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Sunday, July 30, 2006


Turning Tables: Temple or Kingdom

The LA Times recently ripped the International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) in Denver in their article "Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products." This is part three of a four part series discussing the event, its history, and its implications.

First, I wrote about the history of the CBA. Second, I wrote about Jesus turning over the money tables in Jerusalem.

Today, I want to think about Jesus in the temple some more. I've heard preachers and others use the Jesus in the temple argument to rationalize their own righteous indignation. They fight so that God's house isn't compromised.

"Bookstores don't belong in church buildings!" they might say.
"Don't fill those Christian bookstores with trinkets."

But the logical analogy doesn't work entirely. Jesus cleared the temple in righteous anger, but we don't have a temple in the same way anymore. As I learned from N. T. Wright, traditional judaism focused on worshipping at the temple. He calls it a "temple religion." First century judaism was more complicated because they were scattered so widely. Synagogues were beginning to address this problem. And I get the sense that churches today more closely resemble the synagogue than they do the temple.

Of course, we have no picture of Jesus rushing through synagogues turning over tables. And we have no perfect analogy for the "Jesus Junk" that we see for sale "in his name." At best we can say that Jesus himself is now the temple. He said he would tear the temple down and raise it again in three days. And now the church is his body.

Here are a pair of syllogisms:
1) Jesus said he would rebuild God's temple in three days.
2) Jesus then rose from the dead after three days.
3) Jesus must have meant his body was God's temple.

1) The church is the body of Christ.
2) Jesus said his body was God's temple.
3) The church itself has become God's temple.
I don't mean the church building or even the people when they are worshipping together
in the church building. I mean every believer who calls on the name of Jesus, no matter where they are or what they are doing.

And you might be wondering, What does this have to do with the CBA? How is this a response to that cynical LA Times article?

Which reminds me of Colossians 3:15-17. Whatever you do--whether in word or deed--do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. You see, if Jesus Junk is somehow sacrilegious, then all junk is sacrilegious.

I know that was a big leap, so let me explain. If Jesus didn't want God's temple to be a marketplace, if the church is now God's temple, then we should not be living our lives as if
our purpose is the marketplace. My purpose as part of the body of Christ is to glorify God--in all that I do.

Of course, I don't think all junk is sacrilegious. Junk--Jesus or not--isn't a matter of sacrilege. It is a matter of taste. One person's junk is another person's treasure. For example, I have a weakness for science fiction and fantasy novels. I don't go to comic-con or anything, but I could imagine having fun there. Could God be glorified through Comic-Con? Could God be glorified through a comic book movie like X-Men?


Could God be glorified through an explicitly Christian comic book?


Are the audiences for these two products the same?

Probably not.

Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. I'll try to wrap it up tomorrow.

Update: Well, I tried to wrap it up in a timely manner. It took me a bit. But I did write Part Four here.

HillCountryWriter Category: Publishing
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Saturday, July 29, 2006


Our Eleven Year Anniversary!

As they say on Spinal Tap: "This one goes to eleven." No reflection on CBA or ICRS today. It's our eleventh anniversary. Last year we went to New York City.

This year we are going to see Prairie Home Companion. And we love each other just as much as ever.

Here's a sonnet about my wife.


A gecko walks up walls a sort of Christ

Sideways, crawling, a crooked miracle worm;

Its feet become twenty toes, and toes then turn

To smaller divisions, and hair upon hair divides:

Two million setae become a billion spatulae,

Spreading Van der Waals forces in blooms

Like Broccoli with atomic grip across the room;

Without glue or static, even air, it climbs high.

Given a choice would you be worm or wall?

Reaching out to touch a stable, prose

Partner? Or be yourself my steadfast root?

We resign ourselves belly to belly, foot to foot,

Our points of connection, too many to recall:

Two geckos surprised by memories under our toes.

(Read this for more on the miracle of gecko toes.)

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Friday, July 28, 2006


Turning Tables: Books, Junk, and Sacrifices

The LA Times recently ripped the International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) in Denver in their article "Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products." This is part two of a series discussing the event, its history, and its implications.

