Politics as legalism

Scot McKnight, who I quoted in last week’s confessional post, is now talking about something else I continue to struggle through – my desire to make sense of what I hope is an increasingly holistic understanding of my identity in Jesus in a political system where I am conflicted about how to behave and who to support.

His commentary apparently addresses the dangers of pursuing social justice to the end of legalism, but I believe he’s really talking to all of us who vote and politic with religious and moral motive. No clear answers here, but I believe he has added something meaningful to the conversation.

It’s June 13, which means…

I’m thirty and Michael Jackson is, at least legally speaking, innocent. Quite a day.

Aside from the obvious cork-popping over Michael’s acquittal, my 10,950th* day of exposure to the world’s pains and pleasures has been mercifully uneventful. Believe it or not, thirty doesn’t really seem to be phasing me, and I’m not a big birthday celebrator anyway. I’m all for celebrating and loving-up on people, but let’s be honest — we were all born and we all have a birthday every year. So, I’m happy to be wrapping up my 30th birthday sitting on the couch, eating the remnant shards of tortilla chips in the near-empty bag, enjoying a cold beverage, watching Dave (who just did a genius bit on the absurdity of celebrities who whine about privacy in between crack-backs on MJ and the jury).

[I also just saw a commercial where apparently someone claimed Madagascar is the funniest movie of the year. Please be advised that this is not true. I haven’t seen many films this year, but Madagascar was decidedly unfunny, both for me and my almost-three year-old son.]

Nicole Kidman is on with Dave, and she must be using extraordinary quantities of botox. Which reminds me, I am conclusively uninterested in any aspect of the romance/alleged romance between Scientologist Tom Cruise and Scientologist Katie Holmes. Everywhere I turn it’s Tom Cruise acting the fool on Oprah and Katie Holmes giggling with Regis and Kelly Lee. People are starving and living in fear of a genocidal demise all over the planet and this is what corporate media outlets choose to cover again and again (and, apparently, what many of us want to hear about)? I mean, really? No wonder half the world hates us.

And while I’m discussing serious tragedy, I should mention that it occurred to me recently that I will be very sad when Dave retires. No matter that he was snubbed for the Tonight Show, Dave is my generation’s Johnny Carson inasmuch as there is such a thing. Sure, he’s not as popular or universally embraced as Johnny, but he has character and presence and he’s become more human and relatable over time. Anyway, I’ll be sad when he quits, and I have a feeling that we’ll have very little warning when it happens.

So, as I was saying before, I’m thirty and happy. I have an amazing family — a loving, beautiful wife who is an exceptional mother to our children (including the one she’s going to hatch in a month or so, for whom she is presently suffering a great deal) and my faithful best friend and biggest fan; this unreasonably warm, funny, charming kid who makes every one of my days brighter and better just by being alive; and a baby girl who I haven’t met, whose name I don’t know, but who is certain to revolutionize our lives all over again very soon. I have parents who love me who have done me far more good than harm; brothers and sisters who are true friends; friends who are like brothers and sisters; and a church community who is, indeed, our family. I know a God who gave me all of this, who sustains me in ways I don’t deserve, and who will hold me in ways I can’t imagine. If there’s anything else, surely it’s completely superfluous.


*Dear math nerds wanting to tell me that I’ve actually been alive a few days more or a few days less. I didn’t bother with leap year math. It’s my birthday. Leave me alone.

On selling cleaner bodies…


That’s what the container of Old Spice brand High Endurance Body Wash in the basket suction-cupped to the wall of my shower is shouting at me every morning. Oddly enough, this bottle has been there for weeks, staring me down each time I shower, and I never noticed its bold and delightfully confusing promise until today. Apparently this particular brand of chemically-engineered, perfumed gel-like substance will cause me to be three times (3 times!) cleaner than…well, than something. The bottle doesn’t bother to specify, but I can only assume that before starting to use Old Spice brand High Endurance Body Wash, I was only one third as clean as I am now, probably wandering around, smelling up the world and generally grossing people out.

