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Category: Culture

Reclaiming the local church – The testimony of Jennifer Knapp

An increasingly large number of national organizations and spiritual leaders in America today believe that when they speak, they are the voice of Christianity in America. They exert their influence through radio and TV programs and in print. Increasingly they serve as talking heads in national news programs. And many of them endorse political candidates who they say will represent the true faith in their public office.

This trend was illustrated in 2010 when Jennifer Knapp, a popular Christian singer/songwriter re-entered the music business and came out as a lesbian. In the middle of a very successful career, Knapp disappeared from the public in 2004. She resurfaced in 2010 with her new album “Letting Go,” and the announcement that she was in a relationship with a woman. This caused a huge stir in the evangelical world. She was kind enough to give Christianity Today this interview to tell her story. But most significant for me was her interview with Larry King. Following her one-on-one interview with King, Bob Botsford, the self-proclaimed spokesperson for those who believed her relationship was sinful came on camera to discuss the issue. In this video segment, Jennifer fended off Botsford’s claim that as a minister, he was in a position to publicly “pastor” her on this issue.

“I have spiritual leadership in my life… pastoral counsel of those who are dear to me, who understand the scripture as sacred text. You are not that man in my life. You do not know me, and you do not have the right to speak to me in the manner that you have publicly. [You’ve said that you have the role to stand up for the truth, but that is] in your congregation and community. I ask you not to do that with me.. not to say that you are doing that on my behalf.”

I think she is totally right about this. Faith is lived in a specific geography; among communities and neighbors. We live alongside spiritual family and spiritual leaders. The voice of local pastors and spiritual friends is often drowned out by the shouting of people ministering in Nashville, Denver, or Washington DC. If we plug our ears to them and stop and listen, the Spirit may be leading us in directions completely divergent from those who think they speak for us. Focus on the Family can’t clothe and feed the poor down the street. Christianity Today won’t be there when tragedy strikes. And TBN won’t be at the wedding to celebrate the union of a couple in love, or the baptism of our children.

We need to follow Jennifer’s lead and focus our attention on our own spiritual communities. Only secondarily, if at all, as national or international.

Faith is local.

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Priesthood of the Baristas

I once had a discussion with a pastor regarding the question “How are you?” This informal greeting is friendly, but no one expects an honest answer. So we respond.. “Fine, thanks. How are you?” No one is asking for a rehearsal of our woes..

There are, however, places where I will actually share an honest answer. One is Starbucks. I have enough camaraderie with the baristas there that in those brief moments while making my drink, we will strike up a conversation and share little bits about our day. I won’t go into my financial problems, but I might say “I feel bleh.. it’s been a long day.”

The pastor I was talking with said that two types of people we feel safe making confession to about our lives are bartenders and hair stylists. These people work in what sociologists call a “Third place,” distinct from our work and homes. Who can forget the hearty “Norm!” in the TV show “Cheers” that epitomized the bar as a third place where “everybody knows your name.” When you walk in, all the stresses of life are put aside and replaced by friendships.

But then my pastor friend added an insight that is beyond the sociologists’ theories.

A “third place” can become a place for the giving and receiving of absolution.

Absolution is a word we don’t hear much, if at all. The definition is: “a formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment.”

We are more familiar with the act that comes before it: Confession. We have commonly witnessed the confessional, either in a church, or on a TV show. There, the penitent sinner sits and confesses his sins to a priest. But what we don’t usually see is the absolution given at the end. Having confessed their sins to the priest, on behalf of God, they are proclaimed forgiven of their sins.

The pastor with whom I was having this conversation proclaims this absolution, or forgiveness of sins, over the members of their church every Sunday.

Almighty God in His infinite mercy, has given His Son to die for us and, for his sake forgives all our sins. As a servant of his Church, a fellow member of the priesthood we share by baptism into Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sons, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN

It moves me every time. Sometimes my eyes get moist. Because even though I was raised in the church, and know that God has forgiven my sins, I forget. And as my sins pile up I begin to feel that I have gone beyond the point of grace. I’m not alone. Paul, a leader in the early church, wrote a letter to the church in Rome, confessing his own sins.

