Parenting to grow great teens

Being parents has been one of the true life-joys for Kari and I the last twenty years. Youth ministry veterans Ken and Julie Moser like our children so much they wanted me to come lead a seminar on parenting teens.

I am not sure how much credit we can take for the people our kids have chosen to become (Kari can more than I can to be sure), and I fear that setting myself up as some sort of parenting “guru” might jinx them.

The slides and notes from parenting seminar at the “Q Event” in the diocese of Qu’Appelle is available by clicking on the photo.

Click on pic to download pdf of slides and notes

(Click on pic to download pdf of slides and notes)

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Guest Post: The Black Holocaust Never Stopped

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I don’t do many guest posts. Today is an exception. In the wake of Ferguson and the vitriol at the looting but not at the killing that precipitated it, I want you to hear my friend Warren Stewart’s voice. I want you to hear how it feels to be Black in American right now. Today.  Warren is not a reactionary. He is a kind hearted, conservatively educated, middle-class, married guy of good will struggling to raise his kids. He is a Christian, a pastor, and the son of one of Arizona’s most highly respected and moderate African-American clergy. If Warren does not feel there is a place for him in our culture, we are really in a tough spot. Please read this with an open heart and then take the risk of letting it start conversations…

 

Why do black people have to explain why racism still exists in America? You tell us. We didn’t create it. It must be amazing to be a part of the majority and privileged demographic in America. To never have to be concerned with racism, prejudice, profiling, lynching, slavery, etc. is a privilege.

I am told that it shouldn’t be called “racism” because we are all a part of the human race. Yet American history tells us Black people (slaves) were not even seen as human, only three-fifths so, in the 1788 American congressional documents.  When you are not viewed as fully human what other word is there other than “racism”? And yet I and many of your Black friends hesitate to comment on issues of race because we don’t want to offend our White friends.

Racism in America has never gone away. People of color have been written out of our history books – this is where racism begins: It is taught. Children are never taught our positive influence on history. And if children are taught, even Black children, to forget about Black history no wonder people of color don’t seem to matter in our present day.

Blacks have not arrived because we have the King holiday. We did not arrive because of the election of President Barack Obama. Those are not America’s apology for slavery. They are not our 40 acres and a mule. Having an African-American President has only opened the curtain to reveal that America still has stage 4 racism cancer.

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From Joseph Boston’s fb page.

The Black Holocaust has never ended. Jews had their horrific holocaust at the hands of Hitler and it was over. Our holocaust has never ended. Black people are still marked for sifting, extinction, and death. We have been trained to kill each other. We are targeted by the police. We have never had relief from prejudice and racism. We still feel the injustices of Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown every time another Black life is taken. If a White boy was gun downed by Black police officers they would be in jail now.

Our holocaust has never ended. Slavery has merely taken on a new form through the prison system (free labor). Our economic bondage is maintained by tying school funding to property values and then filling our neighborhoods with government approved predatory lenders. The Black eugenics plan (abortion) has killed more black lives than slavery. HIV/AIDS has killed more Black people then any other demographic. Africa, one of our world’s richest continents, has some of the poorest living conditions in the world. And in America the police act as the new KKK executing young Black men on the street and leave them there for 4 hours as they did when they hung us from trees in the South.

I am outraged. I am outraged because I still experience racism and others act as if it does not exist. I’m frustrated with my own people because we allow ourselves to be influenced by the demonic messages of hip-hop. I am upset because the media portrays us as less than (3/5) human whenever possible and demonize us as thugs. Mostly I am tired of having to explain that racism still exists. Here is my question, Do you value people of color as fully human other than entertaining you on a stage, field, or court?

I have wonderful White brothers and sisters in the faith and I am thankful for them. They understand and are genuinely concerned about what we go through. It is only through the gospel that has brought down every dividing wall that separated us that we can be unified in Christ in our diversity (Ephesians 2:11-18). But diversity and unity has to move from a conversation to integration in a masterful mosaic for the Messiah to be glorified.

One day every eye will see Christ’s body united. One day we will stand before God and there will be neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. We will all be one in Him. (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 7:9).

