Tuesday, June 30

R.I.P. Billy Mays

Recently, TV infomercial superstar Billy Mays died after he was hit in the head with his own luggage. I have to say, he played a bigger role in my life than Michael Jackson ever did. I'm going to miss his frantically cheesy TV spots. Check out this classic Billy Mays moment.

Monday, June 8

Relevant Magazine: A worldly publication, Part 2

PART 2 of 2
If you have not read part one of my critique of Relevant magazine, check it out before reading part 2.

To summarize the previous post, I took a look at Relevant magazine, and I found many confusing and contradicting messages within its visually appealing pages. In part 2, I will look at the overall philosophy and a few more examples of how Relevant magazine is dangerous as it tries to fit in to our sinful culture.

As I read the rest of this magazine, I found more of the same. There is a clear identity crisis. They want to be a positive magazine for young Christians to read, but also want to be “cool” in the eyes of the world’s culture. This works at clear cross purposes. John 17:15-16 states, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as though I am not of it.” Yeah, we are in the world, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy into its evil ways, and be “relevant” with it. Denying the fact that this mag isn’t trying to fit in and be accepted in mainstream terms is a losing battle. Its overall message appears to be one of, “Hey, us Christians are just as cool as you people in the mainstream culture!” Its pages are filled with blurbs and articles that have no value to a Christian’s faith. Does a Christian magazine really have to bio a musician with no ties to Christianity whatsoever (p. 65 “The Record Man”)? Does it have to publish a fluffy interview of a regular contributor to The Daily Show (p. 82 Casinos Would Help)? Are six pages of album and movie reviews necessary, especially when only a handful are Christian, and an even greater number are rated R?

I also take issue with the blatant commercialization of Christianity. For one, half of the articles are promoting various charities. Charities and mission projects are good, but not in the glut that this magazine displays them. As if Christianity was all about giving and helping people. Yes, those are incredible ways to demonstrate God’s love, but not for ourselves, but as a response to the amazing sacrifice on the cross (which is almost never mentioned in this magazine). Chapels at my high school about how some group went on some mission trip to some place always annoyed me. As I sat through 25 minutes of pictures and stories about how awesome we are for helping those less fortunate, I always wondered if we were doing these missions in the name of Christ, or in the name of our Facebook albums and profile pictures. And Relevant magazine also contains pages and pages of advertisements for everything Christian available for purchase. In fact, 37 of the 94 pages were plastered with ads. I don’t like how Christianity is used as a marketing tool here. Not just through t-shirt companies or publishing houses, but by bands who claim to be Christian, but never mention the name of Jesus Christ, cough cough Switchfoot cough. It reminds me of the thieves in the temple before Jesus went in and put a damper on business. To me these companies are only there to make a quick buck off of Christian consumers. When I read a Christian magazine, I don’t want to see advertisements all over the place. I understand that they need to break even (or profit), yet this is too much. But that is the least of my concerns. The whole philosophy of this magazine is skewed.

This magazine takes Christianity and turns it into a good works philosophy. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not even mentioned in the same sentence. Instead, it is replaced with tales of how Bob or Suzy “found God” or about all the good Jonny is doing in Africa. The familiar feel good, emotional side of Christianity bears its empty head once again. The precious few articles dealing with actual important issues of faith are bogged down by law driven tales of what you should and shouldn’t do. An article in the March-April 2009 issue titled “Learning From Liturgy” actually offered a somewhat honest look into the events of Holy week. I was at first impressed. The author, Brandon O’Brian, talked about how he used to be bored and even angry with how his “old fashioned” church portrayed Good Friday. But then he went on to describe the significance and importance of the somber service. Cool, I thought, defense of the church calendar and the significance of Good Friday. He showed that there was more to Christianity than fun, happy coffee hours. But then I thought, why do we need a description of Good Friday and the church calendar? Good Friday is one of the most important events in the Bible, with many prophecies that all pointed toward Calvary, yet, people don’t know what it is? What are churches teaching? Sorry for being naive, but is Good Friday not recognized by other churches? Do they not teach the importance of Christ’s suffering and death? I guess I have never “experienced” this lack of teaching. It seems as if young Christians are grossly undereducated when it comes to what we actually believe. Once again, this magazine illustrated the very unhealthy state of Christianity In fact, this magazine promotes unhealthy faith.

