Thinking Out Loud

July 9, 2019

IVP Author Loses to Counterfeit Books Sold on Amazon

Filed under: books, Christianity, ethics, publishing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 am

Christian Author Robbed

Maybe it’s because I work in this field, that this account hit so hard, so personally. This story broke on Christianity Today yesterday morning; excerpts below are just a portion of a larger story you’re encouraged to read in full:

It took Tish Harrison Warren nearly three years to publish her first book. It was more than 18 months of arranging childcare and carving out time to write before she had a manuscript—11 chapters chronicling details from her day-to-day life paired with the rhythms of church ritual.

By the time Liturgy of the Ordinary debuted in December 2016, she and her publishing team had gone through the process of selecting a cover (an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich against a bright green backdrop) and editing the page proofs to check every dot and detail.

But over the past year, thousands of readers ended up with copies that didn’t quite look like the book she and InterVarsity Press (IVP) had finalized three years ago. The cover was not as sharp. The pages were a bit off-center.

These were not IVP’s books at all. They were counterfeits.

A three-year labor of love. It’s a heartbreaking story to read.

IVP estimates that at least 15,000 counterfeit copies of Liturgy of the Ordinary were sold on the site over the past nine months, their retail value totaling $240,000. That nearly cuts sales of Warren’s book in half; IVP reported 23,000 legitimate copies were sold over the past year. IVP also found evidence of counterfeiting on a smaller scale for one other title, Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity, which came out in 2002.

But it’s probably not an isolated story, though CT’s story tilts in that direction:

Sharon Heggeland, vice president for sales operations at Tyndale said, “We have monitoring software in place that looks for third-party sellers. We have very minimal issues with third-party sellers taking over the buy buttons on our products, and we have seen no instances of counterfeit Tyndale titles.”

I think personally we haven’t heard the last story of a Christian title being counterfeited. And yet, inexplicably, this:

But within 48 hours of learning about the Amazon counterfeiters, she bought groceries at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, rented a movie on Prime, and received a package with the telltale arrow logo on her porch.

There’s a lot more; this is complicated. Kate Shellnutt has done a great job of reporting this and you are again encouraged to read the whole report at this link.

Counterfeit sales impact not only Tish Harrison Warren’s current title, but affects contracts for future titles.

Meanwhile, at her blog, Tish Harrison Warren offers readers some options, including how to identify the fake copies, and then returning the books to Amazon and obtaining an authentic copy from IVP with free shipping.

[Note: If you bought your copy from a brick-and-mortar bookstore, it probably would have been purchased direct from IVP and not affected.]

The author also says,

Pray for wisdom for IVPress, Amazon, and me. We each have decisions to make about how best to proceed now that we know that there are counterfeit books out there. This is a situation that IVP has never faced before and they in particular need prayer for wisdom about how to respond.

I also have never faced this before and need wisdom about how to most wisely respond moving forward.

Amazon executives and decision-makers also need wisdom and motivation about how to respond to improve their systems. Please pray for all involved.


Interested in reading the book? Here’s the publisher blurb:

In each chapter of Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren looks at something-making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys-that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship. Come and discover the holiness of your every day.

Don’t just grab the lowest available price online; look for an established Christian retailer, or better yet, if a physical store exists near you, support them before Amazon has decimated the entire landscape.


UPDATE 10:05 AM EST — Determining if you have a counterfeit copy. At this Dropbox link, 11 images showing the telltale evidence of a fake book.

Advertisements

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

December 21, 2018

When Doctrine Overrides Character

Not everyone is on Twitter, and not everything people post on Twitter is appropriate for the theme of their blog. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, etc. — when someone has posted a longer string that we feel is of great importance and deserving of a wider readership, I want to give you a chance to read something that author Sheila Wray Gregoire* posted to Twitter two days ago.

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Why is it that Christians have such a difficult time denouncing pastors who have done horrendous things? I have an off-the-wall theory, and I’d like to share it in this thread.

Two incidences this week: Tim Keller offered George Whitefield, the man largely responsible for the legalization of slavery in 18th Century Georgia, as someone to emulate; and Harvest Bible Chapel elders and members continue to support James MacDonald, despite credible accusations of spiritual abuse.