But that day has not yet come.

#ClassIsInSession #Racism #Ferguson #MikeBrown

 
*Originally posted on Warren’s blog: http://warrenhstewartjr.wordpress.com
 
Note from Matt: Reconciliation is hard work. It doesn’t happen between groups…or when we label “ those people on tv.” It happens one life at a time. You can be a reconciling presence or a dividing one. Each of us chooses every day. Again, I encourage you to take a risk and let Warren’s piece start some conversations.

The Polarization of America: Whatever happened to Average Joe?

 

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Thoughtful author and mega-pastor, Tim Keller, describes a seeming contradiction: How can conservative evangelicalism be experiencing slow growth when the wider culture is growing noticeably more secular? Keller’s answer: It is an indicator of an increasingly polarized America.

“…the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion in the middle…

I have been saying this for years. But finally somebody with a big-boy microphone said it – the middle, if not gone, is going fast.

“You don’t so much see secularization as polarization, and what is really disappearing is the middle.‘”

Here is how a disappearing middle plays out… 

-Politically-

In Arizona one would think that Republicans vying for their parties’ nomination for governor were the Hatfields and McCoys. For six months my inbox has been the sawed off shotgun of spam – Republican on Republican attack ads in every direction. And then the emails from the Democrats arrive. Both sides making sure we know the truth – “those guys” are ruining America! Accusations are fired indiscriminately, like buckshot. Want to win a political race? Run to a partisan sideline and attack your opponent. The middle disappeared.

-Religiously-

This loss of common ground is occurring in religion as well. It is seen on university campus’ as the forces of puritanical secularism rally to deny religious freedoms on even broad creedal bodies. A prominent clergy friend once said, “Twenty years ago I was decently left of center. Now I am the exposed right flank and wondering if there is still room for me.” A once self-proclaimed liberal the exposed right flank? What happened? In his church the “right” may have “quit,” but the middle disappeared.

It is true politically. It is true religiously.

It is also true socio-economically…

-In Our Neighborhoods-

When I was growing up the difference between the wealthy and middle class was a fourth bedroom and room for a second car in your carport. The poor lived in two-bedroom homes two blocks away. Rich or poor, no one was really too far from the middle.

Americans once shared a lot of common ground: Most folks went to church. Most kids went to public school  – even if the school was not good. We all bought clothes at the same mall and food at the same grocery stores. Parents stood together in the streets after work and talked about “our” kids. It was a community of the middle. We were all “Average Joe’s.”

Today in that same neighborhood the children of the one car carport/three bedroom homes are on free and reduced lunch and the parents can’t afford to water the lawns. In the two car/four bedroom homes most of the kids are in $15,000 a year private schools. They do 6 figure remodels of those homes every seven years. (Now before you light me up for being anti-wealth let me assure you that I have nothing against wealth. Neither did Jesus, by the way. Jesus was not anti-wealth. He was pro-generosity. What I am having issue with is the disappearance of Average Joe.)

Average Joe, and his wife Average Jane, were America’s sane, moderate middle. They paid taxes, worked the same job until retirement. They raised nice kids who got in trouble a few times, but who would surely grow up and follow in their average parents’ footsteps.

But along the way Joe and Jane’s kids surprised us. The kids grew up into Katie Cause and Kevin Consumption-polarized and polarizing. Perhaps it was economic pressure. Or fear of change. Or political winds. Whatever the causes, Katie and Kevin picked “sides” in the culture wars and retreated to them. We could have not have done a better job of rearranging our lives around our socio-economics and our politics if we had set out to. Last week a thoughtful clergy-blogger, Fr. Tony Clavier, worried out loud that our religion has become mere cover for our political aspirations.

-The Disappearing Middle-

But here I remain. In the increasingly empty middle.

And I am not leaving. I’m compulsive in my centricity.  I even joined a church who calls itself the “via media.” But I am looking around. And from here the “middle way” looks like the no man’s land between the trenches in the Verdun. Nothing but bullets, bodies, and folks running for cover.

