Thursday, June 26, 2003

Jesus is the Answer?
(but who's asking)

I was talking today with a co-worker, and we somehow got onto the idea of how many people walk around having all the answers. Well, it got me to thinking... which got me to journaling...

(You knew that was coming, right?)


Bear with me just a moment as I play both Devil's Advocate and Devil's District Attorney (or would that be Devil's Defense Attorney?).

Devil's Advocate side: You people need to realize that religion is a private matter, and you need to stay out of my private religious and moral choices. Whether or not I have faith of any kind, or sleep with nobody or anybody I choose is none of your business. Sure, you can talk a good talk about loving the "sinner" but hating the "sin," but we all know it's just rhetoric designed to help you pass laws that practically make this country more Judeo-Christian in spite of the changing religious face of the country.

Devil's District Attorney: Well, if you only understood the problem and the spiritual danger that you're in, then you'd be just as zealous as we are. It's like this, if we're right then, the whole world's racing at breakneck speed toward a destroyed bridge that's no longer there, and if we don't stop you and tell you that the bridge is out, we're just letting you race to your deaths. So, if you look at it from our perspective, it's only love that's motivating us to try to help you from a danger you don't realize you're in.

It's been said that the ability to put yourself in the shoes of an enemy is one of the first steps toward peace. (Because I just said it. So there.) And while different religious views may not constitute people as enemies, it can often play out that way in practice.


I once read an essay in which the writer talked about the song "Jesus is the Answer" as the perfect apologetic for its time. Then he mourned in ink that the trouble today is that contemporary Christians grew up in a world in which they were told "Jesus is the Answer" so much that they forgot how to ask questions -- or more important, to take the time to learn what the questions are.

Instead, they became a generation of religious zealots running around with "the answer" to questions no one was asking, ticking people off willy-nilly with their insistence and poor people skills.

I still believe that's true.

Hence the problems in our zeal to determine anything that might have some sort of proselytizing use as being a "tool" (i.e., music, art, plumbing, relationships) and nothing more. And the problems in our inability to interact in any real, two-way dimension with people who believe differently than we. Because if we have "the answer," what do we care about what you think?

And that's sad.

I still remember one of the conversations with a person I'm honored to call a friend. Having working in a building that equates Wicca with all sorts of things from "Satan Worship" to "witchcraft" to "nature worship" and genuine curious to know what adherents or even former adherents considered Wicca to be, I simply asked.

Not to try to argue or look for "wrong" things to give me an opening to "share my faith" or convert anybody. But simply to ask a question I knew I didn't already have the answer to.

And maybe that's the starting point for those of us in this part of the faith camp. Even if we feel we have THE ultimate answer (42, right?), we need to learn that we don't have ALL the answers. And that we can learn a lot of answers still from other people who may believe different ultimate answers than we do.

Personally, I don't talk about my faith to others in conversation unless they're comfortable with it or ask me. And I can't stand those sort of "bait and switch" tactics people are taught to "begin spiritual conversations" just for the purpose of making their pitch. To me, it's just a courtesy I'd hope people would extend to me (do unto others, and all that...).

But I've found that people are open to talking about spirituality and faith if they feel like both sides have something interesting to say are aren't just lying in wait to bombard them with "the answer" as soon as it's their "turn" to speak (which comes off more like a polite debate than a genuine conversation).

So what's the point of all this? I don't know. Not entirely. Because I know I don't have all the answers.

I guess it's simply this. Try on the other person's shoes before we throw our feelings around. Sometimes conversionistic zeal really does come from a heart of genuine love and a desire to help, and even if you don't welcome the help, don't run off the helper. Maybe you can help them understand how they're perceived and how it's not helping them help anyone. And for those of us who believe we have "the answer," perhaps for us, we need the bigger lesson -- shut up for once, make some new friends, and let nature take it's course.
Suburban Life?

The pop artist Jewel, a young woman in her middle 20s whose albums have sold millions, talked several years ago with Rolling Stone magazine about her motivations. She said, "I'm just a person who is honestly trying to live my life and asking, 'How do you be spiritual and live in the world without going to a monastery?'"

Her question rattled around in my brain, for neither can I move to a monastery. I'm stuck in the 'burbs; I don't have easy access to nature (that is, enough cash flow to afford a second house in some rural area), to quiet, to a more contemplative life. Something deep within me yearns for a more spacious spiritual consciousness, a more direct connection to the God of the galaxies. How can I draw close to my Creator in a world of endless strip malls, cookie-cutter houses, ubiquitous vans and sport-utility vehicles, and no space for solitude? A colleague calls the Chicago suburbs "the land of no horizons." Power lines, the dormers on a neighbor's Cape Cod, and mature hardwoods obstruct the full evening's redness in the west. The day's final beauty is always about an hour away. I commute to the country to see the stars.

Some days I fantasize about moving my family from our western Chicago suburb to a small town in the western United States, edged by a rambling stream and cradled in the foothills of a mountain range with a romantic name like the Spanish Peaks. There we'd live out our days in simplicity and in natural beauty and with few financial anxieties. Life would be fully aligned. Our frenetic life would slow to a manageable pace, and God would be easier to access.

NOTE: Click here for the rest of this article by David Goetz.

I've wondered about this myself. Sometimes I feel like suburban life is so stifling, but I don't want to raise kids downtown in the city proper where the cost of living is even more expensive. Nor do I want to find the slowed-down life I'd love in east-bumble-nowhere at the risk of my kids not being able to have a good school system and opportunities I never had.

So I waffle.

Part of me longs to get back to a quiet place like I grew up. A place where you didn't have to lock the doors, or even close them except for the gnats. A place where 7-year-old kids could walk up the street to the park by themselves and you didn't have to worry about them being run over or abducted.

But the other part of me doesn't won't to leave all the stuff behind that only the city can provide -- plays, a symphony, museums, bookstores that actually have out of print books and first editions, music stores that sell more than just Top 40.

So, here am I, stuck in suburbia.

Spiritual suburbia has set in too, though, and in spite of my posts here, I do find myself longing for the Mother Teresa experience of being able to completely empty myself out into the lives of others. Either that or throw myself headlong into so-called hedonism and live out my every selfish fantasy.

