Friday, October 29, 2010

What's a Public Servant To Do?

You know, there are some very foundational questions about this two-century experiment in "rule by the people" we've been running here in America which really need to be discussed at large and answered.

One in particular has been troubling me lately: what should be the relationship between a representative and the people who elect him/her? Should we expect them to listen to us, their constituency, on a regular basis and act according to our immediate wishes, even if they personally feel differently about the matter? Or do we just elect people whom we trust, and generally agree with, and let them govern as their wisdom directs them?

President Obama is a case in point. When he was a candidate, he was pretty clear about the direction he wanted to take the country -- and the people voted him in. I think this man really believes what he is doing is the best thing for the country. I don't see him doing a Bill-Clinton and becoming more moderate after next week's election. He stands on what he thinks is right. And in some ways, I have to really respect him for that. That's kind of refreshing to see when the vast majority of politicians sway like a willow in the wind according to the breeze blowing from the latest poll.

On the other hand, I think it's pretty clear now that the majority of Americans DON'T think what he's doing is the best thing for the country. They have lost confidence in him and his agenda. If he was up for re-election next week, I don't think he'd have much of a chance.

So, what is he to do? Again, I think what he will do is stand his ground, keep doing what he's doing as much as he can. To use his own metaphor, he's got the wheel and he knows the way to get there, thank you very much. He strikes me as having an attitude like a parent to a wayward child. You may not understand, but I know what is best for you. You may not see why things have to be this way now, but in the end, when it all works out, you'll be grateful for what I've done for you. I'm willing to suffer your hatred and indignation today, because your welfare is more important than my popularity.

Sounds noble. Unfortunately, I don't think the American people like being treated like a wayward child, even if they possibly deserve it. Frankly, we do seem sometimes to be a nation of self-centered brats with no long-term memory and a childish need for immediate gratification. But I would like to see our leaders nurture some maturity in us rather than take advantage of our immaturity. I think I'd like to see Obama make a more genuine effort at convincing the country of the rightness of his vision -- like I said in my earlier blog, let the truth stand on its own, if he believes it's the truth. No manipulation. No sneakiness. No patronizing.

That's what I'd like to see all government leaders do. Treat us like adults, so we have the opportunity to rise to those expectations. But the questions still stands: if they are unable to convince us to agree with them, what do they do? Follow the polls or follow their conscience? Hmmm. I honestly don't know.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who's the Lousy Evangelical?

Just saw an article where a woman lists 13 things that make her "a lousy evangelical". Things like, she believes the earth is billions of years old. And she has nightmares about Sarah Palin. And she asks a lot of annoying questions. Had to chuckle.

But also had to heave a big sorrowful sigh. Because she points up a frustration I have with so many of my Christian brothers and sisters -- the attitude they have toward truth. It doesn't bother me that they think they know the truth. Honestly, we ALL think what we believe is true, or we wouldn't believe it, right? That's not arrogance; that's what it means to believe something.

It's not that they believe in one truth and reject the mushy mantra, "That may be true for you, but this is true for me." What hogwash! Truth is truth. If we believe opposite things, one of us is wrong. Or both of us. Just because it isn't yet clear who is wrong doesn't mean we're both right.

What bothers me is that they treat the truth like it's a fragile thing. They're afraid of it being challenged (insert tangential comment about evolutionists here -- which I won't get into right now). Many of them have never questioned their own beliefs and start to hyperventilate when someone else questions them. They wrap their children in virtual bubblewrap so there's no hope of their seeing or hearing anything mom and dad disagree with.

Because they haven't examined their own beliefs, they do a lousy job of explaining them to anyone else. So they give up. They expect others to accept the consequences of those beliefs (like, say, making abortion illegal) without their ever accepting the premises of the beliefs. They protect the truth, but they don't defend the truth. There's a big difference.

If the truth is the truth, it doesn't need to be sheltered from attack or examination. If the truth is the truth, it has a power all its own. If the truth is the truth, it will come out in the end -- and perhaps we evangelicals will be as surprised as our counterparts.

