A Suggestion for Hollywood “Christian” movies!

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No sooner does the Noah movie hit the screen do we have a big number of negative reviews by Christian viewers.  Some complaints are probably very legitimate. Some probably are a part of this cycle since the making of “The Last Temptation of Christ.”  In order to avoid going into biblical studies mode, I purposefully blog about the movie without having watch the movie.  Here’re my suggestions for Hollywood when you decide to make a biblical movie that will please your Christian constituents.  With Christianity being the large global religion that it is, you’ll make a huge profit.

1) Throw the word “evangelism” in there where people getting “saved” is the ending. Similarly, the word “gospel” is a must.

2) Downplay the character flaws of biblical patriarchs like Noah. Make them saints.  We need the simple gospel, not some complicated religious mess.  Let’s face it. The Bible is a messy book.  Many of the characters have blatant flaws.  No one needs to know that, especially little kids.

3) Downplay any ethical concerns that do not please evangelicals.  Look, talking about eco-theology in this movie is just not going to make anyone happy.  As you already know, most evangelicals (especially the mostly right-wing kind) are very proud of their doctrine of salvation.  Why deviate from it?  Go along the plot of being saved. Don’t mess with green issues (never mind that the biblical Noah story is a reversed creation story that has a renewed creation ending).

In other words, don’t worry about any part of the REAL biblical story that does not fit the evangelical plot line.  Certainly, don’t fill in the blank of ambiguity.  You will succeed.

The Relevance of Thinking in the Age of the Machine

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I’m an academic in the humanities. I’ve been an academic for a while.  There’s often been this kind of anti-academic attitude among certain technological pragmatist that academics are technological cave men.  Thus, any discussion about social change or even technology really shouldn’t involve any academic from the humanities department.

I’d say nothing is further from the truth. In fact, such a view is naive to the extreme.  Worse yet, such a view has dire consequences.

To illustrate what I mean, I’m going to resort to Plato.  The first critique on writing by Plato comes in Phaedrus.  It comes in the dramatic dialogue between Socrates and his interlocutor Phaedrus.  Via the words of Socrates, Plato criticized what was the high technology of his day.  While recognizing some use for the written word, Socrates ultimately points out the problem writing possess.  If we were to analyze what he said about writing, orality and memory, whatever he said is still being studied today in our media age because the issues remain very similar.  I’m not going to discuss the topic of written versus oral words here, as I have already done so in my second book on preaching (in Chinese).  I’m using Plato to point out one very simple truth.  People do not often know the name Phaedrus.  Neither do they know (or discuss) who Plato’s scribe was.  Phaedrus seemed to have trusted technology.  Plato’s scribe wrote using the new technology, but all we discuss these days, are still Plato’s ideas. Why? It’s because ideas matter.

What dire consequences might we have if we ignore any discussion by those in the humanities in favor of technological hegemony?  The dire consequences can be seen daily in China, one of the greatest polluters of the earth.  China’s new leadership has worshipped technology because the West has demonstrated the usefulness of such technology.  Those who rule China often come from a technological background. Zu Ronji was an electrical engineer.  Wen Jiabao studied geology and engineering.  These men have been partially responsible for China’s economic and technological surge.  With growth, one element is still missing.  There’s no discussion about what this growth will do to the overall quality of life in China.  In essence, China has become its own victim.

What does all this have to do with church? A lot!

As I look around, I see churches being obsessed with the new technology and social media.  In fact, there is a list on top social media churches.  In some circle, cyber footprint and the latest technological innovation have become the expensive substitute for healthy spirituality. All the while, with such high tech, people are less literate about the Bible or the Christian faith than ever. Why?  It’s mainly because these modern day “Plato’s” are excluded in the conversation in favor of a discussion about Plato’s unknown scribe and how updated his pen and scroll are.  At the end, we’ll have scribe with no content and paper will no words.  Life becomes an empty high tech shell.