“For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. a For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!” (7:18)

But we are not left there. A disciple of Jesus named John wrote in a letter:

“But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9)

When a pastor proclaims absolution for our sins, he is not making it up. When we confess our sins, God will forgive us. So hearing it is a reminder of what John has already taught us. But I forget. And I need to be reminded. Every week. And I am in awe that looking at my life, a god would forgive me, and eternally grateful that God has.

There is one last thing to notice about this prayer: the pastor is proclaiming absolution as “a fellow member of the priesthood we share by baptism in Christ.” In some churches, you can only receive absolution from the priest. But, Peter another disciple of Jesus proclaimed that Christians are “being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.” We are priests. And so, when we are talking to a barista, a bartender or a barber, it may be that they are also Christians. This becomes not simply an opportunity for confession. It can be a time of absolution as well. We need to be in the habit of reminding each other that our sins have been forgiven. Because we forget. We think our sins are too great for God’s grace. But they aren’t. We just need to be reminded.

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“Fast” Food

FiletOFish-ad-600On your drive to work this morning, look closely and you might spot an Easter Egg hidden in plain sight. It won’t be a hard-boiled egg splashed with food coloring. Or a candy-filled plastic egg. These easter eggs are deep-fried breaded fish between two hamburger buns slathered with tartar sauce.

Every year towards the end of February, I point out to my family that Lent must be near because the fast food chains began displaying fish sandwiches on their reader boards.

Most people don’t know about Lent. It originates from the 2nd century practice of baptizing new members on Easter Sunday. In preparation, novices spent 40 days receiving instruction in the Bible, and a week of praying, fasting, and study culminating at Easter. Over time this practice extended to family, friends and the entire church community. It became traditional to fast during this time. It usually wasn’t a complete fast, often involving only meat.

Lent is a season the church pretty much has to itself. Christmas is shared with Santa Claus. Easter is paired with a bunny. But on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Christians have black crosses on their foreheads. Comedian Mike Birbigula posted on Facebook: “Either it’s Ash Wednesday or a lot of people have been experimenting with calligraphy.” During the Lenten season, many Christians imitate the early church and fast. Some cut out meat. Others give up coffee, or TV.

Here’s where the fish sandwich comes in. In 1962, Lou Groen, a McDonald’s franchisee realized he was losing a lot of business during Lent. So he invented the Filet-O-Fish, knowing that his largely Catholic customer base was allowed to eat fish during Lent. It was a hit, and is now on menus all year. Ever since, the fish sandwich heralds the coming of Easter just as the pumpkin spice latte is the culinary signal that autumn has begun. It is the “Shamrock Shake” of Lent. Fast food became “fast” food.

It would have been unimaginable to the first Christians that people would profit from this season of spiritual devotion. They were imitating Jesus’ fast in the wilderness. When the devil tempted Jesus to break his fast with bread, he didn’t ask if it came with a side of fries and a cola. He declared to his tempter that life is more than food.

“We rely on words spoken by God Himself,” he said. “God humbled the Israelites, allowing them to go hungry, so He could feed them with a food they had never seen before.”

Jesus’ point was that our lives have meaning beyond food. Our lives have meaning when we come to Him in poverty and humility, relying on hearing God’s voice, in whatever form that takes.

When Jesus came out of the desert, he taught his disciples to fast like he did. Some people intentionally looked gloomy, and disfigured their faces when they fasted, so that everyone around them would know they were fasting.

“These hypocrites have their reward,” Jesus said. “But that’s not what you want. When you fast, shampoo your hair and wash your face so that the people around you don’t know you are fasting. Your Father will. And he’ll give you a reward far greater than those hypocrites’.”

McDonalds won’t instruct it’s employees to wear sackcloth and ashes for Lent. But they will certainly have their reward when they sell an estimated 25 million fish sandwiches. That’s not what we want. God’s reward for people who don’t draw attention to themselves when they fast will be far greater than a sesame seed bun. We will hear God’s word and be all the more alive. And be given riches that money can’t buy.

The stories of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and instructions for fasting are taken from the 4th and 6th chapters of Matthew’s account of his life.

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Are you playing the notes, or are you playing the song?

