Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Colour Purple, or, The Rainbow Connection

There's a church nearby that bothers me. On the surface, it's seemingly simply aesthetic reasons, but the particular aesthetics are symbols of deeper problems--and while the aesthetics are certainly not aesthetically pleasing, the realities that they symbolise are somewhat more unpalatable. But really, it's the combination of meaning and the symbol used to represent that meaning, that bothers me most of all.

My problem with this church is with its garish purple doors. Now, normally, I have no problem with purple. I mean, I prefer certain colours to others, and I prefer not to wear certain colours, but every colour can be beautiful in the proper setting. Aesthetically, purple doors are not a good combination on a 100-odd year old brown-brick, black roofed church. As I said above, it's rather garish. I doubt anyone but the severely colour-blind (or the utterly blind), could find this combination pleasing. As soon as the paint job was applied, it offended my artistic sensibilities.

Obviously, the purple paint was not for simple aesthetics. This is further illustrated by the rainbow flag flying right beside the white flag with the blue square in the upper left corner, with a red cross in it. It was to make a statement. And, this being the Centenary United Church, that statement is that Homosexuality is Okay. This United Church not only is "welcoming" to those who struggle with same-sex attraction (as all churches should be), it openly proclaims that same-sex attraction is not sinful, but a perfectly natural sexual orientation. In order to proclaim this, they must reinterpret the Bible and ignore 2000 years of Christian tradition, giving into the zeitgeist which itself makes anyone who appeals to the Bible, Christian tradition, or even Natural Law and common sense, narrow-minded bigots in league with "pastor" Fred Phelps.

Now, it's bad enough that a church can reject its mission to call sin, sin, and people to repentance (even if that sin happens to be a rather popular one these days). But it seems to me that if one sin is now okay, then mustn't all sins become so labeled? After all, if homosexual acts are fine, then on what grounds can we decry theft, adultery, or even murder? If one serious sin is no longer serious, nor even sinful, then on what standard does this church call anything good or anything sinful?

Now, as much as all that bothers me, as it sends something of a mixed message to the world about what true Christianity is--and could be said to fulfil those Scriptures warning that in the latter days, perilous times will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but with itching ears will heap up teachers unto themselves (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4)--what bothers me even more seems to be the "Gay Agenda"'s very choice of symbolism to define themselves: Namely purple and rainbows (because it's not bad enough that they choose one colour to define themselves, they have to actually take them all!). My problem with their appropriation of these symbols are the Christian meaning of these symbols. It could be argued that the vast non-Christian homosexual community was unaware of the Christian meaning behind their new icons, but for a church to brandish them in such a fashion truly indicates to me a defiance to historical Christianity and a definite separation--though still claiming to be Christian (again, as 2 Timothy warns [3:4-5], "they will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it").

Why do I say this regarding their choice of symbols?
First, Purple has been used in the Church for ages as a liturgical colour denoting Repentance. It is the seasonal colour of both Advent and Lent, the first preparing our souls for the Coming of Christ, and the second to prepare us to participate in His Passion and Resurrection. Purple as a colour is a reminder to turn from our sins to the Life of Christ. But now it is being used to define a particular sin, and to say repentance and change is not necessary. What should serve to remind us to repent of sin now serves to celebrate it.

Second, the Rainbow has meant, from times even more ancient than the Church, the sign of God's Covenant Love. After He punished the earth with the Flood, he showed Noah the Rainbow as His promise to never destroy the earth again in like manner. Thus, the rainbow symbolises God's mercy and His faithfulness--though also His justice. But for Centenary United Church and the Homosexual Community as a whole, the rainbow celebrates their "diversity" and the "beauty" inherent in their lifestyle. The church, in particular, seems to want to celebrate God's Love while denying His holy Justice.

Thus, a group of people will, on the one hand, demand tolerance and acceptance from the "narrow-minded, bigoted" Church, on the other hand slaps that same Church, and the God she serves, in the face.

"Keep away from people like that" (2 Tim 3:5) indeed!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


This was translated from the original Koine Greek, and reads more like this.

Monday, August 25, 2008

But Do Stop Thinking

In an effort to help Christians gain a better awareness of consumer impact on the environment, authors Claire Foster and David Shreeve have published a 176 page book.

That's right: some corporate cheese-head somewhere down in South America has just been justified a little more in his efforts to rape the land of its trees, underpay his workers, and sell his yield at a questionable premium to the international market. Ships will cross oceans, leaking bits of nasty fuels and particulate matter; trucks will suck up petrol and burn exhaust into the air, wear their tires thin and contribute a little more to the slow degradation of the hiways; factories will process the newly arrived trees and belch a little more filth into the sky and waterways as they cut, grind, pound, bleach, and dye the pretty little papers that will eventually form a book on environmental awareness. Then the printing runs will begin, the mass distribution and all the fuels that uses, the receipts from purchasing of the book, shipping overseas...