Instead of being watchful over the new technology, we collect the latest and greatest.  In the church, what we need right now is more intellectual watchdogs like Jacques Ellul and Neil Postman to come alongside of the Steve Jobs.  Otherwise, we’re collecting more and more with less and less benefit.  The end product is a kind of technological idolatry.  We all know where the idolatry will lead us.

A Faith Worth Keeping?

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I’ve been reading Prof. Larry Hurtado’s blog lately.  One of the most delightful but simple blogs is about the “original text” of the Bible.  In this blog, he interacts with a book edited by the controversial Bart Ehrman and Michael Holmes.  The most quotable part of the blog states the problem of “original text” very clearly,

“One problem is the ambiguity of the term ‘original text.’  If one means the ‘autograph’ as it came from the author, there was already likely a copying/transmission process involved from the outset, which likely means that there were at least some differences among even these very first copies (as one expects of any text copied by hand).  And in some cases, authors might have released more than one copy or even more than one ‘edition’ of a given writing (e.g., Acts??).”

The quote reminds me of countless conversations I had with conservatives (aka evangelicals) about the view on inerrancy.  The whole idea that “the Bible” (whatever that means) has some kind of original text is highly popular even among evangelical “scholars,” but our study on variances and widely diverse texts actually leads us to some other conclusions (e.g. Jeremiah’s multiple versions?) that look more like Hurtado’s than the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy, especially article x in it.

The quote also reminds me of many dialogues I had with pastors.  One old pastor told me that students tend to lose their faith when they enter seminary.  Another pastor told me that such data (or many other historical “problems”) was great for the academy but was best kept from congregation in fear of them losing their faith.  After all, isn’t the job of the shepherd the same as the police, “to serve and protect”?  This kind of advice is very prevalent among evangelicals.  It’s the party line!  I hear them repeated like some magical mantra among fellow ministers.  All these ideals sound good on the surface, until we examine them. Upon taking a closer look, these ideas also sound hypocritical and insidious.  They’re hypocritical because we aren’t telling them the truth, only a watered-down variation of a half-truth.  We create crisis of faith for those who are intellectually inclined.  Without the right information, the intellectual will suffer a true  crisis when confronted with the data.

The situation points to a larger problem with our current state of affairs.  Evangelical churches have been looking only to grow in number.  Many glory in statistics.  What we neglect however is the critical assessment on the nature and substance of faith.  Why in fact would congregation members go into seminary and lose their faith?  Is their faith a fragile little flower that can’t take the intellectual scorching sun and raging storms of heresies.? Would truth cause one to lose faith?  Should we fear truth?  Is our brand of Christianity justification by fear rather than by faith?

A faith that can’t deal with the advanced data at hand is hardly worth keeping.  If some critical data surface, our faith is shaken.  Our fall says more about our faith than the data.  Evangelicalism has created a faith that has mistaken certainty for faith, doctrine of inerrant original text for God, and need/self-centeredness for true spirituality.  We have also created a pastoral culture that is completely secularized where everything is measured in statistics (e.g. church size).  We have mistaken coddling for protection.  We have mistaken spoiling our congregation with ignorance for pastoral care.  Coddling is not caring.  Coddling is harmful.  It creates a false sense of safety via isolationism.  Once your congregation reenters the intellectual world, whatever simplistic doctrines we teach them will leave them exposed rather than protected.  We have created artificiality that breeds superficial certainty and childishness rather than deep faith and maturity.

Regarding all this, how should we think as pastors?

First, most of us need to change our mindset immediately.  The problem is not just individual ministers.  The problem is the entire culture created by the bubble called evangelicalism.   We’ve been toeing the wrong party line.  Our evangelical political correctness (i.e. party line) has poisoned our faith beyond repair.  Our fortress built on sinking sand crumples even with a little breeze being blown against it.  The above is an evangelical problem because no matter how each evangelical minister is educated in the best institution, it makes little difference when it comes to approaching this problem of the Bible.  We need to stop thinking that our people are complete idiots or we’ll create complete idiots.  We need to stop thinking that our people are infants who can’t handle anything other than milk.  This demands that we become profound teachers who study rather than CEO’s who drive this church growth machine.