As a public school teacher, I spend time with young children who are learning their alphabet, vowels and consonants, and how to pronounce words. Of course, they don’t need to know this to talk. We don’t learn to talk by studying consonants. We learn to talk by being around talking people. But to write and read, children need to learn the grammar of the English language.

But teaching English does not end in the 1st grade. This year, my son Elijah brought home a mural that showed that he had moved to the next step after grammar. He had combined those consonants and vowels into a story. Complete with pictures, it showed that he could do more then string words together into sentences. He could use those letters to create something that had never existed before. A story about himself and me.

At some point, music students must cross this same divide where their piano playing moves from a recitation of notes to the performance of a song.

Music, like English is made up of its own grammar. It is called music notation. In place of consonants, vowels and verbs, notation includes the notes, and rests, sharps and flats to communicate how a song should be played or sung.

The system we have and us for writing music developed over many centuries. But it is the means to an end, and not an end in itself. When a melody gets written down, only the surface elements are transmitted: pitch, and very bald rhythm. And if it is all that is used to communicate music, as a musician you are simply parroting the notation, like a 1st grader reading a sentence.

In her book “Creative Hymn Singing,” Alice Parker uses singing to describe playing the song, rather then reciting the notes. She says

“For millenia, music was transmitted only aurally; that is, from parent to child, from one village to another. A melody transmitted aurally keeps its tempo, pulse, pitches and phrases with all their subtlest inflections, to be modified as desired by the next singer.” – Alice Parker, Creative Hymn Singing, p. 6

In other words, the song is not a stoic representation of notes and rests. It lives and breathes. As players or singers, we must wrestle with the song, tapping into our own creativity to own the song for ourselves.

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The soundtrack of my life

Inspired by a book I was reading, called “The Happiness Advantage,” I decided to go through my iTunes library and create playlists of albums from different seasons of my life. This turns out to be a much different experience then starting a Pandora station with “Night Ranger.” Because, back then, we bought albums and <gasp> listened to the whole thing.

The more I go through my music with an ear towards what I was listening to at different times of my life, it evokes the sense of place during those times. I am transported back to the rooms I was in when I was listening to these albums.

In the mid 80’s, I listened to a lot of Keith Green, Kansas, Petra, Genesis and Prince in my bedroom (much to my mother’s chagrin.) In the late 80’s and early 90’s it was Van Halen, more Prince, Sting, and Chick Corea in my dorm room (much to the chagrin of my roommate.). In the mid 90’s, it was Van Halen, Arrested Development, Paul Simon, and Phil Keaggy, in my music room at our first house in Ephrata (to no one’s chagrin.)

But another thing I’ve done is to cull the stuff that I really liked. There’s a lot of music out there that I just played but really hasn’t stayed with me. Some albums brings back bad memories. Others, great memories.

It is remarkable how emotive music is.

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3 things you thought were true about Coca-Cola but aren’t

I periodically hear stories like these that seem just too incredible to be true. A quick Google search usually leads to snopes.com which provides the facts to debunk the myth. I have no horse in this race. I don’t need to defend the consumption of Coke. But it is an important example of how rumors often hold more weight in people’s eyes then scientific research. For some, it is simply easier to just believe that chain email then it is to put in the tiniest effort to make a quick Google search and find the truth.

Myth #1 Coke is owned by the Mormon church.

Truth: The Coco-Cola Company is far too sizable a business entity for any one person or group to own, even if that group were Bill Gates and Kerry Packer. Big Red is a publicly traded company with 15% of the shares held by insiders and 9% by SunTrust Bank. The remaining 76% of the company is owned by various and sundry institutional and individual investors, some whom may indeed be Mormon.
Source: http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/mormon.asp

Myth #2 The artificial sweetener aspartame found in Coco-Cola has been proved responsible for an epidemic of cancer, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis.

Truth: Aspartame, a dipeptide composed of phenylalanine and aspartic acid linked by a methyl ester bond, is not absorbed, and is completely hydrolysed in the intestine to yield the two constituent amino acids and free methanol. Opponents of aspartame suggest that the phenylalanine and methanol so released are dangerous. In particular, they assert that methanol can be converted to formaldehyde and then to formic acid, and thus cause metabolic acidosis and neurotoxicity.

