Pop Culture Finale: Back to the Future!

Here is number 6 in a 6 part series on Pop Culture.  Sunday was titled “Lead, Follow, or…”  In honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of Back to the Future, I’m re-titling this.

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I don’t know about you, but along about this time of year, I enjoy thinking of cooler weather. “Christmas in July” is a thing, isn’t it?

One of my fond memories of Christmas as a child was the spate of tv specials. You remember them, don’t you?  The claymation “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the “Peanuts’ Christmas,” and “Frosty the Snowman” where Burl Ives voiced the narration?

I was at a youth bible study on a Wednesday night almost 15 years ago.  It was early December, and someone brought up one of those shows.  I think maybe Rudolph.  Anyway, this young person had rented Rudolph from the local video store and was going to watch it right after we were through.

Which story made me wax nostalgic for my childhood.  “I remember watching that as a little kid,” I said. “Only back then, it was on one night in December, and if you weren’t home, in front of the tv, you missed it.”

I saw this strange look on the face of one of the youth.  “What is it?” I asked.

“What… did Blockbuster do back then?”

Instantly, I got this picture in my mind of hundreds of Blockbuster stores sitting empty all across the country in the 60’s and 70’s waiting for the invention and mass-production of video recording and marketing.

Of course, hundreds of Blockbusters was an understatement. At their peak, Blockbuster had 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees.

And Liam and Eliza, or anyone under 15, will likely never know what they were.

It is interesting to me that the shows last (well, some of them), but the way we watch them, or the way we get access to them to watch them changes.

The 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is not currently available on Netflix, by the way, but it is available for purchase to stream or as a dvd on amazon, google play, and maybe itunes.

The better stories last, but the way we access them and take them in changes.

I wonder what truth there is in that statement about the stories you and I know as scripture.

It used to be, and by “used to be” I mean way back in 2012, most of the people in most of our adult Sunday School classes carried a bible, a paper, printed and bound bible with them, or at least picked one up if they wanted to find a scripture or if it was their turn to read aloud.

Now, more often than not, each person has their smartphone or tablet open, youversion or bible gateway app going, and can read from any of 80 or so translations.

The better stories last, but the way we access them and take them in changes.

So, this week, our final week with Pop Culture – if there really can be such a thing as  final week with Pop Culture – we want to look at the vicious cycle or feedback loop that we all have with Pop Culture.

Like it or not, Pop Culture drives our society, to some degree. Many people around us are strongly influenced by pop culture. Because our task is to make disciples – followers of Jesus – of those around us, we cannot ignore Pop Culture.

We have to, we are called to, engage pop culture in whatever ways we can to make disciples of Jesus.

Does it feel sometimes like Pop Culture has run off and left you?

Does it feel sometimes, like you want to run off and leave Pop Culture?

That’s the really insidious thing about Pop Culture: you can only get so far away from it.

Eminem tried to get away from it.  In his early music, he railed against the music industry.  The music industry, it should be said, has hurt a lot of musicians in the name of profit.

Wonder why Boston quit recording for several years?  Wonder why Prince changed his name to this  ?  Because, at least in part, the music industry can be very hard on musicians.

So Eminem fought the power!  He still became very popular – popular enough to be invited to sing at the Grammies – with Elton John!  Was anyone really surprised that at the end of his song he raised both hands, flipping off the music industry that had played a role in making him a global star?

What kind of relationship do you have with Pop Culture?

It’s complicated.

Everyone’s relationship with Pop Culture is complicated.

So what are we do to?  Does Pop Culture lead, follow, or get out of the way?

Yes and no.  In some ways it leads – styles and trends and tastes and marketing draw us all in certain directions. Disagree?  Well, as I don’t see anyone in a leisure suit or a hoop skirt this morning, I’m going to assume we all get dragged along, and this isn’t all bad.

But in setting trends and styles, there’s this cyclical thing.  In the 70s, Happy Days brought back some of the style of the 50s.  In the late 90s, That 70s Show brought back the 70s.

Things go, and things come back. A little different next time, but there’s this spiraling process.

So, again, what are we, as followers of Jesus to do?  While we are engaging Pop Culture and seeking to be disciples and make disciples, how do we grasp all of this together.

First, we learn something from the lessons of God’s people in the scriptures.

Take today’s reading from Judges, for instance. I want to focus on verse 10, but first, a recap.  Joshua had led God’s people into the Promised Land.  They had taken possession by God’s mighty hand, and now they were settling in and enjoying the land God had given them. So what happened?

Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel

“Another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”

We see this pattern throughout the life of Israel: you’ll have a great judge and the people excel, then, that judge dies and the people fall into evil practices and worship of false gods. You’ll have one King that recognizes God, and the next “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

In fact, this phrase, “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” appears 17 times just in 2 Kings!

A new generation comes along and does what is evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Some of you might be thinking, today, “yeah, that sounds about right.”

But here’s the deal: whatever the new generation comes up with, the older generation cannot simply wash their collective hands!