Second, we need to educate.  Many pastors are ill-educated in such matters because they too have been going to evangelical seminaries that avoid such hard topics.  They themselves fear the experts who come to their church with intellectually challenging lectures only to leave the pastoral staff scrambling for answers.  If the pulpit does not allow sufficient time to talk about this information, we should start having special classes just on these topics to inform our congregations.  If our ministers do not feel qualified enough, then hire someone qualified from the outside to teach this stuff.  Bart Ehrman has been receiving a bum deal lately because he’s been raising questions about faith in the public arena.  He has become popular because of his eloquent presentation skills.  Many evangelicals think that Bart Ehrman is the villain.  I say, “No.”  Evangelicalism IS the true villain.  One colleague (a former PhD classmate) told me, “Ehrman’s stuff is nothing new.  We all know his data since we were studying for our masters.”  That may be true, but it IS new because we have created a larger market for Ehrman by producing sheep who do not know this fascinating data.  Neither can the sheep interpret the data nor do they know the implications for biblical interpretation.  Ehrman is not the enemy.  We are our own worst enemy.  Thus, our job is not to create some occasional teaching moments to fulfill our minimal intellectual needs.  Our job is to show people consistently that there’re things that are more profound than the little felt needs in which we’re wrapped up.  It is no wonder that the writer of the Pastoral Letters used educational vocabulary.  The ancient church was also an educational institution in matters of faith.  Somehow these days, the church has become a place where all your needs other than intellectual needs are met.  This should not be so.

At the end of the day, the problem is not data. The problem is faith.  True faith should be able to pass the test of uncertainty and intellectual scrutiny.  By presenting data honestly, ministers will only strengthen and not weaken the faith.  True faith also believes that no amount of “facts” (aka truth) can hurt our relationship with God.  The other kinds of faith are a flimsy substitute that ought to be thrown to the rubbish heap.  If we want a faith that is worth keeping, it is time for a change.

PS. For a response to Erhman, read the latest work by Craig Evans and Michael Bird here.

I’m shocked that you’re shocked: Bill Gothard’s scandal and Luke 6.41-42

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The responses of the popular evangelical world to scandals never ceases to amaze me.  I held back from responding to the Bill Gothard scandal simply because I want to give a more reflective instead of a knee-jerk reaction.  I guess now is as good as a time as any to look at the situation.  The basic situation is this. Gothard had headed the Institute in Basic Life Principles for as long as I can remember and I’m already past 50 years old.  I recall my Christian high school classmates raving about such gatherings.  I’m one of the reluctant rebels who had chosen to skip his teachings on sexual purity and moral uprightness (not that there’s anything wrong with both).  Year later, Gothard has now been accused by hoards of young women who had been sexually molested by him in varying degrees.  Investigation is ongoing as the organization puts him on administrative leave initially but finally he resigned.  Many former employees have also confirmed the allegations to be true.  I won’t comment until the full investigation is done, but what I will do in this blog is to bring awareness to our collective blind spot.

The responses to this scandal amazes me.  From a casual browsing of Facebook, responses range from harsh judgment, disgust to shock.  I want to address the shock because that is what I see most of all, especially by his former followers (yes, those people who enthusiastically went to his conferences when I was a teen).  Why should we be shocked?

The answer to such a question is mostly logical.  “He doesn’t practice what he preaches.”  That is probably the most common response from shocked followers.  Yet, Jesus had long talked about this problem in Luke 6.41-42.  Since I’m still writing my Chinese commentary on Luke’s Gospel, I will share my reflection on Jesus’ ethics here about not judging.

