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Category Archives: consumer culture

The Hunger Games

I am a reader. I love to read books, and for some reason I don’t like thick Theological volumes. I do however love a good book with a lot of suspense, or a one of those crazy thriller books (see Dan Brown or Gregg Loomis). So recently my wife’s book club read The Hunger Games, and with all of the talk from my youth I became interested.

Needless to say this is one of those books that devoured my life while I devoured it. It took something like three and a half days, and it really has gotten me to thinking.  The games themselves in the book are really a kind of character study on the human condition. The books are so interesting, they have literally caught me from the beginning, and I can be a very fickle reader.

But how do The Hunger Games square with the ideas of faith, and I know that the book is set in a fictional world after a world altering rebellion and consequent brutal oppression. I am focusing a bit more on the games themselves than the extra information that we are given throughout the book. How does our ideas of people humiliating themselves for our entertainment sound to our culture today. I think that The Hunger Games depicts what many of us would characterize as barbarism, and I think you would be correct.

The games put 24 young people against each other in a fight to death scenario in an arena full of hidden dangers and nightmarish creatures. I look at the ideas of the games and I cannot help but think about the way we are enculturated into an idea of the American dream. I know I have fallen prey to the American dream many, many times. But how are we taught that we are to get what we think we “ought” to have no matter the expense to others. How is our cultural viewpoint that of me getting mine no matter what?

I think Christ draws a drastic distinction between The Hunger Games where only one person is able to prevail (I won’t spoil the book if you haven’t read it) and changes the language.  Instead of only one can survive, Jesus calls to live a life where there is plenty for all. We may not have a huge house or two brand new cars, but we will live in plenty. I talked a little bit about the Kingdom of God during Youth on Sunday night, and it is something that is really difficult to explain in a coherent way for teenagers. But I think the gist is this, we can all have enough, although we may not have all we want.

If we look at our world and try to step outside of our own hunger games and strive to make sure that there is plenty for all, maybe we can finally escape this perpetual rebellion we all live with.

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What is Ministry?

So this question has plagued me for a long time. Being Seminary educated I was lulled into believing that ministry is a full time, paid position in a church. Even though we read resources that talked much ideas that were very contrary, I had been put into a kind of dream idea about what ministry is.

I don’t have a witty or academic definition for what ministry, but let me tell you a few ideas about what ministry actually is now that I have been in the ministry full time for almost a year.  Here is the most basic idea of ministry it is something that is done for God or for the church, hopefully with other members of the body of Christ.

Luther had an idea about ministry also, it was the Priesthood of All Believers, where all members of the body are to be in ministry in some way.  This obviously doesn’t mean full time paid ministry, it might mean being a part of a ministry group, writing cards to visitors, or helping restock the pews on a random Thursday. There are lots of types of ministries, some of which do not take place within the four walls of the church (GASP…)

Ministry can take place anywhere and at any time, it doesn’t have to be planned, it does not even have to be organized or recognized by the church.  Talking to the person on the street, listening to your friends problems, or doing random acts of kindness are all ministry.  There are no formal committees, no boards to report to, and no budgets to worry about.

In short our lives are to be much more about how we live and love the people around us.  We are in ministry when we truly strive to live like Jesus lived, when we try to love our neighbors as ourselves. The time I take to talk with and pay attention to the lonely older widower who lives on my street, that is ministry.

When I give the quick gift of a smile to someone around me who may feel like the world is crashing down around them, I am in ministry.  There is no one way or style of ministry, there is certainly no set place that ministry has to happen. The thing we have to remember when we try to outsource our ministry to those paid people in the church, is that ministry is not just theirs, it’s all the people of the church. How can we live into ministry in a greater way in the coming days? How can I (and you) truly see our entire lives as a ministry when we give it over to God, and tell Him “do with it what You will?”

 

Technology Addictions

We live in a society that is addicted. We are addicted to information, we are addicted to getting our information and interaction fix through as many avenues as possible. I recently visited Jon Acuff’s website called “Stuff Christians Like” and his post on e-mealz (Dinner Unplugged) and how he has an addiction to technology.