But no, I have tempered the selflessness and selfishness, becoming the kind of Revelation spew mentioned in the following verse:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-- neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16, NIV)

That's me. Biblical puke material.

Too wrapped up in the Joneses and my new gadgets and the ones I still want (plasma TV, anyone?) to be any kind of Mother Teresa.

And too wrapped up in being "presentable to the neighbors" to let my hedonistic side out beyond losing my temper or experiencing it vicariously through friends.

Sad, ain't it.

Spiritual Suburbia. Population Sean.


Friday, June 20, 2003

Articles I found in my inbox today I enjoyed...

Life is a series of spiritual battles, says author John Eldredge, but "too many Christians have approached their lives as though they were stepping onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day with a lawn chair and a book to read. God did not redeem us so that we could spend our lives being punctual and well-behaved people. He called us to an abundant life that is fueled by the desires he has written on our hearts."

"The church tends to send the wrong signal about what the gospel is all about," he sighs. "It's not primarily about sin management or being able to regurgitate right doctrine. It's about a relationship with a romancing God who has done everything in his power to win our hearts and then set those hearts free to live life to the full."

From "The Gospel According to John (Eldredge)"

From a religious perspective, maybe these five collections merely underscore that you cannot always judge a poetry book by its title. And it is perhaps not surprising that, even in religious dress, contemporary poetry tilts, or most often bows down, to the delights of a well-wrought image. As a genre, poetry seems better equipped to raise a question as vividly as possible than to reply with a solid and set, catachetical answer.

From "Faith in Poetry"

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Web Evangelism Soapbox

This wonderful tidbit appeared in an email from an online outreach newsgroup I'm in:

But again, as I tell my speech students "You preach to the converted, but reason with the heathen." Nevertheless, too many of our "evangelistic" sites are mostly in the "preaching to the choir" category.

As is most of our "Christian" anything these days, I'd add.

I have long held that we need to abolish the use of the "Christian" as an adjective and just stick with being Christians (noun) who are engaged in transforming the culture by interacting with by being salt and light, whether artists or web designers or plumbers or musicians.

Instead of creating Christian subgenres of everything that has been successful in the world.

Would this mean fewer "Christian" websites and more websites maintained by Christians who can interact with those in the world who need that salt and light? Probably so, but I admit I'm still the chiefest of sinners in this respect.

I've found that my best online outreach comes from going to where other people are rather than trying to get them to come to a site where I am. It's a lesson we can learn from what's happened to our churches lately, I'm convinced. I get much better "play" (if you will -- or interaction to use a more conversative word) by engaging non-Christians in their world -- on message boards, via Live Journal, etc. -- than I do in getting them to come to my Form & Matter site.

Regarding the F&M site, it has never been my intention to make it a lighthouse that sits on the web and says, "Come on, I'm here!" as it has been to give myself and other Christians an outlet to say, "Hey, here's a cool site where you can get more information about what we've been talking about. It might answer some of your questions."

As such, I've offered free business cards to anyone who wanted to have a supply on hand to hand out to people they actually speak with in person. It's more a partnership clearinghouse for second- and third-touch (and so on) than a first-touch website.

I don't expect to have people break down the doors to "seek" the life of faith (and by extension, visit the site), but I do think it's important to have a non-theological-sounding place that speaks the right language (ie, not church-talk) when our interaction with them reaches the level that they are asking questions.

And I think that's another important point to be made for today's seekers or pre-seekers -- you can't go further than you're asked. It's something we need to keep in mind when interacting with people. It's one thing to wax spiritually convicting or convincing (*grins*) with people who hit an evangelistic page and ask for more info, but not with people who have no interest in such waxings.

I think that when we see a website as a "first touch" place for evangelism, perhaps we are overestimating the usefulness of the web.

I agree that too many of our sites jump too high on the Gray Index, but I also think that we can't think a website is the most effective tool for that particular part of a person's journey up (or down) the Gray Index. I still contend that that's the importance of varied degrees of relationships with non-Christians.

Ironically, a few years ago I noticed that most of my circle of friends were all people from my church. So I prayed that God would lead me to a new group of friends (in addition to the others not in place of) who needed to hear about Him and perhaps hadn't yet, people who didn't typically hang out with Christians or even find them to be likeable people. But not to see them as merely some sort of "outreach project" but as real friends for whom I'd lay down my life if need be.

I'm happy to say that my current circle of friends (online and in person) includes mostly non-Christians, most of whom have never had a significant relationship with a Christian before -- fetish models, tarot card designers, rpg geeks, sci-fi convention nerds, a member of the porn industry, yoga teachers, and more agnostics and atheists than you could shake a stick at (why'd you want to shake a stick at them I'm not sure). And they feel comfortable enough around me to call me a real friend, knowing that we disagree about many of the key things in life. And they regularly listen to me rant from my soapbox of faith about the ins and out of this life of faith I've chosen.

Okay, I'm rambling now, so I'll stop.
Tom Petty’s Theological Extravaganza

So I was listening to Tom Petty yesterday, and it got me thinking about church.

Yeah, I know church isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when I listen to Tom Petty (actually it’s usually that image from the “Don’t Come Around Here No More video in which Alice has been turned into a cake and is being eaten by the partygoers at the Mad Hatter’s un-birthday gala), but somehow the song “Listen to Her Heart” really struck me yesterday as a perfect picture of how the story is presented in the Bible.

No, really. I mean it.

It was the chorus in particular:

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

Even with all the rules and regulations and religiosity we Christians have built up around and through and within the common canon of writing typically referred to as the Holy Bible, those writings taken in total are simply one of the coolest love stories ever told. Ultimately it boils down to this simple plot.

(Disclaimer: This story could just as easily be told from the perspective of a female creator who created a groom, but I’m too lazy to type it twice. I wasn’t trying to maintain any stereotypes of the “woman ultimately as whore” that, believe it or not, some people actually try to use the Bible to support. But not me. Phew.)

A lonely creator decides to create himself a bride. That bride falls head over heels in love with him for a while, but eventually gets the urge to try other men.

But each time, after sharing the beds of others, she comes back home, and he takes her in again and lavishes his love on her. Because he knows something she doesn’t – he knows how the story ends, with her at his side, finally realizing she is his and he is hers (fated, one might say).