And all for Christians, nonetheless. As if we needed a separate venue for awareness. But I suppose that's beside the point, isn't it? Or is it?

So, after all that imprinting on the environment, Christian congregations can have a little ditty that corales them into a year-long effort at reducing their carbon footprint.

“A new guide from the Church of England offers church leaders a template for a year-long programme of practical action to reduce their congregations’ carbon footprints, as energy prices head upwards.”

Good. So after a year, then what? Return to your normally scheduled, anti-Kyoto, neglectful, disillusioned, disaffected, and otherwise irresponsible consumer life? Or just change the date and repeat as necessary? Why target a year? As if a plastic-ware package of time and a trendy charge into a church-wide back-patting session can really compete with a philosophic responsibility to life as a whole!

Is there any reason why this contrary effort couldn't have been more responsible itself? Say, by e-publishing? Or would that require a separate paperback publication to bolster Christian awareness of the internet?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Signs of the Times

I remember, growing up, when my family would drive to church, or otherwise take trips from Waterdown, ON, to Burlington, ON, we'd pass a Christian Reform church on the way into town, at the top of Highway 5. Didn't know much about the CRC or anything. All I really knew about that church was that it was perhaps the first church to have a sign out front on which it would post the now clichéed quotes and quips that are seen ubiquitously out front of churches. What now seems to be all the rage, they've been doing for some 15 years or more. And, honestly, they still seem to do it best. It's rather rare that I'll drive by, even these days, and have to groan (too loudly) at some lame pun or horribly theologically-incorrect statement. Good on them.

Other churches' signs that I've seen--not so much.
"It wasn't the Apple, it was the Pair"
"Patience is a virtue with a lot of wait"
I'll stop, I promise. But I could go on. I've got about 365 of 'em. (Someone 'thoughtfully' bought me a desktop day calendar featuring a glib little quote for every day of the year. Awww....)

Usually these signs are not much more than annoying groaners such as I'm used to hearing from several of my friends anyway (I even jokingly wrote a paper in my Pastoral Theology class arguing that such "punning" was a sure sign of the Pastor-Teacher gift in Ephesians 4:11). But every so often, I see a sign that really bothers me--because the sign says something illogical, and sometimes even contrary to the Christian faith.

Such was the case of the sign out front of the Baptist church around the corner from my house. To their credit, they try to change the sign once a week (though summer got a little slow), and more, they try to find a quote that fits with the sermon subject for the following Sunday. On the left half of the sign, they have worship time details, and the Sermon Title. On the right half of the sign, they have a quote that perhaps acts as a summation of the sermon--though in this particular case, I hope not--or else an announcement of some special event.

Well, this past week, this church has announced that the pastor will be giving a sermon entitled "Shine." Accompanying this one-word title is the quote that's got me all buggered up, and wondering just what they're teaching at this Baptist church:
"In order for the light to shine, the darkness must be present."
There's so much to take issue with in this dualistic statement that it made my head spin (and actually kept me up at night!), but fear not, true believer. I'll try to address it all.

Now, at first glance, I assume that the pastor is going to be addressing his congregation regarding being light to the world, and letting our light so shine before men that they would see our good works and glorify God in Heaven. He perhaps is encouraging his congregation to live the good life even as the darkness around us seems to deepen, and so he is trying to inspire them with the notion that their bright lights will shine even more noticeably because the darkness is so dark. And those are good thoughts, to be sure. However, the statement, as it stands, takes those thoughts a step or two further.

First of all, it declares that darkness is, in fact, something. It claims that darkness has an objective reality of its own, that is in conflict with the light, and yet, not entirely in conflict, but, like Yin and Yang, it is symbiotic with the light--each causing the other to exist. After all, what else can a statement mean that says "In order for the light to shine the darkness must be present"?

So our first problem seems to be with our definition of darkness, and the description of it as present, and as necessary. Darkness, both scientifically and philosophically, is not a "thing" possessing its own substance or essence. Rather, it is only something which is not. Darkness is the absence of light. It is the quality of lightlessness. It is not a substance, but the privation of a substance. That is our first problem, and, understanding it, I hope that all our other problems are made clear.

The second problem, then, flowing directly from the first, is apparently an equally unsatisfactory definition of Light. To say that the light can only shine if it is dark is self-contradictory. If darkness is the privation of light, then if there is darkness, it means, quite literally, that the light isn't as bright as it could be! Thus, the statement on this church sign seems to want us to believe that light, which, by definition, shines, can only do what it must do by its very essence, if it is not doing what it does to its fullest capacity. Or, put another way, light only shines when it's not really shining all that well.

