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1: We light a candle for lives lost—for laughter cut short, voices that will never again be heard; for hugs unraveled by death. We light a candle for a broken future—made incomplete without loved ones lost.
2: Rev. Clementa Pickney
3: Cynthia Hurd
4: Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
2: Tywanza Sanders
1: Ethel Lance
3: Susie Jackson
4: Depayne Middleton Doctor
2: Rev. Daniel Simmons
3: Myra Thompson
1: May light perpetual shine upon them.
2: We light a candle for American dreams deferred. For insufficient funds in the bank of justice…for our worst selves denying our greatest promise as a nation.
3: We light a candle for Charleston,
1: New York
3: and Ferguson—cities without innocence now known by the malignant refusal of the few to see the compounding value of all.
4: We light a candle for Dallas. Racism has grit in Dallas. Racism has claimed lives here. Racism has claimed dignity here. The swollen flow of racism through this state threatens to overflow the banks of our well-divided districts.
1: We light a candle for Dylann Roof—a shooter who was not born to kill, but pulled a trigger thirty-nine times.
4: thirty-nine times!
1: We pray that this is not the end of his story.
2: We light a candle of solidarity. We do not stand alone. We share the same light with millions who came before and many millions who walk after us on the march to a promised land yet unseen, long discussed but that already extends long arms of life and hope into our present reality.
3: We light a candle for the church.
1: The blood that now stains the wood panel floors of the church call out to God.
2: The blood that has far too often run in the streets now runs in our churches.
4: We can no longer hide behind our pulpits.
3: We light this candle to poke at privilege, speak hard truths, be less complacent as a church ablaze for the God of justice whose patience wears thin with those who ‘proclaim peace, peace when there is no peace.’
4: We light a candle for ‘Emanuel’
3: which means ‘God with us’
4: in prayer that God will, indeed, be with us in this time. God does not shy away from tragedy. God is not intimidated by bullets or bombs. God is not deterred by those who insist white privilege isn’t real. God is with us.
1: Most importantly, we light all of these candles for hope—as a sign of rebellion against the darkness that threatens to consume us. For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, will not, can not overcome it.
People sometimes ask me what it means to be a community curator at a place like Union. Thank God, it includes going to stuff like this:
It smelled like sweat, lady shampoo and Barefoot Wine in a basement theater of Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University as Ten Bitches (no, they weren’t all women) took the stage on the last day of classes at midnight. Their goal: present 30 plays in one hour, selected in random order by the audience. Also they wanted to surprise, break down the 4th wall, dance, laugh and draw mustaches on everyone in the audience.
The show was light and fast. As soon as one play ended, audience members shouted out the number for the next. This breakneck pace kept a bunch of stressed out, ADD college kids engaged. The plays varied but were consistently creative. #12, The Grinch, featured Cindy Lou and the dog, Max, bedside to a hospitalized Grinch. A doctor enters the scene to deliver the bad news: Grinch isn’t likely to make it because of the complications caused by his heart growing three times its normal size. #28, Basement Dancing, invited everyone up on stage to dance to an audience members favorite song. Actors interacted with crowd members throughout and the audience sometimes played unscripted roles that built upon the evening. During #24, Free After Ten, an actor said, “I need a new man,” prompting a guy in the audience to shout, “amen.”
The banter cut quickly during #8, Ledge Talk (brilliantly written by Mei Mei Pollitt). In fact, the room went silent. A brave actress stepped onto stage, wearing nothing but bra and boyshorts. She sat on a ledge, with a man standing off at a perceived distance. “What does it do to you to see so much flesh” she asked the man or maybe the audience. The two actors raised questions about commitment, sexuality and God. This led to the only awkward moment of the night—not because things got serious. The room needed a dose of serious to break up the train of frivolity. The awkward moment came when the actors shouted scene and no one wanted to shout out another number for the next play. They just wanted to applaud or wipe away the unexpected tears.
I’m not an SMU student, but I help run Union, a coffee shop nearby to SMU and some of the actors for Ten Bitches are regulars. They show up at Union’s events and it seemed right to show up at theirs. I came to Ten Bitches to support some friends. I left with insight into the weird subculture that is The Meadows School of the Arts.
These students instinctively know how to take care of each other. There’s no extra credit or graduation awards for putting on a performance like Ten Bitches and a Stage. They filled the stage on the last day of classes to do for their fellow students what theater does best—Sabbath. Ten Bitches gave fifty students the chance to breathe, laugh, dance, celebrate and mock the world that threatens to define them.