We are told “we can’t judge” and “we all have our failings.” But most of all “He’s such a great preacher!” We live in an age where preaching and doctrine reign, and anyone who has the correct doctrine must therefore be a staunch Christian. Yet is this biblical? Let’s take a look.

In Jane Austen’s time, the phrase “Christian charity” was common. It was our love that distinguished us from others. In those days, pretty much everybody “believed” the same thing. What showed that you were a true believer was if you actually lived it out.

Things have changed. First, few believe today. But church trends also elevated belief over practice. [Billy] Graham’s crusades, though amazing, gave the impression that if one said the sinner’s prayer, one would always be right with God. Graham himself lamented the lack of discipleship.

Neo-Calvinism elevated doctrine over anything else, and a church’s preaching became key to its reputation. Then politics fused with Christianity. Christianity became synonymous with a certain viewpoint in the world, cementing the idea that it was about beliefs, not practice.

Today, if you were to ask someone what a Christian was, they would echo, “someone who believes X and Y.” The idea of “Christian charity” being our distinguishing characteristic has largely gone by the wayside.

Yet what does the Bible say? Jesus said they would know us by our love. James said faith without works is dead. Works do not save us; but works show that we truly are saved. Many people believe the Christian tenets and preach Christian doctrine for entirely the wrong reasons.

Paul admitted this—some preach Christ out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 1:15). James said that even the demons believe—and shudder. A person can preach excellent sermons and write amazing books, but that says little about whether they have the Spirit of Christ in them.

Yes, God saves us through our belief in the saving work of Christ. But what makes our faith REAL is that it changes us. Until the church stops idolizing the person who simply preaches an amazing sermon and teaches the right doctrine, we will never get back to the heart of Christ.

If the gospel does not change how you act—if it does not affect your view of marginalized people; if it does not make it unthinkable to yell at a restaurant server; if it does not compel you to give—then ask yourself if you are believing for the wrong reasons.

And then tremble.

To read reactions and responses from Sheila, click this Twitter link.


*Sheila Wray Gregoire is a published author with Zondervan, Kregel and Waterbrook Press and is a featured speaker at women’s events. Her blog deals with marriage, family and parenting issues and is called To Love Honor and Vaccum.

 

October 8, 2018

The Danger of an Inherited Faith II

Discussion about the political scene in the United States for the past (almost) two years since the election brings out the worst in all of us.

I promised myself I wouldn’t wade into discussions of that nature. This blog is intended to be consistently faith-focused and therefore apolitical. But a few times I have made exceptions.

One of those was Friday.

In my comments about Franklin Graham, I incurred some well-warranted criticism from two people I greatly respect and have known for a long time. That stung. In fact, I did something I never do, and that is I basically took the weekend off from blogging; posting only an infographic late Saturday. (That post did however earn a Twitter like from someone who I greatly respect and is greatly respected internationally. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.) However…

I committed three very serious blogging sins.

First — and this is unusual for a blog which tries to put the cookies on the lower shelf — I did not provide any background as to what had provoked the post in the first place. In this case, the thing that really got me — my personal last straw — was when Franklin pulled all the Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child advertising from Relevant magazine when all they had done was quote him. I did not do enough to document his descent from emissary of the gospel to political commentator.

Second, I allowed my writing to become more emotional toward the end. To use the semantic argument that a person who has “lost the plot” of Christianity might never have been a Christian in the first place is not an argument unique to me by any means. But it reeked of judgement. The last three paragraphs have since been edited.

Finally, I think in my mind I was partially conflating Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. who we will look at briefly today. Both are the second generation of a top-tier Evangelical brand and both have wandered down the rabbit trail of leveraging or brokering their base to cozy up to the current U.S. political administration. I should have dealt with both, instead of saving one for now.

So with Jerry Falwell, Jr., let’s be specific.

I made the mistake of assuming that the same people who read my blog posts actually are tracking developments on the weekly link feed. I found it grievous that the Liberty University film students who returned from holidays last January discovered they would not get to complete the two projects they had planned, but were assigned to work on The Trump Prophecy film. I (and they) felt it totally diminished the value of the program’s reputation and the diploma they would receive related to it.