Against common and popular misconception, Jesus was not teaching a simplistic prohibition on judging.  Those who can read Chinese can read an excellent blog here on the Greek word study on judging.  If you don’t read Chinese, you don’t even need to read the blog to see that Jesus was not prohibiting judgment of any kind.  Rather, the verses in Luke 6.41-42 give the clear and proper context for making any kind of judgment.  Jesus observed that the plank in the judge’s eye would keep him or her from telling the fellow disciple that there was a speck in the person’s eye.  Notice that Jesus never denied that the speck was in the eye of the disciple.  He was clearly making a judgment call.  He was also noting that others could see the speck as well. Others were also making the judgment call.  Thus, judgment does take place in the process of this analogy.  How is this related to the shock responses to Gothard’s case?

It is related in the following way.  First, we must assume that the plank and speck were made of the same material when Jesus spoke.  Jesus was not talking about different sins. He was talking about sins of the same nature but of different degree.  Obviously, the plank in one’s eye is very serious, so serious that it is deadly.  Having a plank in one’s eye would essentially kill the person.  In Luke 6.37, Jesus said, “Do not judge or you will be judged.”  Surely, you will be judged simply because you’re committing the same fault to a greater degree.  This next part is the part that many popular readers of this analogy misses.

Second, Jesus was making a simple observation about religious people who judge.  Whatever sin issues one is obsessed with is often the mirror of one’s own equally huge shortfall IN THE SAME SIN.  In other words, Gothard has been quite obsessed with moral purity (i.e. the specks in the eyes of others) but that obsession precisely mirrors his own shortfall in a larger degree (i.e. the plank in his own eye).  By denouncing problems in others, many Christian teachers deflect the attention on their own exact but more serious problems.  Jesus had long observed this problem.  If his followers would read a little closer what Jesus taught, then the shock factor ought to be replaced by caution.  I’m not saying that every time we make a judgment call on moral and social issue, we’re guilty of the same thing to a larger degree, but Jesus does make us think, doesn’t he?  It’s no better time to think than now.

What occupies your sin radar today?  Is all we have left these days is “Lust, Caution”?  I’m shocked that you’re shocked.

Nondisclosure Statements … NOT for Products ONLY?: A satirical critique of our gospel?

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Just when we think that the news couldn’t get any worse, it just got worse.  In light of all the firestorm Pastor Mark Driscoll has been under, his church Mars Hill has finally come up with a nondisclosure statement requirement for its employees.  As one blogger points out, nondisclosure statements are for products of tech companies, especially products that are supposed to go public.  In other words, it is a legal step companies take to ensure that corporate product is protected.  This begs two questions.

First, what does a nondisclosure say about the church?  It points to the fact that there’s a product that needs to be protected. What product would that be? The product is all the bad goings-on in the church.  Is the gospel even a product to be consumed?  When the church uses legal steps that is originally for product protection, the gospel becomes a product.  This view of the gospel or the ministry is highly questionable.  IF our gospel is supposed to be public and free, but our product needs to be protected because it contains something insidious and harmful, what does such a procedure say about the church and the gospel?  Such a system sounds more like the fake goods from China than the authentic good news from God.

Second, what does the legality of such a statement say about the church?  Let me be quite plain and simple.  IF anyone who signed such a statement speaks out about the abuses of the church, the church will enlist the legal help of the court to punish the whistleblower.   This is a desperate grasp for straws to protect the private consensus that should not need protection in the first place.  This is not about privacy.  It is about the kingdom of God and its overall separation from the state. It is about having a superior system than the world without using secular (aka profane) methods to manage the church.  This not the first time Mars Hill uses a secular method to control its information outflow (remember the plagiarism scandal that resulted in … oh, no correction?), and I have a feeling this won’t be the last.  Here we are, inviting the state to interfere with our church “business.”  As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6.2, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?”  Apparently, in the case of at least one church, the competence is not there.