One thing I'm pretty confident of: being afraid of . . or angry at . . or contemptuous of someone because they don't agree with you about what's true does NOTHING to promote the truth. So, stop it.

(And yes, I'm preaching to myself, too.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WWJD Behind the Wheel

So, yesterday morning, I came kind of close (but not terribly close, don't worry) to changing lanes right into a car beside me that I didn't see. Apparently the driver gave me a dirty look that I missed (thankfully -- it's not taking much these days to knock me into an emotional pit), but my daughter must have seen it because she immediately asked, "Why do drivers always give people dirty looks when they make a mistake like that? I mean, it's not like they've never made that kind of mistake before. Even YOU act like that, Mom."

Yeah, guilty as charged.

So, why do we? I told my daughter that a lot of it probably has to do with the suddenness of the situation. We speak on impulse, out of the momentary fear that we feel when we see the impending danger. We don't consider that this driver may have a reason for their inattention that we can sympathize with -- they're feeling ill, or they're having a serious fight with their spouse, or they're sleep-deprived. In any other situation, we might feel led to pray for them, but when their problems get in our way, we cuss them out. We assume the worst of them. They're not hurting -- they're an idiot.

I have a vague memory of riding in a car with someone who didn't react that way. I don't remember who it was, but when someone cut her off, her reaction was one of concern for what that driver must be dealing with to make them so distracted. Her first reaction. It really was astounding to witness. It showed a genuine compassion and concern for people despite how they might hurt her -- a real "turning the other cheek" attitude.

I'm coming to believe that I can't use the excuse of "I spoke without thinking" to justify unkind words or attitudes. It seems to me that the words I speak without thinking are probably most representative of the true state of my heart. The sad truth is, I see drivers who endanger my life as irresponsible, stupid people deserving my condemnation rather than hurting, struggling people deserving my concern.

And clearly, I'm not viewing these people as Jesus would.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oh, Hear de Word o' de Lord

. . I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'" Ezekial 37

Sometimes I feel like dry bones. Lifeless. Used up and worthless. A waste. Past hope. I know those feelings are unjustified, usually even when I feel them. But feelings of despair are hard to shake when you're feeling nothing but despair.

This verse came up at the women's conference I went to with my sisters a few weeks ago. And I wrote it down because it seemed to be one I need to remember. Can these bones live? These bones so old, abandoned for so long, that every sign of their past usefulness has decayed away? If you know the story in Ezekial, they do. And the impetus to their resurrection is Ezekial speaking the word of the Lord to them.

That's what I need to do, I thought to myself. Speak truth, the word of the Lord, to those dry bones when they surface. Find scripture that speaks to my situation and remind myself of what's true. And yes, that's probably a good idea. But experience in the valley of dry bones has shown me that I don't listen to myself at those times, even when I know I'm telling the truth.

But I notice here that the bones didn't prophesy to themselves. The Lord told the son of man, Ezekial, to prophesy to them. God can and does speak through many mouthpieces, but usually his voice is most clear when coming through the sons and daughters of men. I take their words to heart better than I do my own, even when we're all saying the same thing. Why that is, I don't know, but it's true.

This is probably why we're commanded to bear one another's burdens. To confess our sins to each other. To encourage one another in the faith. To not stop meeting together on a regular basis. We need each other; we have to depend on each other. In America, home of the proud and rugged individualist, we need to get over ourselves and re-learn the value of interdependency. Or, at least I do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Complexity in Unity

I read an article in some homeschool publication once about teaching art appreciation. It said that one quality which makes great art is that the piece has complexity and yet has unity. I'm no great artist or art critic, and I'm sure those who are would add to that summation, but I do like that description: complexity in unity.

That has come to my mind a few times lately in some varied environments. Some mosaic projects my girls did in our homeschool co-op made me think of artistic-looking furniture pieces I've seen at places like ArtSplash. Individually, the piece looks really cool -- a great work of art. But I can't see it in my house. The end table may have complexity and unity in itself, but when added to my living room, it would disrupt any sense of unity there.

