Monday, May 08, 2006

i see dead people

ethnocentricity... the self-medicated attitude or philosophical position of being members of the only party that knows the way everything is supposed to be done. group arrogance.

well we certainly get tagged with this one from time to time... especially we pastor types

in the 70's and into the 80's there was a christian band called daniel amos that epitomized the phrase mainstream alternative for a bunch of us christian kids who were looking for something artistic and Christ honouring (at the time it was basically an either-or scenario... if you wanted to be 'spiritual' then you pretty much had to check your aesthetics at the door). originating at calvary chapel under the spiritual toutelage of rev. chuck smith- but don't hold that against them- this band started as an eagles-esque cowboy band, moving through three or four creative stages in as many albums, hitting some really satisfying homages to their influences (beatles, bowie, electric light orchestra,b52's and talking heads a'la eno) along the way. (

there was a song on volume 1 of the alarma chronicles that addressed the whole worship ethos and its inherent ethnocentricity from a satirical, new wave point of view
(note: i've focused on the content aspects of the lyrics, and have cut out the stuff that only works on record...)

you might not recognize, the truth gets colored by
wrong things, bad things do disguise
afraid you might despise the real thing
the real thing...

down in southern cal we don't wear shoes
we lay it way back
when someone with charisma tells me "don't wear shoes"
i tell them "go back- where did you get that?"

down in africa they beat the drum
they like the big beat
white man through the p.a. says "don't beat that drum"
they tell him "go back- where does it say that?"
the real thing...

down at the little church they all wear hats
they feel they're doing right
over at the big church they hate those hats
it get's them uptight- now is that right?

you might not recognize, the truth gets colored by
wrong things, bad things do disguise
afraid you might despise the real thing
the real thing...

-terry taylor

the whole worship style discussion is so totally old that, about halfway through its history, even Jesus got into it. remember the whole whip-wielding 'house of prayer/ den of thieves' (citing isa56.7/jer7.11 in matt21.13) thing? what was it really about- making money off of the poor or turning tennets of worship into something to be done for fun and profit? i think that it was the latter.

the poor were being exploited by everyone before, during, and after Jesus walked the earth. Jesus even spoke to the disciples about it at bethany (in matt26.11 and mark14.7) it's not that he didn't have a heart for the poor- his acts of mercy (healings, feedings, fellowship and the like) are examples of this heart for social justice. however, Jesus also didn't go through the temple with a bullwhip on behalf of the poor who could not afford the extortionate prices of sacrificial animals or the over-the-top exchange rates... he tore the place apart on behalf of Holiness because the temple was meant to be a place of worship and communion with almighty God according to scripture, and the temple officials who had seen an opportunity to turn something that was to be about God into something that directly benefitted them had carpe diemed their way to the bank. Jesus' anger burned because they were stealing from God, not from each other.

scripture records some pretty powerful examples of similar attitudes and actions in the name of piety... it's usually messy. (1sam2-4; acts5) it seems that embezzling from God is a pretty serious deal. why? because in this thievery we see satan's agenda clearly. anytime someone slips some of God's glory into his or her own back pocket, satan's lurking around there somewhere.

okay, so here's where i'm going: is our self-centred flippancy towards the things of God within our contemporary worship experience so great that we die over it? perhaps not to the point that we are actually aware of it, but is awareness definitive? do we have conditions placed upon us that exist before we are aware of them? think of the incubation period of a disease or virus, dormant or remissed cancer cells, arterial blockages not yet diagnosed.

remember the bruce willis film 6th sense, or a close celluloid relative called the others starring nicole kiddman? in both films, people are carrying on life as usual and we only discover through a couple of fun little twists that actually they've been dead the whole time and didn't know it. there is a form of reverse dramatic irony here, which my son and i refer to as a shyamalon twist (after the acclaimed young director of 6th sense, unbreakable, signs and the village) where the audience joins the principal characters in not knowing the crucial piece of truth around which the whole story is wound until a revelation in the final reel.

well what if we are all struck spiritually dead the moment we embezzle from God and, because we don't experience a lightning bolt from on high or something, we think that we're fine?

it is conceivable. in genesis 3 (yep, i'm back there again) the snake whispers that eve won't die if she samples some rebellion. whatever her inference or understanding of death (after all, literal interpretation of the scriptures holds that nothing had died yet) she tastes, looks around to see if anything has changed and then, seeing that she is fine, kills her life's partner too. no worries- he doesn't know it either.

but in that instant the physical and the metaphysical are rent apart. physical bodies begin to die and perspectives begin to cloud. it is now only a matter of time until the body catches up to what the soul is already experiencing and dies too. from that moment on, death becomes part of worship and sacrifices are offered, that the purity of the perfect animal can be exchanged before God for the sin of the one offering the animal- bringing new spiritual life and a fresh new day for the sinner.