Whatever the intent of such a move by Mars Hill, the impact is neither Christian nor biblical.

Evangelicalism can be an idol!

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Someone was reading one of my Chinese books and noticed that I proposed a view (commonly held by many scholars) on the composition of the Pentateuch that does not adhere to his church’s teaching.  He remarked that in his country, I would be considered “liberal.”

The information I shared in my book is really no big deal but it becomes a big deal, like everything else, when it runs head-on into certain dearly held evangelical doctrines of Scriptures.  The reader proceeded to say that among Chinese evangelical scholars, I was the only one who dared to voice this out.  I do not know if this is a fact, but this may be quite true in certain Chinese communities that are hijacked by fundamentalists.  This particular phenomenon gets to the bottom of the real issue.

If the facts I stated about the Hebrew language in my book were true (and scholarly consensus seems to agree), then people are either afraid of telling the truth because the truth hurts popular religious imaginations or people prefer to live as ostriches with their heads in the sand.  At the end of the day, if our love for tradition trumps our love for truth, and if our care for people’s opinions trumps our care for God’s, evangelicalism and all that it stands for has become an idol to the church.  Perhaps, truth has never been the problem. Idolatry is!

Having a Serving Attitude

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On my flight, I buried my face in my book until I heard a voice.  “Excuse me. May I?” asked the Cathay stewardess, as I handed her my garbage.

Cathay stewardesses are among the friendliest and most helpful stewardesses I’ve ever encountered.  Other Asian airlines also do very well.  Many of my single male friends favor Cathay over North American because of its attractive stewardesses (so they claim).  As a married man, I suspect there’re other factors that cause me to favor these airlines over many of the American-run airlines.  The difference is more noticeable when I return to North America in my travels.  Many of the North American attendants act like they don’t want to be there (and perhaps, they do not). Some have no desire to do more than the minimum and others don’t even show any appreciation for the customers.  So many act like the customer owe them the world.

There’re probably many reasons why many people  in North America act the way they do.  I suspect the reasons may be more complex than this blog post can indicate.  I attribute one factor to such behaviors; we act rudely because of the way we view our “rights.”  In North America, everyone is viewed as equals whether s/he works a blue or white collar job.  Not so elsewhere.  Now, I’m not suggesting that equality is unimportant.  It is.  With equality however, sometimes our rights overtake our duties.  In any customer service sector, the duty is to make sure the customer receive good service.  Somewhere along the line of “my rights are important,” we have lost the art of good service.  But good service IS the job of a airline stewardess, whatever she thinks her rights are.

What does this observation have to do with our Christian lives?  A lot!  The Bible speaks often of hospitality as part of the duty of being a believer.  Sometimes, hospitality can take over our “rights.”   I admit to having a tough time letting those rights go.  As part of Christian living, 1 Peter 4.9 teaches that we should show hospitality without complaining.  We grumble with a heavy dose of grudge because we often think that we “deserve more rights.”  Rights can get in the way of our witness.  Hospitality is our “job.”  Whatever rights we deserve may not matter when it comes to our faithful witness.

The Super Bowl Commercial 2: Inclusivity as a Veil for Exclusion?

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In my last blog, I discussed the Coke commercial in the Super Bowl.  I received a lot of feedback from colleagues and friends, especially my friends Dr. Justin Tse and Dr. Jonathan Tan, as well as his acquaintance Dr. Anne Joh.  My friend and author Audrey Lee who is  publishing a book with Simon and Schuster also chimed in.  Their input has been helpful.  A lot of this blog has been inspired by our discussion.  I want to take apart the positive of that commercial and look at it from a negative angle.

The commercial basically shows how “beautiful” America really is by using different languages to praise America.  Probably, its intent is to create this myth of the melting pot of equality that is America.  While America is beautiful and this myth is perhaps worth pursuing until it become reality, there’s something much more subtle and insidious at work here.