Yesterday, I wrote about the history of the CBA--in an attempt to help readers understand how the show became what it is today. I'll admit, my initial response to the trade show was not so positive either.

Still, it is easy to throw stones at the entire affair and dismiss it is a gathering of Pharisees. It is easy to assume the authority of Jesus and start turning over money tables and driving out sacrificial animals.

Certainly, Jesus set this precedent. Consider these passages:
* Matt. 21:12-16
* Mark 11:15-18
* Luke 19:45-48
* John 2:13-25 (this one especially)

Ok, now if you didn't click on those links to read the Bible, stop. Go read those links. If you are like me, you think you know what the passages already say. You've proof-texted the entire issue in your head already and remember the details you want to remember, the details that support your argument. Stop. Go back to the Word.

Here's what I remembered. Jesus was upset by the money changers. I was always taught that the people were being cheated in the temple. The whole endeavor had turned into a racket for the merchants. Pilgrims wanted to meet God and atone for their sins, but first they were gouged by the laws of supply and demand.

That interpretation would certainly set us all free to go make lots of money selling Christian products--so long as we aren't cheating anyone.

But the actual accounts are more complicated. Especially John, where Jesus says, "How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" Ouch. This suggests that commerce is a sacrilege to God's temple. I've heard people argue that Jesus Junk turns God's house into a market. Certainly, the Jesus brand is hot right now. Slap the name of Christ on crap, and it sells better.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says, "My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers." Double ouch. This reminds us to seek God through prayer, not stuff. Too often I try to buy my way into holiness. I surround myself with Christian CDs, Christian books, Christian jewelry, Christian clothes, Christian whatever. If I put enough labels on myself maybe one of them will stick.

God's house isn't a business. It is a place to worship.

More tomorrow.

HillCountryWriter Category: Publishing
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Thursday, July 27, 2006


Turning Tables but not Cheeks: History of the CBA

The LA Times recently ripped the International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) in Denver in their article "Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products." This is part one of a four part series discussing the event, its history, and its implications.

Other bloggers are beginning to start the feeding frenzy including Justin Taylor. Mark Roberts even posted a slight jab: Get me a Christian sweatband! Well, maybe not.

Well, I happened to go to the ICRS, which is the annual trade show for the Christian Booksellers Association. It doesn't appear any of the angry bloggers did. So I'd like to set the record straight.

Here are a few bloggers who did attend: Ragamuffin Diva, Dave (a Bethany House editor), Jennifer, and Camy Tang. Read these blogs and you'll get a very different picture of the event.

To those angry and indignant bloggers, I have this to say: Guess what, guys. The LA Times overstated things a bit. Surprise, surprise. The ICRS is still essentially a publications show. Kind of an elementary school book fair on steroids.

Sure there were booths that made me feel like turning over the tables in the temple. But there were also a lot of good people with good hearts doing their best to serve God in little ways.

I'll admit the judgmental attitude I see in on some blogs out there is just as disappointing to me as some of the CBA Jesus Kitsch.

I'm not saying I'm all perfect or anything. I've been known to let the righteous indignation flare up at times. I had some of the same thoughts at CBA in Denver this year as those expressed in the LA Times article. But before we are too quick to judge, let's make sure we understand one another.

And the best way to understand people is to walk in their shoes.

So here's a little history on those booksellers, for those of you who don't know it.

As the name implies, the CBA began as a trade show focused primarily on books. Book store owners could see and sample the new titles for the year. In recent years, these publishing companies have been so successful, that the big box bookstores and the large New York publishers have taken notice.

As they say in business, money talks.

Barnes and Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and other large stores began selling Max Lucado, Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, and the other hot titles in Christian publishing. I'm not endorsing these books necessarily, though I appreciate Max Lucado's work. The large bookstores weren't endorsing it either. They were just offering what people wanted. It is Economics 101. Supply and demand.

Suddenly, most Christians had no reason to shop at their local Christian bookstore anymore. Not because they were disgusted with schmaltzy Christian products, as I read on one blog. But because they could get their favorite Christian books at regular bookstores.