Light is substance. It can be measured and calculated. Apparently, science tells us, it is composed of subatomic particles, called photons, that travel at a determined speed in a vacuum (186,000 miles per second, if my high school science hasn't failed me), but that these photons can be slowed down, or change their course, when they are interfered with by various atmospheres and objects. On the other hand, there is no "speed of darkness". Darkness is nothing. It is simply the state of things when there aren't any photons whizzing around.

Thus, on a purely physical, scientific, academic level, we find that the statement on this church's sign makes utterly no sense. That, in my mind, is bad enough. But when the statement is applied to theology, as one might expect it to be in a sermon, suddenly things go from bad to worse--from illogical nightlights to manichean dualism. That is, biblically, Light is synonymous with Good. And more, it is often used as a descriptor of God Himself. "All that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light..." (James 1:17). Thus, if light can only shine when the darkness is present, as X Baptist Church would have you believe, then God, it seems, cannot be God unless there is darkness present. I suppose that leaves one of two conclusions: Either darkness is fundamental to God's make-up--that is, privation--imperfection--belongs to God as something proper to Himself; or this privation is itself actually a tangible essence in symbiotic competition with God: a dark god, an evil god, co-existing with the God of Light. Those seem to be the two options according to the Sign.

As to the first option, that darkness is itself part of who God is, the passage I quoted from James continues: "...the Father of all light; with Him there is no such thing as an alteration, no shadow caused by change." Or, to be even more explicitly clear, St. John writes in his first Epistle, "God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all" (1 John 1:5). So we see quite clearly that there is no darkness in God. Indeed, for the One who is Perfect, there can be no privation.

So what of the second option, that the darkness exists as a separate, necessary corollary to God? We must reason, after all, that if God is light, and that light needs darkness in order to shine--and light that doesn't shine is not light--then God needs darkness in order to be God. But how can God need anything? Once again, that would indicate some privation in God. Furthermore, it again indicates that darkness is more than simply a privation, but a substance or essence unto itself--and one that is co-eternal to God, and which God needs in some way. An infintite being with a need, must therefore have an infinite need, and so the darkness must be as infinite as God. Therefore, we would have to postulate that some dark god is necessary for God, as is often believed in many pagan religions, most notably, as I said above, in the Manichean religion of the 4th and 5th centuries AD.

However, as St. Thomas point out in his Summa, there can only be one infinite being, since the infinity of its being would necessarily end where the other infinite being's began, thus making neither one infinite, since each has an end and a beginning. Moreover, Scripture affirms that "The Lord your God is One God" (Deut. 6:5), and, as we said, darkness is not something, but nothing. Sure wish that more people would read Aquinas, and stop recycling old errors.

God does not need anything in order to be God, and light does not need darkness in order to shine. Ultimately, the Light will eradicate the darkness once and for all. On that day, we will not cease to exist in some sort of nihilistic nirvana, but will forever shine like the Son, realising fully who we were meant to be as partakers of His glory!


I'm not sure where to start. There's been so much that's gone on in my life it's a wonder I'm even here. My parents thought I'd end up in jail, or dead. I guess in some metaphorical ways I did. I'm sure we could agree that never being allowed to express your emotions is like living in a prison – you're always tethered to your fears of rejection, incarcerated by the knowledge that who you are is not welcome beyond your appearance. When you live that way long enough, you start to wonder if you ever have any impact on anyone around you, if they even know you have value.

Is that like being dead? Feels that way. At least to me.

I don't wish that on anyone. I mean, in some ways it's helped me to be a more insightful person I can spot an underdog as if he's a celebrity; others' emotions appear as text in their eyes, or in the way they carry themselves. It's heightened my sense of empathy. From that perspective, a guy like me can avoid the cliché, “a cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” Instead, I can empathize. I can look about and understand that there's not much value in being cynical; the price is too high. You've got to be willing to be an intellectual sloth to maintain a cynical attitude, especially when you can do better than what you were handed in life.

Take me, for example: I admitted already that things were pretty dark growing up. And if they weren't dark then I was just invisible. Maybe that makes things easier to understand. I don't know. In any case, by whatever turn of fortune, I was able to see, able to grasp that I don't have to give people the treatment (or lack thereof) that was given me. I don't have to refuse them passage into how I'm feeling. I don't have to treat them in some disaffected way such that their best efforts to relate to me – on whatever level – are met with empty stares, or off-handed remarks. I can greet every person I meet with a confident smile, a sturdy handshake, and a heartfelt desire to ensure their value, affirm their worth. I guess you could say that it's possible, if you pay attention, to come out of the dark and into the light; to be visible if for no other reason than because you're valuable. Inherently.

But knowing that isn't a fool-proof combination, unfortunately. Knowing something doesn't elevate you beyond the common platform of humanity, or 'being human'. There are all sorts of things that can interrupt, even break your confidence, make you question your worth all over again. Falling in love and having your heart broken; that's a pretty common experience for people. And it's certainly something that rocks your world to its foundations when it happens.