Coke’s utopia can only become reality if you’re an American. Even then, per my last blog, it’s only a very distorted reality.  Now, what about those ethnic groups represented in the commercial when they aren’t Americans?  I think the commercial does not speak to that ugly reality.

According to some studies, Coke and some of its global production chain subcontractors  do not always adhere to basic human rights.  In the mid-2000s, Coke even financially tied itself to death squads in Colombia to bust any attempt to form worker’s union to ensure minimal labor rights.  What about India where Coke extracted so much ground water that it made living condition dangerous for the locals?  What about the sweat shop factories in China where underaged workers worked under dangerous condition?  So, it seems that all these people who work under the umbrella of Coke are happy in the commercial.  They praise America because America provides jobs for them. Without America, they’d be much worse off.  In that way, even if they have to work in subpar conditions with dire wages, they still praise America. In fact, they want to come to America to pursue the American dream, but they can’t because they aren’t citizens.  There’s the catch, isn’t it?  Coke’s commercial actually shows not inclusivity but exclusivity.

Many who watch the commercial are saying that Coke is just trying to sell more soft drinks.  I doubt it. Coke already has brand loyalty all over the globe.  Those who drink Coke (instead of drinking Pepsi or drinking nothing) will always be the same group.  The effect of this commercial is not to create a bigger market share.  Rather, this commercial beautifies Coke’s image as a corporation that creates economic dependency.  The Coke commercial is a spin from its gigantic PR machine to coerce other countries into believing that Coke is good business.  This is the same company that teaches the world to sing in perfect harmony … of oppression!  Since their subcontracting production chains play by a different set of rules, Coke can gain its global competitiveness by also setting its factories overseas.  Before Coke can set up the factory, it must beautify its image.

How does this impact the way we look at faith?  A lot!  The Coke commercial is really a metaphor for the modern Christian faith, especially the fancy consumer-based and market-driven faith.  In painting an inclusive picture, Coke is actually using the image in an exclusive way against the very people who sing the praises of America.  The commercial is the front for all the dirty secrets in the back.  In other words, when appearance of inclusiveness does not automatically result in justice or real inclusiveness.  Before we claim to be inclusive on our pulpit or ministry statements, the real questions the church needs to ask are these.  When we use the PR machine to show our inclusiveness, how do we actually exclude people?  By our claim of “inclusiveness,” what conditions do we set?  In hiding our exclusiveness and even prejudices, are we in essence also create a kind of religious exceptionism (and hypocrisy)?  Thus, every usage of “inclusive” needs to be reexamined because many such usages have exceptions.

Perhaps, when we claim to be “inclusive” is our most dangerous (and possibly most hypocritical) moment.

The Super Bowl Coke Commercial: When exactly can a guest turn into a host?

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The Super Bowl is finally over.  Let the war of words begin.  This time is over the Coke commercial.  If you follow the link here, you will find some very happy people from different ethnic groups talking about their experiencing of singing the song in their own language, but not everyone is happy.  The negative responses to the Coke commercial heat up cyberspace as soon as it was played.  “We speak English … G(et) T(he) F(xxk) O(ut) … ” just characterizes some of them.  A lot of my more “liberal” (that’s what they are called these days) friends were (rightly) outraged.  Most conservative friends keep quiet. A few dismiss the serious questions about race and multiculturalism by saying that Coke was only generating controversies to sell its product.  This makes me wonder about what it means when we say “this is OUR country.”  Who is the “our” and who is the “we”?

When I first immigrated, I did pick up English very quickly. I tried my best to learn as much about the “American way” as possible. After all, America is my host country. I want to be a respectful guest.  As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I begin to see that the blurred line between guest and host.

What exactly qualifies one as “host” (i.e. “REAL” American)?  I’m not sure. I think, based on my interaction with many whites throughout the years, different people have different criteria.