We, the previous generation, are at least partly culpable for ANYTHING we think is wrong with the next generation.

We need to own this folks: no generation grows up or comes of age in a vacuum!

We, like the God’s people throughout the Old Testament, too often fail to connect across generational lines in meaningful ways.

And, folks, those of us over 50 don’t get to decide what is meaningful to the younger among us.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

We do get to influence the next generation. If we are careful, we may even get to influence them in ways they appreciate, and find meaningful and important.

The landmark National Study of Youth and Religion, authored by Christian Smith and interpreted in really helpful ways by Kenda Creasy Dean, offer us hope.

Here is how Dr. Dean, on the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary and a United Methodist Elder, suggests we can positively influence the next generation for the Kingdom of God:

Let them catch you practicing your faith.

I don’t mean tell them to read their bible and pray. I don’t even mean telling them how much you read your bible and pray. I mean let them catch you – firsthand – reading your bible and praying!

Do your kids know you pray for them, other than your telling them you pray for them?

Do you and I spend as much time in the Bible as we say other people, especially those young people should spend in the Bible?

For your children to catch you practicing your faith, of course, you will have to practice your faith.

Maybe some of you can remember how your parents and or grandparents practiced their faith. Not how they lamented about the problems your generation was, but how you saw them – caught them- following Jesus.

Here is a proven truth that we need to remind ourselves occasionally: the BEST predictor for whether or not a young person will grow up to be an active member of a church is whether or or not their parents were active members of a church. Not programs, not paid staff, but the participation of the parents.

Which reminds me of the Harry Chapin classic, “The Cat’s in the Cradle,”?  Yeah, it speaks a lot of truth. Here is the last part of the song:

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said I’d love to dad, if I could find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

They will tend to grow up like us. Like we ARE more than like we tell them we are.

Now, to be fair, this still isn’t a perfect thing.  There are people who model church participation and don’t have their kids follow suit.

I have an adult child who, as far as I know, has nothing to do with any church. We could go into the reasons – all of which I’ve made up in my head because she hasn’t actually given me any reasons – but the reasons are not important right now.

What is important is that you and I are here, that we are trying to follow Jesus, and that, from today forward, we have to be about making disciples. One of the most important things to making disciples – people who follow us as we follow Jesus – is to be the kind of people someone might actually want to follow.

I haven’t always been.  You haven’t always been.  There. We are even, let’s move forward.

The gospel reading for this morning has got to be a lament by Jesus.  He says:

“To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ Yet the Human One came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works.”

My short summary is this: You can’t win!  John presented living within God’s will one way, Jesus another.  They appeared to be categorical opposites.

John the Baptist, about whom Jesus had just said earlier in the chapter, “no one greater had ever been born,” and Jesus couldn’t prove to everyone that following them was following the will of God.

You and I cannot either. So, what are we to do? “Wisdom is proved right by her works.” What is wisdom? There’s a whole lot about that in here (hold up a tablet). I mean, in here (hold up an actual bible).   I hope you get the idea. Remember: The better stories last, but the way we access them and take them in changes.

Seek wisdom. Follow Jesus and you will find yourself seeking wisdom.

So, there were once 9,000 Blockbuster stores. There are now maybe 50 left, the closest to us being in Pleasanton, Tx, about 30 minutes south of San Antonio.

There are  43,000 of these kiosks at 34,000 locations around the country. More than 60 million people around the world subscribe to Netflix.

People still want the product, they have just found different ways to access it.

People still want God’s love and forgiveness, they are looking for different ways to access it.

I am pretty sure that the next generation wants reconciliation with their creator, and forgiveness and the real possibility of a life of hope as much as the last generation.

It is on us to find ways to help them access it.

Pop Culture Finale: Back to the Future!

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

On this day, April 28, in 1992, the Bloods and the Crips, rival gangs in Los Angeles, declared a truce.

This was the day before the riots started in response to the not guilty verdict in the trial of police accused of beating Rodney King.

This is not written about what is happening now in Baltimore, or these days around the country. This post is not about police violence or the violence in communities that leads to police violence.

This post is about peace. Or at least truce.  The Bloods and the Crips can lay down their arms, their hatred, their distrust, their contradictory narratives of who is a fault or who is right and who is wrong.

They could stop fighting each other. They could, and did, stop killing each other.

It makes me wonder. Ooh, it makes me wonder.

Can Tea Partiers and Progressives stop fighting each other?

Can Republicans and Democrats stop fighting each other?

Can Sunni and Shia stop fighting each other?

Can evangelical Christians and progressive Christians stop fighting each other?

Can opposing factions in The United Methodist Church stop fighting each other?

Let’s see if we can learn this simple lesson from history: that on April 28, 1992, the Bloods and the Crips stopped fighting.

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

Rights v Right makes wrong

Having the right to do something does not necessarily make doing it the right thing to do.

