Christian Environmentalism

Last night I mentioned a new ad campaign attempting to link religion and environmentalism, What Would Jesus Drive? It’s a slick idea, and about time. In my experience the church has been pretty anti-environment. Christians often mistrust tree-huggers as whacked out new-agers who care more about plants and animals than people.

But those fundamentalist ideas are dying. A casual poll of my youth group shows that pollution and environmental problems are seen as the biggest issues in the world today. The next generation cares about the planet, and it’s about time we returned to Biblical values. Psalm 104 reads like any nature writing from the 20th century: “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work,” (Psalm 104: 10-13, NRSV).

Environmentalism is also getting another boost, from nationalism as well as from simple human compassion. I’m eager to see if in the next 50 years or so we’re forced into caring about the environment or if it’s more of a gradual shift that comes about because people want it to. It’s a lot harder to say you love your grandchildren and have gone the route of the first option.

What Would Jesus Drive?

Why are people so dumb? It’s a question I have to ask myself a lot. Almost as much as another question I ask a lot, why are Christians so dumb? Some Christians get so worked up over the evil in the world. They see bad things happening and they go through the roof. They want this movie canceled, that commentator fired, this book burned–when all those things are really just mirrors reflecting the evil in society. That’s not a justification, it’s a simple fact. Rather than run around trying to break mirrors, why don’t we do something about the reality?

It seems to me that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t go for the smoke and mirrors of pop culture, entertainment, or politics. He didn’t go for the cover of Time magazine or a spot on prime time. He didn’t try to get elected to a political office. He just went to where he was needed the most–the people.

He didn’t picket, riot or complain. He didn’t wring his hands, join a commune, or pull out of public school. He didn’t write a letter to the editor or have a discussion over coffee or write a book about how things should be done. He just did what should be done.

The world is sinful. We know. So are you. Knowing how bad we are isn’t the solution. And telling someone that Jesus is the solution doesn’t cut it. It’s what writing teachers always say: show, don’t tell. You have the solution, just live it. Stop your pissing and moaning, because that’s not the message you’re preaching.

So I’m pondering about the stupidity of Christians, and just when I think I’m done, I decide to go off on another tangent and check out the What Would Jesus Drive campaign. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a pretty interesting approach to promoting efficient vehicles. It’s something the church should be promoting. It’s obviously not as important as spreading the Gospel, but it’s better than picketing homosexuals. Lots better.

So anyway, I went to check out the What Would Jesus Drive site, and I typed in instead. It’s a rather whacked site, but the guy does make one point that I thought was priceless: “So remember, when you’re driving around in your SUV… I don’t care if you have a Jesus-fish on it… [you’ll] still be flipping each other off…” Which really sums up my point nicely. It doesn’t matter what pseudo-Jesus bandwagon you’re jumping on, it’s a wash if you’re just like a Pharisee. The guy may have some strange pictures on his website, but he makes a good point.

And now, thanks to the guy, I have seen the most sacrilegious website ever: And you thought was bad.

Begging for CDs

I hate begging for money. Yet I work for a non-profit organization and it’s part of the job. It’s not my job, thankfully, but we always have to keep donations in the back of mind. I can’t tell you how many times we’re reminded that the organization is supported by thousands of little old ladies who send in one dollar every month. The freaky thing is it’s no exaggeration.

For the first time in their history the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has put out a gift catalog. It’s basically one more way of begging for money, with the added bonus that you can decide where your money goes. You support whatever you want to support, assuming it’s in the catalog. It’s similar to the humanitarian support where you donate $50 to buy a goat for a family in Africa. Only with the BGEA, you’re giving money to evangelism projects.

One of those projects is the Backstage Pass CD-ROM. is the teen Web site of the BGEA, and the main focus of my job. This year we made these CD-ROMs to give to teens at BGEA events. The CD has a video presentation of the Gospel from a number of different Christian artists. They explain salvation in simple language, and teens can pray at the end. The CD also has the entire NIV Bible, a Bible reading plan, an introduction to the Web site, and exclusive access to a special “backstage” section of the Web site that includes more videos and articles. Backstage Pass CD-ROM
It’s a cool project and a powerful way to extend the Gospel at a Billy Graham Mission. All these teens are wearing these CDs around their necks as they listen to the music and the message. For the kids who don’t come forward at the invitation, they can go home and pop this CD in their computer and hear the message again on their own terms. And for the teens who do come forward at the event or who already are Christians, it introduces them to the perfect follow-up tool, a vast discipleship resource that’s updated weekly. It also gives those teens a cool and hip way to share the Gospel with their friends.