Essentially, Christian publishing became mainstream--like it had been prior to the 1960s when Christian texts were published by presses like Harper and Roe. As my friend Dan puts it, the Christian bookstores were so successful they lost their niche. In the classic Christian sense, they gave themselves away (although not intentionally, I'm sure).

What's a Christian Bookstore to do?

Find a new niche. Become a Christian Giftstore. Become a Christian Hallmark.

More tomorrow.

HillCountryWriter Category: Publishing
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Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Lure Fishing Takes Patience

A friend of mine recently asked how I was doing.

I told him about some personal developments:
Well, I'm sending out poetry submissions, nonfiction queries, and now a book proposal. Selling myself can be pretty self-deflating work when so few people are buying.

His response was so honest and simple and inspiring, I thought I should share it here:
Selling oneself is sort of like lure fishing: Over and over you throw out the lure, do your best to drag it in enticingly, get tired and frustrated when there are no hits, chyange lures, change location, etc. Then, BAM, the hit--and it all seems worth it. I guess that's why experienced fisherman recommend cultivating patience.

One advantage
that you have at the git-go: Your name is made to order as a nom d'plume.

That's funny. I've never thought of myself as having a writer's name.

HillCountryWriter Category: Publishing
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


It's All About Billboards, Bumper Stickers, and a Book

Christians can't argue someone into a relationship with Jesus--though some comments at Out of Ur suggest otherwise. Christians can share their experience, explain their new view of the world. And it isn't new age double speak when David Fitch talks about "proclaiming the reality of the world."

My five-year-old daughter read a billboard this weekend for real estate. Their tagline:
"It's all about you."

A few minutes later we stopped behind a car with a similar bumper sticker. She read:
"It's all about me."
These sentences are lies. It isn't all about you or me. The world doesn't revolve around any of us. We aren't gods. And we can't define our own gods.

I've heard people ask questions like, Why worship the God who destroyed the world in a flood? Why worship the God who allows hell to exist? Why worship the God who gives us the freedom to reject him? Because he is the only eternal God.

Or as my daughter put it, "Those people are silly, Daddy. Don't they know it's all about God?"

(True story about C. J. from this past weekend in Galveston.)

HillCountryWriter Category: Church stuff
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Saturday, July 22, 2006


Turning Tables But Not Cheeks

The LA Times recently ripped the International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) in Denver in their article "Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products." This series discusses the event, its history, and its implications.

1. History of the CBA
2. Books, Junk, and Sacrifices
3. Temple or Kingdom?
4. Who Do You Think You Are?

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Thursday, July 20, 2006


Here's Some Encouragement: Stop Whining.

Casey Stengel
Howard Butt, Jr., has a great radio message about Casey Stengel.
According to Stengel, the primary role of a coach is to applaud success.

When I was a creative writing teacher, my role was similar. Grading a student's poetry or short stories was always a challenge. What measure should I use? Should I mark all of the grammatical errors? Should I encourage them just for writing creatively (after all they had taken an academic elective when they could have just taken a study hall.)

Here's what I did: I had a list of about five to ten "quality writing" tips that I looked for. Specificity, figurative language, pacing/sentence construction, etc.

If a poem was exceptional, I wrote a long response pointing out the specific things it did well—using all of the fancy literary analysis terms from college. Students seemed to act like professionals when I talked about their work as if it were professional.

I always compared their style to other writers and potential models. If a student wrote terrible terrible schmaltzy vampire poetry, I might applaud the most effective metaphor or sound device—then suggest some unusual authors/poets who had written successful gothic poetry (not Poe, since they already knew him).

When I applauded their success in a very specific way, it often implied areas of mediocrity (and even failure). It seems to me the key to successful applause is to be specific. Vague compliments encourage false pride. Misdirected applause can lead to a false sense of grandeur. I have seen too many people excuse their failures based on their own unquestioned and unrealistic sense of worth.

The only response to failure is unflinching determination. Stop whining. Fix the problem.

(If I only I could take my own advice about submitting manuscripts.)

HillCountryWriter Category: Publishing
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The Colbert Report

We just ditched extended cable at our house. We still have an odd assortment of channels beyond the four major networks.

But we don't have Comedy Central.

I admit, I don't need to be watching it. Too much of their stuff goes straight past satire, right over the top of whatever thing people go over the top of.