Jesus railed in the temple because these religious capitalists were dead people making the very house of God an abomination in the eyes of both God and man. they were taking something that God had set up to ford the gap between the holy and the common and were turning it into something that would repel anyone who had not been raised in that tradition. it's like everyone knew they were dead except them- everyone knew that this place was no more the house of God than the public baths were a place to get cleaned up.
the romans knew it.
the greeks knew it.
the homosexuals knew it.
the prostitutes knew it.
the addicts knew it.
the lepers knew it.
even the blind who begged at the city gates could see with their sightless eyes what the ethnocentrically religious could not... that their so-called worship was an embarrassment to everyone and everything holy because it was all about themselves.

the same is often said of the church today. the hypocrisy evident in the body of Christ is still the most cited reason for achristians to remain that way. in a recent study published over easter in our local paper, i read how only 17% of canadians interviewed in the week prior to holy week admitted to regularly attending church, but that 62% agreed with the statement "through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God provided a way for the forgiveness of sins." why the numerical discrepency? it appears as though the majority of canadian people still believe in the God, but have trouble believing in the value of a corporate worship experience. are we a nation of beer-drinking mystics, or do we just tend to mistrust other people... particularly when they are part of something institutional? whatever the reason for it, the discrepency between those believing and those joining with others who believe is one with powerful implications upon both the unity of the body of Christ and the potential impact of this body upon the darkened world to which it has been trusted to bring the light of the gospel.

however, this is nothing new. we all know this.

as part of the comment box that spawned this post, curious servant made a typically poignant and poetic observation:

Today, on this spinning ball of dirt, there are a lot of folks who worship our Lord, pray to our Lord, tell stories of our faith, in many different ways. We have Korean churches, and Catholics, and messianic Jews, and the 1,001 other approaches... In the past there was the early church, the medieval churches, the Renaissance, the modern age, the post modern era... and someday we will all share a single reality together. Heaven will be diverse.

So, if we are uncomfortable with some folks speaking in tongues, and others singing very serious, dirge-like hymns, what will happen in our hearts and minds when we are mixed together in one huge congregation?

Are we ready for it?

good question. i think that it is one that believers in Christ need to sort out for themselves. for me the answer has been found in a prayer and personal worship discipline. you see, when i wasn't listening to daniel amos, i was learning how to worship with the recordings of john michael talbot. (

a song that i use regularly as a prayer a quarter-century later, particularly in times when i am tempted to ethnocentrically judge and therefore embezzle, is one of his:

create in me a clean heart o God
let me be like you in all my ways
give me your strength
teach me your song
shelter me in the shadow of your wings
for we are your righteousness
if we've died to ourselves and live through your death
then we shall be born again to be blessed in your love

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Blogger SocietyVs said...

I really enjoy your posts, very thought provoking and talking about current ideals that need to be
I think Jesus' anger at the house of worship being turned into a 'den of thieves' is exactly what he said...thiefs. Those people took the spirituality and tried to make people pay for sacrificial items...which is backwards. Salvation is free, as proven by Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
I think that same attitude has slipped back into the church, mainly on tele-evangelists, who many people look up to. They are charging for spirituality and the selling of books, videos, holy handkerchiefs, and what not. Funny, that stuff is free.
That kind of stuff enrages me a bit when people charge for knowledge...that's just wrong and it is a diservice. Freely given.
I had this same problem with some company the other day. They had copyrighted a program to teach Aboriginal culture to HR departments in companies. I asked to use it and they said it was copyright. Copyright? Since when does knowledge become a copyright? I had a big problem with that since this knowledge could bring a 'light' to my community...self esteem being that light. But the care was for a program they could charge money for and not for the wellness of their community. Sickening to be honest.
Still, call me a rebel. Copyrght or not, that's not intellectual property they hold in their hands. I can and will teach it to the people that need to hear it. Thanks goes to them for the concise document on Aboriginal history in Canada.
You know, they sell bibles these days too?

Blogger Cinder said... sure know how to pick a person's brain don't ya now! thx...I needed the thought-provoking post this week.

"create in me a clean heart o God
let me be like you in all my ways
give me your strength
teach me your song
shelter me in the shadow of your wings
for we are your righteousness
if we've died to ourselves and live through your death
then we shall be born again to be blessed in your love"

I really needed to read and pray through says it all!

Blogger jollybeggar said...

SVs: nice piece of irony there:
charging people for salvation and then sending them a polyester prayer handkerchief as a free gift. would it help if they just went into selling these handkerchief things and then posted a little note on there saying "in purchasing this handkerchief you are entitled to free admission into heaven as our free gift to you"???

oh wait, only Jesus can offer that.

the problem here is that it is too easy to climb all over the backs of tv evangelists and the like. they are far away in space and circumstance, and make really easy and convenient scapegoats/targets for our well-intentioned chagrin.

truth is, at different times and in different ways our hearts behave the same, withholding from others the things which God intends to impart upon them through us and stealing from God what he actually wants to pour into our own lives if we could just get over ourselves.

irony no.2? that a regularly (albeit unintentionally) self-righteous blowhard blogger like me would speak of getting over oneself.

well, in any event, all we can do is our best- as long as it is that.

a friend directed me to the online script of 'the gods must be crazy'...