Sure, the magazine is not afraid to talk about God. The other articles are mostly stories about how someone became a Christian or how God saved their life. But none of those stories seem to mention the most important part of the Christian faith; Christ’s death and resurrection. In fact, there is almost no mention of the words “death” and “resurrection” in the same sentence in the ENTIRE MAGAZINE! Was I shouting? Sorry, a Christian magazine not mentioning the death and resurrection of Jesus is something that I would never expect. I don’t see how this magazine can call itself a Christian publication and not mention the most important parts of Christianity. It seems as if the only part that really matters is what we do. Not as a response to Christ’s love, but because we should, according to Relevant. The magazine is obsessed with what we should do, how we should act, and who we should be, that it forgets about the other half, forgiveness. They take the Bible and make it some kind of guide for how we should act, not the message of salvation for those who believe. On page 61, in an article titled “Overtreated,” the author talks on and on about physical pain and sickness, but never even hints at spiritual sickness and the ultimate cure for that ill. Instead, he focuses on what we do. In fact, he even messes up what faith is, saying; “Faith is Job’s demands and active pursuit of the reasons for his suffering, his refusal to accept easy answers.” Really? That is what faith is? I thought it was “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)” I was unaware that faith meant making demands of God. As if we know what is better for us than God does. (This could be a entire blog in itself.) I’m not sure making demands of an all-knowing God is the best idea. How relevant.

Another point that stood out to me was the common idea that supposed “modern” or “contemporary” Christianity can only focus on only law or only gospel at one time. For example, on page 53, in an article titled “A Stealthy Enemy”, Jeff Cook describes sloth, a sin which he says “for many of us, it’s the deadliest.” He goes on to describe the various levels of sloth and pitfalls that come with this sin. And it appears he got it right saying, “It (Aaron Edit-I assume “it” referrers to salvation) is an invitation to escape the void of hell for the soul-engulfing reality of heaven.” Wait, was that a hint of gospel after the law? Well, of course he goes on to talk about how we need to embrace heaven, we need to reorganize, we need to sacrifice, we need an appetite, we need to take a step, we need a commitment, we need to want it, we, we and finally, we. Forget the power of forgiveness or even the immeasurable strength of God to help us; we must do this by ourselves. As if God won’t help us unless we do all those things. That’s a sad message to send to a sinful world. God is there no matter what, no matter how sinful. He always forgives, always loves and always strengthens. He loves even the most slothy of people, and will help us get out of that funk. That’s right, God can help us. We do not have to do all of that to get closer to God by ourselves. I get it; we should certainly not be so slothy about our faith. But we cannot expect to fix that by ourselves. And that’s one of my biggest issues.

This magazine is almost totally focused on ourselves. Our culture. Our actions. What we do. It is a purely selfish and worldly attitude. I could dissect each article, but I think the case is clear. This magazine is of the world. It caters to those who claim to be Christians, but cling to the world. And I am not saying that I am not a part of that group. I just don’t happen to be running a magazine promoting such philosophies. And speaking of Christian magazines, compare this to another Christian publication, Higher Things. From the title it shows the difference between the magazines. Higher Things does not get lost in the sinful stew of this world’s culture, but focuses on Christ. In fact, each article is based on the idea that we are sinful, and there is forgiveness through Christ. Yet, each article deals with a different situation. There are no advertisements, donation pleas or suck up reviews to secular bands. Most of the writers are ordained ministers, not just any writer hired to write whatever. There is a clear purpose in all of the articles to demonstrate the Law and the Gospel. Higher Things is also not afraid to take stands on important issues such as abortion and gay marriage. I found it interesting that Relevant never mentioned these issues once. Sure, they can save Darfur, but it’s probably too controversial to save an unborn child or even take a moral stand on anything. How relevant (or liberal). Higher Things has a solid base, the Bible. The focus in literally on higher things (God), while the focus of Relevant magazine appears to be staying hip in the world as a Christian. As Pastor Bakker of Christ the King Lutheran Chapel at Central Michigan University pointed out to me, who says we aren’t already relevant? Why do Christians have to fit in with the world? We are a part of God’s kingdom, not the world’s. That’s all that should matter. Who cares about the fads and celebrities of this world? Relevant magazine fails to offer anything useful in the greater spiritual sense. It is too bogged down with trying to please the popular culture, and loses focus on Christ and his entire purpose for being on earth. Christ did not come to simply be a model for living our lives, but a Savior. If you want to see some good visuals and a few album reviews, take a look at Relevant magazine. If you want some actual solid Christian reading, stay far away from this watered down, materialistic magazine. Look at the cover, enjoy the pretty pictures of your favorite band, and walk away. In fact, stay as far away from its worldy pages as possible There are far more productive Things you can do with your time.