How about the stranger who told my Asian colleague, a full professor and a native speaker with a high-power PhD from Harvard, to speak “English” even before he opened his mouth?  For the kid who called my kid “chink” (even when my kid was born here and speaks “American”), skin color is the criterion.  In such a case, to that racist child, my kid would NEVER be part of the hosting family called America. For the student who found his professor’s substitute (aka “me”) fascinating because “there aren’t many Asian dudes who can give such great lectures on topics like this” (surely, he jests), (even though I have graduated in two years in the top 3 of my Mdiv class and in a one-year MA summa cum laude, not to mention my earned PhD (no, really, I didn’t buy my PhD from an online course) in three), skin color is definitely the problem.  Maybe he thinks all Asians are just kind of stupid and illiterate.  Surely, even if we graduate from somewhere like Harvard, we just can’t be that smart.  No, I DO feel like a guest, even though I’m the host. Better yet, I AM THE GUEST. My skin color tells them so.

For the teacher who thought my other kid had learning disability because he spoke Oxford-Cambridge English (since he grew up while I was writing my dissertation in England), the accent could have been the criterion.  Who knows?  She couldn’t understand Oxbridge (that’s not American, you know)!

The real question is, “What qualifies me as an American?”

I can share with you my immigrant experience that many of you do not have to go through.  Although I do feel like more of a host than a guest in this country now, I’ll always think about whether my English communication is good enough. That’s a problem most of my white peers (and classmates who scored way below me) don’t have because no one ever throws that excuse “It must be your English” at them.  I confess that my wife’s English is definitely better than mine, though I suspect my biblical Greek is better than hers.  Is my educational background from the highest ranked western academic institutions and coming away from it with highest grades or degrees enough?  IF that would be enough, I guess I would never have to think twice about whether my English is good enough.  After all, my English WAS good enough for all my professors and my PhD supervisor (and even for my English publishers).  IF English is not the problem, would my Indian classmate who spoke with an accent but writes better than almost every single white American I know be good enough to be American (if given a chance of course)? I doubt if his journey would lead him to be the host.

When does one become a host instead of a guest?  By our legal system, the guest turns into a host when the green card turns into a citizenship paper.  Yet, why do people still treat other American “citizens” (including those who speak multiple “foreign” languages) as guests?  Is it not because the hosting members didn’t realize that way back when, they were also guests of the NATIVE AMERICANS?

I suspect my diagnosis is correct.  The model of America for many is a closed system.  The Coke commercial challenged that system.  As a closed system, the power is in the hands of the few.  That’s call an oligarchy.  It is not even a healthy republic, never mind democracy.  Many in the powerful and dominant culture (mostly white conservatives) do not want the closed system to be an evolving system with a revolving door.  They don’t want to be on the outside looking in because outsiders are always weaker than insiders.  In a closed system, the power is not shared.  That is why even though I’m a “host” on paper, I’m still treated a guest sometimes, especially by people who are not my close friends (of course, my close friends wouldn’t have this aforementioned problem or they wouldn’t be my close friends).

I’m not saying that learning English is not important but in the negative reaction towards the Coke commercial, many take accepting other cultures and celebrating other languages (i.e. diversity) to be a threat to their very existence as Americans (i.e. their closed system). Most of the negative reaction has nothing to do with using English to communicate clearly (hey, I speak JUST FINE, DARN IT; I’m a published author, after all.).

What does this have to do with church and faith?  A lot!

I wonder when someone of a different skin color or social economic status or both or of a different language group comes to visit, do we automatically assume that “we” know more than “they” do?  IF they come into our membership and participate in the body life of the church, are they hosts or guests?  Is the power politics of the society the same as that of the church’s mission?  This is something that the Bible fights against.  Yet, a lot of so-called Christians don’t see the problem when they too join in the conservative voice of “speak American” when they see the Coke commercial.  Why is it that the most “biblical” Christians are often those who want to have a closed system of power?  The question is worth asking because the closed system is neither democratic (i.e. American) nor Christian (or St. Paul be damned).  Have Christians forgotten the fact that their power does not come from their own doing?  Have they forgotten that Jesus Christ is the ultimate host and we’re really just all guests?  The Coke commercial asks more questions than it answers, not just for society, but for the church.  Sometimes, it even puts us to shame.

