Something truly subversive

Nothing substantive to write. Just wanted to say I’m reading Robin Meyer’s Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, and it’s the first truly religiously subversive text I’ve read in a long time. Most books about Christianity that I’ve read are other hard-line theologically conservative traditional or hard-line anti-Christianity. I don’t agree with some of the details, but I like his general thesis.

For more on the subject (mainly what is not really subversive), check on the subversive tag on my blog.

Christianity Music I Like

I miss Acoustic Shack

I don’t really listen to much contemporary Christian music these days. I’m still in love with some Christian bands from the 90s (Dakoda Motor Co., PFR, Caedmon’s Call). As a matter of fact, even with non-Christian stuff, I’m still in love with the mid-90s (Poe, Portishead, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Fugees).

I still remember the first time I heard Acoustic Shack. It was after some youth group meeting on a Friday night, and one of our youth group counselors was going to give me a ride home. Before we drove off from church, though, he asked me to listen to something. I liked what I’d heard, and when he told me it was a Christian band, I was like, “What?!” (At this time, Michael W. Smith, DC Talk, and Amy Grant were pretty big; and Petra and all the Christian “heavy metal” bands were just cheesy).

So I got the CD (Fret Buzz) from the nearest Christian bookstore (which was 45 minutes from my house), and I loved the whole CD. When a friend of mine lent me a tape (yeah, what we had before CDs and right after records) of Acoustic Shack’s first album (which was self-titled), I loved them even more. Yes, the drums were all pre-programmed on the first album, but I liked the guitar solos and melodies a lot better than on the second one.

For years I listened to those two albums over and over again. I wasn’t too impressed with the third album A Distant Bell, and I never got to hear the fourth album.

Recently, I got nostalgic for Acoustic Shack and tried to track down more information about them. I found out that Michael Misiuk formed some band called The Kreepdowns, and I wasn’t able to find much about it at all online, so I gave it a shot.

I found a used copy of it for sale on Amazon (clearly no one else cares about The Kreepdowns, because the CD was less than the price of shipping, and the shipping was only a couple of dollars).

Well, I finally got the CD today, and it’s okay. It’s no early Acoustic Shack. It’s actually quite a bit heavier (a lot more electric guitar and screaming). I just gave it a quick listen, and so far “Cello” (the second track) is the only one that’s half-way decent.

If, like me, you’re nolstagic for a bit of good mid-90s Christian rock, there are a couple of YouTube “videos” (watch the album cover while you listen to the music) of Acoustic Shack:

“Radio Play”
I love the little multiple-guitar dance that happens between 2:10 and 2:50.

“It’s Good to Know”
2:15 to 2:50 on this song has a nice little acoustic guitar solo.

“Torment Party”
No real guitar solo here, but the song just has a nice sound to it overall.

Too bad Lisa and Michael Misiuk aren’t making any more music. I wonder what they’re doing these days.


Our church went retro, and I’m okay with that

We go to a church that’s fairly up with the times. You may recall the Easter Mii invitation from about a half year ago. That was our church. We’ve historically met in industrial-like spaces with coffee tables and IKEA furniture lit up with candles and lamps. Recently, though, we moved into an older church building (with a Julia Morgan-style architecture), and there were some concerns among our congregation that the pews and old-style furnishings of the building might take away from the hip spirit of our church.

I have to disagree. Basically, some people thought our church was about the furniture, and a lot of us felt the church is about the people. Yes, the furniture is an expression of who we are as people. Nevertheless, we are still the same people if we worship in pews in an older building. Well, now that we’ve actually made the move, and I’ve actually experienced worship in our new (or old, depending on how you look at it) building, I have to say I like this better. We did manage to move around some pews and put some coffee tables in. We also brought in our sound system and projector. But there’s a homey quality to the old building that appeals to me, and having younger folks inhabiting the older space gives it a fresh feel that doesn’t remind me of the church I was in growing up (which was mainly populated by older folks like my parents).

I have nothing against old folks and will probably be one in a few decades. I just want to feel young while I still am, and it’s great to be in an old building with a bunch of young people. I’m digging the retro.


The lay-Christian’s guide to Biblical interpretation

If you’ve never gone to seminary or studied ancient languages, it can be difficult to know how to interpret the Bible. There are so many interpretations that many critics of Christianity claim the Bible is essentially meaningless, since people can use it to justify anything.

I’m not a theologian. I’m just a lay-Christian, as most Christians are. We read books and listen to sermons by people who have studied ancient texts. We try our best to figure out what our stances should be on various issues in modern life based on what was written in cultures removed by time and often place as well.

