The Gospel According to Bobby Hill

May 31, 2005

Submitted for your consideration, one Bobby Hill.

Bobby, a middle-schooler, lives in Arlen, Texas. His father, Hank, is convinced that the best path for Bobby’s childhood lies along the same roads that he experienced during his own childhood in the sixties and seventies: a simple life in white, middle-class suburbia, a healthy dosage of sports, and regular attendance at the Arlen First Methodist Church.

But times are changing. Bobby’s experiences will never mirror those of Hank’s. His girlfriend, who lives next door, is Laotian and Buddist. He is fascinated with other cultures, new and different forms of music, and new art forms. As a result of the increasing role of media in his life, he doesn’t experience the closed culture of Arlen, but a large, global culture. Many of his peers at school come from broken homes, and they do not share in the evangelical world view that is held by his parents. Indeed, Bobby isn’t really “getting” a lot of what he is being told at church, anyway.

If statistics hold, Bobby will not continue to attend Arlen First Methodist once he leaves home at 18. Indeed, he is unlikely to take much of an interest in any form of Christianity that is similar to that which is practiced at AFMC. This isn’t because he has no interest in spirituality, or even because he has no interest in Jesus. It is because he is standing on the other side of a massive cultural gap – one that has given him enough perspective to appreciate that the concerns of the aging populations of churches such as AFMC really have very little to do with the Jesus of the New Testament.

Bobby would probably be intensely interested in knowing a Jesus who can bring spiritual meaning and clarity to his life, but – based on the behavior of many Christians – he is unlikely to believe that their Jesus would even like him. He will notice that supposed Christian leaders seem intent on preserving a dying culture by protesting and speaking out against various lifestyles and beliefs – many of which have been adopted by his friends and acquiaintances. He will probably be convinced that Jesus would not even like him a lot, much less love him.

Bobby may also notice that, even though the Jesus of scripture lived among the poor and ministered primarily to the poor, most churches seem to be obsessed with “programs” that take care of their own members (from cradle to grave), and they hardly spend any of their time addressing poverty and its effects on their community. This will also strike him as very odd.

And, by the way, one other thing is almost certain. Bobby will have no interest in “Christian Affirmations” or other propositional-based ways of expressing faith. Similarly, he will have little interest in becoming a part of some insider clique of middle-class graduates from the local Christian colleges, which is fine because – in their eagerness to perpetuate a community where they can reassure each other that their wealthy, comfortable lifestyles are “blessed” ones – they probably won’t want to have much do do with him either.

So here are the questions of the day:

Will Bobby Hill ever know the Jesus of scripture? Or will he only observe – from a distance – the Jesus of angry culture wars, sterile propositional affirmations, and self-absorbed insider cliques? Will Bobby Hill ever have a gospel story to tell?

Bobby is not alone. In six to ten years, a lot of people like Bobby will be encountering your faith community. When that happens, will it be a place that makes them feel liked, where they can ask questions, and where they can embrace – through song, art, and verse – the mysteries of God’s kingdom? Will they witness a deeply passionate desire to continue the work of the Kingdom in bringing good news to the poor?

If Bobby Hill is to ever tell a gospel story, the time to start thinking about those questions is now.


Gamer’s Manifesto

May 30, 2005

I just read a blog entry in the form of a “manifesto for gamers” that is absolutely incredible! The article was linked through slashdot.org, but since it is laced with profanity – I’m not going to link to it directly here out of a desire to keep up the high standards of decency and morality that you have all come to associate with this blog.

Its “R” rated language notwithstanding, the ideas in this manifesto were just incredible. First, FINALLY someone is willing to say that better and better graphics do not make better and better games. Indeed, they hamper originality because when dollars are invested in making spectacular, expensive games, producers and investors are unwilling to take risks on new genres or forms of gameplay.

Second, the blogger expressed frustration at how long it takes to get in and out of games. Think about it: why is it so tempting to load up a game like solitaire? Becuase its easy to load, easy to unload – and can provide a quick experience.

A quarter of gamers are over fifty now! We have wives, families, jobs, kids. We’re lucky if we can find thirty minutes to play at the end of the day. If we have to hunt down a CD, wait for a program to boot, watch three minutes of corporate logos, and then wait another minute or two for our saved game to load, is it really worth our while to sit down and play?

I’ve been playing Star Wars: Galaxies lately, but MMORPGs are just out of my league. I can’t devote the time – on a regular basis – to play a game like this. The load times are horrendous, and the time it takes just to travel around the game worlds is unbelievable.

