Megan and I were walking through the mall when we saw a kiosk for Dippin' Dots Ice Cream. No ice cream should look like a bowl full of small marbles, if you ask me. Above the kiosk, it read: "Dippin' Dots: Ice Cream of the Future." Megan and I commented that we remember seeing that tagline in late elementary school. We scoffed at the thought in the same way we scoff at teachers teaching the metric system to students saying that soon America will switch to meters and liters instead of inches and gallons. Yeah right. When will the future be here for Dippin' Dots? Or do they realize it was just a passing fad that hit it's beak in the mid 90's? In fact, I think I don't eat this ice cream just for the fact that they're so out of date and out of touch with reality.
It makes me think of a comment I heard last week from a friend of mine, who's not a believer. He said, "It seems like The Church is always way behind when it comes to being relevant. It's like their the last ones to get something. The Church wants to be cutting edge and innovative and often times think that they are, but it just can't. It's stuck in the past."
Is the mindset of The Church just like the mindset of the marketers behind Dippin' Dots?
I just finished reading a fascinating paper published by The Trinity Forum, a ministry based out of the D.C. area committed to nurturing and training Christians to love God with their minds. The academic paper by Philip Hallie is called "Surprised by Goodness," with the forward by Os Guinness, director of The Trinity Forum.
While the paper was facinating it was a something from the forward by Os Guinness that reminded me just how important it is to love God with our minds. "Consider simply the fact, " Guinness writes, "that there have been more erosions in the foundations of the American way of life in the last thirty years than in the nearly four hundred years previously. What do we mean by life when we trumpet the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'? How should people die? What is family? How do we tell the difference between right and wrong? Does character matter? Is there such a thing as truth?..."
Events like Iraq, steriods in baseball and the Terri Shiavo case certainly bring these questions to the surface of our cultural fabric. And how do we respond to these issues as Christians?
One more interesting thought from Guinness as he addresses postmodernism, something he describes as "a broad movement in ideas and popular culture that has left an unfortunate legacy: the widespread impression that there is no longer such a thing as truth, and that is it wrong to judge the positions of others."
His final thought: "As many commentators have pointed out, with the general triumph of non-judgmentalism 'Thou shalt not judge,' has become America's new eleventh commandment."
It reminds me of a line from my philosophy professor in college: "The only thing a tolerant society will not tolerate is intolerance."
Many of you have been asking about the book writing status. Well, the contract I signed states that I am required to extract 45,000 words from my life and compile them in a manuscript by July. I totalled up the word count last week and it's approximately 44,500 words with half a chapter left to write. That may seem like the end is in sight, but that's just with the rough draft. There could be another four drafts after this one. But at least I'm right on target with the word count. As Napoleon would say, "Yessssssss!"
Some of you might be sick of me blogging about Fred Phelp's Westboro Baptist Church ordeal in our city. (For more context read here, here and here). While most of my reflections have been based on what I have heard or read, these reflections are based on my first-hand account of being around the picketers yesterday afternoon on Tejon Street.
Our Pierced intern Matt and I drove down a little before 4 pm and met up with John Nichols from Pierced a few minutes before the Westboro crew showed up. As the snow was falling and we were walking toward the restaurant I wondered, What the heck am I doing here? How can I make any impact on this situation? I wasn't going to give these church leaders a piece of my mind nor did I believe that I could change their beliefs (they've been doing this for fifty years). But I truly felt that if Jesus were here in the flesh today, he probably would have been down at Poor Richard's retaurant loving and praying, listening and bandaging up the wounds of those targeted by this church. So my haunting questions subsided.
There were already about 50 people milling around, including the KKTV Channel 11 local news crew (Channel 11 reporter Lauri Martin attends Pierced so we chatted briefly about the issue) as well as some counter-protesters holding up signs. I bumped into our goth friends, Shane and Angel. I even saw Richard Skorman, the vice mayor and restaurant owner.
The signs were interesting: One sign had the gay symbol of the rainbow with "WWJD?" underneath it. I talked with the sing-holder, a high school student who told me that Jesus was all about love and accepted all people. There were a few other interesting signs that read, Please forgive the church. We've failed to live out the love we are called to live. I had an interesting conversation with them as well. Others held signs that read God Loves All His Children, God Hates Hate, Take Your Hate and Go Home and Phelps + Dobson = Taliban.
More and more people began showing up and an estimated 150 counter-protesters were out in front of the restaurant when the Westboro group drove up with a police escort and quietly got out of their vehicles. They held up signs that I had been preparing myself would be there: God Hates Fags and God Hates America. But there were other surprising signs: Thank God for 9/11, Thank God for the Tsunami, Fags are Violent and Matt: Six Years in Hell (referring to the death of Matt Shepherd from Colorado who was killed because he was gay). Unbelievable.
