My Top 10 Books for 2012

I read a lot of books this year, as my theme for the year was “learning”. I read some books that were bad, some that were good, and some that were great. I highly recommend them all.

1. Neighbors and Wise Men by Tony Kriz

This book is a life-changer.

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
This was one of the first books I read that were more liberal in their approach to Christianity, and I learned so much and I love it. Highly worth reading.

3. Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

This one is probably even better than “Blue Like Jazz” but “Blue Like Jazz” is my favorite because it spoke to me so deeply.

4. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

I’m almost done reading this one, but it’s totally changing how I view the Bible!

5. For the Beauty of the Church by W. David O. Taylor

This was a great read about the value of the arts in worship, and it was the inspiration for my dissertation on learning styles and worship.

6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

This is an awesome and elaborate work of fiction and provides great social commentary and a lovable character who has an appearace that is not socially acceptable and yet she is an intelligent, professional woman. 

7. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

This is the second book in the Millennium trilogy and it was almost as good as “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. It’s a great read and full of suspense.

8. On Writing by Stephen King

This is Stephen King’s memoir on writing, as well as a short manual for writers. I found it in the thrift store for a quater and it was excellent and a very enjoyable read, in fact it inspired me to pick up some of his novels at the thrift store also, although I have not read them yet.

9. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the story of two anorexic young women. One of them dies and one of them feels like she’s in between life and death. Laurie Halse Anderson is a fascinating young adult fiction writer and she writes about current issues that teens struggle with. 

10. The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith

This book challenged my thinking about the Bible a lot. It is deep and heavy, but for me it was worth the read.
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Social Experiments

I often get asked questions as to why I do some of the crazy things I do, such as dye my hair pink and purple, or get a tattoo in a very noticeable spot, or why I like to dress in gothic styles or hippy styles. Part of that answer is that I walk along to the beat of my own drum, but it actually goes a lot deeper than that. A while ago I talked about how the Bible says our body is a temple and that we are to glorify God with it. For me, being the creative person he made me to be is part of that it’s part of my act of worship. But I’m not going to pretend that it’s all for sacred reasons, because it’s not, although I think Rob Bell is right when he says that if a person is a Christian, everything they do is sacred.

I used to tease my old boss and tell her that I actually did what I do because I’m conducting social experiments; I told her that I might be able to turn it into a book one day. She told me to dress more normal and stop conducting those kinds of experiments when I was in her store. Ha. I major in writing and sociology, and I think that I was always destined to study both those subjects because I always was able to articulate well with writing and I felt like it was what I was born to do, and sociology fits because I’ve always asked questions about why things are the way they are and why we feel the need for them to be that way. I guess I have always been a sociologist in the making. People tell me I think too deeply, but I think that’s part of being a writer and studying sociology.

I like to get people to think outside the box. I like to dress in gothic styles first of all because I like them, and second of all because it is interesting to see people’s reactions, and thirdly because I want to challenge people’s assumptions and prejudices and I can do that by doing what I do and I don’t even have to present a verbal argument. I like to challenge people to let go of preconceived ideas about what is socially acceptable in regards to appearance. Even if I think that somebody looks weird, or looks like a freak, I try to remember that Jesus loves them and that he died for them so he thinks that they are pretty awesome.

Sometimes we need to think about why certain aspects of appearance are “socially acceptable” and others aren’t. Why is it such a big deal for someone to have blue hair? Who cares if someone is covered in tattoos or piercings if that is their style? They are a unique individual created in the image of God, and as much as I hate cliché Christian sayings, there is a saying that says “God don’t make junk”. The truth is that he doesn’t make junk, and he thinks the person that I just judged as a freak to be valuable and precious in his sight.

So I do the crazy things I do partly as an act of worship, partly because I like it, and partly because I want to challenge people to think. You’re welcome. :p

Velvet Elvis

I have been very blessed to be able to read several game changing books this year. Sometime in the next week I am going to post a list of my top book, music and movie choices from this year. Right now the latest game changer for me is “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell. It’s inspiring because Rob Bell reminds us that the Bible is a living book, how the stories of the ancient people have relevance to us today because we are essentially living out the same kind of stories. We are encountering God and having a relationship with him the same way those in Bible times did.