Decorating for the holidays brings the concept to my mind again as well. We got out the fall/Halloween decorations last week. It always bugs me what a conglomeration of stuff we have. Craft projects from the early years, items that have been gifted to us, cheesy little toys the girls got in Sunday School or something. Complexity we abound in -- unity is nowhere to be found.

And the lack of unity grates on me when I'm living in the midst of it day in and day out. I'm finding that the unity side of this equation is much more important to me personally. I seem to be more of a big picture kind of gal when it comes to visual things. I can have an idea of how I want my bedroom to look, or the kind of outfit I want to wear to the premiere, but I don't have a clue how to pull the different individual elements together to make it happen. The little pieces -- the complexity -- are beyond me.

But I'm not that way in everything. The last couple days, I've been working on instruction lists for our backstage crew for the homeschool play. Four of our backstage people have "kid wrangling" in their job description -- getting kids where they need to be when they need to be there. I'm typing up lists for each of them of which kids they need to be responsible for getting to certain stage areas at specific times. It's very detailed work. And I'm kind of revelling in it. This complexity I can deal with and even enjoy. Yet, if I had to get all the costumes and props together for this production, it would literally make me cry.

All this to say . . . I'm wondering if this "complexity in unity" idea can reveal things about ourselves. I think the activities where I am most competent at pulling together complex details into a unified whole (and enjoy the process) are the activities where God has most gifted me. When God has gifted us, we become "artists" in that endeavor, whether it's painting, directing, teaching, selling, or plumbing. And when we see the fruits of our labor as a work of art, we are more motivated, more successful, and more fulfilled.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Does This House Make Me Look Fat?

Let me start out by saying that I absolutely love my house. I have a big, beautiful house. It has a gorgeous view from the large back windows . . a lovely winding staircase . . wide, open spaces . . and it was decorated beautifully before we ever moved in. But to the point in my last post, it is perhaps a "fattening" element in our lives -- it is more house than we need. There are at least a couple rooms that we rarely, if ever, utilize. There's a lot of space in each room that isn't necessarily necessary.

But I still love it. And I feel a little guilty about it. And then I don't. It's really a struggle for me.

I don't feel guilty about it because we didn't go into this house hunt intending to buy a big, beautiful house. We had some things we knew we liked in a home (high ceilings, separate dining room, kitchen counter space, shelving for homeschool, etc.). We knew what kind of area we wanted to live in (more rural, but convenient to get to necessary shopping and for Keith to get to work in LeMars quickly). Keith looked at scads and scads of homes and narrowed it down to about a dozen that the girls and I came to look at.

This house was the first we saw, and I had an immediate connection with it. I stifled that, knowing I had many more to look at. But when we saw the others and came back to this one, I couldn't deny the feeling in my gut that this was our home. It felt right. It was also a good price, had low utility costs, etc. It has been a great place for us in so many ways. So I have a hard time feeling guilty about the purchase.

On the other hand, there's . . well, my kitchen. It has been called a "chef-ready" kitchen. It is SO wasted on me. I have friends who love to cook, and cook for large crowds, who would kill to have this kitchen, and I use it to make sloppy joes and heat up frozen pizzas. (OK, I'm not quite that bad, but . . ) I keep wondering how I can make better use of this kitchen for God's glory.

We have a large family room with squooshy, comfy sofas and a giant TV. It's wasted on the four of us watching Phineas and Ferb. How can we make better use of this room for God's glory?

We have a large yard to the back and an extra lot to the side of our house. Lots of wide, open space. It's wasted on our sedentary, indoor-loving family. How can we make better use of this land for God's glory?

I keep looking for ways, and I'm confident God will reveal them. Our house in NJ had much more space than we needed also, especially in the basement. But then I became a Creative Memories consultant. Because I had the space -- and could afford to have the money tied up -- I was able to keep a large inventory that many other consultants in the area made use of as well, consultants who were really trying to pay for family necessities with their business (unlike me, who was just supporting my own habit).