There are some benefits to being in the middle, of course. Occasionally one gets to be a bridge. Which isn’t always as fun as it sounds. Bridges get walked on. And in times of war booby trapped.

And Yet…

Before my cynical soliloquy sends you to the medicine cabinet in search of antidepressants, let me assure you that I actually have hope for a renewed common ground. It comes from our young adults – those misaligned Millennials. At their best, they have the ability to hold deep convictions but without the need to coerce into their camp those who don’t share them. Among the over thirty the word “tolerance” is generally code for “progressive.” For many young adults, who have grown up in diversity, it means, gasp, the ability to have real, actual friendships with those with whom they disagree.

Average Joe and Average Jane are gone. I am fairly certain they are not coming back. But look who is beginning to move into the neighborhood! Their grandchildren, who are less interested in consumption and, although they care deeply for their causes, have a distaste for demonizing others.

And, if you are tired of living on the fringes and looking for a new friendlier place, there is room here in the middle of our block for you…

Parenting To Make Disciples: Overcoming fear and perfectionism

 

Photo credit: Babble.com

Photo credit: Babble.com

 

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Are you nervous about how your kids will grow up? Are you trying hard to give them all the right opportunities? Does parenting feel like a high-stakes game of “Whose kid is more awesome?” If so, be encouraged. We made 10,000 mistakes and our kids still turned out ok.

So much parenting advice plays on our fears. We see the results of this being lived out in young adults as they struggle with the fruits of our fear-based parenting: Questions of identity, lack of community, confused calling, and sense of entitlement in an increasingly complex world. Is it possible to parent without fear? Our advice: Feel free not to play along – refuse to drink the “experts” Cool Aid.

It takes a fair amount of hutzpah to give someone else parenting advice, but we get a decent amount of street cred by knowing that we have made a mind-bending amount of parenting fails and still having adolescents who are turning into nice young adults – heck, we’ve even had people tell us they joined our church because they wanted their kids around ours. And our kids actually are pretty swell: They are kind. Thoughtful. Motivated. They love God. They seek community (both multi-generationally in church and in age-appropriate ministry groupings). They lead and serve others. And they are doing these things without much prompting from us. How did we do it? Was it dumb luck? Were we experts in child psychology? Were we blessed with compliant children? Actually, it was none of the above. We are ordinary people who did a few grace-based things that we thought were right. Here, in no magical order are…

10 things we do as parents that seem to have worked:

  1. Keep the end in mind. When our kids were young we sought the advice of parents whose young adult children we respected. A surprising number talked about “parenting for the future.” It was freeing to remember that what we were  not after eight year olds with the most activity ribbons, but self-directed, moral, responsible, God-following thirty-year olds. We parented alongside friends who were forever fretting: “Are they meeting the right kids, playing the right sports, learning the right version of Mandarin, eating sufficiently organic meals, will they try sex, will playing that video game turn them into a basement-lizard crackhead?” It was exhausting. So we relaxed. We lowered the bar early on. Our big goal for early childhood was that by age four our kids would know, “God loves you and Mommy and Daddy do too.” That was it. Instead of club sports and video games we kicked them outside and let them engage in kid-organized play. We let them be bored. We, gasp, put them in the “wrong” schools.
  2. Realize they will become you. All of us become our parents. Knowing our kids will become what they see, we watched what we said and, especially, what we did. In Christian Smith’s groundbreaking book Soul Searching, he describes the belief system of Americans as a shallow, touchy-feely, do-goodism masquerading as faith. The bombshell is not just that this is the belief system of both secular and many churched Americans, but that the source of that theology is parents. It may be trendy to blame the church, but the number one reason kids don’t love God is not the pastor. It is us. So we tried to grow in our faith and our kids noticed. And, because children live what they learn, they developed the habits of faith too.
  3. Love each other. It is (or should be) a given that we parents love our kids. Want to raise secure children? Love your spouse. It creates a stability that allows them to take healthy risks later.
  4. Live grateful, generous lives.We made service and ministry hallmarks of our family. We opened our home and family and let our kids see us sacrifice time and money for other’s benefit. We involved “those people” in our family. Most parents try to avoid “them.” Don’t. Have your kids in school with kids who are different from them. Have “them” in your home. In the small youth group that met in our house last night, kids from twelve different countries were present. This is not about serving the “less fortunate.” “They” have values that we wanted our children to learn. Educational research tells us that heterogenous groupings (differing abilities) are more effective than homogenous groupings (i.e. all the smart kids in one place). Our kids are broader and more able to cope in a diverse world as a result. More than that, it fights the creeping narcissism of our culture when your kids grow up involved in things that are for the good of another for another’s sake.
  5. Use lots of words. Ask good questions and listen. Talk. Read. Create a word rich environment. The dinner table is critical for this. Skip the baby talk. And don’t be afraid to praise them when you see them doing something admirable.
  6. Remember the goal is adults who walk with God. This is not the same as having the appearance of walking with God. Rule following is not nearly as important as a heart that wants to walk with God from love. We worked on teaching them to learn to love doing the things Christians have always loved doing: Read the Bible, pray, be in mutual surrender with other Christians, gather to worship, serve, etc. But experiencing being the beloved’s of the God behind these practices is the goal.
  7. Tell the truth. There are plenty of things we cannot and should not tell our children, but we tried remarkably hard to be sure that our kids could count on our word. (BTW, we took this one all the way to Santa Claus. We said, “Santa is really fun pretend. Sort of like your dolls are really fun, but still pretend.” You may not want to do that. It made us pretty unpopular with other parents when our kids spilled the beans.)
  8. Don’t need them to “like” us. Instead, be people they can respect. Parents seem to be confused in the Facebook age of “like.” You don’t need to be “cool.” You don’t need the latest slang. Kids are like sharks – they can smell a parent’s desperation. The impulse to be liked is in all of us. But what kids need now is a parent. So, rather than need to be liked, be someone who is courageous to talk about their life. Be someone worthy of their respect. …But do like
  9. Develop their gifts and dreams. Not ours. Encourage experimentation and risk taking. But before they can experiment with chemicals and sex, help them experiment with their God-given gifts and dreams so that they can begin to taste their calling. Help them to prefer adventure and risk to safety and security. Faith and fear do not go together. As a result, our kids have done a bunch of things that we would never have dared attempt.
  10. Have lots of honorable people in their lives. Hillary Clinton was right, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The successful families we were watching were all people who knew that they needed other adults in their kids lives who were saying what they were saying, but just happened not to be them when they said it. Surround them with healthy Christian adults, young and old.

In other words, we placed high value on effort, risk, faith, and service, and a lower one on club sports (never played one), academics (although they signed up for plenty of AP courses on their own), and fighting their battles.

How about you? Do you have any tips for young parents who are embarking in this lifelong adventure?

For another post on parenting: The Secret Sauce for Raising Great Teens

 

Defending an Unfettered Free Market? Christians give up the moral high ground yet again

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 “Unfettered Free Markets Suck.”  

-Adam Smith’s great, great, great, grandson

I have just finished Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem’s book, “The Poverty of Nations.” In it they argue that prosperity is best arrived at by unfettered free markets, clear titles to property, and the rule of law – all of which make risk taking entrepreneurship possible. I agree with titles and law. I take issue with their first premise: the unfettered free market. I think that defending the unfettered free market is a mistake, especially for Christians. Before I attack it, here are some common arguments for the free market:

1) Free markets allocate resources efficiently. No one person or government can allocate resources the way competition, working freely, can.

2) Free markets take advantage of all of the information in a society, generating stability. No one bureaucracy can adequately plan the way every consumer’s needs can, stimulating through the mechanism of supply and demand, the fulfillment of consumer’s needs.

3) Free markets generate creativity and promote innovation. Steve Jobs says, “I can make a better phone” and we are all better off.

4) Free markets limit the abuse of power by keeping it distributed widely, into the hands of each and every consumer.