Now I have to add a disclaimer here, I have witnessed myself doing the same thing at the dinner table, texting, tweeting, of facebook-ing while needing to be interacting with my family. Amber will curse to the day she dies the amount of technology contained in my left pants pocket. But it being Valentines day among everything else, it really hit me how much technology closes us off.

I have written before about the fact that I think we are in an increasingly interconnected world, but that many of us have increasingly become less connected to our fellow humans. We eschew picking up the phone for sending an email or a quick text, and I am the chief of sinners on this one. I think my addiction to technology probably stems for the idolizing of the iPhone or similar smartphone, with increasing connectedness comes increasing long work days and weeks  that never end.

I heard a program a while back where it was seen acceptable in business to take 5 days to get back to someone, and now it is expected that a message will be returned in under 24 hours. I see it myself, when I send an email that I expect to hear back from I expect to do so within 24 hours. I often respond to emails within minutes, and this often takes me away from my family and other things I should be doing.

I wonder how different my life would look right now if I did not have a smart phone. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that I’ll be going back to a regular old phone. My Droid (or previously my Blackberry) has indeed saved me a few times and for that I’m thankful. How do we break the addiction? How do I train myself to only answer while at home if it is indeed a call on my phone? (After all I tell my students I’m available 24/7.)

How do we make sure that our daily addiction to technology and it’s strangle hold on our lives does not keep us from living? How do we return to human interaction and the truly meaningful relationships that are formed through this interaction. We need to return to our relationships and interactions with our fellow humans as an example of how we love our Lord. Maybe that is a new and worthy social experiment for us to try?

 

 

The Super Bowl?

So this afternoon after finishing up one project here in my office I took a little time to catch a laugh and watch some of the funny ads from the Super Bowl. I think the Groupon commercial may have been my favorite, but is challenged by Doritos and Snickers. But it really got my mind thinking about what this media event has become in our nation.

Most of us do not have a team we truly care to see play in the Super Bowl, unless of course our hometown, home state, or another team that we have an attachment to is playing in the game. Most of us honestly do not have a dog in the fight of the Super Bowl, it’s just not that important to me personally. The true focus for most folks is on the advertising, and I must admit I look forward to the ads too. But I think many of us give undue precedence to the ads in how we truly watch the Super Bowl.

For instance, last night I literally went to change into my pajamas during the game, something that would be almost sinful for me during a Georgia game. Indeed the ads are the true stars of the game, unless of course you were a Packers or Steelers fan. What does this say about our culture in general though too. I think this might be, as I talked about during Advent Conspiracy a time where we show where true worship is.

We worship things and stuff, we give importance in our lives to the advertisements, not the actual game itself. There are so many things that put in front of God in our lines of importance in lives. How do we truly we orient ourselves, so that we can be a player on the field of God’s Super Bowl instead of waiting for the breaks for ads? I am not sure how it happened, but when the commercials are more important than the competition we are indeed suffering something broken.

 

My Own Little World

So my friend Glenn Weeks and I have been bouncing posts back and forth for a while now. We have been bouncing things back and forth and last night he once again inspired me.  His post The Cat of December made me think, and because I am a musician it immediately made me think of a song.

If you are not a fan of Christian Radio (which I admit is oftentimes cheesy and the “on air personalities” are often absolutely annoying) you ma y have not hear Matthew West’s “My Own Little World” which you can watch here Matthtew West \”My Own Little World\”(again I’m sorry for the ads.) This song has been very influential for me lately, and it doesn’t hurt that it seems to be playing everything I have K-Love on the radio.

The song is the story of a person who is living in an insulated world, never known hunger, cold, or the uncertainty that poverty can bring into a life. A life much like my own. The chorus says “What if there is a bigger picture/ What if I’m missing out? / What if there’s a greater purpose/ I could be living right now” and this is a question that I try to ask not only myself but the youth I am in ministry to often. How many of us are caught up in comfort and the “American Dream” and subsequently focus only on ourselves.