Still, she can’t resist the urge to stray each time some hunk of a boy-toy turns her head, and sure enough, she often ends up back in bed with another man, and eventually gets herself so deeply that she is taken as a whore and is sold into slavery.

So this lonely creator who wants nothing more than for her to love him back the way he loves her decides that the only way to prove it is to show her, and he offers not his money to buy her out of slavery, but his life, because he knows her price is far above any sum of cash. Only his love for her is too much to let him remain dead, and he comes back to let her know that never again will she have to be a slave. They can be together forever, and for a time she returns home.

Only, although her head is still easily turned, he told the truth – no matter what she does or who she sleeps with, she is safe from the slavers because her slave contract has been paid and destroyed forever and for good.

But here’s the kicker, even though it breaks his heart to know the she still wants to “see other people” from time to time, he knows that ultimately they’ll be together, just the two of them. Because he can see the future. (Some might even say he planned it in advance.) and he loves her enough to wait and let his heart get trampled on in the process.

So he waits -- and smiles inwardly despite his outward tears.

Now, with that story in mind, here are the rest of the lyrics (with hopes that I don’t get sued by Tom Petty for reprinting them here):

"Listen to Her Heart"
By Tom Petty
Copyright © 1977 Skyhill Pub. Co., Inc.
All rights reserved.

You think you're gonna take her away
With your money and your cocaine
Keep thinkin' that her mind is gonna change
But I know everything is okay

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

You want me to think that I'm being used
You want her to think it's over
Can't you see it don't matter what you do
Buddy you don't even know her

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

And you just can't creep up behind her
And you can't understand that she's my girl
She's my girl

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

Petty has perfectly summed up my thoughts on the church at this point as the “bride of Christ.” She’s just a lover who can’t settle down… yet. But she’s like the proverbial diamond in the rough,” just waiting (without knowing it, often) to be polished to the jewel that she is inside.

Or to quote Petty:

You want me to think that I'm being used
You want her to think it's over
Can't you see it don't matter what you do
Buddy you don't even know her

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Buffy and Christ?

Buffy: Theologian of the Year


A Look at the Layers of Meaning and Symbolism in the 100th episode of Buffy

I found these very interesting, especially in light of the panning Buffy often receives from Fundamentalists (of which I'm a member) and other Christian groups. I particularly love the idea of Buffy as a modern mythology in the wake of current postmodern hopelessness.
Inspiration from the Bulletin Board

I keep a quote I clipped from a magazine (along with its illustration of a man holding a guitar and staring at the earth from a point far removed from it) pinned to the bulletin board above my desk. I've had it there for years, and even when I do a periodic cleaning of the clutter, this clipping stays put.

It simply reads:

"Is there anyone out there fool enough to think they can still change the world with their guitar? I don't think anything's going to happen until there is."

That quote almost haunts me as I go through life. Can my pen or my word processor or my guitar or my bass or my looping program change the world?

I hope so.

That's the goal anyway.

If I fail, so what? I tried. And if nothing else happens, the effort at least changes me for the better.

From a new book I'm reading...

"The language of the arts, it can be argued, is a language born of faith. In other words, all art forms attempt to translate what is unseen into what is seen. Painter Joel Sheesley states, 'I... suggest that the definition of content in art is very much like that New Testament definition of faith that calls faith the substance of things hoped for.' Art... becomes an activity of faith, translating the 'substance of things hoped for' with words, paint and other materials into the content and form of art."

-- Makoto Fukimura, from the foreword to Scribbling in the Sand by Michael Card

What a beautiful definition, I think, and one that, for me, integrates art into the very fabric of a worldview, not just a mere addition to life, but an integral part of it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Two spectrums of writers
(My latest soapbox)

I was thinking this morning about the different types of writers and how they tend to fall into one camp or the other (though on varying locations on the spectrum, of course). One of the things that got me thinking about it was simply remembering some of the conversations about writing I’ve had with my friend Frank.

As I see it, there are primarily two perspectives on writing – the practical perspective and the spiritual perspective. Sure, as I mentioned above, most of us fall somewhere on the number line between them, but we tend to favor one over the other.

The practical perspective tends to see writing as an exercise of the mind, learning rules and standards and discovering the mechanics or grammar, plotting, dialogue, form, etc, and they often edit themselves to death (as the saying goes) in order to improve their words. These poor writers are the ones who scour over their manuscripts, changing weak verbs to strong, red-inking superfluous adverbs and adjectives, and constantly “killing their darlings.” (If you get the reference, you’re likely this type.) If anything, they can miss the proverbial forest for its trees when it comes to communicating in a written form.

Writers in this camp are the ones who more often buy, read, and recommend books on writing to help others. They also tend to believe that anyone can learn to write just as anyone can learn to put together a barn if taught the basics of how to do it.

To them writing isn’t so much an art form as it is a skill that can be learned.

On the other hand, the spiritual perspective tends to see writing as an exercise of the soul, with a selected group of masters born with a predisposition to see the world through a “writer’s eye” able to pour forth the mutterings of their souls into word processors and onto paper or into song.

Writers in this camp don’t usually buy books on the mechanics of writing, and they also tend to not go through as many edits other than perhaps a few spell checks, as their words have come from their inner self and to “study” them in a thorough edit would be to taint them. Their copy can often be found disobeying the “rules” -- preferring instead to create their own rules and listen to the voice inside that exists outside of any imposed restrictions. Writing is writing, they reason, not learning about writing, and learning about writing only gets in the way of the actual writing itself.

To them writing isn’t a skill to be learned, but an art form that comes naturally to those who get it. They tend also to believe that, sure, anyone can learn the basics of putting sentences or words together, but not anyone could actually be a writer. A mere writer, they reason, is a far different noun than a real writer.

I’ve known writers from both camps, and I’ve enjoyed their works equally. I have friends from both camps, and I love to get them together to argue with each other about writing. (It’s a great way to learn how to snort coffee, I can tell you that much.)

Myself, I tend to fall just to the side of writing as a skill. I believe that most anyone can learn to write -- and write well -- but that there are a select few with a born “gift” for telling stories or communicating in a written form. For every Ed McBain, there are plenty of John Grishams, just as entertaining and well-crafted in their chosen field, but not as artistic.

