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.


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!

Ban the Ban!

This just in: TVLand has banned Dukes of Hazard reruns!

Ok, technically, that’s just not right.  A TV channel doesn’t “ban” shows.  A TV channel chooses which shows to air and which not to air.

So, to say that TVLand has decided to pull Dukes of Hazard episodes from its arsenal would be correct.  But to say TVLand has banned Dukes of Hazard would ONLY be correct if one went on to characterize EVERY OTHER show that TVLAND doesn’t air as similarly banned.

Of course, if one is trying to rally the troops against the rising tide of removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the American Public, then throwing the word “ban” in may be very helpful.

We Americans don’t like being told what to do or what not to do.

TVLand refuses to allow Americans the freedom to watch Dukes of Hazard!

Well, no, not really; TVLand has merely decided that if Americans want to watch the Dukes of Hazard, they will do it somewhere besides TVLand.

TVLand, along with a growing number of other commercial enterprises (Walmart, Sear, Ebay, Etsy, Amazon, and others), is no longer participating in selling products that feature that flag. I believe it is within their rights to so choose.

And we all knew, didn’t we, that businesses deciding to stop selling such products would lead to a run on these same products?

Yeah, that’s kind of how we are as Americans: we don’t like being told what we can and what we cannot buy.

Just don’t confuse the freedom to buy something with the ability to find someone willing to sell it.

Ban the Ban!

Too much excess?

I like to think I am a “make your point and move on” kind of guy.  I tire of repetition. Especially when I feel like it is repetition for repetition’s sake.

But this one thing bears repeating.

During this season of Lent, we are looking at excess and what to do about it.  We believe that we live in a culture of excess – voices around us, and in us, tell us we should want more, we should have more, we need more.
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us in the opposite direction.  Jesus recognized that stuff – money, food, clothing, power, media, friends, etc., cannot satisfy.  Only God and a relationship with God can satisfy the deep longing of our souls.
Yet, as much as we talk about excess and our mutiny against it, we are not being judgmental.  Let me repeat that: we are NOT judging you or your excess or other people in their excess.
We are not even judging ourselves in our own excess.
Our intent, during this season of Lent, is to open ourselves to God’s presence and God’s leading. Judging can be off-putting and conversation-ending.  We want to start the conversation or continue it.  We want to admit to ourselves and one another that excess challenges us and that following Jesus means getting all excess out of the way.
If all of it is too much for you right now, feel free to start with a little.
Too much excess?

How to beat a cold in 3 days

This 2-step method is guaranteed to work.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier.  Because I am not a selfish person, I share this information with you here, free of charge.

As we loaded up the car to leave for a brief Spring Break trip last Friday, I realized I was coming down with a cold. It was about time!  Every other person in the house had had a cold, or two, over the past month. I had avoided it each and every time.

Now, this time, it was my turn.

By Sunday, though, I was almost sure it was clearing out.  My cold only lasted 3 days!

With the right care and medication and exercise, you, too, can beat a cold in only 3 days.

Here is my method.  Help yourself.

1. Maintain good health.

No matter what else you do, when a cold virus meets your body, if you are in pretty good health, you will be better able to fight off the symptoms.  Sleep as well as you can, drink plenty of water, you know the drill.

2. Catch a virus that lasts 3 days.

Most colds I have had have lasted more than three days no matter what I did.  I think, honestly, that’s the way it works.

There is no trick, no secret, to making a cold last three days.  A cold is going to last as long as a cold is going to last.

Deal with it. Face it. Get over it (eventually).

There are a lot of people out there offering sure-fire ways (Just 3 easy steps!) to anything and everything.  While some of them may actually work, many of them are marketing schemes primarily designed to separate you  from your money.

That’s why this one is free.  You should pay what its worth.

How to beat a cold in 3 days

Free Speech Isn’t

I’m probably the 3 billionth blogger to chime in on the maddening murders in Paris yesterday. Last I remember hearing there were a dozen dead and the killing was centered on but not limited to the offices of a satirical magazine that dates back to 1969.

Though I am not marching or protesting, I am, like so many others deeply saddened at this horrible news.

