Monthly Archives: July 2006

Greg Boyd Vs. Conservative Politics

Greg Boyd can’t stay out of trouble. First, he nearly got himself booted from his denomination, the Baptist General Conference, for advocating Open Theism. That’s the issue which caused a ruckus at my denomination’s school, Huntington University, when one of its professors became a leading advocate of Open Theism, which questions whether God fully knows the future.

Now Boyd is upsetting evangelicals by criticizing how we entangle Christianity with conservative politics. On this issue, I’m right with him. There is a cost for Boyd: the church he founded in Minneapolis in 1992 lost about 1000 of its 5000 members after he preached a series of sermons on “The Cross and the Sword” and later published a book called The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church.

The New York Times published a July 30 article about Boyd and this controversy. It’s quite interesting. I’ve been sensing plenty of sentiment for Boyd’s views in the evangelical world. I’m certainly in his camp. It pleases me to know that many evangelicals are saying, “Enough! Christianity and Republican politics are not the same thing!” Even though it could cost the Republican party big-time in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

I think one of George Bush’s many negative legacies will be the way the previously taken-for-granted evangelical base of the Republican party began crumbling–or even openly revolting–under his administration’s cynical manipulation. It’s nice to see so many Christian leaders, like Greg Boyd, refusing to be partisan yes-men for the Republican Party. But if you take a stand like that, don’t expect to get away unscathed.

One reason I love going to Branson is the patriotism which permeates nearly all of the shows. I absolutely love that. I’m proud to be an American. But it’s a matter of context. Branson is a secular venue and the message is more “love of country” than “rubber-stamping of Republican causes.” There’s a difference.

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The Hummer Not-So-Status-Anymore Symbol

Every time I pass an H2 Hummer on the road, I chuckle inside. What were they thinking! Somebody needs to buy them a copy of Gas Mileage for Dummies.

But then, people driving Mini-Coopers probably say the same thing when I drive past them in my Dodge Dakota pickup. But that’s okay. Who’s laughing when they need to haul a load of mulch?

A while back, I read an article about why people buy SUVs. One salesman told of a woman in southern California who said she really needed four-wheel-drive on her SUV, because when she goes to parties at people’s houses, she often has to park on the grass. What a riot.

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Seekers in a Battle

Last night four of us played in the Battle of the Bands at the Seekers Coffeehouse, a Christian-run business which also hosts a new church. They’ve got a fairly large concert room with wonderful sound equipment, and they do a lot of music things to attract business. For instance, Monday night is Open Mic night. Tim and Terry, Anchor’s guitarists, play regularly on Monday night. A worship team from the area hosts each Thursday night; Anchor has done that twice.

This summer, they’ve been running the extended Battle of the Bands for about eight weeks, with three bands playing every Saturday night. Last night was the final night. On Tuesday, three bands will be notified that they are the finalists, and they’ll be invited to return and do their stuff next Saturday, August 5, for the finale.

Will it be us? That would be awesome. We really rocked last night, definitely outdoing the other two acts (a jazz quartet of pony-tailed guys who were fine musicians as long as they stuck to guitars), and a lone guy from Indy who set up a big Casio keyboard and bore a nice-looking acoustic guitar, and who I had high hopes for until he opened his mouth and started singing. We had to leave, or else, like those robot models in “Austin Powers,” our heads would explode.

I had a great time. We had to do up to 45 minutes of original music–no cover songs. Fortunately, Tim and Terry have done more than enough of that, having written many songs over the years which we’ve done at Anchor. And it’s good, fun stuff. On some, like Terry’s “Confidence Man,” I was able to really let loose with some honky-tonk piano. On other songs, I hung in the background with pads, strings, and flute.

Yes, I hope we’re called back. I would love to do that set again. This was the fourth time I’ve played at Seekers, and I think it was my favorite. Just Tim, Terry, me, and Terry’s son Joe on the drums. And a few faithful Anchor fans who came to cheer us on despite the $3 cover charge.

After we played, a guy walked up to me and introduced himself as Steve Dennie. Actually as Steve Denny. When the Lowes on Illinois Road opened about 13 years ago, I used to hear my name paged over the intercom frequently, and it always freaked me out in a Big Brother sort of way. Turns out it was him. He managed that store when it opened. He and his wife moved away for about ten years, but recently moved back. I gave him my business card as proof that he had met someone else with the same name.