I remember when it happened to me. There was so much health, so much security and joy when I found myself breathing affection, and pulsating her name. It's just not true that 'all that glitters is not gold' when you're in love. I mean, love is the gold and all it can do is glitter, right?

No. Like everything else, it can tarnish, too. That's what happened to me. Time, exposure, misunderstandings, shortcomings, words spoken in haste... It all adds up. It's a slow but desperate accretion of pain and helplessness. Your feelings tumble our of control, and all the energy you once had flowing out of you to that other special someone now stabs inward like an unstoppable spear of hate. That darkness, so familiar to your life, robs you of the light again, envelops you and turns you invisible once more.

But you know what? Enough of that. I don't need to re-hash how I – or anyone else, for that matter – can get out of that darkness. Let's just agree, for the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as hope. You know, a real, substantial, palpable, better way of being that can make a difference in the way you relate to the world; or sometimes even the way the world relates to you.

That's something to be grateful for, right? That despite all the dross that can grow out of the human condition, there's still enough dignity in each one of us that we can softly, gently, ever so quietly and humbly hope our way into a continuous love for others.

I think it's pretty basic, really. Think about it: if you relate to anything I've just said, you probably understand that, at your core, you just want to be loved and accepted. It's that same need for love and acceptance that I'm getting at here. We all need it. We all crave it on some level. So it would seem the best way to get it is to give it, right? I mean, when it stops being passed around, when it stops being given, that's when nobody's getting it.

So keeping hope alive, keeping the darkness back, keeping things light, visible, dignified and valuable sometimes means giving our love, and rejoicing in 'the other', even when it's easier to just be cynical. Isn't that what being alive should be about?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Groeschelian 'It'

There was that whole Willow Creek Leadership Summit thing a while back. I offered some opinions on the event here. And here. Now there's this.

Emphasizing the teachings he provided at the Summit, Craig Groeschel is placarding the nation with his theory of 'It'. That is, some non-descript, essential quality that leaders should posses if they want to forge ahead in their efforts to wow their congregations into a more fulfilling church life, and life under God. And why? Because after Groeschel's paucious two-car garage gatherings exploded into an online 'community' of believers,, it was a logical next step to write a book encapsulating just how that happened.

“After seeing his church grow from a two-car garage worship experience to services at 13 different campuses across six states in the US, a TV ministry, and international book sales, Groeschel talks about a transformational agent he calls 'It' in his new book It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It.

"We didn't have a nice building. We didn't have our own office. We didn't have a church phone number ... What did we have? We had a few people ... We had enough Bibles to go around. And we had 'It'," Groeschel writes in the first chapter of his book, on the humble beginnings of his church 12 years ago.”

But when asked the very insightful question, “what is 'It'?” Groeschel responded,

"'The answer is 'don't know', Groeschel said as he addressed thousands of leaders at Willow Creek Community Church. 'Honestly, I'm not totally sure.'

“'It' has a lot to do with the Holy Spirit, Groeschel believes, but that is not everything.”

Oh. Well, that's helpful. I mean, thanks for your honesty and all, but is it entirely honest of you to write a book about a topic, or reality you admit you 'don't know', and that you cannot define? Are you relying, Mr. Groeschel, on the gullibility of Christians to just follow you about as you try and figure out what you're trying to say and teach? Did you think about how your not knowing this thing you're talking about is paying your bills and taking money out of other peoples' pockets? And might it have been a waste of peoples' time to listen to your section of the Leadership Summit? I mean, you don't really know what you're talking about, afterall. Is that honest?

No doubt the anecdotal references in Groeschel's book will reninforce his speculations that 'It' must have something to do with God. That said,

"What he does know is that organisations that do have 'It' possess seven qualities. They include a 'laser focus', the ability to see opportunity where others see obstacles, having a willingness to fail, being led by people who have 'It', and having unmistakable camaraderie."

Let's see here... First, Groeschel doesn't know what 'It' is (honestly, of course) but that 'It' has a lot to do with the Holy Spirit. Second, even though Groeschel is a self-admitted 'It' agnostic, he's managed to delineate seven qualities that 'It' possesses. For example, when 'It' is present people seem to have good concentrative abilities, optimism, realistic self-appraisals, and leaders in their midst full of the enigmatic 'It'. Oh, yeah! And the people themselves get on well with each other.

Well, that's nice and all, but doesn't it sound a little like Groeschel is stirring the ingredients for common decency into a nice batch of Churchiness? What has Groeschel identified that church-goers haven't experienced in various times and places over the past 2000+ years? Or how 'bout any group of people that have ever purposed to get along well, and not bash each other with, say, garden shovels? Given Groeschel's admission, he probably doesn't know. But he's written a book about it. And he's spoken to 50,000+ people about it commissioning leaders to get 'It' and make sure they keep 'It'.

