Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Roger Clemens and Jesus

He's back! They hoped he'd return. They believed he'd return. Today he made it official. Roger Clemens, (Professional baseball player), signed a 1-year deal to pitch for the remainder of the season with the Houston Astros. The deal is reported to be in the $22 million dollar range. He only pitches every fifth day!! And the season is 1/3 of the way over!!

He is probably the greatest living pitcher, whether currently playing or retired. Several teams made high-powered pitches to convince him to come back. Some had promised a private jet to get him to the ballpark from his home. They promised he wouldn't need to travel with the team on road trips to other cities. ESPN broke into its regular programing to make the announcement and the talking heads were only talking about the 1 topic: Roger "The Rocket" Clemens is back!

Now if you're not a baseball fan, this has to seem terribly bizarre. If you're not an Astros fan, this has to be terribly disappointing. All this to-do about this forty-something athlete.

Got me to thinking about another anticipated return.

A basic tenet of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ will return. We believe that he died on the cross, was buried, and that he was raised back to life. We believe he was seen by hundreds of people. We believe that after forty days he ascended into heaven. And we have the hope that he will one day come again.

We believe that at that time, he will set the world right. We believe that there will be a new heaven and new earth; that things will be as they should be. No more hunger. No more sickness. No more crying. No more selfishness, greed, or violence. "The lion will lie down with the lamb."

We believe that he came once as a suffering servant. We believe he will come again as a conquering king. We believe he will welcome those who lived for him to everlasting life and the opportunity to be with him.

Somedays Major League Baseball seems more "real" than relationship with God. (Funny. Saying professional sports seem more real than anything other than professional wrestling seems strange!) But that's the way this world works. The tangible, the measurable, the touchable and the visible get our allegiance and our attention. Often the most important, the unseen, unmeasurable things like love, truth, or beauty get overlooked or ignored.

I wonder if Christians are as excited about the return of the one who laid his life down for us, as Houston Astros fans are about The Rocket?

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

X-Men & Spirituality

Our family went to see "X-3" yesterday. It was so hot, we were all home, seeing a movie is a good thing to do on such a day.

My kids enjoy comic book movies because they are usually books they've read that I haven't. (Last night we watched "Pride & Prejudice". My wife and the girls had read that. My son and I hadn't. [Nor did we make it all the way through the "chick-flick".])

The premise of "X-3" is that there are "mutants" whose genes have altered, giving them "powers". While that seems like a cool thing, it makes the regular humans a wee bit uncomfortable. The people start searching for a "cure" to rid people of their mutant genes. In the movie there is a message about prejudice and discrimination. Some are different from others. Some deal with the differences well. Some don't. Those who don't deal with it well provide the friction that moves the story to a climactic battle between some of the mutants and some of the humans.

As I was watching, I began to run the movie through a "theological" or "philosophical" lense. Sometimes differences and prejudice can pop up in the realm of "God-things": faith, spirituality, etc.

I wonder, do you ever feel like a "mutant" when it comes to God and spiritual things? Do you find yourself not quite sure of various aspects of faith that others simply take for granted?

There's a scripture in the Bible that reads, "Without faith it's impossible to please God. The one who comes to God must believe that He is and He rewards those who seek Him."

That last part is an encouragement to me: "He rewards those who seek Him." It doesn't say, "He rewards those who have figured it all out." Nor does it suggest He loves "those who think they have all the answers" more than those who are struggling with this idea of faith.

God rewards the seeker, the searcher, the explorer, the one who thinks there might be something there, but isn't 100% certain. I like that. I find comfort in it. It encourages me to keep looking, keep asking questions, keep thinking about things, even when I'm not sure what I'll find.

I hope you do the same.

Grace & peace.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sports Nut

What a strange year for our sports teams this has been. The Red Wings (Hockey) and Pistons (basketball) had excellent regular seasons. They had the best records in their respective sports over the 80 or so game season since last fall. But the Wings lost in the first round of the playoffs to a big underdog. The Pistons are on the verge of being eliminated by Lebron James and Cleveland. (I was so disgusted after their last loss that I'm not even sure if I'll watch the pivotal game 6 tonight. Yuck.)

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers have been the perennial laughingstock of the baseball world for years now. Yet 1/4 of the way through the 162-game season, they have the best record of any of the 30 or so teams. Go figure.


I L-O-V-E sports. I grew up playing them. I grew up watching them. I grew up thinking about them. I grew up dreaming about them. (I wanted to be a professional baseball player or minister when I grew up. [Do you think that is a common combination for young kids?]) Nowadays I enjoy watching my own kids play volleyball, soccer, baseball...whatever. And I love watching sports live or on tv. (ESPN is one of my default channels.)