But for me, that doesn’t have to detract from the ability of the Grishams. It only means that while some buildings are tall, others can be taller, and still others even taller. But that doesn’t make the tall building merely tall (or even small, since smaller can also be tall at the same time).

But me, I’m not going to be satisfied with being good. I want my writing to come from both my spirit and my intellect, my soul and my mind, my natural knack and my learned skill. I’ll do whatever it takes to hit great, starting with natural talent (or self-delusion anyway) and adding skill upon skill to that, never satisfied that I’ve hit “tallest” yet.

The measurement? If my fiction is studied in classes 100 years from now by people who have no idea what I was like, except what they can interpret -- for good or ill -- through the words I have left behind.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

"Get it?" Or not?

CT senior writer Wendy Murray Zoba and journalist Dave Cullen were both covering the Columbine story when they went head to head over Cassie Bernall. Cullen broke the story that introduced doubt about whether Cassie's killer asked her if she believed in God ("Behind the Littleton Investigation,", Sept 23, 1999). Zoba challenged Cullen's reporting, citing multiple witnesses who heard the exchange and stood behind their account ("Cassie Said Yes, They Say No," CT, Dec. 6, 1999). In the story's aftermath, they began a dialogue that has resulted in camaraderie united by the intensity and complexity of covering Columbine.

Where Zoba and Cullen intersected over Cassie Bernall, Cullen and pastor Bill Oudemolen of Foothills Bible Church outside Littleton intersected over the role of the Devil. In another article, "I Smell the Presence of Satan" (May 15, 1999), Cullen expressed his surprise at the emphasis evangelicals placed on the role of Satan in the Columbine shootings (the article's title came from one of Oudemolen's sermons).

Cullen, who is gay and a former Catholic, segued into the world of evangelicals with reticence. He was prepared to despise them. He was surprised: he liked them, and they liked him.

Cullen, Oudemolen, and Zoba have all been challenged by what they discovered about each other and their differing worlds. The three met in Littleton in April and talked about how evangelicals and gays perceive one another--and how they can move toward greater understanding.

Click here for the rest of the article I'm referencing.

Can two people disagree strongly about the rightness or wrongness of anything -- even homosexuality -- and still respect each other as human beings, without one side resorting to hate rhetoric (at worst) or confusing rhetoric that often sounds like it (at best) or the other side resorting to convenient labels to dismiss their "opponents"?

Or let me put it this way: Is it possible to disagree over an idea or concept without that disagreement becoming a wedge between the people who hold dissenting views, even if the idea is one that strikes at the very heart of either or both sides, even to determine the nature and direction of their lives?

I think so. I hope so. Because it's in the dialogue that relationships happen. Because if I can't disagree strongly with my friends and continue to nurture relationships with people who disagree with me, I've lost any use I might have had for existing in a world as rich and diverse as the one I'm in. And so have those who can't say the same from the opposite side of where I'm standing (so to speak.)

I'm just thrilled to see a few more people from both sides of this crucial topic understanding that point.

Cullen: A lot of me wishes we had more open discussion about theological issues in this culture. But the public isn't doing that because it's afraid of the theological community.

I'm not sure I buy this comment, though. I don't think it's fear of the theological community. I think it's more lack or interest or the fact that the theological community isn't even on most people's "radar screen" -- because we in that community have removed theological ponderings to the world of academia instead of keeping it out where most people are, wondering about things like purpose in life, what can I believe in, who can I trust, is there life after death, how do I be a good parent, or why does my life seem pointless...

On the one hand, we've softened the concept to something "safer" and less academic called "spirituality," but ironically, that word tends to put off the Christian community because it opens theology up to any worldview to ponder -- as though we somehow had the exclusive right to ponder anyway, go fig -- in the same way the word "theology" puts off non-academics.

On the other hand, if there is "fear" of the theological community, I don't think it's as much fear as it is disgust or disrespect because theological folks (particularly of my brand of theology) have more recently been known more by what they stand against rather than stand for.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Not a rant -- More like an ad, or maybe just begging

Hip, hip, hooray! My CD, Pop Nightmare, is finally ready!

I received my copies this morning, and they look and sound great (okay, I'm biased, but hey, it does).

Here's a shot of the cover.

The tracks on it include:

1. Pop Nightmare
2. Tarry One Hour
3. Latido Fuerte
4. Wunderland
5. Party at the End of It All
6. Bring it On
7. Interlude
8. Ride
9. Drop
10. Nothing New
11. The Face of the Deep
12. Postlude

This is the year of the Sean, as far as I'm concerned. Two comic books. A new story in a comic anthology. A CD. And a short story collection. No wonder all my free time has disappeared lately.

So, scoot your comfy sides over to my mp3 site and order your very own copy if you want it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

A new rant
(ie, "Sean gets set off on his soapbox by a news article in the religious press")

Had a news article waiting for me this morning in my inbox at work that only reaffirms to me my previous post about how out of touch people in my chosen faith are with the world at large.

Here are two quotes that I thought were really interesting.

"The fact that something like 100 million Americans claim to be evangelicals is almost unbelievable to journalists."

This doesn't really surprise me. I find that most people I know tend to think that the world is mostly like they are. If you asked most people in evangelical churches a similar type of question (the one that would had preceded such a statement, that is), I'm sure they'd be equally surprised to find that more people than they would think aren't as religious as they are, at least not in the way they might consider genuinely religious. Sure, they might know the polls and stats from various pollsters, but I don't they really know many people outside their own church friends.

"Kristof wrote, "I cannot think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization."

Of course he can't. Two reasons.

1. It would never occur to him to ask. Nor should it.

2. Because by and large they aren't there.

Most Christians I know consider working in media or arts to be roughly the same as becoming some type of (at worst) weirdo or (at best) naive or irresponsible (after all, they should be working at a "real" job, like plumbing or office managing, right?). Not when they should have some sort of Mecca-like fixation with working in the "ministry" -- professionally, of course.

Personally, I think that's one of the main reasons that the first quote is so true -- because so few people in my faith care anything about taking part in the culture that makes up our world. Of course, they use the much-abused passage in which Jesus says to be "in the world and not of it," but sadly, I think they tend to gloss over the part about actually having to be "in" the world in their haste not be "of" it. To me, that means we have to be active participants in the world. We don't have to cease believing what we believe to do that. And we don't have to create a "Christian subculture" with our sub par, "safe and sanitized" copies of everything the world offers, from music to paintings to politics.