I’m all for dumbing down graphics in favor of short/instant load times and quick, satisfying gameplay experiences.


Lilo, Stich, and Body Image

May 30, 2005

As I sit at a table in our back room working today, my two younger girls (5 and almost 8) are in the room with me watching Lilo and Stitch. As I glance up from my computer from time to time to watch the movie, I’m noticing something that Sheila mentioned several weeks ago.

The two main female characters in this show – Lilo and her sister – do not have thin, Barbie-like bodies. They are both attractive girls, to be sure – they just aren’t models of our society’s notions of perfection.

I wish that my girls could be exposed to more movies like this one – movies where they learn that lovable, attractive girls don’t have to look like supermodels and supermodels-to-be.


Moving On…

May 29, 2005

I’ve really enjoyed teaching out of Revelation in Families of Faith for the last eight weeks, but I think that I’ve spent way too much time in this book lately, and its time for me to move on.

I love coming back to The Revelation every 5 years or so and discovering how much different it looks – not because the text has changed, but because I have. And I suspect that if I come back to it in 2010, its going to have even more depth and richness than it did this time around.

BUT… in the end, I’m not a “Revelation guy” in the sense that I’m totally wrapped up in discovering the mysteries of this one book, to the exclusion of all others. There are too many other things that are written in scripture that are calling me, especially right now.

This summer, I’m going to spend a lot of time trying to understand what the “kingdom of God” is. Frankly – and I’ve written about this before – I’m amazed at how little anyone seems to talk about it, when it seems to be of such importance in scripture. It seems that kingdom language has been replaced by church chat in the vocabularity of our faith.

I want to think of my spirituality in “kingdom” terms rather than “churchy” terms, and I hope that some of that focus will come out my time in the Word this summer.


iTunes Modern Worship Mix

May 28, 2005

I’ve put together a collection of some of my favorite modern worship songs and placed them here on iTunes (you’ll need to download the free iTunes player to access them).

When I put this together, I went for breadth (choosing as many artist as possible) rather than depth (choosing several of my favorites from a few). I could have chosen over ten or eleven songs for several of the artists.

You can sample all of the songs in the iTunes player, and purchase the entire set for a little less than $13, before taxes.

By the way, this isn’t a commercial thing for me. All of your money goes to Apple and the artists and distributors. I don’t get a dime of it.


The Simpsons and Christianity

May 25, 2005

I’ve been a huge fan of The Simpsons since its first season sixteen years ago. Although they often step on the toes of a lot of faiths (including Christianity), the writers’ toe-stepping tends to be funny because it is so accurate.

On last Sunday’s episode, after Bart is put into an Catholic school as a result of his wrongful expulsion from public school, he quickly develops an affinity for the Catholic faith. Homer attempts to rescue him from the school, but he also soon decides that Catholicism might be for him because: (a) they serve pancakes, (b) they play Bingo, and (c) he has a misguided notion that absolution can be obtained by confession to a priest, without any desire to repent.

When Homer returnes home, Marge complains that he had been out all night and then notices that he has the scandalous appearnace of a person who has “accepted SOMEBODY as his personal SOMETHING!”

Having quickly determined that Homer has also turned Vatican, Marge rounds up Reverend Lovejoy and faithful church-goer Ned Flanders, and they travel to the Catholic school to “rescue” Bart. After nabbing Bart and throwing him in a van (a Scooby-Doo themed vehicle labeled “The Ministry Machine”), Lovejoy lectures Bart on their intentions.

Lovejoy explains: “We’re here to bring you back to the one, true faith: The Western Branch of American Reformed Presba-Lutheranism.”

Its a good thing that the Tivo remote was handy while I was watching this, because, for some reason, I couldn’t stop laughing after that last line.

I think it hit too close to home.


The Surprise of Star Wars Episode III

May 21, 2005

Word is already circulating that Star Wars Episode III will post the highest grossing first day totals in the history of cinema, which is kind-of bizarre, when you think about it, since Sith is one of only a handfull of movies in which the conclusion was known by the audience for years before it was even made.

Yet, even though I, along with the tens of thousands of other moviegoers, knew how the third installment in Lucas’ trilogy was going to end, it packed a walloping surprise for me.