If you hear rumors of ten bitches taking the stage again, grab a friend, wander around the basement of Meadows until you find them and enjoy what the bitches have to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
Last night I had the honor of offering an opening prayer at La Cena, an All Saints Feast put together by Cafe Momentum and House of Plates. Here’s the prayer that I wrote. Please feel free to use it for churches or other celebrations (churches may want to substitute “today” for “tonight”)
Tonight we remember the saints
And give thanks for the way they shaped us. May we mold the world according to their witness.
Tonight we remember the saints
And give thanks for the way they loved us. May we reflect their light, long after their lives have slipped into darkness.
Tonight we remember the saints
And pray we be remembered like them. For this fleeting flesh will not last, but the fossil remain of our work will surely linger and give shape to the coming age.
Tonight we remember the saints
And savor their memory as we do this meal. May we be nourished by this food, nourished by their memory so that we might serve the world in a way that brings light to darkness food to hunger courage to victim flesh to bone water to thirst life to death.
Tonight we remember the saints
and give thanks to God, the giver of death.
Tonight we remember the saints
and give thanks to God, the giver of life.
The latest stage for the debate over homosexuality, religion and culture has taken up to roost in the land of deep fried chicken and I think it’s time we all took a breath. The inevitable backlash against the hype is growing and in the midst of this chicken fried kerfuffle, I’m left wondering…what is God up to in all this?
Dear Democratic and Republican Extremists…
Extremist Democratic city mayors, please stop it. Stop it right now. Since when did the party that encourages civil liberties become the party that bans restaurants because of what their owners believe? Does the owner of a Chili’s have to submit to a personal beliefs inventory before opening in Chicago, San Francisco or Boston? What you’re doing is discriminatory. Shame on you.
Extremist Republican pundits, please stop it. Stop it right now. People boycotting Chick-Fil-A because they disagree with the organization is supports isn’t restricting anybody’s free speech. If people were boycotting the news organization for airing the interview or if they were suing Mr. Kathy (it feels weird to write “Mr.” followed by “Kathy”) for what he said, that would be a violation of free speech. You can protest the protesters all you want, but let’s own up to what this issue is about.
Straining at Pennies
Let’s just be honest about this. Those who have chosen to boycott Chick-Fil-A are people who do no want a portion of a penny from their lunchtime purchase to support causes that are discriminatory against the GLBT community. They aren’t protesting Mr. Kathy’s ideas (well, some might…but I don’t get the impression that’s what this is about). They just don’t want their money to go to something with which they disagree. This is an act of conscious–not an effort to limit someone’s free speech.
Those who do continue to eat at Chick-Fil-A are people who are okay with a portion of a penny going to support causes that are discriminatory against GLBT community. While I do not discount the hurt felt by many in the GLBT community (and I am deeply appreciative of Rev. Eric Folkerth’s blog for raising the ways in which this can be hurtful to many who are GLBT), not everyone who eats at Chick-Fil-A wants gay people to suffer, nor do they necessarily want gay people to be discriminated against. Their brain has just decided (consciously or not) that they are okay with a portion of a penny going to causes that act on the belief that homosexuality is wrong. While I acknowledge the hurt this causes for some folks in the GLBT community, I’ve also seen posts like these from gay friends of mine whom I respect:
- A couple pennies went to support the 2012 Olympics
- A portion of a penny contributed towards Brazilian deforestation
- A portion of a penny supported Ronald McDonald House that affords parents of sick kids the chance to be with their children over extended hospital stays
- Several pennies went to McDonalds marketing which is responsible for significant increases in childhood obesity, early onset of type II diabetes and Lord knows what else.
- A couple pennies supported jobs for unskilled workers who will likely cycle out of their job in the next 6-12 months
- Several pennies went to make really rich people a lot richer while their minimum wage employees are paid a pittance and can barely scrape out a living
- A portion of a penny went to a potato farmer and his family.
The reality is, all of our purchases have an impact on our world. In our increasingly globalized economy, our money trails grow longer while the world gets smaller. Chick-Fil-A’s decision to provide money to discriminatory organizations is just what has our attention right now.
Our money spreads through the globe–some of it doing good things, others doing bad and sometimes I’m paralyzed by the weight of responsibility that flows out of my wallet. I can’t possibly keep track of it all! Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air, make my own food and live on a commune.
Sometimes I wonder if our efforts to strain at portions of pennies is like straining at gnats. Rev. Frank Drenner spoke of it well on his blog:
There will still be the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, and there will still be folk who question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer will have nothing to do with fast food.
The Sad Thing
A very tiny percentage of purchases at Chick-Fil-A go to support these controversial organizations.