So we should listen to Groeschel tell us about this thing he doesn't know, and then do what he says so we can have 'It'. 'Cause if we don't, we're not good enough leaders. Which is why we need to dedicate a portion of a multi-million dollar Summit to have Groeschel tell us how we can ply God's favour a little more, get those leadership 'skills' all good and sharpened up, and take part in the ethereal 'It'. We'll be better leaders if we do what Groeschel does to get and keep 'It', so let's put the plan in place and go for 'It'! But wait!

"Moreover, 'It' is not a system or model, nor is 'It' something that can be created, copied or manufactured, he says. God makes 'It' happen.

And when churches have 'It', they see transformed lives but at the same time, those churches with 'It' attract critics, many of whom misunderstand what they are all about."

Now I'm confused. So, Groeschel doesn't know what 'It' is, but he can delineate 'It', write a book about 'It', speak at major public venues about 'It', and all for the hope that people will get 'It' and keep 'It'. Even though – and this is the clincher – 'It' cannot “be created, copied or manufactured”. So why write a how-to manual about 'It' then?

In any case, if there's no way for me to make 'It' come into being, and I have to wait on God to make 'It' happen, then until He does, I must be a poor leader, a sub-standard Christian, less fulfilled due to my It-lessness. But then again, I may just have 'It' because 'It' has something to do with the Holy Spirit.

Whatever the situation, I'm one of those critics Groeschel has mentioned misunderstands what 'It' churches are all about. But that's as it should be since even Groeschel, the It man himself, doesn't understand what 'It' is all about, much less the people who have 'It'. He does know though, that even in uniform settings 'It' remains elusive, and unmanageable. Says Groeschel,

"'All of our campuses were under the same leadership. The buildings were similar. The worship pastors were unique but had consistent styles. The kids’ curriculum never varied from campus to campus. All were experiencing exactly the same weekend teaching. But some campuses had it. And some didn’t,' writes Groeschel, although 'It' is still a growing idea, he adds.”

Sound a little creepy to you? A little cultish? A little like a compound: singular leadership, similar buildings, unvarrying curriculums, etc? It's creepy to me. In any case, there were those who had 'It' and those that didn't. The haves and the have-nots. Too bad. Maybe they should've been chasing after God, and not 'It'. Might've saved them some time and integrity. Might have resulted in people not placing their faith in the off-chance of experiencing the Groeschelian 'It' and, instead, situating their faith in Christ alone. I suppose that's as it should be. I mean, really: the Catholics have Mary, so naturally, the hyper-evangelicals should have 'It'. But somehow, even if you disagree with Catholics, Mary does seem a little more sensible than a vague 'It'.

As it is, masses of people, under the 'leadership' of Groeschel, have thrown their lot in with a “growing idea” concerning something no-one really understands, or can adequately define. Doesn't sound that promising to me. But it's just the sort of thing these neo-evangelicals, and their so-called 'innovative leaders' are wont to do: pitch an idea at a crowd and hope for a grand-$lam as their return. The emphasis isn't so much on the rightness or wrongness of what's being taught but on what works. Thus Groeschel can't figure out what he's talking about but can sell-out to an all-too-eager crowd. Now enter the repetition of the pre-Reformation emphasis on works-righteousness. And hence the overlap from secular morality: if it works and no-one's being hurt then what's the problem? Indeed, if what you lead people to is some malformed meme, and not Christ, if it works and no-one is overtly hurt in the process, then what exactly is the problem? Well, the answer's in the question: 'It' is a malformed meme, and not Christ.

And that's probably why Groeschel, while he may be a well-meaning (well-meme-ing?) guy, can displace the central message of Scripture for the Gospel According to 'It', and pray that whatever it takes, God will sprinkle your life with a touch of insomnia until you get 'It' and keep 'It'.

"Some of you, it’s time to let God break your heart again," Groeschel told leaders. "I pray you don’t sleep until you get 'It' and fall in love with Jesus again."
Scripture has a lot to say about messages like 'It', and their resultant emotional fuzzies. Most emphatically:
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions... (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV)"
Enough said.

Church and State

For the first time in a long time, most Americans -- on either side of the Republican/Democrat divide -- agree that the Church should stay out of politics.

Given the past 8 years of the Bush administration, I can't imagine why. Might it have something to do with the vast incompetence of the most powerful man in the world to represent the Christian beliefs he professes with any type of clarity, consistency, fairness, decency, love and respect? Might it have to do something with the complete and utter disparity between loving your neighbour and invading their countries?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


An excellent, short commentary at this blog on the nature of evangelicalism today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Some decent stuff going on here. BUT! What about holding the aid concert without using gobs of electricity while preaching about environmental awareness?

