Tuesday, July 28, 2009

All choked up

It's been so busy lately, what with guests, baseball coaching, conventions and "providing structure for the kids," I forgot to post this last week: My Smile Politely column on being a complete sap.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

DreamSeeker Article

I got a nice present in the mail this week -- a hardcopy of DreamSeeker Magazine with my article in it, plus a small check.

The article is called A Brief History of Love and Suffering and it's available on the web here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Race Row

My Smile Politely column is out today, which defends cultural houses at the University of Illinois. There's nothing like talking about race and culture to get people all fired up.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Go Pink Mennos

Folks supporting LGBT rights at this year’s Mennonite convention had a brilliant idea for protesting the Mennonite Church’s official policy of discrimination: Simply wear pink shirts around the convention center all week.

Particularly prominent were a large gathering of young adults who showed up at the big hymn sing and sat right in the middle of Nationwide arena, even singing hymns before it officially started. The message is that we may not be sanctioned, but we exist, and we aren’t going away. We even got some national press on the issue, via an AP story.

As in the wider culture, it seems to be a generational issue with Mennonites. In a church whose average age is 54 (which in itself is of great concern to the church, and rightly so), many if not most of those wearing pink shirts were people under 30. I hope this sends a strong message to church leaders. Without some kind of action on this, they stand to lose the next generation of youth and especially those most interested in social justice issues.

I’ve often wondered how today’s youth became so much more inclusive than their parents. I guess it’s because they have grown up with openly gay friends, relatives, and icons, and know at a personal level that there is nothing to fear from those with sexual orientations different from their own. On the other hand, it’s hard for those who grew up being taught otherwise to think differently, especially without any exposure to others who might challenge their assumptions. But, the reality is that Gay Rights are coming. It’s just a matter of when the demographics change enough to allow for it, and whether we are going to be leaders or followers. Actually, it’s already too late to be leaders. But it would be nice not to be last.

By the end of the week, the backlash had begun at the convention. A few youth were spotted in the lunchroom wearing green shirts with the message “Homosexuality is an abomination” plastered on the back. Sigh.

No one wants a split church. And yet, the status quo of treating homosexuals as less than fully human cannot stand. It is against the Mennonite values of advocacy for the downtrodden, the outsiders, and the underprivileged, which we have tried to embody for centuries.

And yet, there are people in my church whom I love dearly and are vital and necessary parts of our congregation, but are against homosexuality. We have to find a way to fully include our LGBT friends into our religious community, but without losing those who consider it a sin. There is no easy path forward.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hymns and Praise

This quiz is brought to you by my upcoming retirement (after 9 years) of high school youth group leadership.

Can you identify which verses below are from hymns, and which ones are from typical contemporary praise songs?

Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of God’s unchanging love.

Jesus, you are so totally cool.
You are, like, so awesome.
I am so in love with you.
You are, like, way better than my old boyfriend/girlfriend. (repeat 4 times)

Holy Spirit, come with power, breathe into our aching night.
We expect you this glad hour, waiting for your strength and light.
We are fearful, we are ailing, we are weak and selfish too.
Break upon your congregation; give us vigor, life anew.

God, you are so worthy of me praising you.
I’m really glad about you.
You are everything I need.
You are so worthy, you are like a medieval political leader to me (repeat 8 times)

Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow,
Give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.
You who know our fears and sadness, grace us with your peace and gladness.
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts.

I’m going to praise you God, and it will feel so good to me.
I’m praising you right now God and it feels so good to me.
I just praised you God, and it felt so good to me.
Because, God, you are all about me (repeat 64 times)

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me save that thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

1. Come Thou Fount (1758)
2. Minor Mennonite parody of praise song 1 (2009)
3. Holy Spirit, come with power (1970)
4. Minor Mennonite parody of praise song 2 (2009)
5. Healer of our every ill (1986)
6. Minor Mennonite parody of praise song 3 (2009)
7. Be thou my vision (1905)

OK, so it's not fair to compare real, classic hymns to parodies. But this is the internet, so I'm not sure why you would expect fairness, instead of selective data provided as slanted evidence to back up a partisan talking point.

The thing is, I know praise songs are not about theology, or logic, or grammar. They are about emotion. And I know that it’s good for people to reach the spirit of the divine in whatever way works for them, even if it's by pure emotion.

It’s just hard for me to see people in the spiritual buffet line bypass the poetic, weighty, and deeply nutritious meal of a good hymn and head straight for the cotton candy and Jolt Cola of the typical praise song. Plus, I fear that too much praise music is really saying My God is Better Than Your God, which I believe to be a harmful gateway idea that eventually leads to Crusade and Jihad, especially if you are hopped up on sugar and caffeine.

On the other hand, there are now some hymns that I can no longer sing without tearing up, like Come Thou Font and Be Thou My Vision. I have no idea why this happens, other than they touch some deep place inside me that I don’t understand. Maybe it takes a decade of singing them before they seep into you and grab hold.

Anyway, while I won’t be missing praise music during my youth leader retirement, I will miss hanging out with our church’s high school youth. Every class of youth has been filled with great kids, and they’ve challenged me in more ways than they know. More importantly, they’ve always been kind enough to laugh at a minimal threshold of my lame jokes. I’ll now have to rely on my own kids for that, and the outlook isn't so good on that front these days. I guess I'll have to console myself by crying during a good hymn.