Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Category

9/11 Forgotten

Posted: September 11, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in pop culture
Tags: ,

Funny thing this morning, I took a look at my Google homepage, and saw absolutely nothing about 9/11 — no retrospective, no remembrance, nothing.

CNN — nothin’. New York Times? Zip. Reuters, BBC, Wall Street Journal — nada.

What? How could this be? The most horrific event to take place on U.S. soil gets exactly zero headline space a mere 11 years later? It’s as if it’s been scrubbed from our national consciousness. Didn’t happen — too long ago. It’s as if we just can’t find it in us anymore to share any perspective, even on the most important things.

Now, on Facebook — yes, lots of posts. But c’mon, not from our news sources? What are they paying attention to?

How did we get here? Have we really come to the point where there’s no more to say about 9/11, or have we simply come to the point where even the most thoughtful minds can’t focus on even the most important history for fear that their Twitter followers will drop them?

We live in splintered, fractured times — a fact quite poignantly illustrated by the image of steel towers melting in the morning Manhattan sun. But to have our attention so splintered that the 11th anniversary of 9/11 passes with nary a whisper? Really?

Yes, it seems — really. Welcome to the new reality. The past doesn’t just not matter — it was never there at all.


Judge Jesus

Posted: July 23, 2012 by Jim Killam in Christ's example, church culture, pop culture

Ever ponder a famous painting of Jesus eating with the sinners and tax collectors?

Me either. I’ve been having trouble finding a copy.

I can show you a thousand paintings – available at finer Christian bookstores – of Jesus on a white horse, sword in hand, leading the Last Day charge against the forces of evil. Superhero Jesus. Gandalf Jesus. Revelation Jesus. We like that Jesus, because he opens up a big can o’ wrath. The devil, his minions and a whole lot of people we don’t like are one day gonna get theirs.

I like this idea, too. And I believe it. It’s certainly biblical. It gives me hope that someday, everything will be set right. Justice is indeed coming on a white horse.

Lately, justice has come to Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. It arrived first for the monster who raped those little boys. It’s now come to the university people and the program that protected him in the name of … what? If there’s any disagreement – at least outside the La-La Land where this was allowed to happen – it’s that the punishments should have been harsher. Death penalty for the offender, NCAA death penalty for the program. Smite them all.

I’m unapologetically part of that torches-and-pitchforks crowd today, as the NCAA has announced harsh sanctions. Our system, imperfect as it may be, certainly can get this one right. Case closed. That guy should never take a free breath again, and Penn State should stop playing football for a long, long time. I don’t think God would say that our desire for justice is wrong. It’s how we’re wired, and it’s how the world works in order to prevent chaos.

But we never can think about hard justice without considering the backdrop of grace, a free offer that’s been extended to us all.

We say we believe all that, that we “get” grace. I’m not sure we do. Grace isn’t very satisfying when justice is deserved. If the Penn State rapist comes to faith in Christ while in prison, how would I feel about standing alongside him in heaven? Or how about the guy who shot up that theater in Colorado last week? How satisfying would it feel to see grace extended to him?

The Jesus we’ve seen on planet earth so far is not Judge Jesus. In fact, the Jesus we’ve seen so far doesn’t make much sense. I was talking the other day with a person close to me who rejects Christianity as a series of fairy tales. He says the gospels don’t have enough historical reliability and that they were likely made up by the church as a means to control weak-minded people.

To which I ask: If people were going to make up a messiah story, couldn’t they have done a lot better than this? A man who says blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit? A man who willingly dies a criminal’s death rather than use his power to smite evil? A man who could have spectacularly proven his identity to the whole world, but chose to let a few sketchy eyewitnesses tell the stories? A man who brings forgiveness and redemption, and who pays the entire price himself?

Who writes a script like that? Where’s the epic battle where good defeats evil? Give me Judge Jesus on the white horse, ridding the world of injustice.

On second thought, please don’t. I’m not so perfect myself. To be honest, Judge Jesus scares the crap out of me, because I know how far I fall short of God’s standard.  I accept his free gift of grace and know I am his regardless of how much I’ve screwed up … but I also know that a whole lot of people have not.

We can gaze on those paintings of Revelation Jesus and our thoughts can (and should) conflict. We long for that day when all is made right. And we also plead, “Not yet!” Not when we still have people lost out there.

At that point, grace still sounds pretty sweet.

God plays the Nut Squad

Posted: May 6, 2012 by Jim Killam in church culture, missions, pop culture


Ever pay close attention to the last few minutes of a basketball game, when one team is comfortably ahead? Those moments are called Garbage Time. Both coaches have pulled their starters and emptied their benches. The guys that never get to play are now playing – a better word might be flailing — and you quickly understand why they never get to play.

