a nation and within a nation about how the prevailing powers and authorities had become opposed to the new power and authority–and righteousness–he came to reveal.  For 2000 years, Jesus has continued the revelation, shocking and pissing off those whose power and status quo are threatened, to the extent that they find ways to crucify him again and again.   But the power of the resurrection keeps overcoming those powers, again and again.  His word to the chief priests and elders packs the same wallop today as it did back then, as does the word of the prophet Isaiah to a nation and people that lost its way.

Don’t believe me?

What happens if you read the Isaiah passage outside the Georgia state execution chamber immediately after Troy Davis is killed by the state? What happens if you read this passage at the Wall St. sit-in? What happens if you read this passage alongside a poster-sized photo of the children executed by U.S. soldiers during a house raid in Iraq?

Who are the chief priests and elders of our culture? Likewise, who would be the tax collectors and the prostitutes, and what exactly is it that makes them first in the kingdom of God?

And finally, what exactly is the Kingdom of Heaven and how might we find the wiring that connects all these questions to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?

We can do a nice little 8-minute piece on the vineyard and the kingdom focusing on the church and its need to replenish a food pantry or provide coats for a coat drive. We can preach a nice, tidy little piece on the importance of repentance (metanoia) and how piety can often get in the way of growing in authentic faith.

But will it mean a heckuva lot when Monday comes and life keeps going down the same destructive path?

Maybe, just maybe, the tax collectors and prostitutes in our time are those folks who wouldn’t call themselves at all religious, maybe not even very spiritual. But they’re standing outside the execution chamber and they’re sitting in on Wall St., and they’re burning the midnight oil developing just alternatives to the injustices that bear down on and crush more and more people everyday. Perhaps it’s the gay teen who tragically committed suicide because he just couldn’t take the destructive bullying anymore.

Maybe these are first, like the first son in the parable, or a bit like those surprised sheep we find in the apocalyptic parable in Matthew 25.

What’s the vineyard? What’s the kingdom? Who’s first? Who deserves Jesus’ bitch-slap, like the one he laid on those chief priests and elders?

Garden Salad w/Ranch, A Peach And A Banana

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The last meal of Karla Faye Tucker, executed by Texas on Feb. 3, 1998 at 6:45 p.m.

Check out The Last Meals Project, where executed prisoners are paired with their last meals.

Jerry Lewis Tells Reality TV Shows to “Get Off My Lawn!”

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Sort of .  Actually, Lewis was holding forth at a Beverly Hills tour stop for TV critics.  He was promoting his upcoming documentary when he unexpectedly veered off the road and sideswiped reality television shows, especially “American Idol” and “The Biggest Loser.”

“The kids who’re on American Idol, they’re all McDonalds wipe outs. They all worked there and now they’re doing [reality TV].”

Lewis then turned his attention to weight loss shows like The Biggest Loser, noting networks are showing “the fat lady” dropping weight from more than 300 pounds to 240 pounds. “Who gives a s—?” “Who gives a s—?”

Jerry, back in the day

He then shifted into the “back in my day” mode as he recalled people rushing home to watch Milton Berle. “Nobody wants to run home and see anything, they run home and hope they see something.”

With the press evidently stoking his fire, Lewis also gave his opinion on the new availability of TV and film on portable, hand-held devices.  “They put all of their product on the stupid phone,” he said. “You’re gonna put Lawrence of Arabia on that stupid son of a bitch?”

An Encore documentary, “The Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis” is soon to be released, and while Lewis was eager to plug it, he bluntly refused to answer any questions about the end of his involvement with the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.  “It’s none of your business,” he said.

h/t: Entertainment Weekly online

Miss America Fail: Contestants Answer “Should Evolution Be Taught in School?”

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Sorry for the blog negligence.  Hope this post both atones and amuses instead of causing needless worry about our future as a civilization.  All is well, provided you have enough hairspray.

h/t: buzzfeed

Right-Wing Talk Radio in Decline?

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Rush, Beck, Hannity and the bunch are still worth a gazillion bucks.

But their ratings are plummeting.  John Avalon, writing in the Daily Beast, cites the big market city ratings drop Rush is experiencing in that coveted $$ demographic of  the 25-54 age group.  In Charlotte he went from #6 to #12.   He’s had a similar decline in Portland and San Francisco.

In the over-65 bracket, Rush is still numero uno.  But as Avalon says,

He can sell bedpans and resentment forever. But the demographic trend is not his friend.

Kudos to Michael Smerconish, who once rode the right-wing bandwagon before reading the tea leaves and re-inventing himself as a persona he calls a “radical centrist.”

Former Clear Channel talk radio guru Gabe Hobbs said that the emerging success of new personalities like Smerconish’s is due to the tone they set.

“This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a ‘duh,’ ” adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. “The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I’ve seen it myself in research. It’s the tone; it’s the approach. Some people don’t want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it’s my way or the highway.”