Rob Bell recognizes that culture has changed and the ways of spreading the message of God has had to change with it. But he also recognizes that the Bible has relevance to today because the Bible is alive and the Bible stories continue in our lives, each and every day. As someone who studies communications, I really like how he wrote about how the first century Christians communicated a totally different way than we do. People in the Bible were real people with real stories and real relationships with God. These people lived in a different culture, an oral culture, and as such their methods of communication were different than they are today.

The message is always relevant, but sometimes we need to change how we communicate the message. It’s important that we think about communication carefully, because, as Marshall McLuhan (this really intelligent dude who wrote a lot about communications) says, “the medium is the message”. The way people communicate with and experience God in this day and age is different. Things that are important to us are stories, experiences, individuality. We communicate through the written word, and through symbols and visual media.

I’m currently working on a dissertation about worship experiences. The fact is that the more multisensory we can make worship, the more people will have a chance to encounter God. With a multisensory experience, more people can experience God in ways that they understand. The stories of the Bible have relevance to our lives today, because, despite the differences in technology and communication, these were real people living real lives encountering God in a real way, and that continues today with us.

Reference:

Bell, R 2012 ‘Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith’, HarperOne, New York. 

Cyberbully

I know I’m late to the game on this one, but the truth is that I don’t watch a lot of movies, and the ones I do watch I watch over and over because of the messages they convey. So this week I watched “Cyberbully” for the first time and I have several thoughts about this movie. First of all I think it’s an important film that all tweens and teens should watch. This is not a “the internet is evil” post because the internet really isn’t evil; it’s a method of communication and information gathering.

Cyberbully shows how easy it is to bully someone on the internet without even thinking about it, because you can’t see the other person and we can kind of create our own fantasies about people and situations when we don’t truly know them. I met my husband on the internet, so I don’t necessarily think that making friends on the internet is a bad thing, but I do think that we need to be careful with it. I’ve met many of the people that I made friends with online, but I know not a lot of people have the privilege. I know that for some, meeting a guy on the internet turns out to be bad and the guy turns out to be a predator, such as in the movie “Trust”.

Putting too much information online is a dangerous thing, and I found it out the hard way when someone impersonated me online and said all sorts of things that had been talked about to them only in confidence. 

The movie Cyberbully shows the dangers of sharing too much personal information online. I’m sure that none of this is news to anyone who reads my blog. The young people of our society are growing up on the internet, and a lot of them are very active in online communities and consider people they talk to online as friends. It’s one of those changes that happens as our methods of communication change; so much of our lives these days are spent online, so it is important to be mindful of how we act when we are online.

Mostly I’m speaking to myself here. I’ve been the Cyberbully. I have bullied people on the internet, people that I would never bully in real life. I have called people names on the internet that I would not call them in a real life conversation. I appreciate how the movie also makes it clear that calling someone a name is bullying and that it’s wrong, no matter what that person has done to you or called you. I think I’m going to make this movie required viewing for my children before they ever have unsupervised access to the internet.

The movie also brings up the attitudes of people who don’t understand how much the internet is part of our lives in that their attitude was: if they are being bullied, just get them to delete their account or block the bully. It’s really not quite that easy, especially when you are young and easily influenced. I know this by experience. I had someone who cyber bullied me for many years, and it really affected my life, really messed me up for quite some time. Until I got into counselling, I didn’t realize that I was being bullied, although the situation took up a huge part of my life. You know, it’s really embarrassing to be 26 years old and still have to be told and shown that you are in a situation of being bullied and how to deal with it. There are no words to describe the humiliation I felt.

I think Cyberbully is an important movie with an important message. My children will be watching it when they are old enough to understand it. 

Avoiding Marketing

My husband and I have never had TV or cable service since getting married, we never thought of it as a huge priority to spend our money on, especially when we really can’t afford it and it would be another bill and another burden and the trade-off just wasn’t worth it. I’m not writing this to rag on people who have cable, I really don’t care to be honest these are just my thoughts on television and marketing. 