I also had a wonderful space there for holding workshops for my customers. And many wonderful things happened at these workshops. Friendships made, conversations enjoyed, family honored, memories celebrated, healing applied. In particular, I remember a regular customer who lost her husband suddenly to cancer crying while journaling on the pages she made of his hospitalization and funeral -- and the powerful relief and healing that flooded her countenance afterwards. Even before I knew what it was for, God had a use for that space.

And God has a use for this space, too. I don't feel guilty about having it. Until I consider what so many people think of me for having it. I know, it shouldn't matter what they think. Should it?

Maybe my sensitivity to "classism" is more understandable now. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I'm a racist. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I'm over-emotional. And just because I live in a big, beautiful house doesn't mean I'm a cold, selfish, privileged brat.

"Now, Listen, You Rich People", part four

And now the tough one.

You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. (James 5)

Have I? Yes, probably more than I should have or would like to admit. The question is, what to do about that . . which can only be answered when I pinpoint where the problem is. What luxuries do I indulge in?

But I'm tempted to ask first . . is indulging myself necessarily a problem? In our workaholic society, we are often encouraged to take time to enjoy life and indulge ourselves. "Calgon, take me away!" And after all, Jesus said he came so that we may have an abundant life, and rest, and so forth. Leading a simple life is probably a virtue, as a whole (one that all Americans need to aspire to more), but what's the line between a godly, simple life and asceticism on an excessive scale?

I'm taking my cue from the second sentence above: I've fattened myself. You get fat when you eat more food than your body can make use of, and do so on a regular basis. Figuratively, I have fattened myself in the day of slaughter when I regularly yield to the desire for more stuff, more luxuries, more indulgences in my life than I (or my family) can make good, productive use of -- to truly benefit ourselves or others.

Like . . do I have clothes or shoes in my closet that I never wear, that I was unwise to buy in the first place, and that someone else could be wearing and be very grateful for? (Actually, not really. Personally, I'm not a clothes horse, although some of the rest of you may be -- hint, hint. But since this is about me, maybe I should go on.)

Do I have kitchen utensils cluttering my cupboards that I don't use, that were a waste of my money when I bought them, and that someone else could make much better use of?

Do my kids have toys lying around that they never play with, that were a poor use of our money from the beginning, and that some other child might actually appreciate?

Is my cell phone one with expensive features and apps that add little or no real value to my life or anyone else's? (Not mine . . I'm the techno-idiot in my family.)

Of course, we have some issues in these areas -- although I will say, we have less than many families, I think. I have been kind of proud of my girls lately, because they're having a hard time coming up with things to put on their Christmas list for Grandma and Grandpa. Because they realize that they don't really need anything. And they recognize now that a lot of the stuff they really wanted in the past is now sitting unused. They don't want to add to that stash. Good for them!

Yet, I still feel convicted at the accusation of living in luxury and self-indulgence. Mainly because of one possession -- our house. And that's a discussion for another post.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Clarifications Before I Move On . .

I'm not sure everyone reads the comments I get on posts, so I want to address a few that I have gotten recently:

- "I hope I don't get in trouble for this . . " one of them begins. My sentiments exactly. There's a lot of hatred and bitterness in our country over wealth and poverty issues, and we don't seem to be able to talk about it like reasonable people. I'm grateful for friends among my readers who give me the benefit of the doubt and know my heart when I write about these things, even when I may be missing the boat.

- By no means did I mean to imply in my last post that one is not accountable to God for how one treats employees. What I was saying is that this issue of paying people for their services is the only one of the three that we are also accountable to the state for. The other two are concerned with people's personal use of their personal money. God has plenty of say in that area for a believer -- but I don't think the state has any.