Myself, I want to be part of what the article calls the "media elite." I want to be one of the people writing screenplays and novels and music and entertaining people of all faiths and all by being real and authentic to and about who I am.

I just wish there were more of us.

NOTE: Not "more of us" as in some kind of evangelical media takeover attempt to get "clean" -- whatever that means -- media to replace all the "liberal" media. I have to specify that because there are those who do espouse such an approach. I, however, simply mean I'd like to see more people of my faith actually engaging the culture rather than hiding from it.

Okay, rant over.

Monday, March 31, 2003

A personal rant

This part is from one of my fave writers:

Those Who Would Be Christians
© by John Fischer for CCM Magazine, June, 2001 issue.

Do you ever wish we had a new word for "Christian?"

I bet there are a lot of people out there who would be Christians if they didn’t have to become a "Christian" to be one.

The rest is just a click away.

To me, John Fischer is a guy who "gets it." A man of faith whose faith deals with the real stuff of life, not the stuff of political activists or irrelevent evangelists or poor communicators with big plans and no skills at getting them across. He's a guy who is able to say the important things about why people dislike so much people who believe what I believe. And he's right most every time, I've come to believe.

People don't like us because by and large...

We're fake.
We're hypocritical.
We're judgmental.
We're known more by what we stand against than what we stand for.
We're loud and opinionated.
We dress funny. (Well, at least on those horrible TV networks.)
We fit in the real world like a black and white TV with rabbit ears fits with a new Game Cube.
We throw around language that doesn't mean anything to people.
We think we're better than others.
We think we're right. All the time.
We're unfriendly.
We're a clique.
We play at being pious.
We don't feel comfortable associating with non-religous people.
We ask people to change who they are before we'll accept them.
We want converts, not friends.
We are terribly condescending.
We like ideals better than people.
We focus on rules more than living.
We can't even get along among ourselves.
And most of the time we end up disproving what we say we believe more than proving it.

It's a painful list to make. And I could go on.

But like John says in his article, I've seen the soft underbelly of my faith that doesn't get shown on the news. I've seen the man with AIDS who shook my hand and hugged me and said thank you. And I asked him, "For what?" because it didn't seem right for a man to have to thank me for being human to him. I've seen more "Mother Teresa's" at work in storefront centers, helping kids graduate high school and helping people learn job skills to get a better job than fast food. I've seen people I know give their last few dollars of their montly budget just because someone had a need.

A Christian I know once asked me if I joined an online journaling community so I could "share my faith" with people. That's a tough question to answer for me.

First, because I can't get away from "sharing my faith" with anyone I know. My faith is part of what makes me, well, me. It comes with the package, so to speak, and I'm not going to apologize for it being there. So, I guess, simply by the nature of "being" I'm "sharing my faith" -- at least in one sense.

Second, it really gets down to what people mean when they say, "sharing my faith." If by it they mean, did I join to make a bunch of converts to my way of thinking, then the answer is no. Plain and simple.

I joined LJ because I like getting to know people. All people. Particularly people who don't believe the same as me. My life would be really boring with just me-clones around. And to be honest, I don't like most Christians I know either. For all the same reasons many other people don't.

Would I like for my friends to believe what I do? Sure. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't. Is any friendship contingent on it? Of course not. Never will be. I consider it an honor that many of the people I've met in LJ continue to give me the time of day once they learn that I'm "one of those religious types" -- albeit a far cuter and less stereotypical one, I hope. I'm fortunate to be given the opportunity to be a friend in spite of the baggage my world view brings with it.

In fact, I received today what I consider one of the highest compliments I've ever received, bar none. An LJ and RL (real life) friend said I was the "nicest Christian I know." (Okay, she added some other stuff about my fascination with fishnets, but that's for the another essay.)

And the worst part...

I start to get pretty proud of myself when I mention things like that.

Which just goes to show how much I still don't get it myself, after all.
A word from God? Or just a dufus messenger?

(I posted this in response to something in a friend's online journal today, and thought I'd repost it here. This is actually fairly close to the truth to some of my run-ins early on copyediting for denominational workers -- well, except for the running away part. We had a pretty good working relationship, and I was lucky enough to be able to get away with stuff like this.)

My first editing job was in copyediting, and for people who could care less that they were wrong. (If you think copy editing is no-fun enough, try copyediting for former preachers who are convinced that they've heard every word they've written directly from God!)

Me: But you see, this isn't a dependent clause, so you have to set it off with a comma. And you should use "which," not "that."

Preacher: No, God has given me this mehsahj.

Me: Well, God he need to retake English 099.

Preacher: Vile, copyediting heathen. Grammar is a tool of the devil to keep us spiritual folks from getting our message across.

Me: Or perhaps it's God's way of weeding out idiots who slept through high school grammar.

*Sound of me running from the wrath of "God."*

Preacher: When I catch you...

Me: *calling from down the hallway* Hey, does God really spell "recieve" like that? [mispelling intentional on my part here]

Hehe. Big fun, I tell you. It's a wonder I was able to keep my job.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

I Yam What I Yam

I'm a product of the American postmodern culture. Not just plain ol' anybody's postmodernism, mind you, but the specialized blend of red, white, and blue postmodernism.

I'm not ashamed of it, mind you.

I take liberally from all eras to define myself. A fan of classic films. A devoted Capra nut who realizes that Capra's heroes are now cornball and outdated. I value flappers and gogo dancers equally. I find something attractive in most women I meet. I can't help it.

I love that little spot of female skin between the bottom of a knee-length skirt and the top of a tall, zippered boot. To be honest, I think about sex more than I think about religion.

I've only owned a DVD player for almost two years, but my DVD collection already has outgrown my storage unit (and we're talking a larger than average storage unit). I have more CDs than I'll every be able to listen to and enjoy (and I still buy more). I have more books than I have space in my house to put them, and have seven boxes stored in a metal shed in my back yard above and beyond those I've already donated away.

I crave honesty, even when it's not easy. I enjoy the fact that my wife can admit she's attracted to other people just as I find myself attracted to other people. I sometime use "foul language" in my prayers, but I think God's big enough to handle my true feelings.