Here's the quandry: I know it is often a waste of time to watch sports on tv. I know the athletes make a gazillion dollars for hitting a ball, chasing a ball, throwing a ball, whatever, while teachers and other valuable professionals live on a relative pittance. I don't do a lot to support the professional sports "system" financially in a direct way. I rarely go to a professional game. I don't ever buy memorabilia. So am I contributing to the disintegration of the society by being a fan? Maybe it is simply a guilty pleasure. Maybe simply wrestling with the "examined life" is part of the journey.

It seems that in any part of our life (work, relationships, finances, health, entertainment), it would be a good thing to do a self-inventory and ask, "Is this helpful? Is this good? Is this part of my life balanced?" Sometimes I get the sense of confirmation. Sometimes I get a sense of conviction. Sometimes I have no sense at all (pun intended).

Grace & peace.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Da Vinci Code: Breaking Down the Numbers

I came across the following study by the Barna Group and found the data interesting. I feel that way about anyplace sociology and theology intersect. I'm curious to know what you think about this.

- Did you read the book?
- Did it have any impact upon what you believe?
- Will you go see the movie?

Da Vinci Code Confirms Rather Than Changes People's Religious Views
May 15, 2006
(Ventura, CA) - Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code , has sold more copies than any other fictional work in U.S. history. With the release of the movie adaptation on May 19, interest in this controversial tale has risen substantially.
A new nationwide survey by The Barna Group says that the book has impacted millions of lives - but perhaps not in the way that many Christians have imagined.

Broad Reach
According to the Barna research, The Da Vinci Code has been read "cover to cover" by roughly 45 million adults in the U.S. - that's one out of every five adults (20%). That makes it the most widely read book with a spiritual theme, other than the Bible, to have penetrated American homes.
The audience profile of the book is intriguing. Despite critical comments and warnings from the Catholic hierarchy, American Catholics are more likely than Protestants to have read it (24% versus 15%, respectively). Among Protestants, those associated with a mainline church are almost three times more likely than those associated with non-mainline Protestant congregations to have read the book. Upscale individuals - i.e., those with a college degree and whose household income exceeds $60,000 - are nearly four times more likely to have read the book than are "downscale" people (i.e., those without a college degree and whose household income is $30,000 or less).

Perceived Value of the Content
Among the adults who have read the entire book, one out of every four (24%) said the book was either "extremely," "very," or "somewhat" helpful in relation to their "personal spiritual growth or understanding." That translates to about 11 million adults who consider The Da Vinci Code to have been a helpful spiritual document.

To place that figure in context, the Barna study revealed that another recently published popular novel about Jesus Christ - Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt , written by Anne Rice - was deemed to be spiritually helpful by 72% of its readers - three times the proportion who lauded Dan Brown's book.

Changing People's Beliefs
The study also explored whether or not the book caused people to change some of their religious beliefs. Among the 45 million who have read The Da Vinci Code , only 5% - which represents about two million adults - said that they changed any of the beliefs or religious perspectives because of the book's content.

"Before reading The Da Vinci Code people had a full complement of beliefs already in place, some firmly held and others loosely held," explained George Barna, the author of numerous books about faith and culture. "Upon reading the book, many people encountered information that confirmed what they already believed. Many readers found information that served to connect some of their beliefs in new ways. But few people changed their pre-existing beliefs because of what they read in the novel. And even fewer people approached the book with a truly open mind regarding the controversial matters in question, and emerged with a new theological perspective. The book generates controversy and discussions, but it has not revolutionized the way that Americans think about Jesus, the Church or the Bible."

"On the other hand," the researcher continued, "any book that alters one or more theological views among two million people is not to be dismissed lightly. That's more people than will change any of their beliefs as a result of exposure to the teaching offered at all of the nation's Christian churches combined during a typical week."

The people most likely to have altered their religious views in response to the book's content were Hispanics (17% of those who read the book), women (three times more likely than male readers to do so), and liberals (twice as likely as conservatives). Upscale adults were also much more likely than downscale individuals to shift their thinking based on the novel.

The Movie: A Blockbuster?
Industry observers expect the movie to be a hit. But how big of a hit is it likely to be? And what degree of influence is the movie likely to have?
The Barna study indicates that more than 30 million adults are likely to pay for a ticket to see the film - unless the early buzz regarding the film is negative. The company estimates that the movie is poised to break the $300 million box office barrier, based on the current level and intensity of interest expressed by adults. Reaching that plateau would place the movie among the top 20 movies of all-time based upon domestic box office gross revenue.