The protesting was peaceful, marked with only a few people yelling "Burn in hell!" to the Westboro people. During the protest, I noticed mayor Lionel Rivera showed up, as did most members of the city council. I talked with two members of the city council thanking them for what they did for our city and asking what they thought about the entire ordeal. I believed that the best thing that I could do would be to ask a lot of questions and value people so that's what I found myself doing for much of the time.
I happened to look over and lock eyes with an African-American woman with dredlocks in her mid-30's standing next to another African-American woman with dreds also in her mid-30's. She smiled at me and I went over and asked her what she thought about this entire event. I asked her questions like, "What does this make you think of Christians?" "Do you think all Christians are like this?" "Is this hurtful and painful to you?""Where is truth in all of this?" and "What do you think God thinks about all of this?" Pam and I had a delightful conversation, as he told me her opinions and gave me honest answers to all of my questions. She told me about how she worked for Urban Peak, an organization for homeless teenagers and how she loved serving down there every week. She said she just loved those kids, as difficult as they were. She then introduced me to Juliette, her partner, the dreadlocked woman standing next to her. It was a bit shocking, to say the least. (It was the first time I had ever had an in-depth conversation with African-American lesbian partners.)
Then Pam asked me, "So what do you do?"
I took a deep breath and said, "I'm a pastor."
"Oh [awkward pause]...wow," she said: "That's...cool."
When she asked me: "What do you think of this whole thing?" And I told her about the letter to Richard and why I came down and the whole bit, the entire time she actually stood there listening and smiling and not trying to punch me. I was surprised. I found it quite interesting, the whole ordeal, a pastor standing outside in the snow having a delightful conversation with two lesbian partners about God and Jesus, faith and love, but then I thought that this is what Jesus would be doing, too: standing in the snow right next to us.
We looked around and realized the Westboro people had left and so had almost all of the 150 counter-protesters outside. We were almost entirely alone. We were getting cold and Matt said that he had placed an order for some pizza inside the restaurant. We began to go inside when we invited Pam and Juliette to join us at our table. We continued chatting, getting to know one another and learning about their views of life, love and where God fit into all of this. We engaged in conversation for another thirty minutes or so before Pam asked for our email addresses and asked if maybe Pierced would be interested in helping out at Urban Peak and if maybe we could get together again for slices of pizza at Poor Richard's. (Just a few minutes ago I noticed that Pam just sent me an email...)
As we stood up to leave, I extended my hand to give them a final handshake when Pam and Juliette ignored the gesture and instead gave us a big hug. Wow. We had made two new friends this afternoon standing outside in the snow watching protesters and counter-protesters.
What an afternoon. As we walked to the car, I thought about the question that was haunting me on the way to the restaurant two hours earlier: What the heck am I doing here?
Talking with picketers about their signs was what I was doing here.
Praying silently for wisdom to know what to do and what not to do is what I was doing here.
Talking with city council members was what I was doing here.
Sitting down at a table and listening and conversing about God and Jesus and faith and then getting hugged by two African-American lesbian partners is what I was doing here.
Showing the love of Christ in a place where there seemed to be very little of its shown was what I was doing here.
Thank you for encouraging me to go down to the protest. Jesus was there. On the sidewalk, in the snow, listening...
That was the thought I had when I heard that the Westboro Baptist Church folks decided to come back to Colorado Springs and picket with their "God Hates Fags" signs. As I asked in an earlier post for your advice of whether I should go down to the protest or not, many of you encouraged me to go downtown to Poor Richard's restaurant and do something.
So yesterday I went.
But before I did that, earlier this week I wrote a letter to Richard Skorman, the Vice Mayor of our fine city, the owner of Poor Richard's Restaurant and the target of one of the protests from this church. Here is what I felt was "doing something" as a pastor in Colorado Springs.
My name is J.R. Briggs and I am a pastor on the north side of town at Woodmen Valley Chapel. I am very much aware of the hatred that has been cast your direction the last few weeks, especially from the members of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka Kansas. I know of their presence at Palmer high school last week and their impending visit to the front of your restaurant this coming Thursday, in addition tother locations around the Springs.
In the midst of these difficult times, I also understand that recently you have lost two employees of your restaurant in a car accident. I extend my deepest sympathy to you and the employees of your restaurant.
I feel the need to communicate to you my deep sadness and disgust for the actions taken by the leaders from Westboro towards you and others. The actions of this church are certainly not representative of the values and beliefs of the churches in our city,nor are they values that Jesus
lived and taught. While I certainly believe that homosexuality is wrong, I also believe that hatred, arrogance and disrespect – especially from people who call themselves followers of Jesus – is just as wrong, if not worse. I want you to know that I do not support the hate-filled picketing, harassment, offensive and untruthful signs and name-calling that this church has been involved in.
In fact, I not only do not support it, but it also breaks my heart. Our responsibility as Christian leaders in our city is not to look down upon, disrespect and treat people poorly – no matter who they are or what they have done -- but instead to communicate the love of our Master Jesus.