If McDonald’s announced that tomorrow, 1% of all revenue would support clean water initiatives in Africa or to build Domestic Violence shelters around the world, would we see lines like we saw at Chick-Fil-A?
For all I know, 1% of McDonald’s revenue might already support non-profit organizations. Sadly, I don’t believe we’d see that kind of turnout. Even so, I’m staking my ministry and money (and other people’s money) on the notion that we can call people to something better.
What God is Doing
When I look at this controversy, I give thanks to God–not for one side or the other, but for the debate as a whole. There is clearly a growing desire among people to know where their money is going. People are waking up to the awareness that how they spend their money is both a spiritual and moral matter. Thanks be to God! That sounds like the kind of thing that the church and Jesus can work with! The challenge to the church: can we address this growing sense of financial responsibility and morality? Can we find ways to preach about this tomorrow and engage people with economic spirituality while the spirit is moving?
I’m not interested in straining at economic gnats, but I am deeply interested in supporting businesses that put money to kingdom work. That’s what we’re trying to do with our new kind of new church start, Union—a coffee house that will adopt different causes every quarter with 10% of all revenue (not profits…revenue) going to non-profit agencies that do good things. Good things like:
- Addressing Domestic Violence in ways that assist children, victims and abusers
- Helping the homeless in Dallas
- Eradicating Malaria
- Rebuilding communities after natural and political disasters
We’re not straining at pennies. We’re talking about quarters and dollars from every purchase. By 2015 we hope to donate over $200,000 to non profit agencies. We’re hoping that Dallasites will consider where they want their moony to go and will choose to purchase their beverages and food at Union.
Every purchase also helps to sponsor ministry with young people in Dallas so that the community can benefit from positive interaction between the established church and surrounding culture.
Union isn’t the first to do this. Newman’s Own, Tom’sand others have taken up such endeavours. I pray that we have more businesses like them where significant portions of our funds can support causes that make a significant positive difference in our world. I pray that Christians can encourage such positive business development so that the marketplace can be a place of justice, of hope and of love.
Rather than dull the social commentary for mass consumption, Director Gary Ross sharpens the edge of the popular teen novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in the screen adaptation that boasts $155 million domestic in its opening weekend. Those who watch The Hunger Games looking only for action, a compelling story and solid entertainment will not be disappointed. This is offered to the audience in spades. Though the film is rife with social commentary, it does not get heavy-handed. Instead it drives the story in ways more apparent in the film than in the book. Though die-hard fans of the popular book series will see this and other differences between the book and movie, none that radically change the storyline. Most will likely find them acceptable or even positive shifts.
The Hunger Games begins with a look at poverty in Collins’ dystopian future—the home of Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in one of twelve poor districts that provide raw materials, goods and services for the politically dominant Capital population. The visuals of poverty do more to set up the contrast of poor and rich than the written word ever could and Ross takes full advantage. We witness Katniss hunting in off-limits woods. She’s skilled with a bow and uses these skills to help feed her family. Soon it is revealed that this is day of ‘reaping,’ when a boy and girl from each of the twelve districts is selected by drawing to compete in a competition to the death—the Hunger Games.
While district residents dread selection, those in the capital relish the Hunger Games for its spectacle, drama and entertainment. The sickening reality of entertainment at the death of children is held up consistently through the movie. When Katniss’ twelve year-old sister is selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to compete instead. Here, again, director Ross takes advantage of film in a way that books fall short. At the selection of children for the Hunger Games, a representative of the capital announces them triumphantly, expecting applause. The revolt of the district’s silent response is aurally stunning while their faces silently scream for revolution. Katniss is soon whisked away to the Capitol with Peeta Mallark (played by Josh Hutcherson), a boy we later learn has had a crush on Katniss for years.
After training, interviews and various demonstrations, twenty-four children are placed in a futuristic, forested coliseum. Director Gary Ross, actors Jennifer Lawrence and Lenny Kravitz (who plays Cinna, Katniss’ stylist) do an incredible job conveying the fear felt by Katniss Everdeen before being thrust into the arena. I felt the fear and anticipation in my body—along with, I presume, the rest of the theater. After an excruciatingly exciting countdown, the children are thrust into the game and after each other.
The violence is shown in quick motion, with minimal blood and gore. It spares the audience from being overwhelmed until you think for two seconds about what is being portrayed. The knowledge that this is a depiction of children killing children was enough to make me shift uncomfortably in my seat. This, I’m sure, is a part of the filmmakers’ intent: to set the audience continually ill at ease.