- "Why do CEOs think they are more important and worth more than the people who actually build the product they are trying to sell?" Why do politicians lose their integrity when they get into office? Why do teenagers disrespect their parents? Why do Christians act like hypocrites? The answer is, not all of them do. There are jerks everywhere, in every part of society -- but the majority of folks (even CEOs) are decent, compassionate people who make mistakes even with the best of intentions.

- Hard to compare the stress and pressure of running a company to the stress and pressure of struggling to support a family. Stress and pressure is stress and pressure. We are each given different talents, different passions, different blessings, and different stresses and pressures. We are each on God's "personal obstacle course" designed for our lives, to make us who God wants us to be and to accomplish what he wants accomplished through us. One person's calling is not more valuable than another's.

- Clearly, if I knew a company was mistreating its employees, it would behoove me to not do business with that company. But a word about Fair Trade products: my blogger friend Robin has written about this before, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. However, I just read something recently (and I wish I could find where it was to reference it here . . I'll keep looking) that made me reconsider. Apparently, the wages being paid to Fair Trade suppliers are so high above the area market rate for such workers that they are creating a glut of suppliers in the market, so to speak. So many people want to get that good money that an excess of people are going into the business of growing Fair Trade products. Considering that most of these are non-necessity items (chocolate, coffee, etc.), the demand for them goes down in bad economic times (such as we've been going through). Now, all those people are growing these products with not enough people willing to buy them at the "Fair Trade" price. So, the original growers are no better off than they were before, and the new growers are worse -- because they could be growing something more profitable if they weren't tempted into this industry by the promise of unreasonably high returns.

I started to address this some in my last post and then erased it -- it was getting too long -- but there are, of course, going to be situations where employers can have such a stranglehold on the workers of an area that the free market can't work like it should and workers are cheated out of a fair wage. But few Americans are in a stranglehold like that, I think. (Correct me if I'm wrong, friends.) And even in other countries, we have to be very careful what steps we take to fix the situation, so that we don't make matters worse.

- These posts have been tough for me to write so far. They are rooted in a need I have to examine myself in these areas -- to be sure I am not one of these "you rich people" that James is slamming. And as one commenter pointed out, there is hardly an American out there who is not rich compared to the rest of the world, so I figure these are questions we all need to ask ourselves.

But I'll be honest that I've had to stifle some of my own bitter feelings as I've written (and that I probably haven't always done a good job of it). As I said, I've been stunned and hurt at the nasty comments I've gotten from friends regarding the character of people in my financial position. Friends -- people who know me, claim to love me, and yet judge me so unjustly.

And I've been very frustrated by the direction our current administration has been taking the country, which seemed to be based on and actively fed by class warfare. Anyway, friends, forgive any acrimony that has come through in my posts, and please take my writing for what is it . . . a desire to know the truth about myself and my world.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Now, Listen, You Rich People", part three

Listen, the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Almighty. (James 5)

The second problem James seems to have with the rich people he is speaking to is that they are cheating people out of pay they have rightfully earned. In all honesty, I don't have much personal discomfort at this one. I can't think of anyone I owe money to, for any reason, that I don't pay. At worst, I'll admit to sometimes forgetting to tip folks whose services I rarely use -- like, the baggage handler at the airport. It's not that I'm cheap, or trying to cheat them; I just flat-out forget. Traveling is hectic and stressful, you know.

But as I noted in part one of this series, I have friends (whose voices I can hear now) who would use this bit of scripture to back up governmental policies they support. Friends who often decry the "obscene" salaries of CEOs compared to the minimum wages their factory-workers make. (SIGH. I am most certainly all for every worker getting paid a fair wage that they can live on, but the constant slamming of American CEOs -- who are NOT all corrupt, or care-less of their employees, or even overpaid necessarily -- just smacks of bitterness. It gets very old.)

Nevertheless, what I notice about this complaint of James, compared to #1 and #3, is that this one seems to actually be within the realm of what a government should deal with. Ensuring that contracts are upheld. That people get paid what they have been promised. This is a legitimate state duty. Yet, I would argue that the content of these contracts -- that is, how much a worker gets paid -- is NOT within the realm of what a government should deal with.