I spent most of my high school basketball career on the bench, part of a unit that called itself the Nut Squad. All of us at one time or another toyed with the idea of wearing street clothes under our warm-ups, just to tempt fate. These were the underjocks – decent but flawed athletes who filled out the roster but rarely got into a game.

These also tended to be the smarter kids, so the Nut Squad was not without its moments of comedic glory. You’d always try to be the first one out of the locker room for pregame layups, so you could awkwardly fire one off the bottom of the rim and earn style points from the other Nuts. Or during the shoot-around, we’d head over near the bench area and launch 35-foot rainbows because the coach had told us to shoot from where we’d be during the game.

If the Nut Squad ever got into a game, it was because the outcome had long since been decided and the coach deemed it safe to let us onto the floor. So we had an unwritten agreement among us. If the ball somehow found its way into your hands, you would shoot, no matter where you were on (or near) the court. And if you couldn’t do that, you would do something – anything – to get into the box score. Usually that meant a spectacular foul, up to and including pantsing an opposing player.

Now, we never would have done any of this had it actually mattered. But it never did. Thinking back, it stunk to be on the Nut Squad. You were there because the coach thought you were good enough to play on the team but not good enough to play when it mattered. You were never represented by an X or an O on the blackboard as the coach drew up plays. Your job was to watch the starters handle the important stuff and to give them someone to practice against.

Turns out, God likes the Nut Squad. He even puts the ball in our hands when it matters. The Bible is full of Nut Squad members. Moses? Didn’t even want to play. David? Water boy. Most of Jesus’ disciples? Nut squad for sure. If God were going to accomplish something big, he certainly wouldn’t use these idiots.

As I prepare for a new career in missions work, with a brand-new ministry, I think about the Nut Squad sometimes. And I wonder, is God really entrusting all of this to me? The farm kid who never really knew anyone rich or famous, who still stutters sometimes and can still be painfully shy? The kid who used to pass time in church by counting the bald heads?

Yep. God does indeed entrust the whole game to the Nut Squad.  And I’d better not have worn street clothes under the warm-ups, because I’m going in.

Legalism. We hate the word and all it conjures. Jesus hated it, saving some of his harshest criticism for the Pharisees and their fanatical attention to the law while ignoring the heart.

I grew up knowing Christians who would burn records, condemn certain books and never be seen at R-rated movies, yet who were horribly racist, or gluttonous, or indifferent to the poor. The church is experiencing a backlash against this sort of selective legalism, and that’s been a good and God-honoring thing.

I wonder sometimes, though, if disillusioned Christians (me included) have become so resistant to legalism that we also shun the ideas of personal holiness and intentional living.

If, for instance, I park myself in front of the TV some evening, scroll through a hundred channels and eventually land on some mindless reality show and veg for an hour, I’m probably not honoring God with my use of that time.

On the other hand, if I intentionally engage the same show, with an eye toward the spiritual state of our culture, and pop culture, then I probably am honoring God with that time. I’m engaging my brain and I’m letting the Holy Spirit, in effect, sit there next to me and have a conversation that I later can share with someone else.

In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

T.J. Addington, in his book and blog, “Leading From the Sandbox,” writes about intentional living — which he boils down to mean, “Does my schedule reflect my personal priorities?”

Take that thought further: Do my entertainment choices – even when no one else is looking — reflect my personal priorities? Or, more precisely, do they reflect what I would like for my priorities to be?

Maybe the more-common question is: Is it worthwhile for Christians just to spend time being entertained, with no higher purpose? Just a little time to rest and recharge?

I think it depends on whether that entertainment moves me closer to God, or further away from God. As Paul would ask: Where am I fixing my thoughts?

If I watch a movie or TV show with a lot of extra-marital sex, or drunken debauchery, I notice something about my spiritual condition. It has sunk. Not because I want to emulate the people on the screen, but because I’m letting myself be entertained by watching depictions of sin. And then if I’m going to keep watching, I have to shut the door on God’s voice – like the end of the “Godfather” movies where Michael Corleone shuts the door in his wife’s face so the men can discuss the evil business they do.

And even in that little example I open the door to a “What’s appropriate for Christians?” conversation that makes people uncomfortable. I can watch the Godfather movies as a profound commentary on America, family and hypocrisy … or I can watch them as brutally violent gangster movies. I can watch “American Beauty” and be struck by its message about the spiritual emptiness of affluent suburbia, or I can watch it because it has a lot of sex and nudity. Where am I fixing my thoughts?

Can entertainment be spiritually neutral? Sure. If I watch a few innings of a Cubs game, my relationship with God doesn’t change much. Then again, I may get either angry or depressed about the sorry state of my team. Being a Cub fan does make one very cynical.

