Wednesday, July 23

And yes, we did other things in Florida and on the way down. We visited my dad, Hilary and my son Christopher in Knoxville. We visited Mike's parents and sisters outside of Gainesville - his sister Kathy keeps some livestock - two goats, a donkey and a miniature horse - which Joseph took great, bustling pride in feeding. We saw friends in Gainesville, Lakeland, and the Tampa area. We all are the same, and we all change. Friends once immersed in church life now barely go, for various reasons, ranging from ideological to familial. Heavier, thinner, grayer. Once single, now married with children. The greatest physical change - from apparently glowing good health to frailty and impairment wrought by battles with three kinds of cancers - embodying the most consistent spirit - a woman who still represents to me undaunted love of life, faith in God and a generous heart.

And what are they saying about me, I wonder...

Speaking of change, we went by my old house in Lakeland, my sweet little 1920's bungalow in between the lakes that I sold to a couple the male half of which was a free-lance set builder for the likes of Universal and Busch Gardens. So, as they told me, they had big plans for the place. I was happy.

Well, I hope they've been spending the past three years working out those big plans on the interior, because the exterior was a wreck - I'm hoping that they're simply in the process of repainting, for that's the only reasonable explanation for the way it looked. The fruit trees in the back were gone, victims, I suspect, of a canker that I heard went through central Florida soon after I left. I was surprised. Katie wept, for some strange reason....

The tonic of the trip was our time at Treasure Island, which is the beach just north of St. Pete Beach. It was just what I needed, especially after days of puzzling at the pointless weirdness human beings create, both at the CBA and at Universal.

God does a much better job, I think.

Finally took a walk today around the park/golf course for the first time since the flooding. It looks like the course will be closed for the season - the greens are at least half dead, just big flattened, stinking plains of brown.

Another object lesson - too much of a good, or even necessary thing - can hurt you bad.

Blegging here, not for me, but for my son

...who just read Stranger in a Strange Land, and called with questions, hoping I'd read it. Had to admit it wasn't in my repertoire, although I remember it being all the rage at some point in my life.

It's not that he didn't understand it, it's that the friend who gave it to him to read told him that when published, it was seen as a very controversial commentary on religion, and, in fact, inspired a few cults of its own. Is this true, my son wanted to know. Why, he also wanted to know. I didn't know, but thought that some of you might.

So if you grok this, help us out here..

Culture and religion...impossible to tease apart, as they should be. We express our faith through the cultural means available to us, whether that be a medieval lute, paint on plaster, Aristotelean logic, monarchical concepts of society, chords on a bass, or symbols on a toe ring. It's what we do.

But what is problematic about the CBA market (and probably about some aspects of the more liturgical church markets as well, but not so much) is the cravenness and obviousness of so much of it. Sure, if people are into music of a certain style, it makes perfect sense for Christians to set their own words to that style of music. What else are we supposed to do? But there is something else at work in all of this and it is the profit motive, pure and simple. Publishers are businesses, so they want to profit, they want to make what is going to they will follow the secular trends, baptize them, repackage them and put them in stores to be played on your stereo or worn on your toe. So? Well, so nothing, because sure, if you want to wear a toe ring with a icthus on it, fabulous. I might even do it. But there is something about the relationship between supposed evangelism, a reflexive adaptation of secular pop culture and social trends, and commerce that adds up to something less than organic, something less than an innocent and solidly-grounded fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Mel Gibson's visit to the Legionaries of Christ confab

What I can't find on the Legion website is any mention of the sweepstakes they're running, an ad for which I received yesterday in the mail. Rather unseemly, I thought it was, big promises of big payoffs if you buy tickets, the amounts printed over photos of scores of cossacked seminarians...

An interesting conversation taking place:

Nancy Nall writes:

Anyway, I was fascinated by your report of the booksellers' convention, and not just for the Tammy Faye dish. I was struck by the look-alike, sound-alike titles, and it made me wonder: What good is an alternative pop culture if it doesn't have any ideas of its own?

The growth of this parallel culture has been widely reported and commented on, but I don't think I've ever heard a Christian bookseller, music marketer or anyone else address the question of originality. Don't like profane hip-hop? Try Christian hip-hop. Nihilist heavy metal leave you cold? We've got uplifting heavy metal, right here. The ya-ya sisterhood begets the yada-yada prayer group. Serial crime thrillers beget "Left Behind." And so on.

Considering that the source material for Christianity is the foundation for much of western civilization, you'd think it would be more compelling as the inspiration for art, even pop/commercial product-art, but all the parallel culture offers is watered-down, G-rated versions of the spicy stuff.

TS O'Rama answers

I think that Christians are on the defensive now and our faith is weak. The great works of Christendom came when everyone was Christian - not enough good writers and artists are Christian now to get the "synergy" going to create good art.Kids grow up in nominally Christian homes, so they learn to like hip-hop & nihilistic music before their conversions. And they still like the music, post-conversion, if not the lyrics. Asking kids (or anyone) not to be conformists is asking a lot. If serious Christianity became mainstream, we'd have more risk-takers, with better art as a byproduct.

Jeremy Lott's Reason piece on the 2002 CBA

Mark Galli's dispatch on this year's CBA for Christianity Today, with lots more detail on fun items (and more links to past dispatches at the bottom of the article)- I never had time to really peruse the arcana, being in the presence of a two-year old in a stroller who just wants to "go!"

Oh, there’s good stuff out there in CBA land, and much of this servicable stuff - devotionals, fiction and youth material in particular - Catholics are buying from evangelical publishers because Catholic publishers too often don’t have a clue, either in content or marketing. Michael tells me that 40% of shoppers in Christian bookstores are Catholics, which should surprise no one.