Perhaps I am the only person who had this expectation, but I had always thought that Yoda and company on the Jedi counsel – always good and wise – would caution Anakin against fear and anger, that he would refuse to listen to them, and that he would pretty much make a unilateral decision to go for the power and perks that come with the dark side.

But Episode III painted a much more sophisticated, and – I must say – disturbing picture. I’ve said this before, but I see Sith as not only a movie about the fall of Anakin and the slow erosion of democracy – it is also a tale of the moral demise of the Jedi order itself. And, because of its subtleties, it is the latter element of the story that will require a considerable amount of un-packing on my part for some time.

Here, in short, are a few of my observations relating to the moral demise of the Jedi:

Observation #1. Anakin Skywalker: From Chosen One to Unwanted Stepchild. In Anakin, Qui Gon had discovered this wonderful gift from the Force. He was innocent, loving, and giving. He was ready to learn, and use his powers for good. But no one else seemed particularly interested in him, and – after Qui Gon’s untimely demise – he was assigned to be trained by Kenobi, who was then a capable, but inexperienced Jedi. From the beginning, the Counsel’s message was clear: “We don’t really care for you, Anakin, but we’ll let you hang around since Qui Gon’s dying wish was for him to be trained.” They should have either taken Anakin’s training seriously or said “no” to the whole thing. I get the impression that, over the years, as Anakin stuck out his neck again and again for his friends, and he was lucky if he got a pat on the back by anyone. Anyone, that is, except…

Observation #2. Obi Wan and Padme: Enablers Extraordinaire. Is there any doubt that Obi Wan knew dern well about Anakin’s relationship with Padme from the outset? He must have spent years, literally, looking the other way as Anakin broke the Jedi code, vainly searching for the acceptance in Padme that his Jedi peers refused to give him. Padme, in the meantime, frankly, should have flatly laid it on the line for Anakin: its me or the order. Instead, she apparently spent endless years waiting around in her apartment for Anakin to show up for midnight snuggles. (And, by the way, lets not kid ourselves here. I’m grateful – for the sake of smaller children who tend to ask questions – that Lucas arranged to have the two married at the end of Episode II, but I think we all know that – by marrying, he is breaking the Jedi code – and that his actions are, consequently, the equivalent of adultery).

Observation #3. The Counsel: As Political as Palpatine. In order to maintain their standing with the Republic, the Jedi counsel chose to fight – and continue to fight – a war in which it was increasingly apparent that they were on the wrong side. As Palpatine manuvered his way into more and more power, they continued to blindly fight a war in which the good guys, if any, were increasingly difficult to identify. Then, when they decided they didn’t like the situation with Palpatine, they took matters into their own hands – asked Anakin, their favorite stepchild, to become an off-the-record spy – and ultimately plotted a political coup.

Palpatine, frankly, doesn’t have to tell a lot of lies to Anakin. By the time Mace Windu is goaded into the decision to execute Palpatine, the order’s hypocricy has become apparent. Don’t get me wrong – Anakin made a horrible decision. He made the worst of all possible choices in that situation, but Windu and friends made it a much easier option to consider.

Observation #4. What is Missing Here: Self Denial. Think about it. In Episodes IV-VI, the path to the return to the light side has nothing to do with the quest for power. Indeed, it only becomes clear in the various characters’ acts of self-denial. Yoda chooses to flee the Emperor and again become a learner, seeking out the spirit of Qui Gon. To secure the escape of Anakin’s children from the Death Star, Obi Wan gives his life. Han Solo, on multiple occasions, puts his neck on the line for Luke. Luke offers his own life up for what everyone else believes is a slim chance that Anakin will turn back to the light. When Luke is tempted to turn to the dark side by destroying Vader, he casts aside his lightsaber, inviting his own death at the hands of Palpatine. And then, in his ultimate act of redemption, Anakin takes on the death-strike that is meant for Luke.

What would have happened if Qui Gon had lived to train Anakin in a more thoughtful way? If Qui Gon had been his advocate in the counsel? If the Jedi had refused – at some point – to continue to fight the Senate’s war? If they had simply left Courscant in protest to the political changes there, following a more peaceful, and independent, path that seemed to them to be right? If Obi Wan had not looked the other way while Anakin attached himself to Padme?

So many turning points, and so many bad decisions along the way by so many people.

Maybe I’m looking too hard here. Maybe I’m being too influenced by my own views of what has happened to the modern Church. I certainly want to draw those parallels. But this theme of the moral demise of the Jedi – thought slightly more subtle – seems difficult to ignore.

What do you think?