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The Braeded Chord – It’s About the Lyrics

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Doris Au MacDonald (left) and Sharon Dennis performing in Chambersburg, Pa.

I feel some affinity with Doris Au MacDonald, considering our mutual expertise in writing, graphic design, and music, and our shared background as UBs in the far west. Doris has spent her entire adult career in missionary service with Wycliffe, and I think the world of Doris and her husband, Alan. These are quality people, quality Christians.

But during my junior high Bible Quizzing days, Doris was The Enemy. She and her older sister, Margo, the Au sisters, starred for the team from the United Brethren church in Glendale, Calif., in the LA area. This church had a glorious quizzing history, having won a couple of Pacific Conference championships, from what I had heard.

I was among six bratty 7th and 8th graders from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., a new church with a first-year team. And we won the conference championship. Lucky upstart pipsqueaks.

Actually, it was the San Diego team that we despised, a gaggle of emotional, moody, highly-competitive girls who never lost without shedding buckets of tears and accusing the universe of unfairness. There was one guy on the team, always sitting in the number 4 chair, and we liked him. But his teammates–not so much.

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Fun Times in the Neighborhood

There seems to be a new sport in my church’s neighborhood: knocking out our windows. A week ago someone threw a brick through a lower-level window into the fellowship hall. Then on Monday a big rock crashed through one of the windows in back. The window next to it is broken, too, but the inner window is intact.

So last night, after our prayer time, we boarded up those two windows tightly (replacing the temporary cardboard). I understand several other windows were broken previously. This is interesting.

A few weeks ago at music practice, a gal who has been attending Anchor ran into the sanctuary and said a couple guys were trying to break into her house. Police came and caught one guy.

All of which affirms that this is right where we need to be. I find it exhilarating.

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No Tears Shed for the Pastoral Prayer, RIP

One thing I don’t miss is the pastoral prayer. It was a childhood bane, something I dreaded every Sunday. I’d stand there shifting from one foot to another as the preacher droned on and on, lifting up every health need, from heart operations to ingrown toenails, and every ministry of the church, and “everyone gathered here today,” and bestowed numerous flowery compliments on God for his sundry attributes and his patience with us ne’er-do-wells, on and on and on. Fifteen minutes seemed to be the minimum length, else it wasn’t worth God’s time to listen.

And yes, it was necessary that we parishioners stand while the pastor was talking to God on our behalf. God, evidently, looks askance at parishioners who sit down while someone else is praying, and he withholds his blessing from that church. It was as if it’s better to focus on your poor aching feet than on actually praying. Some preachers feel the same way about public Bible reading‚Äîthat everyone must stand when Scripture is being read, because it really impresses God and proves that we are spiritual warriors. If you read Scripture while sitting, it just means you don’t respect the Bible.

Maybe once every other month, six times a year tops, the pastor would allow us to sit during his pastoral prayer. As we proceeded through our usual routine of hymns and throw-away prayers, and the moment of the high-priestly pastoral prayer approached, I would find myself hoping, “Please, oh please let us sit today!” Alas, I was nearly always disappointed. But it’s good to have hope.

I grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s, when women wore very high heels to church because, I guess, guys liked them. So lengthy pastoral prayers could be quite an ordeal for women, though perhaps that was part of God’s plan‚Äîafter all, they have pain in childbirth because a woman sinned first, so standing for 15 minutes in high heels is just more of the same just punishment for Eve’s transgressions. One of my distinct, recurring childhood memories involves our family’s drive home from church, and hearing Mom say something like, “I didn’t think he would ever stop praying. My feet were killing me.” I suspect the same sentiments were voiced in numerous other cars as long-suffering high-heel wearers headed home to pot roasts.

Anyway, the churches I’ve attended since 1989 haven’t featured the pastoral prayer. I don’t know if God is glad about that, but I am.

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Ralph Reed, Christian Hero, Bites the Dust

Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, bless his sincere Christian heart, in 1998 sent Jack Abramoff a letter asking for help in making business contacts. He said he was done with electoral politics and, “I need to start humping in corporate accounts.” I am so very very proud of our Christian spokespersons.

RalphReed.jpgYes, we have some legitimate Christians claiming to speak for the rest of us–people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, and James Dobson. But they rarely make me proud. These guys are hugely influential gatekeepers to Christian audiences. Therefore, political operatives and lobbyists suck up to them, coddle them, do whatever it takes to gain their ear. And when Pat and Jerry and the Jims speak, I’m afraid they too often parrot the sentiments of somebody lurking in the background. Which may explain why they say so many stupid things.

