The Grammies and Satanic Goat Statues: Not Surprised

So I spent last week in a seminary class on Christian Ethics. The class began the morning after the grammies, and not surprisingly the class opened with some alarmed comments about the shenanigans of the night before.

(Disclosure: I declared the Grammies dead and irrelevant after the 1991 “Jethro Tull/Metallica” debacle, though I showed a brief revived interest with 2007’s “duets” idea.)

At any rate, some folks in the class were “shocked” and “appalled” at some of the performances.

Which made me think of satanic statues.

(As you do)

Lately, some pagan—and even straight up satanic—groups (I’m not using these terms pejoratively: they are self-identified pagans and satanists) have petitioned to have monuments and statues placed on courthouse and state lawns alongside “Christian” symbols (you can read the story here).


So I know that I’m supposed to be angry and indignant at this outrage, but I’m really not.

(Well, excepting the fact that the statue is actually quite hideous and ugly… THAT is quite disappointing.)

You see, I like it when people and institutions “show their cards.” When they take off the masks they wear and just declare, “This is who I am: deal with it.”

I like it because then I know a little more of the truth, and I can choose to accept it or walk away from it.

But at least I know.

In these two cases—the Grammies and these petitions—the music industry and our culture—are “showing their cards.”

Church (and I mean everybody): they are not our friends. We should not be surprised.

I don’t mean in a “get-scared-they’re-coming-to-take-me-away-and-oh-please-Jesus-come-back-it’s-the-Left-Behind-series-starting-where-is-Kirk-Cameron” way.

I mean a little more in the “raise-eyebrow-roll-your-eye-turn-off-the-TV-and-read-a-good-book-or-better-yet-have-a-conversation-with-your-actual-family” way.

Let me be really blunt:

  • The Grammies—and the music industry—exist for pretty much one reason: to make money. While they occasionally make a reference to “values”, and while people may occasionally thank God during an acceptance speach, if the industry has to choose between a dollar and Christian values, they will choose the dollar. They are obligated to.
  • The state exists to be a political entity. It has to perpetuate that system. If you know history—at least anything besides recent North American history—you’d discover that the “State” is no friend to faith. Because of the unique era of history that we’ve lived in, it’s easy to believe that our (awesome) political system is an ally of our faith, but that’s an illusion that most of the world does not live in (for that matter, it’s an illusion that most of the history of the Church doesn’t share, but see below).

(This is probably the time that I’d say I don’t believe in a “Christian nation.” I believe in Christians who may be part of shaping a nation, (but really, have you seen the “Jefferson Bible”?) but largely Christianity and politics have been disasters (#Calvin’sGeneva #Rwanda).

Now, in regards to the State, there is some good news:

This is not new.

Our New Testament was written in an era where the State and Roman culture dominated the landscape. But there are repeated reminders that culture, and in particular the State, do NOT have the same interests as Jesus (and His church).

Here are three of my favorites:

In Matthew 2, the magi show up and tell Herod that the KING OF THE JEWS has been born. “When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jeruslam was troubled with him.” (2v3) Why? Because if someone else (namely, Jesus) is King, it means Herod is not. It means that there’s a new king, and he’s coming to Jerusalem to shake things up. Things are about to change. You have to understand that the Jews (and the Christians) of the 1st century didn’t hear “King” like we do, as a private, faith-filled term. They knew their king ruled. Like really. Externally. Visibly. (It goes without saying that we should realize that Jesus is a real, ruling, living King.)

Mark begins his gospel like this: The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son…” (1v1) The Greek word for “good news” is euangelion which, oddly enough, was used by the Roman state to announce a military victory. It seems that what Mark is saying is that Jesus as the Messiah means that a visible, military victory is going to be one. It means that Jesus’ “kingdom” (state) is going to be the new reality.

Saint Paul probably knew this more than any of the writer of the New Testament. He was a Roman citizen, after all, and so he was quite aware of its agenda, and he knew it was not Jesus’ agenda. In 1 Thessalonians he is writing to a church about the time when all things will be resolved, a final time when Jesus will bring all things visibly together. He writes this odd phrase: “When they are saying, ‘there is peace and security,’ at that time sudden destruction will attack them, like labor pains start with a pregnant woman, and they definitely won’t escape.”

Here’s the thing: “PEACE AND SECURITY” WAS A ROMAN SLOGAN. It was meant to remind people, “Hey, your peace, security, and well-being all come from Rome. (So keep supporting us.)” Paul is saying though, “Actually the folks—the state—who are saying we will provide your peace and security are deceived, and they are not your friends.”

For Paul, Rome was no friend of Jesus Christ and His church (though Paul was not above giving sensible advice to living under authority: see Romans 13).

I think the same is true for us today. We shouldn’t be shocked when we see ridiculous behavior on the Grammies, or ugly public art (though I’m sure we Christians have created our share).

To me it’s just those institutions showing their cards.

They are not my friend, and their agenda is not the Church’s agenda.

So get over the shock, and keep on walking, folks. We still have work to do.

Do Yourself a Favor (or two)

I came home tonight and Shana was finishing up a movie called Bella.

Amazing story of love (and good food, too!).

Not Hollywood love, real love.

The self-sacrificing kind.

The Jesus kind.

So first, rent it and watch it, and recapture some wonder and innocence in your life.

Why not?

Then, go buy Nina Simone’s “Nearer Blessed Lord” (from the movie).

I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.

Convince Me

I feel like I’m on the verge of becoming a “grumpy old man” (well, let’s face it, I already am one), but I feel like I am watching the Church continue to dabble in error.

I have yet to be convinced in any form or fashion that the “multi-site” movement in the church is profitable in the long run.

Descending quickly to the bottom line, and unflinchingly showing my cards, I’ll declare that any movement to restrain the growth and development of the incarnational church is suspicious to me. Any object or paradigm that comes between the God’s children in need and the pastors who are to shepherd them is problematic, and the reason that the multi-site approach is nefarious is that — at least in part — it is predicated on the idea that the “church” exists in one community, while the “sheep” in another community.

How can this be good?

“But there are pastors who would be located in that community.” Okay, that’s good. What will they be doing? This is where the debate gets really murky, because in some cases they appear to be shepherds who take care of people, in others they will teach.

If they will teach, why not just declare the “site” a plant, and be done with it? Allow it to grow up with its own ethos, its own roots and style, its own giftedness.

Why not allow it to be free?

If the teaching will be “on screen”, then that brings a whole host of other questions. While employing the tools of culture to reach folks, “screen teaching” seems to unnecessarily cater to “passive learning” that some theologians and cultural commentators find so troubling.

In my opinion, it returns me to a similar thought I had a year ago: this is reflective of the church’s priorities. What does it say about us? Does it say we are interested in developing creative leaders and teachers, in allowing the Church to grow and flourish in localized and individual expressions? Or does it say that we are interested in control, in technology over gifts, in haste over patience.

Couldn’t the long-term health of the church be served as well by waiting another 12 – 18 months to develop the right leader for a localized, incarnational expression of the church, rather than pressing play on a DVD or a web stream?