I have more relationships with people far away from me that I may never see than I do with people in my own neighborhood. I want a future, but not at the expense of realling enjoying life today also. I love being infatuated with new gadgets.

I crave entertainment more than security or safety. For me, a life without something to keep me occupied and having a good time just sucks the life of living. It's a sort of "live for the moment, carpe diem mindset that seems to be at odds with my chosen faith (that tends to put all the focus on the hereafter instead of the here and now). Don't ask me to rationalize. I'm not sure I can. (Although, the guy who started my faith did say something about life more abundant, and that has to mean more than just waiting for the big party later. It hasto.)

I've somehow become a living contradiction.

A postmodern believer in an absolute truth.
A community-focused individual who won't let go of his individuality.
A socially liberal political conservative.
A Protestant who is more comfortable around non-religious people or people of other faiths than with members of my own.
A person who longs to be remembered in history books but strives to serve others and see them as better than myself.
A person happy with who I am, but hopes his children will be better than me.
A person who believes in black and whites, but lives in a shade of grays, and doesn't seem to mind it.
An American dreamer who doesn't feel the patriotic twinge of Americentism.

Ironically, it's that same American blend of postmoderism that keeps me from being the poster boy for American patriotism. One of my favorite lines from a song is from Bob Dylan's "Sweetheart Like You," in which he sings: "Patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings."

A few years ago, I did a poem called "Memorial Day "that summed up my feelings about patriotism:

Memorial Day
by Sean Taylor

The annual parade waddled through the streets of town today,
And as the flag, held high by the withering hands of local veterans,
Passed by me, I did not lower my head,
Or remove my cap,
Or fight back the annual tears,
Like the old men crowded around me.

I've seen the way my uncles puffed with pride
At the slightest remembrance of fallen comrades --
Nameless soldiers who served thousands of miles from them --
Watched as their eyes moistened,
Listened as their voices quavered,
Then gave out completely, in honor of someone they never knew.

But they did know, in the way that all old soldiers recognize each other,
Passing in a busy shopping mall,
Sharing a bench while grandchildren spin on the park merry-go-round;
There is a bond, they say, the bond of war,
That makes strangers friends, that makes soldiers brothers,
That makes nameless men heroes.

But what of the ones who grew up without the benefit of war,
In the terrible grip of peace,
Those who never had to kill to defend God and country,
Never grew to serve the colors of fireworks:
Red, white, blue, bursting in the sky each year,
A recurring reminder of their inaction?

Can the flag be more to them than an empty symbol?
A dyed rag we wave to begin a baseball game,
A song we sing a few times each year,
A sermon thundered from the city hall pulpit.
It has never cost them anything worth losing;
It has no glory in their memories.

No. I did not cry, or bow, or clutch my hat
In the wake as the flag passed.
Perhaps I should have pretended, let the old soldiers believe
That their world would continue, that their children understood.
But if they taught me anything, it is this:
You do not lie about the important things.

©1997 Sean Taylor

I don't knock patriots, mind you. In fact, I really wish I could be one. But I've tried. I just don't get excited by the flag. It's a symbol. Symbols don't stir me. People do. Flesh and blood people. Not ideas or ideals. People I can see and touch. I'll go out of my way to help a person in need or support a person I believe in, but dont' ask me to make your cause my end all and be all.

The thing is, I know all of this. And maybe I should be, but I'm not ashamed of it. I'm okay with it even.

In fact, I kind of like being a living contradition.

I think it helps keep me genuine and alive.

Life Stinks! So What?

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again.
Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.
All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.
All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages which were before us.
There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.
I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.
I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, "Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge."
And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind.
Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
(Ecclesiastes 1:1-18, NASB)

I began reading Ecclesiastes again this morning. When I can't think of somewhere in the Bible to read, I have a tendency to turn to either Hosea (I love the idea of God commanding one of his prophets to marry a hooker as a living object lesson, and teaching the prophet a little bit about how to really love someone - even when that someone doesn't remain faithful - with a love that loves period.) or Paul's letter to the Romans (It must be the theological side of me, 'cuz that's one heavy book of systematic theology.) or the book I'm settling into again… Ecclesiastes.

I'm going record my thoughts here as I read. Well, I'll probably read more than one chapter each day, since I find myself engrossed in "The Preacher's" Gen-X-style, all-is-pointless-ultimately rant. In fact, I whipped through seven chapters this morning, sitting out on my mom and dad's deck, sipping every now and then from my coffee, before I realized how much time had gone by, and finally came back inside to help get things ready for the big Thanksgiving family blast.

The main theme of the book is simple enough to pick out: "Life and everything about it is pretty pointless. And believe me, I've tried it all. Knowledge and wisdom? Right, even the fools and idiots can have a better life sometimes, it seems. Sex? Been there, done that. Wealth? It comes and goes. Good times? They have to end sometime. Wine? Wait until the hangover. But hey, enjoy live anyway. It's a gift from God, you know. Just don't make finding a purpose in life the end-all and be-all of your happiness. 'Cuz it ain't gonna happen. Take it for what it is, a gift to enjoy today, because tomorrow, you never know whose turn it's gonna be."

It's believed by many Bible gurus and scholars that Solomon (son of David) is the author of the book, and I'm willing to trust that assessment, based on the (admittedly less than they) research I've done into the book's authorship. But for me personally, the WHO wrote it isn't nearly as important as the WHAT it has to say.

Something about the book's honesty really grabs me. Being part of a religion that tends to focus on the "wonderful plan that God has for your life" (as the most popular tracts say) and how God "blesses the socks off" those who believe in Him (in the non-gender-specific sense, since God is spirit and ultimately above such an earthly notion as gender), it's not common to hear about how pointless life can be. That just seems to rub raw against the popular notion that life is all roses and smiles when people decide to follow Christ as a Christian. But I love that somehow in the scope of time, God saw fit to include such a "depressing" (as I've heard it called) collection of writings in the middle of His book of sacred writings.

Some mistakenly believe that carpe diem is the sole property of the existentialists and that living "grace under pressure" (to borrow from Hemmingway) came along with Saul Bellow and other modern writers. But all you have to do is read through the book of Ecclesiastes to see that's not the case at all.

The very essence of carpe diem seeps from Ecclesiastes like blood from an open wound.