I think we are living in a culture of me, myself, and I and right now.  We want instant results, we want instant gratification, and this has led to a way of living that is blinded to the pain around us.  We are surrounded by suffering, we hear about on the radio about the economy and in the grand scale of the entire United States. However, we don’t see the suffering and pain in our neighbors, or the loneliness that is crushing the souls of so many today.

Later in the song Matthew West writes and sings, “Father break my heart for what breaks yours, give me open hands and open doors.” I keep coming back to those lines because as much as I try I still miss the suffering around me every day.  It’s easy for me, because of the church I am a part of, to fall back on the charity and good works that are done here through Macon Outreach.  We feed a lot of people, give a lot of groceries, and even clothe a lot of people here, but that does not free me from my responsibility to do good.

How can I and how can you be better ambassadors for God and his mission in the world around us? We talk a lot about the abstract ideas of living out faith, but how can we actually live in a concrete way. We vow to give our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. How do we truly do that in the world around us.

 

Thankful Lives

This week is an incredible time in our society.  While we celebrate being thankful, we also encourage acts of incredible excess.  Since I have been working with the Advent Conspiracy it has really pushed me towards seeing excess in the world around me.  We (and I include myself here on purpose) live with incredible amounts of excess. By all intents and purposes we are rich beyond compare to about two-thirds of the rest of the world.

This week is the time we designate to be thankful, not the rest of the year, but only this week.  I think this is a bit short-sighted on our part, we have so much to be thankful would it not be better to designate one week to ignoring our blessings.  This time of year is one where we begin to take a look at our lives and be thankful, and I am as guilty as anyone else of this.  The daily stress and busyness of life has a way of preventing us from truly being thankful.

We have so much more than just material affluence to be thankful for though, and we often do not live the life of gratitude that we should. The gift of grace is something that we should be ever increasingly thankful for, but often we live just for life in this world.  We have been given an incredible gift, one that does not end in this world, but extends in what is to come.

Now this may sound kind of strange for Thanksgiving week, but we need to live a life that is much more thankful than we often do.  Our thankfulness should extend into all areas of our lives, we should live so that other can see our joy.  Our thankful lives are to end in service to others and to the place that gives us the hope of what is to come. That place is the church, the place that supplies our hope for the life to come.

So in our yearly week set aside for being thankful let us set about living a life of gratitude for the many material and supernatural gifts that we have been given. But please do not keep this to yourself, talk to your friends, your family, or me about what you are thankful for. An ongoing conversation of thankfulness goes a long way to fostering a life of gratitude.

 

Holidays Gone Wrong

So recently I began preparing for Advent Conspiracy, I have posted a little bit about what I am preparing for this. But I wanted to write about something that has stuck out to me while preparing these lessons. I have written and talked about the gospel and consumer culture, but where we really see how broken our consumer culture is, is in Christmas.

Christmas is an economic boon, a time of year where businesses routinely do 40% of their annual business. If every month was even businesses would do about 8.3% of their business during Christmas time, but this is not the case.  More than 5 times that amount of business is done during the Christmas season, all to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

In Advent Conspiracy the three pastors attempt, and do a great job, to point out that our celebration of Christmas has gone from worship of God to the worship of money.  The presents we give and receive, and their monetary value help us place a value on our value in relationships.  The pastors call for us to give in a much more relational way.  The focus is on giving better gifts, more meaningful gifts, not the gifts that are empty, broken, and forgotten by New Years.

Giving relationally is not really a norm here in the US, because our society has placed incredible value on money and its use.  Status is derived from money, it is what defines us.  Big house, big car, lots of toys that is the rat race that we are indoctrinated into.  Advent Conspiracy is not a radical idea it is a scriptural one, it pushes us to move back towards the TRUE reason for the season.  Worshiping a baby born in a manger in Jerusalem well more than two-thousand years ago.

How can we return to true worship? Starting on November 28th at 5 pm in the Youth Room at Mulberry Street UMC in Macon, GA you can find out.  We will be breaking down the ideas with the help of the videos from Advent Conspiracy. Please join us and see how we can truly move back towards loving and following the baby born in a manager.