Thursday, April 19, 2007

God wasn't at Virginia Tech

Ok, so I'm driving through a small town near my house on my way home from work. A local business has a big marquee out front with a statement similar to the following:
Our prayers are with the victims in Virginia. Put God back in our schools.
Now, on the surface, both statements sound good, very "Christian", if you will. I mean, no good Christian would argue against either of those statements, right? But why not, I'll take a stab at it.

We can draw a couple conclusions from this seemingly innocuous statement:
1. God is not in our schools
2. The lack of God in our schools had a causal relationship to the massacre.

I have to admit to being a bit confused. I'm no scholar, but I do know a few things about God. But I was completely unaware that God had been removed from our schools. This was news to me, and forced me to ponder tough questions the rest of the way home. Was he absent? Playing hooky? Maybe he just got fed up with the NEA and took his omnipresence and went home. Who knows? But apparently God himself is unable to breach the walls of our school system.

Now, obviously, I understand what the sign meant. It meant that discussion of God, references to God, and most importantly, staff-led prayer to God, has been removed. But that's not what it said. It said God himself needs to be put back in school. "Jerry, you're splitting hairs. Why make a big deal of it when you know what they meant?" Because I think restrictions on prayer or discussions about God in school, and saying God isn't in our schools, are completely different things. But over the years we've gradually blurred the distinction and made them one and the same. And the net effect is for us to think fatalistically, to assume it won't get any better, and to fall back on trite responses to ghastly crimes.

But it's not true! I would suggest to you that God has never left our schools. He is always present and working, and no man-made ordinance, law, effort, or initiative will keep him out. But it's easy to forget that when we keep saying we need to put him back in. Remember, we are his hands and feet, his physical presence on this earth as we expand his kingdom. If it appears that God isn't in the public schools, then maybe it's us that has been absent. Maybe we've all withdrawn and run for cover, leaving the schools to wallow in our absence. How do you think we're going to turn this thing around? By standing afar and taking pot-shots at the system? Is that what we're commanded to do? No. Never. We are to get involved and to expand his kingdom through the tireless efforts of ministering to the lost. And that means going there.

I have a suggestion. See, it's easy to say we need God back in school. It's even easier when we grasp for reasons to try and explain a senseless crime that has no reason, other than as an example of the depths of depravity that can be achieved in our fallen word. Instead, maybe we could get just as worked up about the lack of prayer in our homes. Maybe we could ask why we don't pray more with our spouse, or discuss God more with our kids. Maybe we could start a petition to introduce more prayer in our churches. I think it's silly to be so concerned about prayer in school when we've nearly lost everything in our homes and our churches, the primary place of Christian education for our children.

So let's quit whining about the state of our society and our public schools and do something about it.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Jars of Clay - The Good, the bad, and the ugly

I've never been a big Jars of Clay fan. Probably for two reasons. First, they are popular. Popular Christian musicians usually rank a bit high on the sappy-meter for me. They all remind me of the old Undercover tune, "You'll have to excuuuse us, we're in love with Jeeesus." It was embarrassing to listen to. (Fortunately for us, Undercover matured and put out some of the best music ever to hit vinyl.) Second, they are too tame. The music was ok, but my ear bends to a more hard-core beat.

That all changed with their most recent release, Good Monsters. Did they finally see the light and go metal? No, its still relatively tame. But there is something different about this release, something darker, a bit more real. Granted, I haven't followed their last few releases, so I don't know if this was a trend, or just this last album. I actually bought the album after listening to a clip of the song Dead Man on Other highlights include Work, and Oh My God, which actually moved me to tears.

So I had to hand it to them for putting out an album that was more open to the struggles and the dark side of the Christian life; more honest. Or so I thought. I happened upon an article in The Argus Leader newspaper, as a preview to their concert in Sioux Falls, SD. The author of the article interviewed lead vocalist Dan Haseltine on some various subjects, some of them a bit controversial.

Haseltine expressed frustration over the Christian fan-base's fickleness, and how quick they are to dump those deemed "unChristian." Apparently it is for this reason that Jars of Clay can't release the war protest songs they have written, and keeps Haseltine from commenting on his political views. "If you rock the boat too much, your records won't appear in certain Christian record stores anymore," he says.

Now that statement struck me as a bit odd. In fact, it raised all sorts of questions in my mind. They feel passionately about something, but refuse to sing about it. Why? Because it will hurt sales. Is that something to be proud of? I don't know. I guess you could look at it from two sides. On one hand, it sounds like they've sold out. Toe the line and don't say anything too controversial - the last thing we want to do is let our fans know how we really feel. Can't afford to lose all those T-shirt sales!

On the other hand, one could give Jars of Clay kudos for taking a big step in that direction anyway, even if they didn't go all the way. Maybe the CCM crowd is so narrow-minded, that it will take groups like Jars of Clay to "baby-step" them into the more insecure and not-so-neat areas of their faith.

I do know my favorite band, Stavescare, couldn't deal with it. The oppressive forces in the Christian music industry simply became too much to bear, and they eventually walked away and never looked back:
I need to find a place where I can breathe
Somewhere high above this empty landscape
Where the air is clear
And I need to find it while I still can.
So, I guess in the end I can't come down too hard on Jars of Clay. I hope they find the courage (guts?) to someday sing what's really on their heart. Because I think what they want to say needs to be said. And I hope Christians are big enough to listen.

Interestingly, the author of the article has this comment: "
And in today's America, being 'Christian' seems to be tied to being a 'patriot.' Basically, if you're an outspoken Christian, you're assumed to be a conservative Republican who backs President Bush without question..." Hmm, sounds like something I'd say. Oh wait, I already did.

Ok, the last three blogs have been about music. Sorry, that wasn't intentional, just how it worked out. Next one will be different, I promise.

God bless.