Then there are other conservative voices who cloak themselves in conservative values, speak Christianese, know how to push Christian buttons, and pretend to be Christians on TV–people like Ann Coulter (who can write a book about God and politics without quoting any Scripture), Tom Delay, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and legions of political operatives. Personally, I don’t trust any of them. I think most of them just use Christians as pawns in political games (because that’s what they’re paid to do). They conduct seminars on how to mobilize us, how to get our dander up, how to extract money from us, and how to generally use us. Call me cynical. Frankly, I’ve just had enough of this stuff.

Which is why I shed no tears when Ralph Reed, running for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, lost in the primary last week. Interesting things happen to morality and values when they become entwined with politics. Reed, once the baby-faced posterboy of the Christian right as head of the Christian Coalition, was a good friend of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who will be wearing stripes for a while. Abramoff asked Reed to mobilize Christians against gambling. Reed got his network of pastors and laypersons to start a grassroots war against gambling, and collected a $5.3 million paycheck from Abramoff. Now it turns out that Abramoff was actually working for an Indian tribe, and the money came from casino revenues. The Indians didn’t want to ban gambling; they just used Reed’s grassroots war to scare away new competition.

Time magazine, in writing about the downfall of Ralph Reed, says that to Reed, “Christian voters were pawns in a game of power swapping.” Now, Reed ended up being a pawn. He hoped to move from Lieutenant Governor to Governor to…Senator? President? Now he’s done, and will need to return to, uh, what was that word he used?

Reed concluded his concession speech with these words: “Stay in the fight, don’t retreat and our values will win in November.” Well, let’s hope it is more “our” values than the values of Reed and all the other charlatans who play gullible Christians like a violin.

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The World’s Most Dangerous Road

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Here are photos of the world’s most dangerous road. It’s located in Bolivia, and it’s a very lengthy sucker. This linked page contains a bunch of photos. Imagine driving on that thing!

When we lived in Arizona, a friend and I joined my dad and another schoolteacher, Mr. O’Bannon, in a Jeep trip into the Mojave mountains. Old mines were located in the mountains, and very crude roads led to them. At one point, we traveled a narrow section of road with a ravine on the right side of the Jeep. We three passengers hung on the outside of the Jeep, on the left against the rocky hillside, trying to add some weight to hold the Jeep down.

We also ventured into an old mine. We got in a ways, it was very dark, and we came to an ominously dark shaft in the middle of the tunnel–basically, just a hole spanning much of the tunnel’s width. We skirted around it carefully, hugging the wall, ever cognizant of the fact that a misstep or an unexpected rattlesnake could send us plummeting downward.

I remember thinking that it was neat that Dad let me, a junior higher, his first-born, join the adults in creeping around that shaft. He didn’t say, “Steve, you wait here. Don’t go any further.” No, he let me come. Maybe that was a bit stupid of him, I don’t know. But to me, at that age, it was neat. Like he trusted me to take care of myself. I also remember being scared out of my gourd as I hugged the wall, stepping sideways and wondering just how deep that dark, dark shaft went. Scared, but exhilarated.

I suspect we never told Mom about any of this.

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The Sunday I Sold Out

So I get to church this morning, I’m nervous because I have to preach, and one of the first things that happens is that Chris Kuntz makes fun of the fact that I’m not wearing sneakers. Then Dave Ward comes down the center aisle just before music practice and asks if I have my camera, because he wanted to take a picture as proof that I can wear something other than sneakers to church. Okay, Chris and Dave, that’s just what my frazzled nerves needed.

You see, I always wear sneakers to church. But today, since I was preaching, I donned some casual non-sneakers, not to mention some of my nicer Dockers pants (which didn’t strike Dave as photo-worthy). In retrospect, I feel I sold out to “what will people think” paranoia. Why didn’t I wear my sneakers, as usual? Did I think I needed to impress people because I was preaching? Did that role demand that I dress up and be not me, but not-me? A phony?

I should have worn sneakers. Instead, I sold out to false expectations. I’m a fraud. A mere pleaser-of-people.

I preached about the story in Luke 7 of Jesus and the “sinful woman” at the home of Simon the snobbish Pharisee. As part of the message, I told the congregation we needed to go on a field trip, so I had them all come to the front of the church and gather around a makeshift table, and we sort of acted out the story.