Huxley, How Prophetic You Were

It seems the MPAA (Marauding Police Association of America) has gone and got demselves some glorah! Don't you just love it when entertainment industries morph into international policing outfits? I wonder who's popping the bubbly for this harrowing victory...

ADDENDUM as of the 20th: Don't these freaks have something better to do? I mean, why don't they contribute some of the money they're spending on these kinds of operations to aiding local law-enforcement in cracking down on child porn rings? How 'bout using some of their conglomerate clout to feed, oh I dunno, an impoverished nation? When your profit margins exceed the GNP of a small country, isn't there a little moral incentive behind these witch-hunters to do something more productive than catch people with camcorders? For example, why don't they go after people making snuff? Or put a dent in human trafficking by contributing to multi-national task forces trained to do that very thing?

Just some thoughts.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hybelian Leadership P. II

Well, we took a look at this once before. But since Christian Today saw fit to write another article on this subject, I feel fine responding once again.

Hybels' leadership summit has ended. 50,000+ people have followed their leader, Bill Hybels, to listen to him tell them how to be leaders. Now those people can get on with their lives feeling as though Bill Hybel's 'microwave wisdom' will carry them on through to the next leadership summit.

Is it possible to digress this early on in an article?

Well, anyway, let's find out what everyone learned, shall we?

"Church leaders joining in the Willow Creek Leadership Summit were left with a sobering reminder of the world's woes and the difficult task they have at hand in carrying God's calling."

Oh, good then. 'Cause anybody who is a leader doesn't already know that it's difficult to face “the world's woes”. And anybody who isn't a leader probably wouldn't have the foggiest notion that facing the world's woes is a wee bit arduous; not even when they observe it happening to their leaders. Good thing one Christian leader was paying attention: Bill Hybels. And now 50,000+ other Christians are suddenly aware of the menacing task ahead: the world's woes. Were those Christian leaders unaware of this fact so much so that they actually needed to be reminded of it? At a conference no less?

And what the heck is “God's calling”, anyway? Isn't He God? You know, the One who calls?

"They were asked if they could fully yield to God as one of the most famous humanitarian figures in history, Jesus, had done."

Were they now? Were they ever asked at any point if they agreed that Jesus was a “humanitarian” figure? Or perhaps, what brand of 'humanitarian' Hybels was talking about? Did I say something in my last article about the Willow Creek watering-down phenomenon?

"More than 50,000 leaders stood up at the conclusion of the two-day annual summit, hosted by the Willow Creek Association, repeating some of the proverbs Mother Teresa had lived by for over four decades in her life.

'God, I yield myself fully to you,' they said. 'I will do your bidding without delay. I will refuse you nothing ... I will seek to love You as You have never been loved before.

'Here am I, send me.'"

Okay. Ship 'em all out to Calcutta and have them pick diseased, and half-eaten people out of the gutter like Mother Teresa did. Seems like a good acid test for their newly honed leadership skills, no? Get on it!

Sounds harsh to say, but there is a certain irony in the fact that Bill Hybels rigged up an elaborate conference costing $45 per person only to dote on the life, poverty, and self-sacrifice of Mother Teresa. Is anyone wondering what $45 x 50,000+ equals? $2,250,000+. I wonder what Mother Teresa could've done with that kind of money? I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have used it to cover the overhead on her stadium rentals, church maintenance, sound boards, broadcast technology, and refreshments.

So, is there any reason why Mr. Hybels couldn't have called on 50,000+ people to donate $45 each for the poor people of Calcutta? I suppose 'lead by example' doesn't always imply follow the leader, hey?

Nevertheless, Hybels, in learning about Mother Teresa, was at least able to use her as an excuse for generating more money than most of us will ever see in our lives.

"Noting that no one has affected him more deeply than Mother Teresa, he said the entire summit was worth it for him just to do the research on this woman."

Aren't you glad to know that Mr. Hybels wasn't necessarily interested in what he had to teach, and how it would affect the lives of the people in attendence; that he was mainly interested in researching Mother Teresa? I wonder if he'd do the research anyway, if he weren't charging $2,250,000+ for it?

Moving forward, Hybels promoted the use of stock sayings as a means of improving leadership. So when it comes to catchy phrases, the Willow Creek leader has it down! Hence the reason he could design a question meant to convict the audience of their shortcomings in leadership.

"'Are you lighting up the radar screen in heaven by your yieldedness?' Hybels asked. 'If you were God for a day, would you pick you?'"

Yes, are you making sure that you're trying hard enough to win God's grace? Are you good enough to be one of God's leaders? Have you buckled down in your efforts to yeild to the overtures of God?

I have a category for questions like Hybels asks. They're called Grace By Concentrate questions. Yep, if you just concentrate really hard on doing everything right by God, then He'll give you grace. There's no fooling around with the whole 'grace through faith alone' thing. That's all outdated, and outmoded. We're resurrecting the Old Testament, people! You have to earn your grace, keep your place before God, and constantly flog yourself with how deficient you really are. Shame on you for thinking grace would come freely to those who ask.