The statistics reveal that two out of every three people who are likely to see the movie have already read the book. That means more than 10 million adults who have not yet read the book are likely to journey to a theater to see the film.
Barna noted that if the movie has a similar level of influence on movie-goers as the book has had on adult readers, then about a half-million adults could be expected to change one or more of their religious beliefs based upon the movie's content. The most significant impact, he noted, could well be on the young people who see the movie, since their belief systems are still in the process of development and are more susceptible to new teachings. Barna also mentioned the potential effect of the DVD on millions more people who do not see the movie in the theater, but rent or buy it for home viewing after the theatrical run is completed. "We know that in a home setting, young people frequently watch movies over and over, memorizing lines and absorbing ideas that they might not have caught during their first viewing." He also stated that some studies have shown that movies have greater "stickiness" with information than do print materials, possibly making the movie even more influential than the book in terms of long-term impact on people's spiritual development.

The Barna survey also indicates that the audience segments most likely to attend the movie are people under 35; Catholics; Hispanics; and political liberals. On the spiritual side, people who are not born again Christians are almost twice as likely to see the movie as are people whose beliefs classify them as "born again."

Research Details
The data in this report are based on interviews with 1003 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, during May 2006, based upon a random sample of people 18 years of age and older living within the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In the research, the distribution of survey respondents corresponded to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.

"Born again Christians" are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "born again."
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a privately held, for-profit corporation that conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, weekly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2006.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Things We Can't See: West Wing, Allergens, Spirituality

I'm going to miss West Wing. It has become a family favorite of ours. We will schedule our Sun. night so that we can all be together for the viewing. We will record (don't have TIVO) it if we're busy or can't all sit down when it comes on. It's the only show we treat that way.

When I consider why, there are lots of reasons that come to mind: The writing is (or at least was) smart. The setting involves government, law, and history. Topics most of our family finds interesting. Which then becomes a teaching and discussion time. The characters often inspire us. We see a President who is intelligent, engaging, charismatic, and principled, surrounded by people who believe in the nobility of service. (I guess that's when we realize the whole thing is fiction!)

There are probably other shows that could recite the same list. But for whatever reason, this show has caught our attention and touched something in us as a family.

Have you seen the commercial for Trane that advertises an air purifier? They state that there are millions of allergens in the normal house that are unseen. I don't know that there is anything 'normal' about our house. But I suppose we must have all kinds of things floating in the air that can't be seen or detected by the naked eye.

My spiritual tradition says that all of like is like that. That there are things in and around us that we respond to everyday, that we can't quite quantify or identify. Things like love, patience, kindness, or joy that make life "full"; things that give us a sense of purpose; things that make us feel like life is overflowing, being lived to the brim.

My spiritual tradition believes the Spirit of God moves around us, using everyday things like tv shows to bring people together, give them a vision of the way life can and ought to be. Just like I can't see the allergens, but believe faithful people who tell me they exist, I believe there is more to life than the things that can be counted (like money, or time). And that sometimes, those are the things that matter most.

My prayer for you is that you will discover that world, if you haven't already. And if you have already discovered it, my prayer for you is that you'd give greater attention and nurture to that world.

Grace & peace.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Green Christians

In town this past weekend I noticed a flier:

Saturday, May 6th (9am-4pm)
8025 Werkner Rd., Chelsea

They will be accepting Freon appliances (1st one free), old tires (1st 4 free), television, washer, dryer, or computer (1st 1 free). Now several things struck me about this day.

1.) We have tires and an old refrigerator that need to go. And if I can get rid of them at no cost…that sounds like a good deal.

2.) Some of you may live in Washteanw Co., may have similar items that should be removed and you might not know about this no-cost opportunity.

3.) I don’t often speak about the world in which we live, and how we, as Christians should take care of it. But it seems like being good stewards of anything God has given us, (our money, our bodies, other people, or the Earth), is just respecting the Creator. Scripture tells us, “The Earth is the LORD’S and everything therein.” I don’t want to be found mistreating God’s people or God’s stuff, do you?

4.) This clean-up day is taking place at the
“Transfer Station” which many of us refer to
as “the dump”. I wonder if our church is a
place where people can experience this
“transfer” of their sins, burdens and hurts;
where they can take the junk they don’t want
and give it to the holy God who asks for it.

Grace & peace.