I may be less inclined than average to toss in with the Free Speech Folks.

That’s what Charlie Hebdo was is all about, right? Each report I’ve heard about it, anyway, seems to be defending the satirical magazine with claims like, “But they made fun of everyone!”

Then I heard this: “One ought to be able to make fun of oneself, and of one’s opponents.”  And of course, “Within civilized society there must be room for satire, for free speech, for poking fun.”

All of these make very good arguments for those of us on the inside; for those of us, in other words, already convinced we are a part of this thing we call civilization and who think this is a good thing.

But what about those outside what we consider to be “civilized society”?  How many of us expect that simply referring to them as “uncivilized” or perhaps satirizing them ought to snap them out of their uncivilized-ness and awaken them to the reality we all know and love as civilization?

The problem is, of course, that civilization itself has some problems.  And you and I can see this from within what we call civilization! Can we allow for the possibility that, from outside our civilization, our way of life might not appear entirely desirable?

So, among the constraints you and I have agreed to on our way into “civilized society” is the notion of free speech.  It is not a natural law or right, existing amorphously somewhere until we claim it. It is, rather, an agreement at a large scale that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Except they do. Words do hurt.  Therefore, as we all learn in relationships and, one would hope, in society, there are things we don’t say, even if we have the right to say them, out of respect for other persons.

How much more ought we learn to respect those who haven’t even bought into the same understanding of “civilization” that you and I have?

I am not justifying the massacre in Paris.  I am also not arguing against Free Speech.  I am, rather, suggesting that satire for satire’s sake is, perhaps, not the greatest good.

Or, larger, free speech for the sake of free speech is not free, if free means without consequence.

Free Speech Isn’t

Pest Control and Evangelism

Last Saturday afternoon our doorbell rang as we were preparing to load the cars for dinner at the family reunion we hosted over the weekend.

A pest control company was in the development on behalf of one of my neighbors. The exterminator/door-to-door salesman wanted to make sure I had the opportunity while he was in the area.  For only $50 he would treat my yard, too!

I politely engaged in conversation while just as politely expressing that I was not very interested.  I know I turned him down at least four times.  It seemed he literally would not accept “no” for an answer.

I was probably not quite as polite at the end of the conversation as I was at the beginning, but he was wearing me out. As I stepped back inside the house and started to shut the door, I heard him say, “well, aren’t you awesome!”  in a clearly sarcastic tone. (I know sarcasm; having used it myself for more than 35 years now)

Here’s the deal.  When I am cold-called, I start from a place of being a very hard sell.  I feel I am at an extreme disadvantage.  When the salesperson has too-quick an answer to EVERY ONE of my questions, it doesn’t not build trust. No, it makes me step even further back.

My takeaway.  Well, first, perhaps I could have stepped back out and pursued his sarcastic suggestion of my awesomeness. That’s water under the bridge.

Second, Christians, we can glean from insight into how other might feel when we attempt to share Jesus with them.  Sure, you and I know it is not just another sales call, but it is reasonable that the other person feels like we are trying to make a sale.

The faster we respond with canned answers to sincere questions, the less interested the other person is in what we have to say.

In case you are ever told to “bug off” when trying to share your faith, consider the perspective of the other person.




Pest Control and Evangelism

Don’t Waste Time Reading!?

New, from Barna:  Barnaframes are designed to help you read important, worthwhile things without wasting all that time, well, reading. Watch this: BarnaFrames Or, as they put it, “Read less, Know more.”

Honestly, the idea is appealing to me.  There is so much more out there that I want to read than I have time to read.  Even my brother Richard, who reads faster and more broadly than anyone I know, cannot possibly read everything worth reading.

My suspicion is that a BarnaFrame by a certain author, well done, will entice me to want to read actual books by the same author.

Someone said once (I think it was Dennis Kinlaw, but I’m not sure) that we should not try to read all the good books or all the interesting books, but that we owe it to ourselves to read the great books.

I am open to the idea that BarnaFrames can connect me with some great books.

Feel free to start with anything from my Essential Readings page.

Don’t Waste Time Reading!?