Actually, shame on you for worrying about whether you're good enough, or not.

But the clincher for me is this: if I were God for a day, of course I'd send myself. I'd be God! I'd know if I was fit for leading because leading is inherent to being God. He's right at the top of the heap when it comes to who's qualified for leading!

"Although it may seem nearly impossible to many to see another figure like Mother Teresa come along in history and make an impact the way she did, Hybels reminded the leaders that God continues to search for a yielded heart and that He has planned something greater for this generation.

'Greater things have yet to come', the thousands of leaders sang following Hybels' talk."

Greater than leadership summits? Greater than 'microwave wisdom'? Greater than using Mother Teresa as an excuse for wasting money on lavish conferences, and fancy gadgetry? Greater than questions that promote a sense of self-deprication, and false humility?

I should hope so.

But wait! Greater than the 2006 and 2007 Leadership Summits?

"In 2006 and 2007, the conference featured former US President Jimmy Carter, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and U2 frontman Bono in its speaker line-up. Hybels acknowledged that many people carried doubts about this year's conference because of the lackluster line-up compared to previous years. But many affirmed with applause that they had not been disappointed this year."

So this year's turnout was disappointing because none of that $2,250,000 went to getting grade 'A' celebrities like former US Presidents, and Irish rock gods. Boo-hoo. It's a good thing though, that people were kind enough to give up the accolades for Bill Hybels. He's not quite at Bono's, or Colin Powell's level, but we can let him lead us just the same. We're holding out though for some real leaders next year, Billy.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

This is why I don't have Cable...

(Incidentally, it's also why Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, is my favourite comic strip in the paper)

Hybelian Leadership

I can't help but express an opinion on this sort of stuff.

I mean aside from the fact that Willow Creek Community Church has long specialized in watering down Christian praxy into some kind of bubble-and-froth spirituality, their feel-good message now comes with an implicit moral impetus to do as they do so you can lead just as effectively as they do. But I'm willing to bet that if you take any one of these super-leaders and ask them why they prize 'effective' leadership (over, say, personal discipleship), and you'll get some kind of soupy rhetoric drawn straight from the Gospel of Programmatic Christianity (á la Rick Warren, Robert Schuller, and others of their ilk). Scratch the paint off the Willow Creek über-leaders and you'll find a Hybelian automaton underneath.

Does this mean that none of the people attending this massive leadership conference are sincere, thoughtful, insightful people that see through some of this stuff but go and catch whatever tid-bits they can, anyway? Heavens, no! But nice concessions like that don't make up for the fact that these kind of conferences rarely, if ever, hit on the context of real living. Sure, they include punchy examples of how to 'be a leader' in the workplace, in church, in college, in the family, blah, blah, blah. The problem is that imposing a model for leadership into this-or-that situation is just a subversive way of taking control of people; it's not really leading. It's not even leadership when you wrap fancy, emotionally charged words around it, such as 'serving others' and 'regain vision':

The summit, which kicked off on Thursday, has been a self-investment opportunity for many leaders who are usually too tied up with serving others to make the time to regain vision and fine-tune their leading skills.

We can suggest, from a Christian context that leadership involves 'doing as Christ would do.' All well and fine until you realise that you are not Christ and may just have an agenda of your own. Then what? How do you know that your agenda lines up with what Christ would do? Prayer? Reading of Scripture? Sure. Why not? Certainly doesn't hurt.

But it may not necessarily help either. This is because we have a pesky little tendency to think that what we understand is right must be what Christ thinks is right. The Pharisees seemed to think that. Most of history's 'leaders' thought that. The current U.S. president thinks that; as does the current Canadian primeminister. And they've landed us in a whole heap of bloody messes with their 'godly leadership'.

But I digress...

What really irks me in this whole fluffy notion of leadership they Hybelites are pushing, is the idea that leadership is a 'self-investment opportunity' that will improve the church community.

According to the Rev. Bill Hybels, Willow Creek’s founder and the senior pastor, leaders should take time invest in themselves in order to help their church.

“Everybody wins when you improve as a leader,” said Hybels on Thursday during the summit’s opening session, titled “The High Drama of Decision Making".

“And sometimes the best way you can bless your church is to make investment in yourself,” he added.

I don't have a beef with leaders keeping a watch over themselves and doing what it takes to gain some catharsis. Leading is not easy. I do have a problem with the implications of “everybody wins”, as if there was some kind of competition between the church and its leaders. I do have a problem with stating that the church is better-off when “you improve as a leader” instead of the biblical truth that conformity to the likeness of Christ is true improvement.