(a strange and amusing early 80's film about a surprise infiltration of western pop culture into an isolated region of the kalahari desert through a coke bottle accidently dropped from a plane, and the cultural havok that ensues... by the way, sorry about the unfortunate pun on the word 'pop')
... i came upon this bit:

"Mpudi found it difficult to interpret because, in his language...there was no word for "guilty."

sounds like an advanced culture to me. there is a huge difference between guilt and responsibility. the less guilt we have, the more responsibility we will take and the healthier we will be. guilt is baggage that holds us to a past that is impossible to alter anyway.

taking responsibility has to do with the future and freedom. in his song 'God part 2', bono observes:

"I don't believe in the 60's in the golden age of pop
You glorify the past when the future dries up
I heard a singer on the radio late last night
Says he's gonna kick the darkness till it bleeds daylight*
I... I believe in love
(*note: the singer mentioned was bruce cockburn, the phrase is taken from his song 'lovers in a dangerous time')

unrelated things often seem to link together... especially if you treat life as a holistic exercise in getting to know God. i received this quote which bears repeating in this context:

"Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that while "it is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the collapse of religion in the modern society, it would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past, when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with a voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless"

Blogger SocietyVs said...

I think you are right JB (oddly enuff my actual intials) and what you wrote makes a lot of sense. I do pick on the tele-evangelists and the tv folk only because they tend to wanna represent an image of Christianity, and rightfully they should be held accountable (by us the church viewing public who may disagree). Those people have no responsibility except to God and the Almighty dollar, and it's hard to tell who they love more sometimes. Should we question them even if they are easy targets? Absolutely.
Who is going to keep them in check? My personal guess would be scripture but they are using the very device by which they decide their fate to make money to keep their program going, and for some extra coin if they can to keep them paid. It's purely capitalist and I wasn't called to a golden coin but to faith in a 'real' God. Then their is the whole fame thing that just isn't cool either. The ironic thing is they preach the word yet fall into 3 traps Jesus faced in the desert while fasting and the devil tempts him.
Firstly, the show of God's power to prove He is real...ever seen Benny Hinn or Bohnke lately? Some of these clowns even seem to mis-represent scripture and take it way out of whack...example: I've seen one to many preachers promise money when you give as if it is the sole reward of giving (couldn't be further from the truth).
Then there is the temptations of money, power, and I don't think I need to answer this one because it is so blatantly obvious, but I will. There are some good people on Christian tv I will admit but the majority, mainly the preachers, seem to be enjoying the fame a little too much. Christianity has it's own little hollywood (that miracle channel). They get power, money, and fame and I never see them do very much with that...some do but many don't, unless you count staying on tv as charity. They become icons to many people and for what? praise? I can't even count how many times I have heard pastors and the like support some of these people, like they were God's gift to tv and mankind. Are they really that great...I guess so cause many pastors say so...I say this for the nieve, nimble-minded fools (myself included at one point).
If we don't keep these people in check who will? The fact is nobody will unless they get busted on some national crime. By then it's too late, many people are dis-orientated, and the masses lose faith...lovely. So we gotta keep these people in check and we gotta check the books...maybe someone is getting rich off our charity and it's not the poor.
"Blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of God"

Blogger SocietyVs said...

I get so worked up about those people on tv, do I crave the fame also? Hey Beggar great points about interpretation, time to take back the book.
Also I actually am teaching on the book of Matthew Wed nights (7 pm) at First Nations Alliance (a plug to come check it and wreck it) and I am very strong on getting it right. I told the people I am speaking to that I am as much responsible for following this as you, even more so if I should teach you falsely. So I study those words of Jesus and make the best sense I can of them, with help, but I want to be honest to the text.
It's funny I am on chapter 5 and I it's going to be a long tedious argument about what this all means? I love it. The faith of people needs to be challeneged, people have to learn from what we are saying...role of a good teacher.
I have come across this bit, let me know what you think...this is where I depart from modern salvation techniques.
I think the gospel is just this, 'repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'. 3 things are expressed: repent (change), kingdom of heaven (an ethical paradigm), and near (timeframe). All of this being encapsulated in Christ, except the repent (that's on my ashy head).
I kinda gave up on the sinner's prayer a decade ago since I thought it created more theological problems than solved...good intro though. I think salvation is the acceptance of the atonement of Christ, most definitely but then there is a pattern that Matthew sets...his salvation prayer I guess. It's 'follow me', it's the same road a disciple had to take and Jesus lays it all out there in the gospels. My biggest quest in life is how do you tie 'works' into acceptance of the atonement...then I read Matthew. I wrapped it up in 2 sentences, 'repent for the kingdom of heaven is near' and then 'follow me'. Right down the same road to Golgotha.


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