These all contain at least an element of truth. And, although I am acquainted with both Barry and Wayne and think highly of them, I would like to push back against the idea of unfettered free markets…[1] Unfettered free markets are simply not, to use a common colloquialism, “all that.”

1) Competition is imperfect. Agents in the UFM (unfettered free market) will naturally conspire to decrease competition – oligarchies anyone?

2) Bidding is also. The UFM assumes that we are all equally free to “bid” for services. Children and future generations, for example, are not. Companies can and do work against their own long-term interest for short-term gain (Chinese air pollution reaching American shores and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch come to mind).

Photo credit: Lea Kelley

Photo credit: Lea Kelley

3) Cost divergence = markets that aren’t really “free”: The UFM assumes that the nominal cost (what I pull out of my wallet to buy a car) and the real cost (all of the expenses of driving my car: cost to build the roads, lost opportunity cost of land under the freeway, pollution cost of car, cost of administering and policing the roads) are equal. They are not. A government was probably involved in taxing consumers to cover the real cost. Societies’ must provide infrastructures. Do you want that infrastructure planned and inspected by disinterested parties or the company profiting from the bridge you are driving on? Thought so.

4) Socialists are happier. If the UFM was the best economic system then people living in them should be “happiest.” In fact, that is what Dr. Grudem and Mr. Asmus tell us. Unfortunately, the evidence does not bear that out. (http://goo.gl/FZSKVL) Bloomberg reports, The “happiest people,” year after year live in Northern Europe: 1) Denmark, 2) Norway, 3) Switzerland, 4) The Netherlands, 5) Sweden. All are tightly controlled economies. The U.S. ranks 17th.

So color me a believer in some government regulation of economies. Unfettered free market systems regularly create long-term nightmares that people band together and elect governments to solve. Drive up the I-95 toward Philadelphia. It looks like a scene from the movie Soylent Green. Consider also the chemical companies in East St. Louis. Those companies spent 100 years gerrymandered out of the school district of their plant workers so that they didn’t have to pay for schools for their own employees children…even as their toxic sludge oozed up into the basements of those schools. Humans can and should band together to make sure that some decision-making is centralized for the common good – automobile safety regulations, and eliminating lead paint on children’s playground equipment come to mind.) The issue is to figure out which regulations are “doable” (like lead paint) and which are not (a $30/hr. minimum wage) and then give government the teeth for enforcement. A government with no teeth is no government (Insert name of any one of dozens of countries with ineffective/corrupt governments here).

Regulating human selfishness is, by the way, biblical:

1)   “The love of money is the root of evil. The UFM assumes that I will love money and my self-interest…not God and neighbor. Do we really want a system that glorifies our sin nature, rather than one which acknowledges but works to moderate it? (1 Timothy 6:10)

2) Scripture assumes that humans, because of sin, are not “free,” but natural oppressors of other humans. (See Amos 2:6-7, 4:1-9). Has an unfettered FM really insured human thriving? Ask the employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. O wait, we can’t.

3) We are told to “Bear one another’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2) Let’s employ the hermeneutic principle known as “the clear meaning of words: “Bear”: to carry.” “One another’s”: someone else’s. “Burdens”: That which is heavy.

4) Generosity, the “re-allocation of wealth,” was commanded of individuals (Deuteronomy 23:24-25) in early Israel…but the early government was too weak to provide services. To maintain a completely individualized system leaves aid unevenly distributed-a burden upon those in places with more poor. In an era with more social organization we can do better.

5) There are numerous injunctions to create government. Scripture repeatedly advises the appointment of “judges” – administrators of law and social organization (2 Sam 7:11, 1 Chronicles 17:10, 1 Chronicles 26:29, 2 Chronicles 19:5.) This starts when Jethro sees a need (Exodus 18:13-27). He then creatively solves the problem by generating a new solution: judges for disputes. Why can we not utilize this same method in economics?

6) Did I mention that Jesus told us to share? More than once, too: (Mark 10:21-22, Luke 6:20-21, Matt 25:34-36, Mark 12:41044, Luke 14:12-14, Luke 16:19-25, Luke 11:39-42, Luke 12:16-21).