I don’t know that my interpretations of the Bible are always right. Some passages seem to need reconciling with other passages (an eye for an eye or not?). Some passages seem to need reconciling with the common sense of everyday life (I don’t plan on literally gouging out my eye any time soon). So the way I make sense of the Bible is to look at what priorities the Bible itself places. What is the greatest commandment? What virtue is the most important?

Here’s what Jesus has to say:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40 TNIV)

Loving the Lord your God is quite abstract, and the implementation of that principle is subject to interpretation. But loving your neighbor doesn’t seem too difficult to understand. Who’s your neighbor? Well, the person you’re supposed to hate, of course (read the parable of the good Samaritan, if you don’t believe me). You can see this shown through the stories of Jesus’ own life. Whom did he scorn and publicly humiliate? The people with theological authority who judged others as morally inferior. Whom did Jesus love and associate with? Just about everybody else—the outcasts, the “sinners,” the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lepers.

So try to think about, in today’s society, who the theological authorities are who judge others. Then think about who the outcasts and “sinners” are. Love the latter. Associate with them. Then call the former on their bullshit, just as Jesus did.

Let’s take a look at what Paul says:

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3,13 TNIV)

Yup. That’s right. All that religious stuff you do? Pretty cool stuff. All that stuff without love? Worthless. Love trumps all. If you don’t love, as far as I can tell, you’re not a Christian, just a religious legalist. So the basic guideline you should have when struggling with scripture, working out interpretations, trying to resolve apparent discrepancies, figuring out practical applications to life: love. Make sure you remind yourself that both Jesus and Paul have said the greatest thing is love. That’s the priority.

I may not have seminary training. I may occasionally get some biblical interpretation wrong, but if I love people and God, I know I’m on the right track.

Christianity Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

For the Bible Tells Me So documentary is subversive

As you may know if you’ve read my post from four years ago “Subversive” Saved!? I get annoyed when people use the word subversive inappropriately.

Well, I just saw a movie called For the Bible Tells Me So, and I have to say it’s pretty subversive. Unlike Jesus Camp and Hell House, this film doesn’t have as its primary purpose the making fun of “those crazy Christians.” In fact, rather than seeking to appease anti-Christian non-Christians, For the Bible Tells Me So seeks mainly to educate Christians about Biblical interpretation and the theological dangers of selective literalism.

And where it doesn’t get you on an intellectual level, it also presents the real humanity of the situation: even if you do want to be anti-gay as a Christian, how can your heart not cry out for people with gay children having rocks being thrown in the windows of their houses? How can you not feel compassion for gay people being beaten to death?

But, apart from one badly written and juvenile animated segment, the film really is quite educational and should be a must-see for any Christian who is anti-gay. I can’t guarantee you’ll change your theological views on sexuality after seeing this movie. You should still see it, though. It’s great exercise for the mind and the heart.

Christianity Life

Renewal – To Each Her Own

Right now, our church is doing a sermon series about creation and is also experimenting with allowing congregation members the opportunity to create during the sermon. Children are painting murals. Adults are playing with pipecleaners and making pizzas. We’re even encouraged to blog during worship (which is what I’m doing right now on my Eee PC).

Bruce started off his sermon talking about how he finally realized he needed a day of rest, and he went to a cafe and read a book. That was his way to relax and reconnect with God. Now, he’s soliciting responses from the congregation about how they feel renewed (some people go out into nature, some throw barbecues).

What I like about this line of inquiry and this whole experiment is a recognition that people have different ways to create, to connect with God, to be fed, to feel renewed. A lot of times, you go to church or to a church retreat, and you’re asked to perform a particular ritual that is intended to be the most appropriate thing for you to do in your spiritual life at the moment, but everybody is required to do it. How could we possibly all be at the same spiritual place and have the exact same activity to be appropriate for our spiritual needs?

For example, I’ve had services where someone will ask you to write down three ways you want to improve your relationship with Christ and commit to doing those three things this week. That may work for a lot of people, but that sort of thing doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to connect with God or be a good Christian. I just do things my own way, and I think it’s important for people to recognize that the old saying of “To each her own” (or, as some of you may have heard it, “To each his own”) has merit, particularly on spiritual journeys. Blogging during the sermon… interesting. Still not sure if it’s for me, but it was certainly worth exploring!

Christianity Video Games

People in Australia are blogging about us

Every year, my wife creates a little postcard to advertise our church’s Easter service. This year, with a bit of a time crunch, since we got started late, and in the interests of saving printing and postage costs, we went digital, so her “postcard” was just an image we put in our eNewsletter and on the church website.