In writing this, I am not saying that I am a perfect person with no worldly influence in my life. I am very sinful. However, I do not promote that sin in a magazine read by impressionable young minds all over the world. There is a great responsibility when it comes to writing for young people. And I think that Relevant magazine has been recklessly irresponsible based on the contents of its pages. Also, why criticize something Christian? Why be so “divisive”? Why can’t we all be friends and just hug each other? Well, I believe in absolute truth, which means some things in life are right, and some are wrong. Jesus tells us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thess. 5:21-22)” and this magazine failed the test, and embraced evil. I believe it is far more dangerous to let false or weak doctrine pass by in the name of unity than to step on a few toes in the name of truth. If we all just got along as so many people desire, then Christianity would fall apart into a void of subjective truth. We cannot all agree on everything Christian, because there are huge differences between different sides. Yes, we are all saved by Jesus through grace, but that does not mean we can let everything else go free. Paul came down very hard on the early churches that strayed away from the word of God. Sure, it would have been easier for him to let those falsehoods pass, but that would not have been right. Sometimes the truth is not always the softest, most comfortable or easiest way. Everything should be scrutinized to see if it is accordance with God’s will. And that’s not to say that I always do that, or I am a perfect person, but that’s where forgiveness comes into play. We are all sinful and thrive in sin. We can do nothing to get rid of it. We cannot buy heaven, choose Jesus or save ourselves. Salvation is a free gift, where Jesus came to us through his death and resurrection on the cross. A magazine should base its contents on that, not on fitting into a sinful world.

Epilouge #2: Hey, at least Relevant Magazine is relevant enough to follow me on twitter...

Monday, June 1

Relevant Magazine: A worldly publication

Part one of two.

The word “relevant” caught my eye last year. I saw it on the magazine shelf in my high school’s library, in the form of a magazine title. Of course, plastered on the cover was none other than trendy blasphemer Rob Bell. I didn’t give it much thought because I figured it was another article gloating over how many people sip lattes with Jesus at Mars Hill. Then I came across the magazine again. I actually opened it to see what was happening on its colorful pages. I could not have been more disappointed and saddened. This magazine, with its apparently edgy slogan of “God. Life. Progressive Culture,” once again illustrated to me the sad state of Christianity. Here is a magazine that claims to be on the cutting edge of Christian writing, but a closer look reveals a flaky, hollow and nearly Christ-less message sent out to readers all over the world.

Let’s look at the positive side of this glossy mag. I got a hold of the most recent issue, and I am working my way through the back issues right now. This magazine is indeed stimulating. Visually, that is. It pages are chock full of the edgiest graphics, fonts and titles. There are interesting pictures and slick looking advertisements. The table of contents is even in the back! (How very edgy!) Bold pull-out quotes and chaotic text alignments separate this magazine from the traditionally accepted style of columns, rows and uniformity. But the compliments will end there. Like I said, this magazine is about as watered down as it gets.

Let’s go back to that title. There it sits, boldly perched atop the cover, daring anyone to think otherwise. Here is my interpretation of the title’s intentions based on the contents of the magazine. For this mag, “Relevant” means real life. Like they have something more to offer to the average teen, something that applies directly to our (I am 19) lives. They are up with the times, and not stuck in the past. This is about a new kind of Christian, one that can have a good time and love God with all their heart. This mag gets us, man! At least that’s what I think they are going for based on the overall attitude found within its pages.