Case in point: Jacyln Pfieffer was allegedly fired from her position as a teacher at Aloma Methodist Early Childhood Learning Center. Further, she was allegedly fired because it was learned that she was living in a lesbian relationship.

The discussions about this that I’ve seen, and been part of, on social media, tend to end up with people on either of two sides of this polarity

  1. The ECLC was within its rights as a religious organization to fire someone engaged in conduct they believe to be immoral; and
  2. Ms. Pfieffer was a victim of discrimination.

I am not taking sides on that polarity.

Knowing a little about Church-State matters, I expect the ECLC, related to its host Church, may well be perfectly within their rights to have fired her.

Even if they were within their rights as a religious organization, though, I think they blew it. They failed.  They did not represent Jesus well.

This is stronger language than I usually use on this blog, but this is serious business.

Whatever your position on sexuality and orientation and same-sex marriage, if you are a Christian, I assume you would agree that we (Christians) represent Christ, and therefore God.

I think you would also have to agree with this: whether we approve of someone else’s behavior/orientation/lifestyle/fill-in-your-preferred-term-here,we are commanded to love them. All of them; friends, enemies, strangers, etc.

Christians do not get to choose whom to love and whom not to.

But we do, according to the law, receive some leeway according to our religion, in choosing whom to employ and whom not to.

I believe that choice is far better made before hiring than after.

So, even if you fully support Aloma Methodist ECLC’s decision, you must agree that they would have represented Christ better had they been open upfront and refused to hire Ms. Pfeiffer in the first place than to fire her.

I don’t know where the law places the burden of proof. Should Ms. Pfieffer have self-identified as lesbian in the hiring process?

How self-disclosing are you when you apply for a job?

No; from my perspective – and it would be very, very hard to sway me on this – it is on the church-affiliated organization to be very, very clear during the hiring process what their moral expectations of employees are.

If Aloma Methodist ECLC presents itself as representing the God we know in and through Jesus, they owe it to the world around them, the culture in which they serve, to love the other. If this means anything, it at least means treating them with respect.

Simply put: I’m pretty sure that if Jesus wouldn’t allow a lesbian to work for him, he wouldn’t have hired her in the first place.

Go, thou, and do likewise.

Rights v Right makes wrong

How could anyone…?!

How could you…?

How could anyone…?

One of my earliest recollections of this was early in my first year of college hearing someone say, “How could anyone grow up sane if they have to move a bunch of times as a child?”

This friend had grown up (all her life) in the same small town.  12 of the 16 in her high school graduating class, if I remember correctly, she had also started kindergarten with.

My response, a military brat who had moved at least ever 4 years, had wondered the opposite.

I have wondered the same thing: “how could anyone _____?”

I bet you have, too.

But this is another of those times that, if we are honest, we must recognize we don’t know the full story of the other person.

Just like no one else knows your full story.

At our best, we remember that we don’t know the other person’s story.  Then, still at our best, we acknowledge there may be good reason for whatever it is about them or their behavior we cannot imagine.

And if not a good reason, at least a reason we had not thought of.

Please don’t feel the need to hone your skills to learn every possible reason someone might do something differently or be something different from you.

Just let them be who they are.  Learn more (than you already know) about who they are.  Listen to their story.

You might still not understand them or what they do, but by the time you’ve listened to their story, you’ll likely be too tired to judge them.

How could anyone…?!

Which Jesus are we talking about?

jesusThe other day I was involved in a thread discussion in a United Methodist Clergy group. The subject of that discussion is irrelevant for my present purposes. If you really feel the need to know, ask me.

In this discussion, a friend – no, an acquaintance – no, a colleague – maybe – a fellow UM clergyperson wrote this: “If you do not follow the rules, then you have lost all integrity.”

Whoa, I thought. I am, apparently, and have always been, low on integrity.

This won’t surprise those of you who know me, but I push at rules.  Over the years I have come to respect the need for rules, and the benefits.

I still have within me, though, a desire, an urge, to push against the rules, the norms, the status quo.

Which is one of the reasons I read as someone who, according to my colleague, has lost an integrity.

In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus is almost constantly breaking rules. When I was younger and more of a mind to break rules just because they were rules, I read Jesus this way, too.

And it is possible to read the gospels this way.

I have grown up. I know longer believe that all rules were made to be broken.  I understand the benefit, even the need, of rules and standards.

As a matter of fact, I now tend to read Jesus as having this same kind of attitude toward rules.

I will probably always tend to read Jesus favorably to the way I understand and work in the world.

If Jesus matters to you, I expect you do this, too.

You may suggest that we ought to interpret our own lives in terms of Jesus rather than the other way around.  I would agree that this is an admirable goal. In fact, it may be a good way of identifying true disciples.

But I am pretty sure that before we proclaim too loudly that we are more like Jesus than someone else is, we do well to investigate which Jesus we are comparing ourselves to. More often than not, I fear, we will find that we will find ourselves looking down on others by comparing them to the Jesus that we have made look an awful lot like the ideal version of ourselves.

Which Jesus are we talking about?