The question is how best to administer sharing and some regulation for the common good. In Acts, the church gave that task to deacons. Are church buildings and local deacons the most efficient way to care for the poor? Perhaps in some places. Probably not in all places.

And then, there is still that question as to where the “happiest people” live. Again, the data says that Dr. Grudem is wrong. It is NOT the places with the most open and most unfettered free markets, but specifically those places in which markets have some public controls to protect consumers.

The sad thing for me is the way much of the American church defends partisan policies (no economic limits or regulations…Somalia comes to mind) as if this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do I really need to say that it is not? I recently posted on FB my joy that a friend, a music minister at his church, and brought to the U.S. as a 9 year old, received Deferred Action to be able to work. Christians railed against this…against a Christian music minister being given the freedom to  work in the market as the result of his parent’s illegal actions 15 years earlier. It generated 120 comments in 24 hours.

And we wonder that Christians are no longer seen as crusaders for good? O how we have fallen. In the 1840’s 1/3 of active abolitionists were ordained clergy. The church, once seen as a bastion of care for the less fortunate, is now seen as a tool of tax and charity avoidance. God’s people are commanded to care for the widow, orphan, and alien (Jeremiah 22:3, Exodus 12: 49, Mal. 3:5, Ps. 82:3, 68:5, 10:17-18, Ex. 22:22-23)  …And yet we argue for a free market for all…unless, of course, you might not be able to produce papers when stopped for Driving While Brown.

Julian the Pagan, in his (362 AD) campaign to revive paganism wrote, “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by our priests, the impious Galileans (Christians) observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence. They support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”

Where did this spirit go? Once upon a time we Christians were known for our love and self-sacrifice. We were known as great defenders of the week and great lovers of those in need.

Will the church reclaim a moral high ground? One in which we love our Lord and His least, last, and lost more than we love protecting our markets, our assets, and our borders?

 

 

[1] Barry is a great guy and a friend of Young Life. Wayne is also a very nice man, a best selling author, and has a most amazing array of memorized Scripture.

 

Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastor’s Edition

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It is a game we find endlessly entertaining. It pays lavish cash gifts to the contestants – celebrity pastors long on speaking gifts and ego. Part of the appeal is that the game appears unscripted. In reality it is anything but: First come video-venue multi-sites…necessary because “our man” is “da man.” Then book deals complete with manipulated sales. 16,000′ homes? Of course. “An ox is worthy of its hire.” – That’s biblical. Financial transparency? Not in this game, Alex. And, as celebrity stature grows, church boards are re-filled, not with parishioners, but with the pastors of other megachurches. The final page of the script is to re-brand oneself from pastor to CEO. After all, a pastor can’t take three quarters of a million in “winnings” each year. For the IRS, however, “What is a CEO?” is the answer in the form of a question for the ambitious pastor.

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

This new generation of celebrity preachers do not disclose salaries. They play shady games with parishioner money. They plagiarize while exhorting others not to. They shamelessly teach even children to idolize them. They bully those who would question their bad behavior. This game turns people from parishioners to Svengali following fans and renders the faith foolishness to an increasingly unchurched culture.

Yes, any public figure draws criticism, and envy is an ever present human problem. However, when you have harmed so many through your teaching and lack of financial accountability that former staff and parishioners set up websites to warn others of you, perhaps it is time for us to change channels?

I am told that I should lay off – that celebrity turnstile church pastors are “making Jesus famous”? I say they are making themselves famous, Alex. Not to mention fabulously wealthy. And when someone viewing at home grumbles we are told by the studio audience that their success validates their ministry and that we should not dare to “raise a hand against God’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:11).

I have also been told that this is a Philippians 1 issue of “whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached…so I rejoice.” That, however, is Paul saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens to me.” This is much different. This is not a leader sacrificing his wellbeing for the extension of God’s Kingdom, it the systematic fleecing of the flock by celebrity CEOs. A more appropriate scripture would be the condemnation awaiting careless teachers (James 3:1).

