Mmm… Krispy Kreme

Last weekend I experienced the decadence that is Krispy Kreme donuts. If you’ve never had a Krispy Kreme donut, you’re missing out. What you’re missing out on is a mixed bag, but I’m getting to that. We walked into the place and it wasn’t your ordinary donut shop. You could see the whole donut-making process, from the vat of oil to the fountain of glaze. When you reached the counter, they had a tray of free samples, donuts hot off the line. Nothing matched that first gooey bite.

After the initial shock wears off, you realize you’re sitting in a fast food joint full of fatties. According to Time magazine, Krispy Kreme’s quarterly profits rose 65%. There are also 798,000 new cases of diabetes diagnosed each year. If this is the American breakfast and snack food of the future, our waistlines are in trouble.

The Patriotic Church

Why does the church in America always seem to feel responsible for promoting patriotism? When America is at its least patriotic, you can still find a good 4th of July service in most churches. And when America goes to war, it is the church that first in line to salute Uncle Sam and pat the brave soldiers on the back.

And in some ways, that’s good. The soldiers do need a pat on the back, and we should respect our country and the freedom we’re given. But Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. It seems like churches in America give a lot more to Caesar than what is really his. Didn’t Jesus also tell us to love our enemies? I don’t remember churches lining up with love offerings for the people of Iraq. I don’t exactly see churches lining up to help the people of Afghanistan either.

Patriotism is one thing, but it feels like American Christianity has forgotten that we are not of this world. Our allegiance is to heaven, and we should be concerned about a more important war.

We are a Global Faith

God Bless America. In God We Trust. One nation under God. With all these mentions of God, you’d think we were a Christian nation. It seems that America likes to claim Christianity as much as Christianity likes to claim America. Churches love an excuse to promote patriotism and remind us of religious freedoms.

Forgive my lack of patriotism, but I didn’t know democracy was the official political system of Christianity. You might think that from the typical attitude of many American Christians. But Jesus didn’t come to promote any political systems. He came to promote a faith that transcends politics and government. So why do we constantly tie Christianity with democracy?

It may be true that freedom of religion allows us to talk about Christianity and to preach to the world without fear of imprisonment. But has that freedom resulted in an entire nation of dedicated and vibrant Christians? Not even close. That freedom has resulted in a lazy church. Throughout the world, where Christianity exists within other political systems, life isn’t always so easy. The result is Christianity that must survive under pressure, a faith that is tested and refined. The result is a persecuted church that asks for prayer not for an end to persecution, but so that they may endure the persecution.

The American church needs to realize that we are a global faith. America may be the land of freedom, but it is also the land of safety, security and comfort–something Jesus never promised us.

The Media and Anthrax

Anthrax, boo! Do you feel like the media’s blowing the anthrax story way out of proportion? Anthrax this, anthrax that. Anthrax isn’t a contagious disease, so while an envelope full of it is dangerous, it won’t infect an entire town. As a weapon of mass destruction, anthrax relies on panic. And it looks like whoever is behind the attack counted on that. They hit the big three news networks, a company that owns tabloids like the National Enquirer, and a few senators to stir things up.

The media latches onto images of haz-mat teams suiting up and you’ve got panic across the nation at every spilled packet of Sweet ‘n Low. The aim of terrorism is to inflict fear, and the news media is helping.

The Realities of Terror

In the midst of letters of anthrax and soldiers with M-16s at the airport, it’s a little difficult to get you arms around the current situation in America. The land of the free and home of the brave has become the land of fearful and home of the terrorized.

And in part, we do it to ourselves. Time reported that the FBI was called in when a woman found a mysterious white powder on her keyboard. False alarm. She’d been eating a cookie. It’s rare comic relief like this that makes me feel better, but then I start worrying that all Americans could be this stupid.

One thing I have learned this past week is that now every American has a tiny taste of what it’s like to live somewhere else. We are a privileged nation. As much as I complain about my loans, my bills, my desperate poverty — I am rich. The fear and apprehension that’s sweeping across the land is a tiny inkling of what some people go though every day. They live in fear and oppression. Bombs go off in their streets all the time. Watching someone die is a common occurrence.

In many parts of the world you don’t have the option of eating in or going out. You don’t get to decide if Friday night will be a movie night or a game night. You don’t get to decide if you’ll watch the big game on Sunday afternoon or mow the lawn. You don’t have the option of taking your beloved to the park for a romantic afternoon.

Some people in the world have bigger problems. They worry about their children having enough food, and don’t have time to worry that they’re not eating. They work long hours in poor conditions for minimal earnings, and put it all towards medicines for ailing relatives. They’re oppressed and afflicted by dictators, drug dealers, over-zealous police forces, and yes, terrorist groups.