Although a 330 ml can of aspartame-sweetened soft drink will yield about 20 mg methanol, an equivalent volume of fruit juice produces 40 mg methanol, and an alcoholic beverage about 60-100 mg. The yield of phenylalanine is about 100 mg for a can of diet soft drink, compared with 300 mg for an egg, 500 mg for a glass of milk, and 900 mg for a large hamburger (1). Thus, the amount of phenylalanine or methanol ingested from consumption of aspartame is trivial, compared with other dietary sources. Clinical studies have shown no evidence of toxic effects and no increase in plasma concentrations of methanol, formic acid, or phenylalanine with daily consumption of 50 mg/kg aspartame (equivalent to 17 cans of diet soft drink daily for a 70 kg adult) (1, 2).
Source: http://www.aspartame.net/rumors/Aspartame_and_the_Internet.asp

Myth #3: Coke is so acidic it is used to clean blood from crime scenes and clean battery posts. If you put a t-bone steak in a bowl of coke it will be gone in two days.

Truth: Many of the entries are just simple household tips involving Coca-Cola as provided by Joey Green in his 1995 book “Polish Your Furniture with Pany Hose.” That you can cook and clean with Coke is relatively meaningless from a safety standpoint. Nearly all carbonated soft drinks contain carbonic acid which is moderately useful for tasks such as removing stains and dissolving rust deposits.
Coca-Cola does contain small amounts of citric acid and phosphoric acid; however all the insinuations about the dangers these acids might pose ignore a simple concept familiar to any first-year chemistry student: concentration. Coca-Cola contains less citric acid than does orange juice, and the concentration of phosphoric acid is far too small to dissolve a steak, a tooth or nail. Besides, the gastric acid in your stomach is much stronger than any of the acids in Coca-Cola, so the Coke itself is harmless.

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Infographic: A Look At The Size And Shape Of The Geosocial Universe In 2011

Five years ago, I was the odd parent who was texting his teenagers. Today it is the rare parent that doesn’t. Five years ago, I had an account at Myspace, which I believed was one of the ugliest websites I’d ever seen.

Now, thanks to the graphic below, we have a picture of a much different online social sphere.

  • There are 5.3 Billion mobile devices used worldwide. 77% of the world’s population

  • Facebook has 629 million users, 250 million of which access the site via mobile. (I do.)

  • Little known (by Americans) Qzone, China’s version of Facebook has 480 million users.

For more, click on the link below to the article. Very interesting world we live in.

Geosocial world.png

[From Infographic: A Look At The Size And Shape Of The Geosocial Universe In 2011]

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Why you should start using Twitter: “Twitter Literacy” by Howard Rheingold

Whenever I substitute teach in High School or Middle School, I survey my classes by asking “Do you use Facebook?” The answer is usually everyone. But when I ask “Do you use Twitter?” the unanimous response is “No. Why would I?”

Twitter appears to most people to be a vanity tool used to announce what I’m eating for dinner. Howard Rheingold agrees, but sees something there that most people miss:

“Sure, Twitter is banal and trivial, full of self-promotion and outright spam. So is the Internet. The difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it – on knowing how to look at it.”

[From Twitter Literacy (I refuse to make up a Twittery name for it) : Howard Rheingold : City Brights]

When you follow quality users, and dig deeper into trends and tags, you have the opportunity to receive an ongoing education in diverse thinking, news and tools that you can’t find anywhere else.

Give Howard’s article a read for yourself. I think you will find it describes a Twitter you didn’t know existed.

And then, if you are interested, you can follow me here:

http://twitter.com/#!/jefflong2u

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Wanna destroy the Earth? Harder then you might think

If we’re going to get a new Earth, God must have some pretty serious TNT up his sleeves.  Sam Hughes at Things of Interest says at http://qntm.org/destroy

“You’ve seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You’ve heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.

Fools.

The Earth is built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you’ve had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.”

Putting aside Biblical prophecy, it struck me this week

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Books, books, books, kindle!

A frustration for anyone who has lived with me has been the piles of books spread all over. Most recently, the trunk of my car holds the library of my current thoughts. But on my way to the park today I realized I had all I needed in the slim device in my pocket. The Kindle on my iPod Touch is a revolution for someone who just can’t stop asking questions.

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