Life can suck, but endure anyway. It's a gift, but it can also be a curse. Blessing and curse. It's not so different from the paradoxical teachings in the New Testament that tell us that to save our lives we must lose them, the least will be the greatest, or that the meek shall inherit the earth. Somehow, it's a common theme of God to hide his greatest lessons in things that seem to compete. A life that is not just a wonderful gift but also a painful curse. Treasures in easily breakable jars of clay.

I don't find the book depressing at all. Instead I find its honest look at the world oddly comforting. So what if there's nothing new. It takes the pressure off to try to create something new. Just create the best I'm capable of doing and don't accept less. So what if I'll never be rich. Big deal, the rich guys won't be able to escape the same ultimate fate I will.

Life can suck. So what?

I can still enjoy it anyway.
The Real Power of The Lion King

After coming home with a torturous headache thanks to my screwed up sinuses, I semi-passed out on the couch and merely listened as my kids watched The Lion King for what had to be the sixteenth dozen time.

Even so, and even without seeing the images (since I had taken off my glasses and turned away from the TV to help ease the drum line practicing inside my skull), I found myself glued to every word.

While there are enough good lines and "lessons" to be learned from this extraordinary animated film, one really hit me tonight as I was listening, and probably because I was distracted this time by all the pretty pictures and bright, shiny colors.

It was simply this:

When Rafiki (sp?) takes Simba to the water to show him his father, the king-to-be is disappointed to see only his own reflection. Rafiki then tells him something along the lines of "Your father lives in you."

And that got me to thinking. Sure, I've always believed that a part of me will live on in my kids, particularly the family name. But honestly, I don't think I care about that as much as helping to shape just which parts of me become integrated into the character of my children.

Already I can see that I'm not off to the best start. Jack has much of my inability to focus on the job at hand. Evan is already trying to evade responsibility by shifting blame and coming up with excuses just like I know I'm prone to do. And in Charis, I can already see trace elements of the vanity and superiority complex I can't deny I possess. And all three have my temper. I've been stung by it many times. (And sadly, dished it back out more often that I care to admit.)

Charis has already begun integrating the faith of her father into her life to a degree that can shame me if I'm not careful. And that's certainly important to me. I'd love for each of my children to find Someone to believe in and sense God as strongly as I do, but I don't want to co-opt their own journeys by hammering them into claiming to believe something just to "make dad happy." I'd honestly rather have them not believe than to pretend to believe just for my sake.

And I realize that I need to continue to foster the good parts of me that I'd like to see live on in them. The creativity I see in each of them, the sheer love of kicking back and having a good time, the love for each other, the unavoidable tendency to shake their groove things when just about any music comes on the radio or CD player.

But there are other parts of me that I'd like to see in them that I don't see even the beginnings of. And that reminds me that I've got my work cut out for me, to use the cliche.

Ironically, the evening's lesson began before Charis even put the videotape in the VCR. When I picked them up from school today, and told them I was sick, Evan began to imitate me, claiming that he too had a headache that was "killing him" -- "it's going to make me die, dad," he said to me -- and took on every symptom I complained to Lisa about once I got home. But when I curled up all fetal-like and whiny on the sofa, instead of copying me, he came over to lie down with me. And he looked at me and smiled in his wonderful, brilliant, childish AND childlike smile.

And I knew that something of me was inside him after all. And if wasn't just the dimples he gets from that big smile.
The Sun's Not Yellow, It's Chicken!

As I sit here in the office listening to Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues," I'm realizing all over again what a freakin' genius the man was and is with words. He could write lyrics that can make a doctoral student's head swirl, but still deliver them with just a few jangly chords that sound so deceptively simply you forget the man can actually play his guitar without just banging the fool out of it with his pick.

One of my regrets in life is that I've never seen Dylan live. Heard Dylan live. Experienced Dylan live. But mark my word. Unless I walk outside the office today and get hit by a falling plane, I plan to see the man in concert. Mark my words.

It's a cliche that people talk about the things they'd like to ask God when they die, and they usually ask the big questions like "Why did people suffer?" or "How can you say you're loving and send people to hell?"

Well, my questions aren't like that at all. I just want to ask God, "So, what did you think of Saint Bob?" And then follow it up with this: "And did even you have a clue about what half of his songs really meant?"

Life Stinks, Part 2

I said to myself, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself." And behold, it too was futility.
I said of laughter, "It is madness," and of pleasure, "What does it accomplish?"
I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives.
I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself;
I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees;
I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.
I bought male and female slaves, and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.
Also, I collected for myself silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men-- many concubines.
Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me.
And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.
Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.
So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly, for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?
And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.
The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.
Then I said to myself, "As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?" So I said to myself, "This too is vanity."
For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!
So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.
Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.
When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil.
For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?
Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.
For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind. (Eccliastes 2:1-26, NASB)

I use to call Ellen DeGeneris "Ellen Degenerate." Granted it was more for the obvious pun on her last name rather than any seeming "holy roller" ideals, in spite of the (often but not always unfair) caricature that people of my faith persuasion are primarily illiterate, drooling hicks who want to keeper women, homosexuals, and other races under our thumbs.

Still, it does reveal something about not just me, but all of us, I think-the way we use words to not just define things, but also to categorize them in more easily managed groups of things. For people in my system of belief, I'm sad to say that we have a tendency to divide the world in to two broad categories. Well, make that one broad category and one tiny one. Ask most any of us today, and we'll immediately begin telling you about the things that are "sacred" and the things that "secular." (Let me say here than in defense of the "drooling hicks" theory, we've changed the terms to "Christian things" and "non-Christian things" instead of the sacred and profane, as the original terms were just too much for us, I guess…)

Although we've turned the term primarily into a marketing term today, as though there were genuinely such an animal as Christian music or Christian fiction, the idea originates much earlier, and it's perhaps Soren Kierkegaard to best verbalized in his concept of the "leap of faith" - the ultimate dividing line between the normal, rational, everyday things and the somehow "higher" or "holier" things such as faith, prayer, or good works. Kierkegaard's idea was that some things could be reasoned and others could not, but even that idea has been perverted by the Church to somehow take the sacred out of the secular.