Man, I just miss The Colbert Report.


So for fun, I went online to watch a few clips and got hooked.

Here are two I want to try to share. (The videos will open in a separate window and force you to watch a 30 second Air Force commercial first.)

First, take a look at the interview with Bart Ehrman, a "theologian" and the author of Misquoting Jesus. Things gets pretty serious pretty quick when Ehrman admits he doesn't even believe in God. (I've read somewhere that Stephen Colbert is Christian, but it could be rumor.)

Then, take a look at the much funnier interview with Lee Silver, the author of Challenging Nature. I'm too ignorant to speak to the stem cell debate, but I am interested in Colbert's focus on defining what makes us human. I especially like his statement that God is the original scientist. Who knows if he is being satirical or not when he makes statements like that? Some of his comments seem less tongue in cheek than others.

Also, this interview reminded me of my own interview with John Medina (forthcoming at TheHighCalling.org). Of course, my interview was not nearly as entertaining. And thankfully the only live audience consisted of brown hummingbirds drinking from a sugar-water feeder outside the window.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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Golly Geez

Cover of Geez, Issue #3
Well, I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but it seems I am finally a published poet.

Issue #3 of Geez Magazine has published two of my poems:
    1) Barbies at Communion
    2) Easter.

I hope people can see God in them.
(And, hey, buy a copy of Geez to support some guys with real heart.)

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Friday, July 14, 2006


Good article

If you need inspiration, read this: Jump Off a Cliff.

Lately, I've been working to double my rate of failure--if I get rejected and shot down twice as often, surely I will also experience slightly more acceptance for my work, my ideas, my writing.


CBA--Politics and the Kingdom

I spent the past week at CBA in Denver. That's short for the Christian Booksellers Association International Christian Retail Show.

Boy, did that show confuse me.

A friend of mine summarized it like this. They represent some of the most conservative Christians in the country. They have to since large box booksellers like Barnes and Noble now offer a good selection of mainstream Christian literature. In order to stay competitive, many Christian bookstores have adapted to the conservative niche of Christians who avoid the mainstream. That and they have become more like trinket shops than bookstores.

Conservative Christians aren't just theologically conservative--they are politically conservative. Many of the presses and book stores publish material they know their audience wants, and it actively promotes specifically Republican candidates and generally Republican family values. By that I mean, they borrow Republican party language and spin in their books about gay marriage, ID, homeschooling, etc.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with mixing politics and religion. Politicians who bring their faith to work don't necessarily threaten our country with theocracy--as long as they live out their faith with integrity and serve the country as excellent politicians.

But CBA didn't have any political balance.

The closest thing to balance were the booths and presses that remained apolitical. One Jossey-Bass book went as far as to suggest that political conservatives could still support social justice and environmental conservation.

I know the presses were trying to give the audience what they wanted, but the lack of balance still bothered me.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Great Commission

Here's another poem I've been working on. Amy says this one is especially dark. I was thinking of good hearted Christians who mistakenly think their witness is an act of aggression, rather than a conversation between people who are getting to know each other better.

I need to add the disclaimer that this poem is not about anyone at my church! Our preacher, Dr. Harris, is a kind man. And I love the people in our church. In fact, I have met few Christians that are as beligerent as this poems suggests. And yet, many non-Christians continue to think of us as militant nutbirds.

As always, the purposes is to reinvigorate the gospel with shocking images that help us see it with fresh eyes.

Great Commission

The church gives everyone a righteous ax
to whack and hack the hardened hearts
around us. "Into life," they say. "Chop
your neighbors to pieces, they'll thank you
when they break." And they mean well
I hope. I trust. I must since I go
each Sunday to talk and sing and pray
with them. "Come down," the preacherman calls
"Just as I AM," "the heavens will be dissolved
according to his promise. Look for a new heaven
and earth"--where golden axes wait
with blades that cut so sweet we'll each
off our new necks for Jesus, "Swing low,
sweet Lord, swing low." "Let me tell you,"
preacherman says, "What heaven will be like."
Swing low, sweet Lord Jesus, coming
forth to cut through my bones.

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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