Now that I have young children, I don’t regret the fact that we don’t subscribe to a cable television service. Commercials on television are designed to make us want things, designed to make us feel discontent with the things that we have and to covet more possessions that we probably cannot afford. And it’s not just television, its marketing posters in stores, it’s on billboards, it’s on the internet, it’s in our email after we sign up for “rewards programs” from individual stores. We really can’t hide from marketing, but I believe that it might be prudent to lessen our exposure to things that we know make us desire things that we don’t need and can’t afford. Or even if we can afford them, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a wise use of money to buy them.

Right now, my children have relatively little exposure to advertising, and it’s a blessing because they aren’t begging me to buy them things from the store that they saw on television and are convinced that they just have to have. They don’t bug me for name brand clothes because they aren’t exposed to those ads. Sure, they receive some exposure at school, because their friends own really cool toys and clothes, but because it’s not backed up by them seeing advertising that entices them to covet such things, there is very little arguing at this point in time about them wanting things.
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I’m not against culture, I let my children watch TV shows on Netflix, I expose them to popular culture on purpose because I believe it has a lot to teach us, I expose them to all kinds of literature, I expose them to supervised use of the internet, I expose them to non-violent video games. The truth is that the advertising we see shapes our desires and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Right now I enjoy not having cable TV, and I feel that our family life is enhanced by not being constantly exposed to advertising that gives us the “gimmies”. 

Money Matters

As I begin to be more conscious about how media and pop culture and marketing affect our lives, I begin to think deeper about issues. I work two different jobs in retail, both jobs are pretty much as opposite from each other as can be, which is fine except for days when I am working at both jobs and need an outfit that can be worn to both when one job is casual and one is dressy. But I didn’t sit at the computer to talk about outfits that I wear to work, no matter how awesome they may or may not be. One of my jobs requires me to be a high pressure salesperson.

This makes me uncomfortable for the reason that I am learning the hard way that it is important to use money wisely. The implications of our financial decisions are huge, and they show the kind of person that we are. Until now my financial decisions have shown that I indulged in the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life more often than not. I had no self-control. It makes me feel guilty to try to convince people to buy things that they don’t necessarily need, and the bad part about it is that I’m good at it, which makes me feel even worse. I feel guilty when I try to convince people to apply for a credit card when I know the dangers people can get themselves into with credit cards. I’m not against credit cards by any means, but I am not against irresponsibility in spending, and the truth is that I’ve been irresponsible and I feel like I’m trying to influence other people to be irresponsible.

The problem is that my paycheck relies on how many people I can sucker into buying things. I realize that people can make their own choices, but I think it’s highly possible that I am a source of temptation sometimes for those already struggling with their finances by trying to sell them another credit product, by trying to convince them that they need to purchase such and such an outfit, that doing so will make them happier. I struggle with my conscience a lot at that particular job, I wonder if I am really causing people to sin, or at least egging them on.

Sometimes I think money and our use of it can be idolatry, depending on the decisions we make on how to spend it. Until now, with my personal finances, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life have won out, making money an idol. Now that I am aiming for discipline and self-control in my finances and I reap the consequences of my own actions, I think about the impact of my job and what it causes me to encourage others to do, and I wonder if it’s even right. I don’t think it’s wrong to sell someone something, particularly something that they need, but when I am trying to convince someone to buy something because I need to sell x amount of dollars worth of merchandise in order to keep my job, I think that’s kind of screwed. But then again, I’ve always been accused of thinking too deeply about stuff. 

Emmanuel

Emmanuel. It means “God is with us”. And the biggest thing is that God is with us, whether we feel it or not, he is with us despite what conservative media tells us in the wake of tragic events that will be remembered through history. God is with us, even in public schools. I’m not an expert in theology, but its bad theology to say that Jesus wasn’t at the school when the shootings happened. Prayer happens in public schools despite what conservative media reports, I’ve witnessed it myself, and it’s pretty hard to ban prayer when prayer can be something so intensely private that nobody knows you have communicated with God. Sometimes I think we just want something to whine about so we make things up. The Bible tells us that we are not supposed to lie, so why do we make things up?

Emmanuel. It’s one of the names of Jesus. It’s part of who he is. God is with us. The Holy Spirit lives within all who are Christians, which means that God goes to school every day with little ones who have trusted in him and no amount of legislation could ever change that, because God is bigger than legislation. God is far more powerful than we are, he created us. The thing is, even if we wanted to we would not be able to kick God out of our schools. We don’t tell God what to do and where to go.