Heck, I've used some it myself - Katie likes all those girls' devotional books, VeggieTales is great, and when I was a DRE, I used materials from David C. Cook, now Cook Communications Ministries for our preK and K programs - it was just vastly superior to anything Catholic publishers put out - age-appropriate with just enough Scriptural content, the latter of which the Catholic programs studiously avoided, at that time.

And every one of my kids except Joseph has, at one time or another, gone to an evangelical preschool or daycare, simply because Catholics didn't do day care, and the Presbyterians were all about servicing the children of ladies who only needed help in the mornings so they could play tennis. So I'm no stranger to this world, to a world in which everything must be baptized, even "Oh Susanna" which comes out on the other end, "Oh Hosanna! Oh don't you cry for me! I'll go around this great big world with a Bible on my knee!"

Yeah, I've been there.

But I have to say that the total effect of the show on me was to affirm my sense both of the way in which the evangelical enterprise is fundamentally flawed and of the authenticity – the truthful approach to spirituality - of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, as unecumenical as that may be. Sorry.

Evangelical Protestantism is built on the premise that nothing “human” should come between the believer and God. The CBA is one big, unintentional witness to why that stance is, quite frankly, fraudulent and impossible. For what you see at this show is hundreds and hundreds of products, created and designed and written by human beings, which have no other intention but to explain God to other human beings.

Every year, new programs and ministry plans are developed and sold which are supposed to make the Gospel more understandable. A big part of evangelical culture is dependent on aping secular trends – from music to self-help books, and even fiction – that will, it is said, help mediate that Good News in ways that modern people will understand.

And then, there is, of course, the celebrity culture of evangelicalism, which starts with your local preacher who’s built a teeming megachurch and ends at the CBA, where televangelists march around the floor followed by a protective entourage, where participants rush from booth to booth to get autographs from their favorites.

Face it. We’re human. God meets us here, sometimes directly, but most of the time mediated through other human beings. We encounter God personally in our prayer, for example, but who taught us how to pray? Where did we find the words? You get my drift.

What you see at the CBA is almost frantic search for authority, unfortunately answered by those who are perfectly happy to gain profit and power from that search.

Catholics, Orthodox and some other mainline Christian traditions (as well as, I hasten to say, various serious evangelicals who struggle mightily with this issue) understand this spiritual dynamic. Popular evangelicalism and the culture it spawns won’t admit it, but their experience and their merchandising reveals the truth: we’re human and our experience of God is mediated through human channels. Which leaves them with Hal Lindsey and Kathy Lee’s latest CD, and us with St. Augustine and Gregorian chant. Which is perfectly okay with me.

Acts 8:31

(Note: not that the Catholic/Orthodox nexis is flawless or hasn't led some astray in the excesses of its own popular manifestations. Which is why reformations occur and why the constant balancing is necessary. But at the core, it seems, there is more honesty about the reality of human experience of faith.)


Some evangelical converts to Catholicism and Orthodoxy site the issue of authority (in its broadest sense - historical, rather than narrowly institutional) as well as a general fatigue with the constant push in evangelical churches to re-invent, to be relevant, to come up with new ways of getting people in and keeping them happy. Many Catholic converts to evangelical churches say that in those churches they've found an understanding of the reality of a personal relationship with Christ. Popular evangelicalism reflects, when you look at it deeply, a desire for authority. Popular Catholic devotions, when you look at them deeply, reflect a desire for personal relationship. Ever the twain shall meet?

I noticed that Augsburg Fortress has a new children's book on St. Nicholas forthcoming. As I leafed through it, I got quite irritated because the references were to Nicholas who was "pastor" of Myra. Now, granted that it is not totally illigitimate to transliterate the early Church's sense of bishop into a more modern sense of pastor, but really, by the fourth century, bishops were bishops and Nicholas was one of them (although the story they related - the story of Nicholas throwing dowry money down the chimney - is sometimes - but not always - placed at a time before he was bishop, so again...I guess you could tell it that way). But still..the whole thing struck me as vaguely deceptive, and somewhat puzzling since Lutherans have bishops, so what's the big deal?

On the bright side of children's books, Eerdmans (one of the best publishers of any religious material out there) has a nice line for the fall, which you can peruse here.

Correction: It's not Augsburg, it's Concordia. Still Lutheran.

Okay, more CBA notes:

I stopped by the booth of Relevant, an interesting new company that publishes books and a magazine. God. Life. Progressive Culture is what they're about. Here's their own wrap-up of the show. I asked the guy at the booth why they didn't have their most famous product, The Gospel According to the Sopranos on display. He grinned. "Because we sold 35,000 copies in secular bookstores and 3,000 in Christian bookstores, so we figured, why get people riled up with something they probably aren't going to carry anyway?

A bit more on Hal Lindsey. In case you don't remember, Lindsey came to great fame back in the 1970's with a book called The Late Great Planet Earth, one of the first apocalyptic warning bells of the late 20th century. It was very, very popular. Lindsey hasn't stopped. Here's his website, which is subtitled: Politically incorrect - prophetically correct.

Well, when he appeared on the floor of the show, he was in a wheelchair. Later that night, we saw him, walking around quite normally and with great ease at the Bahama Breeze restaurant, in a natty tropical shirt, carrying a yummy (undoubtedly non-alcoholic) tropical drink. Okay, so maybe walking the breadth of the Orange County Convention Center was too much for his portly frame. Maybe he's got leg problems. It was, however, quite a contrast. The Lindsey sighting, along with the John Hagee sighting, along with the massive display for Tyndale, publisher of the Left Behind series, left me with the conclusion that the End Times are good for business - and for your waistline.

You want links? Sorry, not up for that today.

But....Lots and lots o' good religion news links at Christianity Today's Weblog today.


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