When Idols with Clay Feet Fall

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My Facebook wall is awash with news about the indictment of David Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the alleged largest church in the world, the Yoido Full Gospel Church.  The news is a bit late but someone had dug it up.  It occurs some time in last March.  I’m uninterested in whether Cho is guilty or not. That’s up to the Korean court of law.  No one should rejoice in this kind of shame, after a full year of scandal ranging from Rick Warren’s Facebook picture to Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, but my interest is in the typical responses from evangelicals. Their responses are so typical that we can almost create endless parodies on youtube, but I won’t.  Sometimes, the church leaders also give the same responses.  Here’s the list of stereotypical responses.

1) “Satan is attacking the church.”

2) “Don’t judge.”

3) “You small-church people are just jealous.”

4) “The media is always attacking the church.”

Looking in from the outside, all this has to look very suspicious.  Let me deal with each objection.

1) “Satan is attacking the church.”  How do you know?  Evangelicals are notoriously amazing when it comes to SEEING what Satan’s doing because frankly, how do you know?  Did you talk to Satan this morning? Are you a Satan mind reader?  What if Satan is NOT attacking the church?  Ever thought about that?  Like one of my good friends said, sometimes the devil is just sitting back laughing at us doing his job for him.

2) “Don’t judge.”  Is that a judgmental statement?  If we call “wrong” wrong, does that make us judgmental?  Is “don’t judge” itself not a judgmental statement?  Besides the misquotation of Matthew 7.1 which I blogged about elsewhere and wrote about in my book, the whole “don’t judge” mentality basically is ironically judgmental.  Can anyone suspend judgment forever other than the ostrich with its head in the sand?

3) “You small-church people are just jealous.”  Again, how do you know? Besides being an excellent mind reader of Satan, evangelicals are also great at reading the minds of their critics. I mean, if you don’t believe in the supernatural, you should because miracles happen all the time in evangelical responses to their critics. Some are so sure that they’ve read other people correct that they really should open up their own fortune-telling business.

4) “The media is always attacking the church.”  All right, finally,  you’re getting somewhere.  Is media exclusively attacking the church though?  Well, last week, Richard Sherman, the NFL superstar made some controversial statements and all I’ve been seeing on sports pages is news about Richard Sherman.  Wait a second, the media is NOT always attacking the church.  Let’s use Richard Sherman as an example.  Sherman could say, “The media is always attacking me.”  Is this a true statement?  Well, no.  The media also attacks Tim Tebow, Terrell Owen, Ronda Rousey, and John McEnroe.  It’s time for the church to get used to the public square.  IF you want to play the game as a public witness, then you will have to answer to the public. IF you want to give people stuff to write about, they will write.

To summarize, let me say what the Christians look to the outsider while making excuses. Christians frequently talk to Satan to know when Satan’s attacking the church. Christians don’t make judgment period.  Christians can read minds that they can tell when someone is jealous.  Christians are also really paranoid because they think that the press is out to get them.  You can see why people think Christians suffer from psychological problems, can’t you?

Why in fact is the church so used to using the above unreasonable defenses for its celebrities?  The answer is very simple.  No one likes to see his or her idol as having clay feet.  No one wants to say that the king is naked.  So, even if the idols have clay feet, the worshipper will continue to prop up the idol in any way, shape or form, even going to ridiculous length and logic to justify that worship.  Even if the idols have no clothes, the worshipper will throw on rags of ill-logic to cover up the shame.  No matter whether the idol is Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll or Yonggi Cho, we will continue to see the cycle repeat until we decide to worship God.

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