Emmanuel. The country is devastated in the wake of senseless tragedy. God is with us. God shares our grief. In this Advent season, when conservatives are interested in “keeping Christ in Christmas” a great way to do that would be to remember simply that Jesus is Emmanuel, in other words, that God is with us, and that it is part of the very fabric of who he is. God cannot be kicked out of schools because he transcends all of that. He is God. He is with us.

Emmanuel. Merry Christmas and have a blessed Advent. 

The Importance of Community

While studying for my dissertation about worship experiences and the technology involved in producing worship, I have learned a lot about worship that has been beneficial to me personally.

‘In matters of worship, community is no less important. In combining of our collective voices in song and prayer, we assure one another that God is present among us and that God is about God’s work in the world. When we sing, we are often singing ourselves into belief. As we repeat words and hear them repeated by the community, our faith is strengthened. However, when our voice has been taken away by the shock of grief, the disappointment of promises not kept, or the anger that still rises in our throats, the community sings for us and offers to God the words that we are unable to utter. When we are too bitter to pray, the community prays for us and lifts us up to God. In community we intercede for those around us and carry them to God when they cannot carry themselves.’ (Segler & Bradley, 2006, p. 87).

I have had worship experiences like this, experiences where I sang myself into belief, I remember doing so with ‘Like a Lion’ by David Crowder Band and ‘We Crown You’ by Fee, around this time last year right after I tried to become agnostic, but the fact is that Jesus wouldn’t let me because I kept being reminded of what he had done for me. Before that time, I had never before heard either of those two songs, and I sang myself into belief and declared the truth in those songs with tears running down my face.

My faith has been strengthened many times by singing worship songs in church. It’s also true that many times I have been hurt and upset and have relied on the faith of others to get me through. It’s why I gather with my church family in family in worship every week. Sometimes my faith is a little stronger and I can declare my faith, or sing myself into belief, but there are some times when I have been hurt or whatever when I have to rely on others.

We are relational creatures; we were created to be relational, that’s why worshiping with other believers is so important. Going to church is important so that we have a group of believers that we get to know. I need to remember that sometimes people are hurting and they are relying on me to declare and praise God for them while they feel like they are drowning in their hurt. When tears well up in my friends eyes I can put my arm around her and pray with her, right in the middle of church. People have done it for me, even people that I didn’t even know. They saw me break down in tears during the service and they put their arms around me and prayed for me. We share our faith with each other, not just with unbelievers in hopes that they will come to Christ, but we share it with believers for when their faith is weak.

Community is vital to my faith, and I believe it is vital to everybody’s faith. Community is why I drag myself to church on the days when I just simply don’t want to be there. Community is why I go to church happily on the days that I do want to be there. Feeling God’s presence as a community is a totally amazing thing, experiencing him together, it’s awesome. It’s one of those things that has to be experienced as it’s indescribable.

We need each other, despite our differing beliefs, despite our different circumstances, despite our different issues. We need to confess our sins to each other, to pray for each other and with each other, to declare our faith with each other, to share our story with each other, to serve each other, to be strong when the other is weak, we need to praise with each other. We don’t exist in a vacuum, and we were never designed to. We need community.

Reference:

Segler, FM & Bradley R, 2006, Christian Worship: It’s Theology and Practice, B&H Academic, Nashville.

The Language of Morality

There is a quote from Tony Kriz’s book “Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places” that I wrote down about a week ago and have been pondering ever since.

‘There is a reason why all the major religious texts spend so much time talking about money. Those ancient dudes were brilliant. They knew that it is not just about being rich or being poor, not entirely. Money is a language. It is a language of morality. And like with so many of the most important issues, morality is found in how deep we are willing to dig. And are we willing to discover…and face the implications of our actions?’ (Kriz, 2012, p. 186).

I have wrestled with this concept for the last week or so, especially as my family goes through financial difficulties right now and we look back in regret at things we cannot change. I wonder about the choices I make with money and it disgusts me that often I make a decision on solely what is cheapest or contains the most value for me, as a consumer. I tend to think that a lot of people think the same way.