I have my own answer in the form of a question: Did Jesus ask to be made famous or followed?

Like celebrity obsessed groupies, the flock willingly participates in their fleecing. They arrive at video-venues by the minivan full. Then stare like pre-teen girls waiting for a pay-per-view performance of “the Biebs” as they wait for the screen to tune in from across the continent…victims of sophisticated manipulations, emotionally steered to avoid the obvious questions.

Contestant: “I will take “idol worship” for $200, Alex?”

Host: “A big lie, a big secret, and a big bully.”

Contestant: “What are Mark Driscoll’s, Steven Furtick’s, and Perry Noble’s books, salary, and treatment of their critics?”

There are tens of thousands of humble servants of God ascending pulpits and standing behind the table of the Lord every Sunday in churches small, large, mega and super-mega. Do your soul a favor, instead of being a consumer of the “show,” join one those humble folk in their humble work. Be a part of something that exercises financially transparency. Give your time, talent and treasure to a community that is about serving and reaching the world rather than the pastor. Your faith life should contribute to more than the Nielson ratings and “winnings” of the latest celebrity “CEO.”

Cut to theme music while contestants appear to be thoughtfully crafting their latest scripted answers.

How long will we remain glued to this show? Because the kingdom of God is not a game.

Explaining Arizona: An SB1062 tutorial on the Arizona psyche

 

photo credit: mediabistro.com

photo credit: mediabistro.com

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The SB1062 boondoggle is finally over. But all over the country people are still wondering, what’s wrong with Arizona? Are Arizonans really a bunch of angry redneck bigots without good excuse for obvious discrimination? As an Arizona native, married to a 4th generation Arizonan, who has lived in rural, suburban and urban Arizona, let me attempt to give my friends in other parts of the country some context…

Let me say at the outset: I did NOT support SB1062. But although I opposed the bill, I honestly do not believe it was birthed in hate and bigotry. I believe that because I know too many Arizonans across a broad spectrum of political and religious persuasions. I know very, very few Arizonans driven by hate. Then how, you ask, could our legislature come up with such a horrible thing?

Simple – SB1062 was the product of the Arizona psyche. The Arizona psyche is the reason Arizonans voted “no” on MLK day twenty years ago, and why we keep re-electing a crazy Sheriff.*  It also explains why our legislature dreamt up such a poorly thought through bit of legislation as SB1062.

As hard as it is to believe if you live outside of Arizona, the Arizona psyche is not hateful. O, like everywhere else, we have a few haters. But what drives Arizonans is not hate, it is an independent, oppositional, and reactionary personality. Arizonans are Westerners – fiercely independent. There are two qualities to the Arizona psyche. First, we dislike being told what to do…and we dislike anyone else being told what they must do, either. It’s a cowboy thing…which, come to think of it, explains our weird gun laws. Second, Arizonans abhor bullies. We nearly always rush to the aid an underdog. There is a good reason John Wayne had a ranch in Arizona: He fit in here.

Let me give an example of the Arizona psyche: Back in 1990 Arizona was one of the few states actually putting the MLK Day issue to a popular vote. At the time I lived in the town that reportedly voted against the MLK holiday with the highest margin in the state. I knew at least 50 people who were going to vote “yes” until the NFL said publicly that they would pull the Super Bowl if we voted against it. Those people, many of them Democrats, walked into the voting booth and punched “no.” For months afterward I heard ordinarily progressive Arizonans complain, “Who does the NFL they think they are? They can’t tell us what to do.” Arizonans dislike folks telling others what to do.

Second, Arizonans despise bullies.  I was once watched as a neighborhood changed sides and petitions multiple times in a dispute between neighbors over an out of code home remodel. Every time one of the parties got the 34 neighbors names on their petition they ran, not for reconciliation, but the courts. As their chosen mediator, I told them both several times, “Whoa, the neighbors aren’t saying they like you more than him, they just didn’t want you to get messed with. They are on your side because, in their mind, your neighbor is messing with you. If you try that, you become the bully. They will change sides. Fast.” They were transplants and didn’t understand why the neighbors wouldn’t stick with their “side.” Arizonans side with the perceived underdog.