This morning when I discovered that I was now beginning each day with thisBw_sm  tremendous strategic advantage over the rest of the disgusting, unwashed vagabonds I interact with every day who use some other kind of body wash or, heaven forbid, bar soap, I was reminded of something Amy and I noticed yesterday morning on our way to gather with our little community of unwashed vagabonds (where we probably don’t get anyone three times cleaner than they’d get at other churches, and where we certainly don’t guarantee anything like that). Anyway, as we drove up the avenue named after our current president’s paternal father person, Amy chuckled as she gazed out the window on her side of the car. I glanced over and immediately knew what she’d seen, because I see it almost every day on my way to work. It’s a sign that says this:

Hillel Foundation

The Friendliest Jewish Student Center in the Nation

I’m not sure why that always strikes me as funny, but knowing that it was funny to Amy gave me a little more reason to doubt my own insanity. Now listen, I have nothing against the nice folks in the world who adhere to Judaism [A phrase
which almost always indicates that one does, indeed, have something against the
person or group of people to whom s/he is referring, but which does not
indicate such here for this reason – I don’t know many Jewish people and,
beyond the obvious, I confess to knowing very little about Jewish religion and
culture. If anything, I’m igno-Semitic, but certainly not anti-Semitic. If Jews
run the media and the global economy the way all the paranoid bigots think they
do, I’m none the wiser.] Anyway, as I was saying, I’m all for Jewish Aggies
having a nice place to gather, worship, and enjoy one another’s company. And,
for all I know, this could really be the friendliest Jewish Student Center in
the Nation. I’m just wondering how they know and, moreover, why they feel
compelled to market themselves against other Jewish Student Centers in other
locales. I mean, why not a slogan like, “The Friendliest Religiously-Oriented
Student Center at Texas A&M” or something of the like? What sort of
competitive advantage do they gain by telling Jewish students (who, as far as I
can tell, have no other designatedly-Jewish place to hang out in this community
of gentiles) that This Jewish Student Center is Better Than the Jewish Student
Center at that God-Forsaken university in Austin.

Part of my curiosity is probably rooted in the fact that I just didn’t
realize other religious tribes had entered the murky waters of theistic
marketing that we professing Christians have become so comfortable in. We have
a new non-denominational church in town that recently held its grand opening.
They mailed out fliers to everyone in town that, between production and
postage, certainly cost them several thousand dollars. The fliers, despite
several glaring grammatical errors that made me crazy, were colorful and laded
with stock photos of lots of handsome folks of varying ethnicities, most of
whom have likely never been to Texas or spent any time thinking about whether
people in Texas should attend a new church with exciting worship and relevant
teaching about how to have better families and manage their money better
and….anyway. I guess this is all considered reasonable and necessary these
days, but surely we can come up with some real photos of real people who really
go to your church. I’m terribly tempted to walk into the church, flier in hand,
and ask to meet the nice elderly black couple in the picture. Anyway, we have
another church in town that just started a fifteen minute service on Sunday
mornings for “busy people on the go!” Handy. I’m getting off track.

I’m not angry at any of these folks; I just confess I no longer understand
the desire for those of us who identify ourselves as participants in God’s
Kingdom to put flashy labels on our bottles. What sort of pressure do we feel
to grab our share of the market? Why does the Hillel Foundation need to be the
Friendliest in the Nation to be attractive to its constituency or be confident
in its identity (both bad assumptions about motive, I’m sure)? Why do our
churches invest so much time, money, and identity in developing pretty packages
with labels promising things we can’t guarantee to people who generally don’t
think they need what we’re selling?

I mean, until Old Spice brand High Endurance Body Wash told me it was
already getting me three times cleaner than ______, I hadn’t felt a burning
urge to find a way to be three times cleaner than I was. And, let’s be honest,
there’s no one who works for Old Spice brand High Endurance Body Wash (or its
parent company, the devil worshipping Procter & Gamble) who has the
wherewithal to investigate whether or not I am, indeed, three times cleaner
than when I use my normal routine of Lever 2000 Pure Rain (which, I assume, is
made from lye and, well, pure rain collected somewhere beyond the acidic skies
of the U.S.), so that guarantee probably isn’t worth the manufactured plastic
it’s printed on. And, frankly, by the end of the day, the Old Spice smell is
long gone and I’m no cleaner than the rest of you hosers coated in soap scum.
I’m not sure our churches, by and large, are doing much better than the body
wash people. We’re generally trying to convince people that we can give them
something they’re not really looking for, only to offer more perfume than

Or something like that. It made sense in my head.

[My apologies to the local Hillel Foundation for dragging them into my
musings about gentile religious silliness. I’m confident it’s full of
exceptionally friendly people, and I hope our paths cross sooner or later.]