There are some things I will or won’t do, but they don’t seem like enough. I am not an extreme couponer because I don’t believe it is right nor profitable to hoard things even if they are free, and I also don’t like that if I did that I could walk out of the store and not pay anything for my purchases, or have the store owe me money. It just doesn’t seem right to me, and so I choose not to do it. I’ve never been a big boycotter, but I have decided that I will no longer buy pizza from Papa Johns no matter how delicious it is because the dude lives in a huge castle and has so much and yet is too stingy to provide health insurance to his employees under the new Obamacare. But I am not writing this to get into a political discussion about health insurance; I’m merely presenting it as one of the financial choices I have made recently.

I feel guilty every time I buy candy bars knowing that the candy was mass produced using child labor in other countries. I feel like I should give up chocolate so that I am not supporting such things, but I know I can’t erase chocolate completely, and often I justify it by saying that I like it and that if I don’t buy it, someone else will anyway. But then again that doesn’t mean that I should buy it. If I want chocolate I can spend extra and buy fair trade chocolate. It’s just that lately I have been pondering the morality of buying things that I know have been produced by child labor and slavery, and I know it’s not right. I express my outrage at human trafficking and the sex trade, and yet with my dollars I support slavery and child labor. No human being should ever own another human being. We are all precious people in the eyes of God. I’m upset with myself every time I buy a candy bar and I let my desire for something sweet dictate my choices. Buying a candy bar that I know has been produced using slavery and child labor is immoral. What I spend my money on shows what I truly value and what my morality is.

This is just one example of the struggle that I am working through in regards to morality and money. It’s the fight I have with myself to do the right thing while knowing that I’m not. What point is there in claiming to be a Christian and that I try to do what God asks of me when I won’t even skip buying a candy bar because I know that would be an immoral choice. Sometimes it’s the little things in life. By choosing not to buy that candy bar, I just made a moral choice to not support slavery. When I do choose to buy the candy bar anyway, knowing what I know, I show that in reality I’m an immoral person. I can show my love for people all around the world by choosing not to buy products that have exploited them.

I need to remember that money is the language of morality, and what I choose to do with my money shows what kind of person I truly am.

Reference:

Kriz, T 2012, Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.

Merry Christmas

I don’t mean to upset anyone when I say that I’m not sure what to think about Christmas. It’s entirely possible that I’m just overthinking the entire thing, but for some reason I can’t reconcile Christmas in my mind. A huge part of me wants to celebrate it as a completely secular event. Christmas songs annoy me, and I don’t even know why. The thing is, I value authenticity, and for some reason it doesn’t seem authentic to me to pretend that a day is about Jesus’ birth when it’s really not. And I know Romans 14 talks about how some people value certain days, such as holidays, above others, and other people see every day the same. That’s not my dilemma here because I pretty much respect whatever others choose to do with Christmas.

But intellectually, I can’t reconcile the idea of Christmas. I want to love Christmas because it appears that everyone else does, and that people see it as a great family time where they have special traditions. But a lot of the traditions that I know others have just don’t work for me, and I’m really not creative that way. I want to make Christmas a great time for my kids, although I told my son the other day that Santa is broke and my son looked at me and said “uh oh”.

And talking about Santa, I don’t really have a problem with him. I mean yes, I’m a Christian woman and I want to teach my children about Jesus, but I’m really not sure if Christmas is about Jesus anyway. Seriously, most Christians I know celebrate Christmas much the same way as the rest of the world, with gifts and stuff. I don’t see a problem with that, but pretending that that is all about Jesus does bother me some. But anyway, back to Santa. I didn’t like the idea of lying to my children, I like things that are real and my oldest son is a literalist. So what I have done with Santa is teach the kids about him and tell him that Santa is a fun magical story that we get to make-believe at Christmas. That way they can have some fun with the whole Santa thing without me having them convinced that Santa is real. I feel like they still get some magic.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t know magic if it hit me upside the head, because like I said I like things that are real. I’ve never really experienced a “magical” Christmas so I wouldn’t have a clue about these things. At our house we exchange gifts, but nothing else about Christmas seems that special and quite honestly I’m usually glad when the day is over and I don’t need to worry about it for a whole year. Maybe I’m just boring, it’s just that I am still struggling with Christmas and I honestly don’t know what to do with it.
At any rate, I hope you all have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!