Some of said friends would also use this scripture in their arguments against companies sending work overseas where they can get a job done for a fraction of the wages. Another SIGH. A very complicated issue. I'll only make a couple of quick points. If those overseas workers are being paid a wage that is a living wage in their community (even if it sounds like pocket change for us), they are not being cheated. Second, if the companies know what the market value of their product is (that is, what consumers are willing to pay for it) and they determine that they cannot produce that product at that price with American workers earning American minimum wage, just what are they supposed to do? Use American workers anyway and lose money on every item they sell -- and ultimately go out of business, sending all their employees into unemployment? I think a lot of the grumblers here are not looking at the big picture.

However, I'm getting off-topic. My point was that this particular wrong -- failing to pay your workers what is due them -- is a wrong done against another person. It is one against which the state should legislate and judiciate. (Is "judiciate" a verb? Well, I just made it one.) On the other hand, the other two -- hoarding your money and excessive indulgences -- are wrongs done against the self and against God. The government does not have the right to tell people how to spend their own money; only their God does.

Perhaps that's why the other two points are more convicting to me. I'm accountable to no one but God in these areas. And accountability to God is a serious thing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Now, Listen, You Rich People," part two

So, the first issue James seems to have with the rich people he condemns is that they're sitting on their money, not using it productively. Their gold and silver are corroding with disuse.

Now, I'm going to tread in some dangerous territory here, because I am SO not a financial or economic expert. But I'm also not a dummy, and there are a few things about money that are hard to deny. One is that people with a lot of it don't hide it in their mattresses, or use it to "line their pockets with". They invest it. And money that is invested is being used to grow someone else's business, supporting someone else's family.

Another thing I know: when rich folks spend their money on some luxury like, say, an in-ground heated pool, somebody out there is selling them that pool. Somebody is getting paid to install that pool and probably to maintain it. I know "trickle-down economics" is the worst of curse words in some circles -- and as I said, I'm not even going to pretend to be any economics expert -- but let's at least admit that the vast majority of wealthy people are NOT corrupt and their money is not sitting dormant. Somebody, somewhere, is using that money to live.

But getting beyond the national scope of the question (which really is above my pay-grade), I'm more concerned with my own money. Our savings. Are we "hoarding money in the last days"? Hoarding is an ugly word. What constitutes the difference between wise saving and sinful hoarding? Maybe I should think about that more, but off the top of my head, hoarding has connotations of obscene excess and selfish motive.

How much money is too much money to have? Yeesh, that's an impossible question to answer. Personally, I've always been of a mindset that you can't ever have too much money in savings because you have no idea what financial needs are in your future. (My father's twenty-one year battle with Alzheimer's solidified that conviction in my mind.) Saving money is wise. Maybe one of you would like to weigh in on that question of how much is too much, but I'm going to move on to . . . what's happening to that money while it's in savings? Is our wealth "rotting", our "gold and silver corroding"? Is it sitting, wastefully unproductive, or is it being used to manifest good?

I'll be perfectly frank -- my husband is the financial expert in our family, and he knows better than I do how our money is invested. And maybe I should pay more attention to that.

But for six or seven years, our family sponsored (in my eldest's name) a girl in Indonesia through World Vision. A couple months ago, we got notice that our sponsorship was going to be terminated; I called World Vision asking them what-the-heck. They said that the community Jelita lived in had come to the point now of being fully self-sufficient and did not need financial support any longer.

Fully self-sufficient -- the whole community! Now, THAT was satisfying! That thirty dollars a month was well-spent. Makes me want to sponsor a few more kids this time around. Makes me want to put more of my money in local efforts, where I can personally see the good coming of it. Where I have concrete evidence, in front of my own eyes, that my "wealth" is not rotting, but is being multiplied like the loaves and fishes to be a blessing.