Also, there was the more recent incident where students were bused to Washington, D.C. to show support for Judge Kavanaugh. Again, I feel this is diminishing the university’s reputation and the degrees those students paid top dollar to receive. If the students are Political Science majors, then yes, the confirmation process is important, but this particular story also spoke to the issue of sexual assault in a case where it was difficult to tell which side was telling the truth. I’m not sure how many of those students really wanted to take a position on this issue; though some may have simply gone for the bus ride or because their friends were going, or for the tour of the Capitol building which followed.

And there are many more stories like this.

But Falwell didn’t simply put his film students and protesters (or counter-protesters, I’m not sure) in the middle of his pro-Trump, pro-Kavanaugh agenda; he dragged Evangelicals in the United States and (in my case) beyond into a moral and ethical quagmire of reasoning, where the glaring bad fruit of a person’s life is set aside if it is believed their ascent to political power fits or is in keeping with some higher purpose.

One reader simply suggested people Google “Franklin Graham controversy” for more, and I would add that “Jerry Falwell, Jr. controversy” yields some rather bizarre stories, like this one. But I really don’t want to spend more ink on that, especially where so many minds are already made up.

Another thing I need to reiterate — for my good as well as yours — is Paul’s advice to Timothy that a soldier does not entangle himself in civilian affairs. We belong to a different kingdom and our main energies should be spent on advancing and building that kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world.

In the end however, simply changing the name, I find I must simply repeat what I said on Friday:

In the last several years, many of us have watched Jerry Falwell, Jr. make statements which grate against the Christianity many of us are practicing and what we know of the Jesus many of us are striving to follow.

His remarks and their underlying attitudes simply don’t pass the WWJD litmus test. The fruit of the indwelling of the Spirit has left the building.

There is a danger in an inherited faith.

and its conclusion:

If what I write or say doesn’t resemble Christianity or pass the WWJD litmus test, then I would expect you to ask the question, am I truly a Christian?

Yes. I get the irony. It’s possible that in its original form on Friday I would have failed that same litmus test.

Point taken. Such are the times in which we find ourselves.

 

March 22, 2018

Marriage and Marijuana: When the Rules Change

Changes in the law are often viewed from a variety of vantage points.

I often wonder what happens when someone who has done prison time for pot possession thinks as they see state after state making weed legal. Or the person who was persecuted by family or friends for their homosexual cohabitation watching gay marriage legalized.

I realize that most of the people reading this fall into neither category. You may not directly know people who do. However, such individuals would have a rather different perspective on changing legislation in various states as well as Canada.

The end result of what pilots call a “graveyard spiral.”

Then there are those who will simply use this as an example of how society is going downhill; to use an aviation term, the graveyard spiral of society. It’s great sermon material if you want to get people revved up; what Skye Jethani would call pandering to the Fear-vangelical mindset.

But there’s another viewpoint I was considering today: The youth.

In particular, what does all this look like from the point of view of a child who is too young to smoke weed and too young to enter into a marriage relationship?

In some ways, it sends this message: If you wait long enough it — whatever it is — will eventually be made legal.

I know you’re thinking, ‘Yes, but some things are absolutely wrong and not subject to discussion.’

Really? Take the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” and then consider euthanasia, abortion or (for some) even war itself.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness.” What about lying where it is expedient, or situation ethics, manipulation of statistics, or the popular term today, fake news?

Again, I’m not talking about the “moral decay” itself, but about the appearance all this must present to young people who see nothing as absolute. Rules regulating behavior and lifestyle appear as in flux or in transition with no fixed reference points.

I’ve noted elsewhere on the blog that rules are often created at one time or for one group of people or in one particular place; whereas principles are timeless and transcend the limits of who they apply to or where they apply. The rules derive from the principles.

So in a world where alcohol is in common use, the addition of marijuana to the recreational mix may not appear to reflect a change in principles, but a kid or young teen doesn’t know that.

To children and youth, as things are subject to constant revision and updated legislation, all bets are off when it comes to whether anything is truly wrong.

February 20, 2018

The Parable of the Shopkeeper

Once there was a shopkeeper who sold very expensive widgets, some of the best widgets you could buy. While people came from all directions to purchase his widgets, he had only two customers who he would consider regulars and they would both arrive every other Friday.