Just before that, though, Pastor Tim Hallman took one of his kids out of the sanctuary to the bathroom. When he returned, he was surprised to see everyone up front. He thought, “Wow, did Steve just have an altar call and the whole church is getting saved?” Alas, that was not the case. But I got a good laugh when he told me about it. Even now, I’m typing this with a big smile on my face.

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Our 17th Anniversary

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Who is that skinny couple on their honeymoon?

Today is our 17th anniversary. Pam and I celebrated last night by eating at Biaggi’s, a wonderful Italian place. On our 11th anniversary, we celebrated in Florence, Italy. Now that was Italian. I’m deeply, deeply in love with Pam. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t understand how I got to that point.

People write books on “The Secret of Marriage,” with a formula for what it takes to stay together. The “keys” to a happy marriage. Communication, shared interests, trust, “keeping God first,” mutual submission–those are some of the keys, and they’ve been helpful in our marriage. But as I look at our 17 years, I can’t reduce it to a formula–“Do this, this, and this, and you’ll have a marriage like we have.” I’ll bet Dobson can’t, either. Rather, every marriage is a unique, unpredictable journey, and to a very large extent, you make it up as you go without really knowing what lies around the next bend and how you’ll handle it. Despite periods of discontent and carnality and restlessness and sometimes, especially in earlier years, wondering just how much I really liked this woman–and I’ll bet most guys go through that–I find myself 17 years deep into this thing, and fully delighted with this person who bears my name.

I’ve always felt a bit guilty that I wasn’t madly in love with Pam when we got married. I’ve known people who were, indeed, madly in love (Ted and Linda come to mind). That’s certainly the only model Hollywood provides. It’s what American culture expects and exalts–that unless you’re madly in love, unless you “just can’t live without her,” then you’re probably not meant for each other. But Pam and I dated for five years, and for me the rational side played a much larger role than the emotional side. I deeply yearned to muster up madly-in-loveness, but it just wasn’t there, and that troubled me for some time.

For me, it was more of a decision. I cared deeply for Pam. Enjoyed being with her. She made me laugh. We shared many interests. And over time I became convinced that we could have a great life together. So I chose to marry Pam and build a life with her. I’d never seen Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock take the rational approach; the movies require madlyness. But in much of the rest of the world, I imagine, marriage may be more of a decision, and various cultural mores undergird that decision (like in “Fiddler on the Roof”). And that sort of explains where I was 17 years ago. I chose to spend the rest of my life with Pam, and my Christian upbringing and evangelical expectations provided glue.

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t marry Pam amidst madly-in-loveness. For me there was no emotional mountain to descend from, at the bottom of which you get mired in second thoughts amidst the day-to-dayness of marriage. Rather, I started with a decision, and I’ve steadily grown in love with her (with jagged dips along the way, though at this point pretty far back down the road). After 17 years of journeying together, I feel deeply in love with Pam–far, far more in love than I was 17 years ago. Maybe after another 17 years I’ll be madly in love. Yes, I think that is highly likely.

Pam-GatlinburgMarriage is mysterious, the way your relationship evolves and circumstances intertwine you in unexpected ways. Just being honest: in earlier years, there were blips when I had doubts about the whole thing–though not anywhere near serious enough to even consider ending it–or I would create distance for selfish reasons, or I would just be a typical male jerk. But then I would roll over some morning (not every morning) and see her sleeping peacefully, and suddenly realize how much I craved her approval and enjoyed her laugh and wanted to never ever hurt or disappoint her. And the amazing thing is, I would go on to find plenty of ways to hurt and disappoint her, and unfortunately I’ll continue doing so. But she continues loving me back, and that melts me.

And now, love is the norm. I really love my wife. I can’t explain how that happened, can’t do bullet points on building a marriage like ours. It was a journey with a multitude of curves and switchbacks and falling rock and blown tires, but also lots of scenic drives together and mountaintop highs. However we got here, we’re here, 17 years after that day in 1989. I’m thankful, and I’m in love, and life is good.

I don’t know what trials and ordeals await around the bend, and I’m not arrogant enough to think we can survive ordeals that other couples haven’t, or that we’ll survive my own stupidity. Too many Christians have written books about their “keys to marriage” and then gotten a divorce. This stuff frightens me, though I fully expect to grow old with Pam and can’t imagine anything else. But the journey will continue, and if as the years pass I more and more frequently roll over in the morning and find myself happy that Pam is beside me, that can only be a good thing.

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