"Now, Listen, You Rich People . . "

Now, listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded; their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Listen, the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the days of slaughter. (James 5)

May I be so bold as to ask what the voice inside your head what saying to yourself as you read that passage? Because if it was something along the lines of "Yeah! You tell those fat old rich sinners, Jimmy!", I propose that your attitude is part of the problem with our country.

I remember conversations I had with a black friend and co-worker during the O.J. Simpson trial which were a very rude awakening. I was blessed to be raised in a home where racism was unthinkable. It was a huge shock to me to find that there were black people who would look at me on the streets, without knowing me or anything about me, and immediately assume I was racist just because I was white.

Similarly, I was stunned at the "classist" comments I got from even dear friends during the health care reform debate. Apparently, there are those who would look at my home and neighborhood, without knowing me or anything about me, and immediately assume that I'm a privileged, selfish, self-indulgent brat who wants poor people to die and disappear. Maybe I shouldn't be stunned by that, but I am. I'm even more stunned -- and justifiable so, I think -- at friends who seem to think that about me.

Many of you have read already posts about my discomfort I have sometimes with my current economic status. I've been studying James a lot lately, and he has some very harsh words for "the rich", which I've been trying to come to terms with. Seeing how wealth and prosperity was something God promised to his people as rewards and blessing, I don't believe scripture could be saying that the state of being rich is sinful. So, what is the problem James has with these rich people? Well, aside from the oppression that these particular wealthy people were inflicting on believers at the time (as described in other parts of James), he seems to take issue with three things:

1) Their wealth is sitting unused and unproductive, not helping anyone. (How else would it rot and corrode?)

2) They cheated people out of rightly earned pay.

3) They used their money to fill their lives with unnecessary luxuries.

I have liberal friends who would tell me that, even if I don't commit these three crimes directly and personally, our society and government is allowing me to do it indirectly, and that that is a wrong that must be corrected.

Something I will explore in my next post . . .

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Asking the Questions

I just read an article about a couple in KC named the Pruitts who are starting new careers in the independent film-making world -- creating "movies made by Christians rather than Christian movies". That phrase banged a gong in my mind. My NJ friend Randy and I had a conversation once about not wanting to do "Christian theater", but to be a Christian in theater. Aha -- a kindred spirit, as Anne of Green Gables would say.

The article refers to a book by Paul Marshall called Heaven is Not My Home. A quick reading of a few reviews of the book gives me some concern, but Marshall's ideas that they mention in the article I like. Ideas about art (such as film and theater) and Christians. " . . Most people who watch Christian movies are, well, Christians. Those who aren't are either unaware these movies exist or hate them." True dat.

I always struggled with what to say about Fireproof and Facing the Giants. I kind of enjoyed the movies -- they had some particularly well-done and poignant scenes. But they had some other scenes that were just awful, honestly. Terrible acting -- so obviously amateurish. And the "gospel presentation" is too . . gosh, I can't quite think of the words. Simplistic. Unreal. Preachy. Preachy because it's so obvious that's the real reason the movie was made -- to "trick" someone into hearing a gospel presentation. They are "thinly veiled sermons" that "follow an evangelistic formula." So true dat.

And they do this because "we are impatient with the allusion, the gesture, the suggested, and latent. We want the straight-forward sermon, not the implied question." A-men. But as Marshall continues, a good film is "always allusive, suggestive, and alluring; it hints, it frames, and it touches. It does not come right out and state the case; it does not argue." A-MEN.

As Randy said (and I'm paraphrasing), theater is really good at asking the questions, but it really sucks at giving the answers. And many Christians are uncomfortable with that because they are afraid of leaving critical questions unanswered. We're always afraid that we will miss that one golden opportunity to lead someone to Christ.

Who was it that said, "They don't believe Jesus is the answer because they aren't asking the questions"? I believe there is tremendous value in theater (and film) that draws the viewer to the right questions, even without offering answers. Theater that walks them that one step closer to knowing God. And THAT is the kind of theater I ultimately want to be involved in creating.