My point in all this is that the BGEA put the Backstage Pass CD-ROM in their gift catalog. For the suggested donation of $1 per CD, you can help put these CD-ROMs in the hands of teens. Despite my dislike for fundraising, I think this is something worth supporting. So if you like what you’re hearing, please donate some cash for these CD-ROMs.

You can hear a report on the CD-ROMs (listen to the first segment, “Billy Graham Youth Web Site”) from Decision Today (the BGEA’s daily radio show), which includes some quotes from my coworkers and I.

Pretentious Literary Snot

Sometimes I’m a pretentious literary snot. Unlike most debt-ridden, almost-newlywed, post college twenty-somethings, my wife and I have a library of nearly 800 books (and the number swells monthly). Now we justify it by picking up the books cheap at the used section of Barnes & Noble, where I balk at paying anything over $5 for a book. The 88-cent paperback table is my favorite gold mine.

But sometimes I think all these books make me a bit of a snot. I ride the bus to work and read quite a lot, and I take great pride in telling people how many books I read. Last year I read around 35, and this year I’m on a pace to break 50. I keep a list of the books I read each year, and every time I finish a book and need to select a new one from the shelves, I go over that list in my head and try to find a writer I haven’t read lately. I’d like to say I do this to have some literary diversity, to give myself a broad spectrum of influences, to hear voices from many different cultures, races, genders, societies and times. And that may be true, but I also like having an impressive list of authors I’ve read.

I’ve already read an Anne Lamott book this year, so I pass her up for Barbara Kingsolver, whom I haven’t read since last year. I’ve actually read a few Frederick Buechners, so I better stay away from him. I haven’t read Maya Angelou yet, and I should be able to say that I know why the caged bird sings. Apparently just knowing isn’t enough.

And all this week while reading Maya Angelou’s famous book I keep hoping people notice what book I’m reading. I want them to see this uppity, suburban white boy reading some black literature. I understand your pain. I feel the sting of racism and stand by you in solidarity. That’s what I think. But my actions betray me. Some relative will make a remark about coons and rather than speak my mind I stay silent. I may be seething, and will later consult with my other solidarity-minded relatives and quietly condemn the racist among us, but I never extinguish the hot spark of racism like I probably should. As I walk to my wife’s work in what some would call the wrong end of town I watch my back and pay more attention than I should to each passing car, each African American pedestrian.

I’m as sorry as the rest of them, and it makes me sad.

The other day I was contemplating writing a book about riding the bus and reading books, yet another of the book ideas that cross my mind and slowly slip away unwritten. But the idea of appearing a pompous literary ass who quotes books to sound important soured me.

I like to think I read books because I like to read, not because I want to be important. And I think the best evidence for that is the fact that I’m so quickly swept into the rhythmic plot of a book that I quickly forget to underline witty passages or pay attention to the arrangement of words and sentences the way most writers do. I just read and read, as fast as I can, barreling toward the end of the book to find out what happened.

And maybe that’s how it’s done: being so wrapped up in humanity and discovery and holiness that we don’t realize the passage we quoted is Shakespeare, or the man we befriended is black.

Mmm… DVD

About 11 months ago I got my first DVD and quickly realized how cool digital technology is. At the time I didn’t have a DVD player and had to be content simply sitting in front of my DVD-equipped PC. But I still realized the potential.

Aside from all the obvious advantages like the discs not wearing out like VHS tapes and being able to jump into any point on the DVD and all the extra stuff and how much you can cram into a DVD — aside from all that stuff there are some really cool advantages to DVD. The best thing is being able to take something you really like and translate it into a different medium. With a DVD’s crystal clear sound and near-perfect picture, you can export those niceties to other areas. It’s a stupid example, but you can grab an awesome screen shot from a DVD and use it for your desktop. It’s the lamest example, but it illustrates how much cooler DVD is over VHS.

Tonight I took the advantages of DVD one step further: I made an audio CD from a DVD. It doesn’t sound that exciting, but when you put it in the right context, it’s awesome. The best DVDs you can get are live concerts. They sound awesome. The only problem is that you’re limited to a DVD player. I don’t have one of those in my car. However, the DVD is digital. Why not pull the audio off the DVD and burn it on an audio CD? My friends, it’s not easy, but it’s possible. Welcome to the future.