The Hunger Games continually asks questions of its audience. The director offers especially poignant challenge after the death of one of Katniss’ allies. While rising up from the now lifeless body of her young friend, she looks accusingly through the camera to the audience as if to ask, ‘does this amuse you?’ Director Ross and author Collins challenge the ways we are entertained by violence while serving up plenty of portions. It became clear to me that if I were to truly listen to the message of the movie, I should stop watching. And yet I don’t…I can’t because I am held captive—revealing something about myself that I perhaps don’t want to see. The Hunger Games continually walks an interesting line—critiquing questionable norms in our society while simultaneously pandering to them. I believe that this irony is intentional—and brilliant.
Because it seems to foreign and absurd, the alien costumes and strange appearances of the capital residents and impressive technology helps us to identify with the district heroine, Katniss Everdean. She becomes the heroine that we all root for and with whom most audiences will identify. This, too, offers an ironic twist for wealthy audiences who are far more like capital residents than those of the district. In the course of the book and movie, I caught myself co-opting Katniss Everdean as if her story is my own. I’m honestly not sure if this is a good thing or not—but it seems like a very “capital” thing for me to do in the The Hunger Games world.
I stepped out of the movie theater at the North Park Mall, situated in the Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas—one of the wealthiest in the world. I’m surrounded by botoxed men and women, shoppers wearing outfits that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. There are more blonde women than could be normal anywhere outside of Sweden. Makeup, expensive jewelry, plastic surgery and ignorance or indifference to the real plight fo the poor surround me. I am a member of a society reminiscent of the Capital in The Hunger Games. Not many movies encourage that level of reflection and realization. The Hunger Games is a must-see for anyone who wants to stay current on contemporary culture or speak to the questions raised by this well-executed movie.
A couple months ago, the pastor of the Fellowship Churches (Ed Young) in our area received national publicity for challenging his married congregation members to have sex every day for a week to increase the intimacy within marriages. Pastors and laypeople all over the Dallas area responded with laughter or disgust to the challenge.
In the spirit of judgment and competition that are incredibly healthy fodder for true conversation, I’ve decided to award some points.
+10 cahones points for showing some “cahones” (not showing his cahones…that would have been super negative points) and talking about sex in church. Sex is an important thing for Christianity. Every other chapter in the Bible has someone having sex with someone else they should or should not (usually it’s should not) have been gettin’ it on with. The Bible is sexy…our churches should be too. (grand total: 10)
+2 clever points Young preached the sermon while lounging on a bed. (grand total: 12)
-2 clever points The bed had satin sheets. You can sometimes get a little too clever and spend way too much money on a gimmick that could have been used to feed about 100 guys at Austin St shelter for a week. (total: 10)
-10 gimmick points Ed Young acknowledged in the Dallas Morning News that this was done, in part, to pick up publicity. Eddie, Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. It’s one thing to do something in the hope that it will get noticed and impact the world, but you should NEVER do something just to get publicity! It’s crap like that that destroys the church’s credibility (and if you do do something for publicity, you really shouldn’t say that to the press) (total: 0)
+7 breaking expectations points Most people think that the church is against sex or that the church thinks sex is bad. Young did a good job helping his church and many others to see that the church isn’t against sex. Sex is one of God’s greatest gifts! The very first commandment that God issues to creation is to have sex (okay…the actual quote is “be fruitful and multiply,” but if you think about it for 1.2 seconds, it’s a command to have sex). (total: 7)
-4 should have done more points At the end of the day, I’m not sure that Ed Young really took the message far enough. As my senior pastor said it, “dogs can have sex every day for a week–that doesn’t make them more intimate.” Intimacy is far more than sex. While Young alluded to this, I think THAT should’ve been the thrust of his series. Intimacy takes far more than sex. (total: 3)
-.5 it makes me nervous points I have not been able to watch the ENTIRETY of what was said around the worship services on the 7 days of sex challenge. I hope and pray that SOMEWHERE in there, he told his congregation that marriage is not a blank check for sex whenever one member of the couple wants it. That understanding of marriage is dangerous and illegal. It is possible for a spouse to rape a spouse. Sex must always be consensual and desired by both parts of a couple. I would give this a LOT more negative points if I knew he said that marriage means being willing to have sex all the time and I would give a LOT more positive points if I knew he talked about this. Anyone out there know? (total:2.5)
So there it is: 2.5 points to Ed Young for his seven days of sex challenge. Is this a good score? I’m not sure. The scale is virginal and arbitrary. Time will tell if 2.5 is a good score on my SCALE OF JUDGMENT (said in scary voice)
Right now our church is doing a series on intimacy. I’ll post some more about it as time goes on.