Well, now, apparently, some gaming folks have gotten a hold of it, and someone in Australia blogged about it on Kotaku Australia (whatever that is): Church Uses Mii Christ for Easter Outreach

Well, that’s her 15 minutes of fame used up, I guess. This will probably my only blog post that falls into both the Christianity and Video Games categories.

Edit: Apparently, it’s been Dugg.

Christianity Life

Is “Merry Christmas” Offensive?

This is something I’ve never understood. Maybe Jewish people (since the few Muslim people I know are not offended by the phrase) can explain to me what’s offensive about “Merry Christmas.”

Yes, I realize Christmas is ostensibly a Christian holiday celebrating the Messiah that the Jews believe is still to come. Yes, I realize that the holiday season brings about mangers and many Christian-oriented carols.

Nevertheless, the holiday is essentially a secular one that is celebrated by many atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians. It has come to be a holiday season about shopping, gift-giving, family, well-wishing, and eating. It should be common knowledge that the meaning of words change over time and a lot of the Christ has gone out of Christmas, which is fine by me.

I’m very much against the conservative Christian crusade to “reclaim Christmas.” I’m fine with Christmas being a primarily secular holiday—all the more reason for people not to be offended by it. If you’re not Christian, buy gifts, put up a Christmas tree and decorate it, have a festive meal with your loved ones, sing non-religiously themed Christmas carols. If you are a Christian, sing the Christian-themed carols and put up your little manger scenes, but don’t force those things on other people.

Frankly, as a Christian, I don’t see the birth of Christ as being relatively theologically significant. If you are a Christian, Good Friday should be far more important to you, with Easter coming a close second. Of course, this problem of oversignifying the birth of Jesus is just one instance of the general phenomenon of people making too big a deal of birthdays in general. Wouldn’t the day Malcolm X first encountered Allah in prison be more important in his life than the day his mother happened to give birth to him? Wouldn’t the day Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will be more important in her life than the day her mother happened to give birth to her?

If Jesus is important in your life, why alienate your Jewish friends? You can celebrate Good Friday—the day Jesus died for your sins; not the day Jesus was all dirty and smelly and crying in a manger (never mind the fact that he wasn’t actually born on December 25). Let’s not reclaim Christmas for Christians. Let Christmas be a secular holiday of good cheer for everyone. Merry Christmas, everybody. Yes, I mean “Merry Christmas, everybody.”

Christianity Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Why the hate?

Today was the AIDS Walk for San Francisco, and at the very beginning of the walk, there were conservative Christians on the sidelines with big signs and big megaphones proclaiming that homosexuals were like thieves, liars, and fornicators, and that they deserved to get AIDS because of their sin.

There was no Jesus love there. I was angry (righteous anger, I assure you) that these people called themselves Christians.

Most walkers chose to ignore them. Some yelled back “Shut up!” As far as I can tell, nobody converted to Christianity or was tempted to do so. No one fell on their knees screaming, “You’re right! I am a sinner. AIDS is God’s punishment for gay people.”

I just don’t get where this is coming from, Biblically speaking. Did Jesus go around with a megaphone condemning prostitutes? Did he tell lepers they must have sinned really badly in order to be afflicted with leprosy? I seem to vaguely remember him loving prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors… and condemning the self-righteous pharisees. Maybe my version of the Bible is different from the megaphone- and sign-touting Christians’ Bibles.

Christianity Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Re-thinking Christianity and “Homosexuality”

Several years ago, I wrote an essay called A Christian Perspective on “Homosexuality,” in which I tried to put forth what I viewed as a balanced view of Biblical truth and sociological realism and compassionate understanding.

I think about 90% of me still believes in that essay’s ideas.

There is that 10% that isn’t too sure, though. Maybe I’ve lived in San Francisco too long or heard too many of my pastor’s sermons (he and I disagree theologically on the topic of sexuality). I will say that one of the major reasons I’m questioning my earlier position is the reading of The Good Book by Peter Gomes. It had some interesting questions about how we read and interpret the Bible—as believers, as scholars, as literature readers.

While I had (for other topics) heard, read, and even made arguments in favor of reading the Bible with historical context and inaccurate or misleading translations in mind, I had always taken for granted the traditional interpretation of gay behavior as sin and hadn’t really explored opposing Christian interpretations (anti-Christian interpretations, of course, don’t believe the Bible to be true to begin with, so they’re irrelevant to this discussion). Gomes’ book, however, made me see sexuality as potentially just one of many misinterpreted issues when it comes to theology. And his argument style seems sound (not a desperate attempt to justify what he knows is wrong).

I’m in a very Malcolm X place right now—in the middle of questioning—not quite sure yet where exactly I stand… but still outspoken about the topics I am sure of.