Of course there are some legal concerns, but as long as you’re doing this kind of thing for personal use only (which I am), you’re good to go. I now have half of U2‘s Elevation 2001: Live from Boston DVD on an audio CD. And it sounds great. Mmm… technology.

Martyr vs. Dork

I’d rather be a martyr than a dork. This idea was expressed at the youth group I volunteer at last night. The teens seem to embrace the idea of martyrdom without a problem. But what becomes a more difficult is actually standing up for your faith and still having to live your life. Martyrdom has the perk that you only have to make your stand once. There’s no awkward tension or reputation you have to worry about. You may undergo some pain, but then it’s all over. You don’t have to get up the next day and face it all over again. But when standing up for your faith doesn’t result in death, but instead results in rejection and humiliation–that’s much harder to take. It’s actually easier to die for your faith than to live for it.

Exercising Democracy

I Voted.I like exercising democracy. There’s something powerful about it, and rightfully so. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18 (yep, all three of ’em), but tonight was the first time I actually went to the polls and voted. In past years I’ve voted by absentee ballot. This was also my first time voting as a resident of Minnesota–it will probably be my last.

I like the energy of going to the polls, the energy of being with all these other folks who want to flex their democratic might. I may be one vote in a million, but I am one vote in a million. My biggest regret was that I didn’t get an “I Voted” sticker. When you vote by absentee ballot you don’t get a sticker (though you do get a thin, stubby pencil), but I was hoping to cash in tonight. Alas, they must have run out or something, because I didn’t get a sticker. That’s my wife’s sticker. She voted earlier in the day when they were still handing out stickers. It’s really a form of bribery: if you vote, you get a sticker. But you’re really only cool if you go early in the morning so you can gloat all day long with your sticker: “Look at me! Look at me! I’m a responsible American.” Which really is something worth gloating about.

My only regret about voting at the polls is the lack of readiness. I had to do all my research ahead of time and come prepared with a little cheat sheet. Then, standing at the little booth, I had to match up my scrawled offices with the long, official names printed on the ballot, then try to fill in the appropriate circle. There was no second guessing, no chance to run back to the Web site and make sure I’m voting for the right person, no time to research the County Soil and Water Commissioner, who I didn’t have a chance to research (as if anybody has any information on that guy–I just wrote in Bono). That’s probably the biggest advantage to absentee ballot voting: you can vote in your underwear at 2:00 a.m. while sitting in front of your computer reading each candidate’s views. I guess next time I need to be a little more prepared for the onslaught of no-name judges I have the privilege of voting for. They may be running unopposed, but who knows if I’m voting for Satan-incarnate and I’d be better off writing in my cube buddy at work.

I had a hard time deciding who to vote for this year. I was one of those “undecided’s,” who figured out who I was voting for during afternoon break. (Note to politicians: any candidate who doesn’t have a simple, clear Web site outlining where they stand on the major issues is a moron. You didn’t get my vote because you’re living in the past, man.) I didn’t know who to vote for because I don’t like taking the typical Christian stance. You’ve heard this rant before, and I’ve seen it more and more often from others. I don’t vote on party lines. God’s not a Republican, he’s not a Democrat, he’s not a Green, and he’s not an Independent. He might be a Libertarian, but I kind of doubt that.

Every time I compare candidates I see losers all around. I see a great stance by Joe Schmo on abortion, but then he seems to value the lives of the rich over the poor. Apparently he’s willing to protect an unborn child’s right to life, but he’s not willing to protect a hungry child’s right to eat. Then there’s the other guy, Bob Somebody, who wants to feed those hungry kids, but then doesn’t see the need to protect the unborn children. I refuse to cast my vote based on one issue, siding with the evil minions who happen to help old ladies cross the street in addition to all their mayhem, simply because helping old ladies cross the street is good. The other guy’s not much better, he does good deeds throughout the week, but then for kicks on Friday nights likes to run over old ladies as they cross the street. You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.

Republican, Democrat, whatever. I’m just glad we can finally stop watching those irritating campaign commercials. I decided not to vote for one guy after he had his own daughter stumping for him in a commercial. How low is that?

So what did the politicians learn tonight? Have a good Web site and don’t put your children in your commercials. Thanks and good night.

PS – the new U2 came out today: The Best of 1990-2000. Mmm… U2.