Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stairway to Someplace

Led Zeppelin’s forty-five-year-old (!) song “Stairway to Heaven” has been in the news lately. The estate of a former member of the band Spirit is suing Zeppelin, claiming that the legendary British rockers plagiarized the opening notes of the song from Spirit’s song “Taurus.”

I don’t know enough about music to know if they have a case.

I do know enough about Jesus to know that “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t a Christian song.

A friend tells of hearing a well-known radio personality talking about his first on-air job. It was on a Christian radio station. He was Jewish. His show was on at night and, since he was the only person on duty, he had to answer phone calls. It was 1971, and he said he continually fielded requests to play “Stairway to Heaven.” He tried to explain to caller after caller that it wasn’t a Christian song. “It’s not Christian just because it mentions heaven,” he said.

That reminded me of a story I heard about something that happened at a South Georgia radio station that featured Southern Gospel music. One of its on-air “personalities” was a local minister. One day in 1977, he introduced a song with words something like these: “Folks, I have a new record here. It’s by a group I’ve never heard of and I’ve never listened to the song before, so we’re going to hear it for the first time together. It sounds like a great Gospel song. So let’s listen to the Kendalls sing ‘Heaven’s Just a Sin Away.’”

And all the people said “Oh my!”

Somebody hopefully told the DJ, ““It’s not Christian just because it mentions heaven.”

As a matter of fact, not everything that’s called “Christian” is in fact Christian.

Take “Christian” political candidates.” Please.

Candidates who trumpet their “Christian faith” and “Christian values” make me nervous. First of all, I’m not sure that a person will, if genuinely Christian, “trumpet” such things. I mean, Jesus said we shouldn’t, and if Jesus said not to do something, then his followers certainly won’t do it. Right? Besides, if you’re really filled up with the love, grace, humility, and compassion of Christ, it’s going to show, whether you want it to or not. And if you get credit for it, you’re going to be embarrassed by it.

Second, when candidates make their “Christianity” part of their advertising and rhetoric, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re just trying to attract votes from a particular segment of the Christian community. Once, some members of the church I pastored at the time wanted to put out some “Christian voting guides.” “They’re not in support of any particular candidate or party,” they told me. So I looked them over. The values that the guide said should direct our voting decisions lined up very nicely with one party’s platform. There were other Christian values, some of which are very important, that the guide failed to mention, all of which lined up with the other party’s platform. I declined the request to distribute the voting guides in the church.

Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying there are not Christian politicians. Some are characterized by love, grace, and humility. They regard their public service as a part of their Christian commitment. You’d strongly suspect they’re Christian, even if they never say they are. What I am saying is that we need to watch out for those who say the right words and check the right boxes, but whose attitude, bearing, motivations, and actions seem to indicate that they may not know Jesus very well, if at all.

A song’s not Christian just because it mentions heaven.

Politicians aren’t Christian just because they say they are. Some of them count on Christians being gullible.

So let’s be discerning …

Friday, April 8, 2016

Zip-Line Church

The Braves played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from 1966-1996. That’s thirty-one years. This will be their twentieth and final season playing at Turner Field. Next year they’ll move into a brand new state-of-the-art park up in Cobb County. I expect the one after that to be built on the shores of beautiful Lake Lanier.

When you look at a map that shows where their season ticket holders live, the move makes sense. There are other advantages to the new location. If they need to call up a player from the AAA Gwinnett Braves, he’ll be just an Uber ride away, for one. But as someone who lives south of Atlanta, I’m sorry they’re doing it. It’s going to make it much more complicated to get to the old ball park. Make that the new ball park.

The new place is called SunTrust Park. It’s named for the bank, not as an indicator of Helios worship. It’s part of a huge development called The Battery Atlanta, which, its website modestly proclaims, “will be the South’s preeminent lifestyle destination.”

I didn’t know lifestyles have destinations.

I think what they mean is that there will be stuff to do there, and the stuff will be fun. And expensive. It will feature dining, shopping, and lodging of both the temporary (an Omni hotel) and long-term (550 “modern residences,” which sounds to me like something out of The Jetsons) varieties.

There’s no telling what kind of attractions the stadium will feature. I mean, at old run-down out-of-date Turner Field, you could have a radar gun measure the speed of your best fastball. They’ve already announced the inclusion at the new place of a zip-line that will transport folks from one end of the concourse to the other.

This will be cool.

I know I want a kid stuffed with cotton-candy, hot dogs, and Coke zipping over my head. What could go wrong that a long hot shower featuring much scrubbing with anti-bacterial soap won’t take care of?

Oh, lest we forget, they’ll also play baseball there.

Maybe a few folks—you know, the old-fashioned “traditionalists”— will go to actually watch the games.

It all reminds me of the way church is getting to be these days. Lots of stuff is going on at church. Some of it ranks right up there with a zip line.

A long time ago in a city far, far away, our daughter went to a church’s Vacation Bible School during the summer between her kindergarten and first grade years. On Thursday, she came home excited because they were going to have a waterslide on Friday. So on Friday she went to Vacation Bible School with her swimsuit on under her clothes. When she got home, we asked her about the waterslide.

“They just laid a big sheet of plastic on the side of a hill and sprayed water on it,” she said. “It wasn’t that great.”

“But you know,” she continued, “You can’t judge a church by its waterslide.”

Maybe not. You probably shouldn’t judge a church for having a waterslide or zip line or whatever, either. And I understand the desire to try to attract folks to the church. I really believe, though, that we need to think long and hard about what we’re doing.

We may inadvertently be sending the message that Jesus is not enough of an attraction.

Another church in another community where I once lived had a big giveaway on Easter Sunday. They gave away a big screen TV, a Caribbean cruise, and a car, among other things.

They had a bigger crowd than we did. That’s understandable, though.

All we had to offer was a crucified and resurrected Lord . . .