One came in usually shivering in the cold. His cloth coat just wasn’t enough to keep the winter temperature from getting through. Fussing with a packages of tissues for a runny nose, he would usually buy two or three or sometimes four widgets, paying the price that was on the sign above the counter. Occasionally, he would say he was buying four, only to find himself short on cash, and have to put one back.

The other arrived in a luxury car, the car was obviously quite warm, because he never shivered. He would buy in multiples of ten; usually sixty, eighty or a hundred and he never paid the price on the sign. Instead, the shopkeeper would sell him product at a generous discount, or he would charge him for 60 but give him 20 free, for a total of 80.

Until one day.

The shopkeeper had been listening to the words of the one called The Master or sometimes called The Teacher. He had some interesting stories, but none about shopkeeping or widgets or retail pricing. But there was a tone or a tenor to his teaching that seemed to reach beyond the specific stories and have all manner of ethical ramifications.

So one of the alternate Fridays rolled around and the first customer came in and asked for four widgets. “This is your lucky day;” he told him. “You only need to pay for two and you get two free.” The customer was quite pleased. He asked if he could pay for three and get six. “Absolutely;” said the shopkeeper, adding with a wink; “Remember, I said today is your lucky day. But we have another lucky day coming up two weeks today!”

Then the second regular customer rolled up in his expensive car. “I’ll take a hundred widgets today;” he said; so the merchant went to the cash register and keyed in 100 at the price on the sign above the counter and told him the total.

“Wait, that’s not right;” said the wealthy customer, “That’s full price.”

“Today;” said the shopkeeper,  “We’re offering generous discounts to people who truly can barely afford to buy, but people of means like yourself, are able to pay full price and today are paying full price.”

The customer was in a state of shock and —

–and what do you think happened next?  …

Three days ago, we asked the question if offering certain bonuses to some customers but not other customers was the type of thing that Jesus had in mind when he gave the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings, inspiring James to write about what we call The Sin of Partiality.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

The gospel is all about inclusion. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Accept the one whose faith is weak,”and while he was speaking to something specific, accepting the one whose pocketbook is weak is also a good fit.

The widget salesman’s decision to rethink who was getting preferential treatment in his shop was well founded; it was a very Jesus thing to do.

But the retail economy does that. It rewards volume buyers. The grocery store near our house offers “multi pricing;” giving those who buy two (or four) a much, much better price than those who buy one (or two). It’s unfair to those who live alone such as singles or seniors; or people on fixed income; or couples where one has a diet restriction that means they can’t share the same meal items or meal ingredients.

My wife and I automatically boycott “multi” offers, which is hard because they are many each week.

A couple of full disclosures are necessary here.

First, I own and manage a retail store and we do have a year-round “Buy 4, Get 1 Free” program that covers well over half the items in our store. It’s flexible, there are modifications throughout the year, and I don’t think it excludes people from the margins, but at the first sign of complaint, I would sit down and talk with them and work something out.

Second, we do have a situation from time to time involving one or two people who are like the second customer in today’s opening story. We appreciate being able to participate on volume deals. I think we are able to obtain competitive prices. They might feel they’re doing us a favor, or supporting us in an industry that is often in survival mode. We feel we’re helping them get pricing that is compatible with what they have already seen online. Sometimes there are complications in these orders, and then we have to eat some extra expenses. There are days I’m not sure who is blessing who, or if it’s totally mutual. But I often think about the principle behind the story above and wonder if we’re doing right. I don’t think saying, ‘Today you’re paying list price for all these items’ is a viable option in this case. But I fret these issues.

Also, we have a policy to never offer to one person a deal we’re not prepared to offer to anyone making a purchase at a similar quantity. Or even if they aren’t a similar quantity. The last such deal involved 40 units of an item, but I ordered 45 and sold the extra 5 to 3 different individuals for the same price as the larger customer had paid for the 40. It seemed like something right to do.

In the story, it’s pointed out that The Master aka The Teacher doesn’t say anything directly about retail marketplace ethics, though he wasn’t very charitable to some profiteers at the Temple. But the key word is directly. I think Jesus sets us up with other ethical teaching that asking the proverbial ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ question in a wide variety of situations isn’t usually a stretch…

…The story is all mine, as far as I know, so don’t go searching online for the ending. If you have one, feel free to leave a comment.