I want you to know that you have been in my thoughts and prayers quite often of the past two weeks. I am reminded of the story in the gospel of John chapter eight regarding the actions that Jesus took towards a woman caught in adultery. His actions were of love, in addition to challenging the woman to leave her life of sin. It was a delicate balance, a balance that has not been found by Westboro’s leaders. I hope and pray that in the future the churches of Colorado Springs would not treat you or others with hatred, but instead that we would wrap our arms around you with love and respect, just as Jesus would have done.
Finally, I am writing to apologize and to ask for your forgiveness. The way the Christian community (especially Westboro Baptist Church) has treated you, members of the City Council, Palmer High School teachers, students and administrators, the School Board and even employees of your restaurant is wrong. We are sorry that the larger Christian community has treated you in a way opposite of what Jesus himself would do. Will you forgive us for the way you’ve been treated?
I understand that you are a busy man with your responsibilities as restaurant owner and as Vice Mayer, but if you would like to talk about this further I would be honored to enjoy having a cup of coffee or lunch with you in the future.
Megan and I just finished listening to a teaching about Deuteronomy. Two things stuck out: (1) God commanded his people to celebrate and (2) God continually commands his people to take responsibility regarding the triad of hurting people close to his heart: the alien, the fatherless, the widow. After listening to it, we discussed the specific implications that Deuteronomy has, especially these areas, in our own lives.
In Deuteronomy 16, God commanded his people to three types of feasts of celebration: Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). Each time he uses the command "celebrate" he speaks of participating with others in the midst of joy and he uses the word "remember." It makes me think that when we celebrate we are in the act of remembering: a fiftieth birthday, Jesus being raised from the dead, an anniversary, Jesus' arrival to earth, etc. Megan and I are wrestling with the question, "As followers of Jesus, how are we doing in our celebrating and remembering?"
We also talked about the triad close to God's heart: the alien, the fatherless, the widow. We've been forced to ask the question, "As followers of Jesus, how are we doing in our serving of the triad close to God's heart?" Megan mentioned that each category includes the poor in some sort of way. Megan and I made out a list of specifics that fall into the three categories:
The alien: foreigners by nationality, visitors from out of town, etc. This usually involves us practicing hospitality. Or supporting international humanitarian efforts or donating to tsunami relief agencies. But more than just being foreigners by nationality or geography, we discussed those who feel like outsiders in our culture: the homosexual community, alcoholics, drug addicts. Or how about the seeming social misfits that are around us. I feel as though we have a certain percentage of people like that at Pierced: those who are autistic, those who have a small sort of mental illness that makes situations and conversations awkward, those who just socially do not fit in, the ugly ducklings. I'm wrestling with how I can best help these individuals feel welcome, feel cared for, feel treasured and precious and wanted.
The Fatherless: most literally, orphans. This could include sponsoring a Compassion child or serving at an orphanage or serving downtown at Urban Peak, an organization for homeless teenagers. (We also thought of and stopped and prayed for our friends Chris and Amy Stroup from Pierced who are in Chiang Mai, Thailand helping run an orphanage for young girls). But I also think of single parents and children of single moms, as well as those who have experienced abuse.
The Widow: In OT times, the widow had no way of supporting herself. More than just being without husband, they were often seen as being without a future. Who are the people who are unable to help themselves, who find themselves in the margins of society? Single parents sometimes have a rough go of it, the elderly, handicap, those with mental illness, those just getting out of a prison and trying to get on their own two feet again.
How are we to celebrate and to serve the Triad close to God's heart? Megan and I have committed to wrestling with this question for quite some time...will you help us wrestle with this issue?
I read today that some time at the end of April is "Turn Off Your TV Week." After reading more statistics from Putnam's book maybe we should keep it off for more than seven days. Some of these are unbelievable...
“By the late 1990’s three-quarters of all US homes had more than one television set, allowing ever more private viewing. The fraction of sixth-graders with a TV set in their bedroom grew from 6 percent in 1970 to 77 percent in 1999” (p. 223).
“Time diaries show that husbands and wives spend three or four times as much time watching the television together as they spend talking to each other, and six to seven times as much as they spend in community activities outside the home. Moreover, the number of TV sets per household multiplies, even watching together becomes rarer…more than one-third of all television watching is done alone” (p. 224).
-“81 percent of all Americans report that most evenings they watch TV” (p. 227).
-“Americans spent nearly an hour more per day in front of the tube in 1995 than in 1965” (p. 228).
-“In 1977 the Detroit Free Press was able to find only 5 out of 120 families willing to give up television for a month in return or $500. People who do give up TV reportedly experience boredom, anxiety, irritation and depression. One woman observed, “It was terrible. We did nothing – my husband and I talked” (p. 240).
In the almost four years that Megan and I have been married we haven't owned a television...and its been great. The only times I miss it are Saturdays in the fall (college football) and well...er...March Madness.
So, if as you prepare for "Turn Off Your TV" Week in about a month let me know if I can come over and help keep you company during the games this weekend. I'd love to pay you a visit...