If I watch “30 Rock,” or reruns of “Seinfeld,” can I appreciate those shows’ great writing and wit, and get past their very unbiblical worldview and content? Again, I think it depends on my spiritual state of engagement and where my thoughts are fixed.

And can I watch “Caddyshack” and appreciate the … oh never mind.

The bottom line is, this conversation leaves more than one spiritually solid place to land. That makes legalists uncomfortable.  At the other end of the spectrum, it touches nerves. But our entertainment choices do affect our spiritual condition. Let’s not avoid the conversation because we’re afraid of lapsing into legalism.

Typically, when I talk with someone about matters of faith, the conversation ends before I get to the part about breaking baseball bats over my leg, or smashing a pile of cement blocks with my forehead. I suppose if you get deep enough into systematic theology at some of the better seminaries, those topics come up.

To understand The Power Team, you have to forget all sense of logic and … well, even then, I’m not sure there’s a good way to explain The Power Team. Their mission statement includes this: “Drawing people from all walks of life together into one setting, through the use of performing visually explosive feats of strength, by incredible athletes, who share the life-changing message of the cross.”

Uh, OK. I guess I get it: They’re a troupe that uses high-octane entertainment to whip up the crowd, and then at the end of the evening they body-slam them (see what I did there?) with the Gospel. “Look, honey. That muscle-bound guy just blew up a hot water bottle until it exploded in his face. Now there’s a faith I can use!”

Think about Christian believers in a place like Libya or Saudi Arabia, who have to gather secretly and who risk imprisonment and even death for their faith. Think about Christians right now in Egypt, who are living their faith under threat of attack and murder by militant groups. How, exactly, would American Christians explain something like The Power Team to those believers?

I wouldn’t even know where to start. Except to apologize.

However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

Oh, and that one radio minister in Oakland, Calif.

— Matthew 24:36 (2011 expanded version)

It’s been another damage-control week for Christians, after the news media and pop culture have seized upon the predictions of one Harold Camping and his Family Radio Network. In case you’ve been hiding in your fortified bunker and haven’t heard, Camping is convinced the Rapture will happen at 6 p.m. Saturday. He also has a lot of money. So, he’s been buying billboards, radio ads and newspaper ads to warn people.

Not much more need be said about self-appointed prophets of doom with their prophecy charts and mathematical calculations. See our previous post: Say Cheese. Also see: Leeroy Jenkins.

But …

I must have heard or read a dozen conversations this week along the lines of, “If this was your last day on earth, what would you do?” This is not a bad question to ask oneself periodically. Movies like “The Bucket List” have posed it, only with the protagonists given quite a bit more time.

With only one day’s notice, your options diminish.

Would I travel? If I wanted to go anywhere exotic, I’d end up spending the whole day in an airport or on a plane. So that’s out.

Would I make a sign that says “Repent! The End is Near” and hang out at a busy intersection (which is basically what our friend Mr. Camping has been doing)? Nah. What impact am I going to have on a bunch of strangers who think I’m a nut?

Would I go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu? Only if I wanted to spend my last day on earth in a hospital.

The one-day-to-live question actually may be a better question than the six-months-to-live question. Because it doesn’t allow for any planning, any wild trips to Vegas or Mount Everest, or even any methodical charity. You have one day. The way you’ve lived your life up until now is really all you have to draw on.

Would I spend the day with loved ones, not doing anything crazy or expensive, but just letting them know how much they mean to me? I think so. And I think a lot of other people would, too.

See, if I treat my faith like fire insurance, the one-day question becomes a lot more important than it should. Then I’m thinking: “I’d better use my last day to make up for lost time and get right with God.” Whereas, if I live intentionally and with a sense that, really, ANY day could be my last … then whether I have one day left or 20,000, it doesn’t make a big difference. I’m already right with God. I’ve shared that with as many people as I could. I have cultivated friendships and lived my faith in front of people instead of pounding them over the head with it from a safe distance.

So, yes, I do believe Jesus will return one day, as the Bible says. I also believe Mr. Camping is a nut. But if his doomsday predictions have indirectly caused people to ponder important questions, maybe he’s done some good after all. Even if we’re all still here on Sunday.

Melt Nazis at Your Desk

Posted: January 7, 2011 by Jim Killam in Idiot Friday, pop culture
Tags: , , ,

We’re too late for Christmas, but next time you need a little something special for the person who has everything, we can pretty much guarantee they don’t have this. It’s a miniature Ark of the Covenant for the home or office, it’s only $12.95 and the Archie McPhee company promises “you’ll have no more trouble from Nazi archaeologists if you keep your Ark handy.” It’s not intended for children. Later, though, comes the disclaimer, “Wrath of God not included.”

The web page for this fine product lists other products they think we may like, based on this selection. These include not only the Moses Action Figure, but also a latex stuffed rat, horse head wall decoration and conehead mask. This shapes up as one memorable party.