You're probably getting the idea that I disagree with that concept. You'd be right. My views are much broader in scope. I subscribe to the notion that all things are sacred to the mind set to see the sacred in all things. I'm not espousing some form of pantheism, mind you, but simply saying that if all good things are gifts from God, and if "whatever your hand finds to do" should be done for the glory of God, then things like music, writing, vocation, jobs, even sex, romance, and friendships, should be included in the list.

There is no valid biblical basis for creating a Christian subculture to market safe, alternative, "Christian" versions of other things to poor, uptight Christians who don't want to be offended by having to live in the real world. Nor is there a valid basis of dividing what I do 24/7 in my life from the more "holy" things such as prayer or good deeds or meditation. I must be just as open to seeing the sacred in my everyday interaction on the job (whatever the job) and the relationships I have with people throughout my life. I'd go so far as to say that there's not any valid basis either to separate rational thought from faith, as if a faith that's no more than some wishful thinking or "leap in the dark" is worth its proverbial salt-as though God invited us to a life of turning off our brains just to believe in Him. (Granted, I don't think you can ultimately "prove" faith without the experience of having it, but there are rational pointers - philosophy, science, etc. - that can help guide you there, but that's a discussion for another time.)

Now, what does all this have to do with Ecclesiastes 2? Simple. The "preacher" or writer of the book says he tries all sorts of things to find purpose or even simply happiness in life-pleasure, wine, laughter, aesthetics, romance, sex, possessions, wisdom, and quite a list more. And he says that none of them were ultimately satisfying, or mere "vanity or striving after wind." The typical Christian reaction to this conclusion is to dismiss all such things as somehow "bad" because they didn't work and to focus on some type of more sacred activity for purpose or happiness.

But that's not what the writer is saying at all, and those who jump to that stretch of a conclusion are really missing the point. The problem isn't that pleasure, wine, laughter, aesthetics, romance, sex, possessions, and wisdom are bad, it just that they aren't enough IN AND OF THEMSELVES to give anyone a purpose in live of a lasting happiness. Sure, they may be fun or helpful for a season, but even great sex fades over time when the mechanics of a real relationship supercede mere gratification. Even wisdom ultimately fail because mere reason alone leads the conclusion (often) that there's no way to really find a purpose other than endure, endure, and endure some more.

But that doesn't make them bad or less or evil or secular or profane or non-Christian. Remember, in Genesis, after creation, God declared it "good," not mediocre or "profane."

And I, for one, like that declaration, because I'm personally pretty found of laughter, pleasure, possessions, and sex. And what they heck, I'll even give wisdom a try every now and them.
It's a sad day in the neighborhood
(written Thursday, February 27th, 2003)

No disrespected intended by that title, but it truly is a sad day in the neighborhood today. I've just discovered that one of my childhood heroes has died.

Mr. Rogers has died of Cancer at the age of 74.

For the child I used to be, Mr. Rogers was a different kind of hero. Sure, I loved and followed the more traditional Lone Ranger, swashbuckling, punching the bad guys heroes from cartoons and movies, but where The Superfriends and Space Ghost were heroes for my "action craving," Fred Rogers was a heroes for my imagination.

Like many other kids I looked forward to his trolley's journeys to the Land of Make-Believe, and even when I made fun of his slowed-down, actionless TV persona (though I firmly believe that was the real him and not just a persona), I continued to watch most every afternoon.

There's an episode of Arthur I recall watching with my kids that sums up that sort of battle I felt. In the episode, Arthur is excited about having Mr. Rogers come to visit him, but becomes embarrassed that his friends might think he's just a little kid for liking the man and his show. Eventually, he discovers that most of his friends also enjoy the show but feel the same embarrassment.

And I think he knew that his show and style didn't really fit in an an era of changing, slicker, more action-focused shows for children.

But he stuck to his proverbial guns.

To be honest, Fred was the kind of man I'd like to be in quite a few ways.

1. He embodied peace. I never saw an episode that centered around a central conflict or all that stuff writers will tell you is important to story. But it worked for him. His routine was sacrosanct. It seldom varied. He walked in. He changed his shoes and sweater. He called me his neighbor. It was something I could always count on as a child. (And growing up the child of multiple divorces, being able to know some things wouldn't change was like having a huge rock in the middle of a pool of gooey Jello-slush.)

2. He taught me how to develop relationships with people. He was real. And he showed that he genuinely cared about people and what they did. Whether he was learning about how to build a violin or make taffy, his eyes and ears were fixed on the person who was sharing with him. He gave them his all. He treated others with respect, regardless of their jobs or situations.

3. He lived a genuine life of faith, but never let himself lapse into becoming a caricature of the "Christian Right" or the "Media Liberals" or any group. He simply lived what he believed and didn't wear his beliefs on his sleeve like it was a membership card to a political party. (He was a Presbyterian minister.)

4. He challenged my imagination. I can't tell you how many adventures in the Land of Make-Believe I had in my own mind that never made it to air-time. His puppets became my friends in my imagination.

So, here's to you, Mr. Rogers. This world is a better place because you were here.
Thank God somebody gets it...

I don't usually reference news articles, but I feel obligated to after reading this one. Here's the opening paragraph (from an article on, by Janet Chismar, © Copyright 2002,

"Sermons about how to avoid AIDS are good but provide no solace to those 40 million already infected with the virus," said Franklin Graham during a Prescription for Hope conference held in Washington, D.C. last year. "As the church of Christ, we must reach out with open arms in love, encouragement and compassion rather than condemnation."

It's about time somebody in the faith-based world (at least in terms of what is deemed media worthy) saw AIDS as something more than merely an opportunity to condemn others.

To be fair, I must say that among those I know who are like-minded in their faith choices, very few are like those in the so-called Christian media that respond with not hateful necessarily, but condemning rhetoric. Most are more concerned about the person with the disease rather than the circumstances behind the disease. But public perception being what it is thanks to our "national spokespersons for faith" (note the heavy irony, please -- these folks don't speak for me or most of the Christians I know), we all tend to come off as one-note hatemongers.

Well, suffice it to say that I'm happy to see some faith-based organization that is deemed newsworthy have something to say about how to help rather than how to hurt.

Preach on, Franklin.

(Of course, it is noteworthy, at least to me, that if anybody gets it, it would be the Billy Graham organization.)