SB1062 was a bad bill. It was so broadly constructed as to have virtually no boundaries. Corporations (Coca Cola or Apple for instance) would have become “individuals” under the law…and with the same Constitutional protections as an individual, with all the terrifying implications inherent in that. It was intended to stop the flower lady from being forced to participate in someone’s same-sex wedding. No. Arizona does not have same-sex marriage. But it will. And everyone knows it. Our legislators are merely doing their cowboy best to keep “outside forces” with social-change agendas from coming onto our range and pushing people around. 

And, yes, those who supported SB1062 did look dumb in interviews. Why wouldn’t they? Anderson Cooper and other media folk were asking questions our legislators never thought to try to answer…the reason they appeared confused when newscasters asked them, “Why do you want to discriminate against Gay people?” is that they were confused. They genuinely didn’t understand the question – they were supporting the flower lady against what appears to them to be a legal juggernaut that wants to push her around. When dealing with Arizonans, keep in mind that we are reactionaries, not haters.

Arizonans are big on independence. And this isn’t about Gay/Straight. Arizonans generally don’t need to agree with a neighbor to ride to their aid. But we do need to know that the neighbor isn’t going to try to take over all of the water holes. And I can tell you this, for a big swath of Arizonans the LGBT community doesn’t come across as what they are, a small and beleaguered neighbor who has always had a little spread over by the Mesa asking to be left alone. To many Arizonans the LGBT community comes across as the new rancher with a lot of money and Eastern friends with political connections riding roughshod into our little town and trying to take over…Yeah, like the sophisticated newcomer bad guys who show up in dozens of the Duke’s old movies.

Ironically, if supporters of same-sex marriage want to speed up the passing of same-sex marriage in Arizona they could use the Arizona psyche to their advantage. The LGBT community could say, “We have told you that our marriage in no way will affect yours. We mean that. We understand that you are nervous about the lawsuits in other states, but we meant what we said. We mean it so much that we will help write a better version of that bad bill if you feel you need it. All we are asking for is the right to live our lives as we see fit. We support your right to live yours as you see fit too. And, to be honest, who wants someone working their wedding that doesn’t want to be there?” That would take the fear out of the folks who feel the need to propose such knee-jerk legislation. Or the LGBT community could beg the Governor to reconsider and sign the bill. The fastest way for the LGBT community to get same-sex marriage in Arizona would be to pass SB1062 and watch Arizonans rush to change sides to defend the new underdog when the few haters acted on their newfound powers of discrimination.

So remember, if you find yourself dealing with an Arizonan and wondering how we will react just ask yourself, WWJWD? What Would John Wayne Do? Like John Wayne, you can assume we have good intent. You can assume we won’t take kindly to attempts to boss us around. You can expect we will ride to your defense if it appears that someone is doing the same to you. You can assume we will probably throw a right cross first and ask questions later. Yes, we tend to be high on loyalty and low on sophistication. But, in the end, we stand with folks right to live their lives as they see fit, whether we agree with them or not. And, yes, like John Wayne, many of us are packing heat.

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Now I change gears to talk to my fellow Arizonan Christians. The saddest part of this whole thing to me was the response of most of the Christian community. I get your nervousness as a citizen, but surely Christ is a higher allegiance than culture? Regardless of whether or not you think that a same-sex relationship is sinful, surely you acknowledge the neither Jesus, nor any other New Testament writer gives Jesus’ followers any directions on the treatment of our LGBT friends and family members outside of loving them. Is that LGBT person a brother or sister in Christ? Then love them. Are they an unbeliever? Then love them. Are they a neighbor? Love them. An enemy? Same deal. So regardless of how we over-react as Arizonans, if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, kindness and care to all are Jesus’ call.

We can do better, friends.

*Among other things, Sheriff Joe keeps our prison industrial complex running by charging inmates for parole, returning them to prison for the inability to pay for their freedom after they have paid their debt to society. He also staged document checks on the steps of churches as parishioners exited.