As a Christian, the magazine’s content scares me. We are supposed to be in the world, and not of it. Meaning, yeah, we are on this sinful planet, but that does not mean we should engage in sinful activity, or “do as the Romans do.” This magazine appears to try and blend Christianity and the world into one convenient smoothie, ready to be consumed at a trendy coffee shop. I think this mix is not only dangerous, but spiritually fatal. Mixing the trends and popularities of the world with the Christian faith is a recipe for disaster (clich├ęd pun intended). On page 37, in an article titled “The Rise of the Ironic Class” the magazine appears to address this danger saying, “We are a growing class of ironists who speak in terms of pastiche, Internet bits and pop culture bites, film quotes, and song lyrics, and “oh no she didn’t!” tabloid tomfoolery.” I agree. However, this article on irony turns out to be incredibly ironic itself. Let’s flip to the beginning. Once you make your way through all of the advertisements, you get to the actual magazine. Is it filled with Christian writing, bible verses or even a mention of Christ? No, it is instead full of the same celebrity gossip that was called “tomfoolery” later. Examples include: News about a Spiderman musical put on by U2, Summer movie highlights, a great deal on a Disney vacation (hope it’s not gay day), George Clooney’s take on Darfur, Seth Rogen’s next movie role, info on the Metallica/Megadeath feud, info on Heath Ledger’s movie, Michael Jackson Tour news with comments from Chris Martin and info on the Go Green Expo in Atlanta. It’s all pivotal stuff, right? There is not even an attempt at acting like a Christian magazine until an article on page 22. And that’s a long time, considering the amount of text crammed into a page. But the stupid and immature gossip mentioned above is the tame stuff. There are worse examples from other issues. I assume that when a magazine puts something in its pages without any kind of disclaimer or warning, they are promoting it. Well, should a Christian magazine really be promoting Katy Perry (sings “I Kissed a Girl”), Kanye West (noted womanizer), Paul McCartney (noted atheist and God hater), Seth Rogen, “the irresistible-but-fun cop in Superbad”(translation-the foul mouthed idiot in a movie purely about teenage sex, who also starred in a movie called Zak and Miri Make a Porno), Lupe Fiasco concerts (Lupe is a Muslim), and music festivals (translate-drug fests)? The magazine even had the audacity to use the word “awesome” and “Tha Carter III” in the same sentence. Tha Carter III is the latest album from rapper Lil Wayne, whose lyrics are almost always about sex, drugs or violence. So Lil’ Wayne is awesome, which is the same adjective used to describe God in many contemporary songs. Either this magazine uses diction incredibly recklessly, or awesome is just another meaningless term thrown about for dramatic effect. Probably both. Right from the start, this magazine is about as worldly as People magazine. How Relevant.

Once you get past all the mindless gossip you get to the articles. Of course this comes after the 4 million advertisements, mostly about love and inspiration (there is a fee of course). It seems that in order to understand God, we all have to attend at least 30 youth gatherings. The articles shocked me. I read the whole June issue, and I am reading the back issues, and I am amazed that this magazine thinks they are such a strong Christian beacon in the world. The first actual article in the June issue is all about how Christians are branding themselves with Christian merchandise instead of actually focusing on their faith. I agree. But once again, the irony of this magazine surfaces. Half of the mag is ads for Christian clothes, merchandise, albums and any other way to brand yourself as a Christian. How can a magazine denounce this branding in one article, then promote it in the rest? The message is, “buy these clothes, support this mission and listen to these albums,” and not actually talking about salvation, forgiveness, sin or any other major aspect of the Christian faith. It is a very mixed message. Speaking of mixed messages, let’s take a look at the cover.

Plastered boldly on the cover is the band Kings of Leon, with the title “Sex, God, & Rock ‘n’ Roll” In the interview, writer Matt Conner gloats over how KoL is so original because they were sheltered from pop music early on. They are so unique, so different, so refreshing, bla bla bla. I have read this article countless times. You can literally fill in the blanks with numerous bands that have the same story (The White Stripes, Brand New, We Are Scientists, etc). But Conner’s softball questions and inability remain objective is not my major problem. My issue is the fact that Christ is never mentioned in the cover story of a Christian magazine! Sure they talk about how a few members were brought up as Pentecostals, but one of their producers later talked about making the album, saying, “There was drinking and partying, and that promotes a fun atmosphere. But it sometimes can create an aggressive atmosphere.” Well, that’s a great lifestyle to promote in a Christian magazine. The author tried to paint a pretty picture of this band, when the picture doesn’t exist. He says, “As Followill (KoL’s producer) explains, they’re still involved with charitable causes and their daily life consists of prayer and the occasional jaunt to church-at least for mom’s sake. ‘We still give money to churches that are in need. We’re still pretty active as far as being charitable. Every now and then, like on Easter Sunday, we will go to church.” And that’s the best the author could do to spin this band with a Christian message. I can hardly believe that Conner was serious. Even if a good writer conducted this interview and wrote this feature, he or she could not possibly spin this band, who sings about drinking, prostitutes and cocaine, into a quality group of Christian dudes. Keep in mind this is the cover story, and this article is totally pro-KoL. So attending church because of sheer parental guilt only on Christmas and Easter is a good example? Simply giving money to a church makes someone a Christian? Keep in mind Kings of Leon is on the cover. How Relevant.

Those are a few examples of how Relevant magazine fails to be the strong Christian magazine it portrays itself as. Come back on Friday for my review of the magazine as a whole, and how its philosophies can lead young and old Christians astray.