Friday, March 27, 2015

Churchnet Annual Gathering

Next month I will be a keynote speaker at the Churchnet 2015 Annual Gathering. The gathering will be April 24-25 at First Baptist Church of Jefferson City. The theme for the weekend event is Share Hope: Building a Community of Peace & Reconciliation. I will be the plenary speaker on Friday night and will lead a breakout session on Saturday morning. It should be a great weekend and I am looking forward to it! Below you can watch a promo video I helped make. Learn more about the event here.

2015 Annual Gathering Promo from Churchnet on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Your Metaphor's Burnt (And That's a Bad Thing)

As a kid, I enjoyed heading over to a friend's house to play video games (I didn't have a console at my house). One of them we often played was NBA Jam. A notable feature of the game was the "on fire" mode. After a player made three consecutive baskets, the announcer would declare that player (usually my friend) was "on fire!" As long as the "on fire" mode lasted, the player would have extra speed and skill, and the basketball would appear to be on fire as it soared through the air and into the net.

Although silly, I enjoyed it. In reality, a flaming basketball would hurt the player, not help. I'm not sure the burning basketball would even last long since there's not much beyond the outer shell. But it was just a game, so it was a entertaining addition to the sport.

As a massive field of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates emerges, many of the hopefuls seem determined to stand out from the crowd by making more outrageous comments than the others. A leading contender for claiming the mantel of the most outlandish candidate is U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. In a recent speech, his fiery rhetoric involved a metaphor of fire.

"The Obama economy is a disaster," Cruz argued. "Obamacare is a trainwreck, and the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind - the whole world is on fire."

Cruz had apparently used that line before, but this time a three-year-old child hilariously pointed out his exaggerated claim.

"The world is on fire?" she asked loud enough to be heard.

As people laughed, perhaps the wisdom of her question hit a few in the crowd. Like the child who noted the emperor has no clothes, this child exposed the rhetorical excesses of Cruz.

Cruz didn't back away from his bad metaphor, instead taking his usual path of remaining firm even when shown to be wrong or inappropriate.

"The world is on fire," Cruz repeated. "Yes! Your world is on fire. But you know what? Your mommy’s here and everyone’s here to make sure the world you grow up in is better."

Rather than admitting he was just using a metaphor - and not a good one since "on fire" sometimes means good (like in the video game) - Cruz doubled down. In my first book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!), I noted the power of metaphors and the problem of using inappropriate ones. Metaphors can be dangerous since they guide our thinking and actions. 

Despite Cruz's insistence to the young child, the world is not on fire. It's warmer due to global warming, but that wasn't Cruz's point because he refuses to believe that data. And there are some dangerous hot spots in the world, but many of are those are more the fault of President George W. Bush than President Barack Obama (although both used bombs and drones to increase the amount of literal fires in the Middle East). If we want to make the world better, we need to start with a clear analysis of the problems and reasoned rhetoric. 

Flaming basketballs might be good fun for a video game, but not for the NCAA tournament (now that would be some "March Madness"). Similarly, exaggerated claims and wild metaphors may work for entertaining stories (like "House of Cards"), but do not help in serious politics.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Book Review

Andii Bowsher, a chaplain at Northumbria University in England, wrote a review of my latest book, Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action. Here are a couple highlights from his review:
I have to say that one of the effects on me of reading this book was that I became more deeply concerned and at times scared by what I was reading. ... My fear at reading the research in this book is for the way that USAmerican influence might be prodded and pushed along by a form of religion which is not good for the global community (let alone for its host nation).

... The form of religion which I saw as I read the research presented in this book is one in which the global dominance of the USA is pretty much equated with the will of God. ... I don't think I'd truly grasped the depth of popular USAmerican exceptionalism until I read the way that public prayers in The USA assume and promote that the Kingdom of God is pretty much co-terminous with USAmerican interests.

... This poisonous mix of religion (and not just formally Christian, either) and chauvinism is seen expressed and assumed in prayers and rhetoric. And for the rest of us it is deeply scary and gives no real sense of benevolence to the rest of the world; so we have to live with edgy appeasement or fearful opposition. here is Empire and the Constantinian settlement is alive and well. The problem is, we are the barbarians in this way of looking at the world.
I hope others will check out the book. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my apparently scary book. Please don't read it too close to bedtime!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Love's Not Like a Hurricane

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

I hate that song. It changes tense a lot (so I'm not sure if we're singing to or about God). It throws in lots of unexplained, underdeveloped, and even competing metaphors. But the opening lines are the worst. I am a tree and God loves me like a hurricane? You mean God's trying to kill me with love? This sounds like an abusive relationship. It's like the writer tried too hard to be original and poetic.

As news reports trickle in from yet another powerful storm - Cyclone Pam - can we please quit singing that song? Pam slammed the archipelago nation of Vanuatu over the weekend. Photos shows trees snapped and destroyed, not standing around talking about how nice and spiritual it was being bent over during the storm. Even worse, reports indicate several people died and many more are injured, homeless, and without power or water. If that's the picture of God's love, why would anyone sing happily about it?

(some of the destruction on Vanuatu; photo from World Vision)

The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

God didn't come in the strong wind, earthquake, or fire. God's love is not like the strong wind in a cyclone. Fortunately, there are Christians who see God's love in our hands and feet, not in powerful storms. They are already mobilizing to demonstrate that love to the beleaguered people of Vanuatu.

Relief groups - including BWAid and Baptist World Aid Australia - are already raising money and working to get help to the devastated nation out in the Pacific Ocean. One group particularly leading the way is World Vision, which has worked in Vanuatu for more than 30 years. Thus, the organization already has staffers on the ground.

Since they saw the storm coming, World Vision actually pre-positioned lots of relief items so they could help with more quickly after the storm passed. With information from the remote nation hard to find, CNN and other news sources even relied heavily on firsthand reports from World Vision staffers in the immediate aftermath of Pam. It's great to see a Christian organization so far ahead of the curve that news outlets rely on the group for news!

That's what God's love is like. Not a hurricane, but emergency relief after the storm.