 

 

 

February 17, 2018

The Sin of Marketing Offers

Early in the week, I was contacted to see if I knew how someone could get their hands on a song by Casting Crowns titled Listen to Our Hearts. They believed it was on the album Come to the Well, but they couldn’t locate it there.

A little research later, I determined that the song was a bonus track which was only sold to people who pre-ordered the album on iTunes.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened.

In the past few years there have been entire albums by Christian artists which were only available at LifeWay stores. Here, I need to point out that there are no LifeWay stores in Canada or the UK, so fans of the artists in questions simply could not obtain the product, no matter how hard they tried.

There’s something about this that just strikes me as wrong.

I saw an article the other day about “The Sin of Partiality.” Not surprisingly it began in the book of James (2:1-4):

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

My brain connected the article with the song request.

I know Casting Crowns needs to make money, and I’m not saying they should give their songs away for free — the influence of Keith Green notwithstanding — but somewhere between open source and restricted access there should be a balance.

I posted a fan-posted YouTube edition the song on Twitter as a type of protest. That way some people got to hear it that day. I added that a year, or two years later, “the song never surfaced in any form.” That brought this reader response:

To which I responded,

I realize that Christian retail is fraught with moral and ethical perils. The one I hear the most is, “The Bible should be free.” (I always have free copies to meet that objection.) I don’t expect the people at iTunes to live by Christian standards, but surely the people at LifeWay must know, in the back of their minds, that at the same time they’re doing something for their customers, they are denying others, right? (In a future article, we’ll look at the related idea of giving greater discounts to people buying in quantity, which is always an ethical dilemma.)

I just think anytime you say “exclusive offer” you’re letting some people in and shutting some people out.

At that point, the connection to what James says about favoritism is valid.


Note: The song was a collaboration between three artists. The versions by Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore have proved equally elusive in 2018.

November 6, 2017

Five Letters America Needs to Write

To the American People;

While those who helped form and shape of our country had nothing but our best interests in mind, time has shown us that upon internal investigation and when seen through the eyes of the world, one aspect of one of our founding documents is presently flawed. Therefore, acting as we would under emergency measures in a wartime situation, our upper and lower houses of government need to immediately suspend all other activity and work in a bipartisan manner toward the immediate suspension and repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, including the clear stating of its antithesis, namely that there is no further blanket right to bear arms.

To the members of the National Rifle Association (and other similar special interest groups);

Your financial contributions to citizens seeking to hold elected office have enlivened political campaigns and helped form a robust political process, creating an environment allowing aspiring politicians to spend millions in order to have their message and agenda reach the electorate. Unfortunately, history will show that such action clouded the judgement of these legislators, even to the point where the perceived needs of some people undermine the principles of a democracy that serves the broader populace. Because your organization enshrines a constitutional right that is being repealed, we must ask that in the interim such campaign funding immediately cease and desist, as all forms of election campaign funding undergoes sweeping reevaluation.

To State and local governments;

America must change. It would be preposterous to suspend the former 2nd Amendment, only to have state, county or municipal governments reenact it or reinstate it in some form. A reworded constitution will clearly state no state laws will provide the citizenry with a fundamental right to weapon ownership, and existing statutes which are based on the former right will be similarly repealed or rewritten.

To the Educators of the United States;

In the spirit of what the constitutional framers stated as forming “a more perfect union;” American public education needs to be amended to include the teaching of ethics as a core curriculum subject; one given equal weight to subjects such as English, History, Geography, Mathematics, and Science; with successful completion necessary to educational advancement. The subject matter will be age-appropriate and run through elementary, middle school and high school grades and be compatible with common ethics, morals and values; and provide a compendium of teaching reflecting major religious and philosophical perspectives; but also annually incorporating a unit on the ethical basis for the value of human life.

To the manufacturers of guns and similar weaponry;

Because maintaining the status quo was no longer an option, as the 2nd Amendment is repealed, we as a nation we have no other option than to intervene in the manufacture, distribution and marketing of non-military weapons, and to move such products to a highly restricted status which immediately precludes any further increase to the available national supply.


Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Jeremiah 9:1


Will any of the above letters ever be written? I fear they won’t. The United States is now effectively broken beyond remedy.

April 22, 2017

“We Know Where You Live”

front_gate

Thanks to the internet there are no secrets anymore. A few years ago I briefly turned my attention to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and were building. With Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch of the planet, major Christian authors and church leaders have difficulty concealing their personal residences.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

I’m not sure what happened to that campus, but we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate which even two months ago was being updated.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion. I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here.

Pictured: Gated community in Atlanta, GA

July 11, 2016

Shane Claiborne’s Treatise on Capital Punishment

Executing Grace

Shane Claiborne’s latest, Executing Grace is a well-written, well-researched and well-annotated look at the history of capital punishment in the United States. It is both gently persuasive and passionately persuasive at the same time. It is a thorough, exhaustive treatment of the subject from a perspective that is both Biblical and Christ-centered. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read on any issue. End of review…

…Sitting in my backyard, on Canadian soil, reading Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, by Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) is a rather strange experience, especially in the wake of a week of violence in the U.S. that has fueled discussions on racial discrimination and injustice. I don’t usually cover U.S.-interest books, preferring to devote my review time to things that are of equal interest to people in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

I made an exception to this partly because I’ve tasted the writer’s passion after following him on Twitter for a few years. No execution in the U.S. escapes his gaze, and with each one, there is horrible lament. You feel Claiborne’s pain with every new case, and then, after the act is carried out, his sorrow. He’s like one crying in the wilderness, but for him, it must feel like spitting into the wind. There are churches in many southern states who I expect are definitely not keeping him on their short list as a guest speaker any time soon. Such is the life for those who choose to speak with a prophetic voice.

The book brings together an avalanche of material, there are simply so many cases to draw on. Again, from my backyard chair, I have to ask, ‘Why am I even allowed to read this; why would the powers that be allow this book to be exported out of the U.S.?’ The situation is one that I believe any self-respecting nation would find — how do I put this — rather embarrassing. These are not stories you want the world to read, even one at a time, let alone assembled in a single collection. America’s history, on this issue, is rather stained; the atrocities of the era of lynchings only replaced by a more civilized-looking substitute containing an air of due process.

While the book has more than a dozen chapters — each fulfilling a specific function — they are united in their presentation of the contrast between capital punishment as a means of avenging or making right a capital crime on the one hand, and the idea of grace and mercy on the other. You have to ask yourself which side of the issue you’re on.

The reading of the book eventually becomes subjective. I’m getting angrier and angrier as I read of cases where innocent people were executed for crimes they did not commit. Or spent decades of their adult life behind bars until their innocence was finally proven to be true. Or tortured on death row with dates for their execution that were constantly revised and pushed back. Or executed by so-called modern, sophisticated means which prove to be barbaric; the death process dragging out to 30 minutes or an hour or perhaps not working at all.

But the very anger at injustice that I’m feeling lands me solidly at the point of recognizing the system as flawed; yearning for reforming the system. I’m not a U.S. citizen, but it makes you want to work for change. How does my own country fare? While there are references to capital punishment’s top five nations, I don’t recall a reference to Canada, and England is only mentioned in passing. This is a Made-in-America problem which requires a Made-in-America solution.

As with the situation in the U.S. last week, the church can be the leading agent for social change, but unfortunately, we don’t speak with a single voice on this issue. The greatest number of state-sanctioned executions take place in what is termed the Bible belt, and last year one prominent Southern Baptist leader wrote a piece for a major media outlet on why he supports the death penalty.

If you read this book, it will make you angry as well, frustrated, and rather sad, however you can’t not read something like this. As Claiborne states so clearly, knowing what is going on — having the information — is vital to a change in attitudes and practice to take place. For those of us who claim Christ as our Lord, we are complicit in the killings if we remain silent, or simply defer the matter to elected officials. 

The penultimate chapter is a crash course on restorative justice. For some, raised and saturated in a world of eye-for-an-eye, punitive justice this will be a stretch; an awakening. It proposes a paradigm shift of epic proportions, and yet is strangely appealing, offering the hope of a new way forward.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.