No one else in the world lives in the comfort we have in the United States, comfort that was made a little less comfortable on September 11. And as much as I hate to say it, we need to realize that God didn’t put us here to be comfortable. He didn’t tell us that we’d always be happy, always be safe, always content.

It’s time to leave our superpower uppity-ness behind us, and embrace a world of hurting people. Are you scared as you stand in line at the airport, eyeing the National Guardsmen and their rifles? Do you fear for your loved ones as they leave the house in the morning? Do you pause before opening your mailbox, wondering what diseases may be coming first class? Do you brace yourself before turning on the news or looking at the front page of the paper? Now you have a small taste of the every day existence of the common person. The Bible calls us to be in this world–and notice that the command refers to the whole world, not just the comfort of America. Life is not microwaves and fast food and instant cash. It is pain and hardship and suffering and the persevering love that someone how comes through. Ask anyone in the world.

It’s a Different World

Last Saturday I spent the day driving from St. Paul to Detroit, and then flying back to St. Paul. It was a long day, but gave me a chance to reflect on some of the events at hand.

Some observations…

The day after we began striking Afghanistan, several hundred protesters showed up outside the Federal building in Minneapolis to protest. There was a good mix of college students and older people (“long-haired hippies who protested the Vietnam War,” as someone on the bus put it, in a tone that made the Vietnam War sound like the Second Coming of Christ). They carried signs that said “An Eye for an Eye Makes a World Blind,” and “Drop Food, not Bombs”–which I found ironic considering we are dropping food.

On my way home I saw lots of American flags–patriotism like we’ve never seen, even during the Gulf War. I also saw close to a dozen billboards reading “In God We Trust. United We Stand.” I’m still not sure what to think
of that.

When I pulled up to the $2 tollbooth on I-90 just east of Chicago, I noticed that the woman taking my money was wearing rubber gloves. I’ve never seen that before.

When my dad dropped me off at the airport, there were three National Guardsmen in camouflage, talking to a police officer. When I got to the security checkpoint, there were three more standing around observing, all with pistols at their sides. I made it through the metal detector fine, but they still made me spread my arms and ran the wand over me. Anything time the wand beeped, they felt the metal to make sure that’s all it was–including the snap on my jeans. When the guy was almost done, he asked me to lift my feet, and he ran the wand over the soles of my shoes. I watched others go through the checkpoint–anyone with a belt had to remove it, and I saw a number of people have to put their shoes through the x-ray machine.

When I did finally board the plane, I had to check my backpack. Purses, laptops, and diaper bags were the only carry-ons allowed. I put a couple books and a notebook in a plastic CompUSA bag, and felt like a refugee.

When I got off the plane in Minneapolis, we weren’t greeted by anyone. Passengers only. As we rounded the corner and walked down the stairs to the baggage claim, three more National Guardsmen were standing guard–but these guys had M-16’s over their shoulders. One of them looked like he was 18.

It’s a different world.

That’s the way it is.

That’s the way it is. One day you’re three and a half, curled up in your grandfather’s lap, a moment captured on black and white film. The next thing you know you’ve got bills and rent and car payment and the alarm goes off before the sun comes up. Life.

A country’s at war and you long for the presidential statements of history, but all you get is a Texan who stutters when he thinks, repeats himself, and mispronounces common words. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, he’s been impressive the past month, but you want something more. You want speeches that go down in the history books, audio sound bytes that our children will remember. Instead you get E-raq instead of Iraq, and Is-slam instead of Islam.

Life is never as dramatic as we’d like it to be. And then sometimes it’s so much more dramatic. The tragic happens and we can only cover our mouths and gasp. We’ve been trained to look for life through the camera lens, for life through the director’s eyes. Fast, well-timed edits: shot of the gas pedal to the floor, cut to the car cruising down the street, cut to driver’s view, cut to stick shift, dropping to third, cut to pedal shot again, back to driver’s view, back to bird’s eye watch the car swerve, shot of the driver spinning the wheel, all the while the soundtrack thumping in the background. Is that what life’s supposed to be like? Bring your own soundtrack?

If your life was a soundtrack, who would be on it? If your life was a movie, who would star? If your life was a novel, who’d be the author?

Questions and answers, more questions than answers, more answers than questions. And you’re always rehashing. They say drop food not bombs, and we are–but you still can’t win. That’s the way it is.

Missionary in Afghanistan

The other night on the news I saw a story about a missionary in Afghanistan. They called him the only free American in the country. The only other Americans in the country have been arrested on charges of trying to covert Muslims to Christianity. He spoke with a slight Carolina drawl, but worked with the local people trying to bring aid and relief. He had no desire to flee the country in the wake of U.S. attacks. In fact, he saw it as a greater opportunity to show the people of Afghanistan love.

That is true Christianity in action.