And I have a huge problem with the sentiment that self-investment is sometimes “the best way you can bless your church”. As Christians, we are not called to self-investment, but self-divestment (John 3:30, ESV). In other words, investing in to yourself is exactly opposite to what biblical leadership is all about, which is setting yourself aside and bowing your head to the overtures of Christ. Christ leads, and everybody else who is a Christian follows, even the 'leaders'. For what are Christian leaders if not people who conform to the likeness of Christ, and point others to Him? The way to lead, for any Christian, and not just those who share the select privilege of being entitled 'leader', is to lift Christ up and He will draw all people to Him (John 12:32).

Still, the Hybelites are sure their steps to leadership are what's needed for their congregants to be effective in preaching the gospel.

This year’s summit was designed to hold a total of nine sessions over the course of two days with topics ranging from "Leading in New Cultural Realities" and "How Leaders Can Get IT and Keep IT" to "Defending the Faith" and "Risk Taking, Barrier Breaking Bold Leadership".

Excellent. So, now, if you just follow these nine steps to effective leadership you, too, can join in the fun of coercing others to believe what you believe – er, what Willow Creek believes. In fact, you can “Get IT and Keep IT”. Whatever 'it' is. Maybe it's that ethereal quality/quantity called 'leadership.' Or maybe, it's Christ, who, in the wisdom of this pop-psychology-type-talk, is (im)properly reduced to an 'IT'.

But it doesn't stop there. No, no. Mr. Hybels had to make the vomitorius remark that having a quick-and-ready stash of catch-phrases, and pithy maxims is a vital tool for leading effectively, and that any leader should cling to such devices.

In his opening session, Hybels, who recently released his new book, “Axiom”, stressed the importance and effectiveness of axioms or proverbs and encouraged leaders to utilise them.

“Some leaders not only have a framework, but they also learned how to condense … questions and wisdom of all their past decisions and compress them into sub-composed leadership proverbs, or sayings, or axioms that give them focused counsel, or ‘microwave wisdom’, for their upcoming decision,” the megachurch pastor said.

Hybels challenged the attending leaders to compose their own axioms to "add so much to the efficiency and effectiveness and clarity of decision making”.

Great! So when your door is knocked on, or you have a chance encounter with one of Bill Hybels' sychophants, when you're looking for the opportunity to digest some deep understanding, you can have “microwave wisdom”. Or, when you really want to delve into a personal issue and gain some insight that you might desperately need, you can rely on these people to not necessarily relate but to condescend to you from on high because their proverbial wit (sarcasm intended) will “add so much to the efficiency and effectiveness and clarity of decision making.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

Go With God, Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Noble-prize winning author, and critic has died at 89. Today, I feel sad.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008

Un-Banning Brian

Sue Jones-Davies, Mayor of Aberystwyth, Wales, U.K. has proposed lifting the ban on Monty Python's classic movie, “The Life of Brian”. The film is a whacky piece of comedy that examines the mass hysteria of crowds, and herd mentality.

The difficulty for many Christians with this film, however, is that Monty Python used Jesus Christ as an integral part of their spoof. In a sideways fashion, Jesus is upstaged by an average guy nextdoor, Brian Cohen. So, wanting to come and see their saviour, the hyped-up crowds descend on what they think is Jesus' house only to mistakenly end up at Brian's house. From that point on, Brian grows up with an entourage of followers, and is continuously fending them off with the proclamation that they've got it all wrong, that he's not the saviour.

Still, many Christians were deeply offended by the off-beat humour of the British troupe, and have held to that offense ever since. Reverend Bell opposes lifting the ban, saying,

"There's been no change in attitude or response to the film amongst the Christians who have spoken to me in Aberystwyth...

"The film at its root is poking fun at Christ and we don't want that to happen. I don't think that the film should be shown. Why should the ban be removed?

“If someone was going to make fun of my wife in a film then I would oppose that… Making fun of Jesus Christ, whom I love more than my wife, in a film is going to offend me."

The problem, as I see it, though, is that the film is not about Jesus. And that's where most of the misunderstanding comes in. The film is very directly about people blindly following a mistaken identity; it's about the madness of crowds.

There are plenty of examples of crowd delusions beaten into history, and Charles Mackay has catalogued some of them quite well. The fact that this film gives some stage to Christ does not make it about Christ, nor does it mean that Christ is considered farcical. The film is simply a creative jaunt into a giant 'what if?' What if people had mistaken the baby born next door to Christ as the Messiah? What would happen if Brian were thought to be the Christ, and not Jesus?

"Jones-Davies has previously said, 'I would like to think that any religion would have the generosity to see the film for what it is, which is a comedy,' according to the BBC."

I quite agree. Over-reaction is something that plagues a lot of religious folk. Banning an imaginative comedy for making fun of crowds that mistake Brian Cohen for Jesus Christ is simply proving Monty Python's point: people are easily whipped up into thoughtless frenzies. This being no exception.