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It seems every year retailers are pushing holiday seasons earlier and earlier. I walked through the home improvement giant, Lowe’s the day after Halloween and saw Christmas decorations, holiday goodies, and Christmas lights already on sale. Was that too early or is it just me?

This year, maybe my anecdotal evidence is backed up with fact. The Associate Press published an article entitled, “All Day Shopping Frenzy on Thanksgiving?”. The article reports on how retailers are trending to open  stories on Thanksgiving instead of the day after:

It’s a break with tradition. Black Friday, which typically is the year’s biggest shopping day, for a decade has been considered the official start to the busy holiday buying season… Meanwhile, Thanksgiving and Christmas remained the only two days a year that stores were closed.

Now Thanksgiving is slowly becoming just another shopping day. Over the past few years, major retailers, including Target and Toys R Us, slowly have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night to one-up each other and compete for holiday dollars.

This year, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving, including a handful like Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Staples that are doing it for the first time… Indeed, retailers say they’re just doing what shoppers want… That’s an important opportunity for chains, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the last two months of the year.

Based on this evidence, retailers are pushing up holidays to sell goods. More and more, our holidays (both religious and non-religious) are turning into opportunities for retailers to draw in consumers to buy and well, consume. Thanksgiving is now no different. What remained as the last holiday were retailers did not make their employees work, has now turned Thanksgiving into another shopping mecca.

This is what I call ThanksgivingizationContinue Reading…

New York Times gets Senate prayer wrong


Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, our government is at a budget impasse and everyone is mad as hell. Senate Chaplain Rev. Barry Black, a retired Navy rear admiral, gave a Senate prayer that the  New York Times reported as “scolding”:

The disapproval comes from angry constituents, baffled party elders and colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. But nowhere have senators found criticism more personal or immediate than right inside their own chamber every morning when the chaplain delivers the opening prayer.

The New York Times entitled the article, “Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding” – written by Jeremy W. Peters – highlighted Rev. Black’s prayer as some sort of religious finger shaking.  When you read and watch the prayer, one immediately can connect to the honesty of the situation:

Continue Reading…

Jesus, the original hipster?


A new ad aimed at making Jesus more culturally relevant has a major church working to re-brand the image of Jesus.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn started a campaign that is gaining national attention. The ad has captured the attention of pop culture with picturing Jesus as the “original” hipster.  Apparently Chuck Taylor All Stars are the key to making Jesus hip:

Apparently Converse’s “Chuck Taylor” sneakers are a favorite choice of footwear of both the Pope and Jesus Christ. And why shouldn’t they be? They are comfortable, colorful, and according to Seth Meyers in his SNL Weekend Update, are why more Catholics are returning to church.

Catholics yearn for a Church they can relate to. That is what Seth Meyers was jokingly referencing, and that is what the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn’s new “All Faces, Everyday Understanding” marketing campaign is trying to achieve.

This isn’t the first time we have seen a hipster Jesus in print. In 2012, Time Magazine featured a modern looking Jesus on its front cover.

Is this ad simply a fun attention getter or a real attempt to bring young people into the pews? According to CNN, the ad has helped the Brooklyn Diocese’s website to see traffic increase by 400%. Certainly, a metric of tracking interest.

Ads like these help generate discussion and interest, but will that translate into more people in churches? Most likely not. Posting an ad on the streets will not solely translate into the masses attending church. Other changes need to be made in order to reach young people. Investment in young people in church ministry requires a coordinated effort.

As for Jesus as the original hipster, he certainly hung out with outcasts and not with popular people. That certainly made Jesus cool to the least of these. Perhaps that means he is attractive to young people today.

Discussion: Is this ad a real way to win young people back to church or is it all hype?

Breastfeeding in church?

breastfeeding in church

I’m a pretty big proponent of moms doing their thing. Moms deal with long hours, spending most of their time with kids, and generally have a thankless job. They work hard for no or little pay!  Mamas are great. My wife is one. Some of my best friends are moms.

Apparently in Fort Worth, Texas, a mama battle is brewing. It breaks my heart that folks can be so harsh on the mamas. And, the battle surrounds a church, of all places. reports:

Three simple letters — “Ick” — set off a firestorm after being published as part of a response to a question about the propriety of breastfeeding during a church service… The article — titled Distracting Behavior — resulted in hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, and Facebook posts bashing Molly Forthright’s “For What It’s Worth” advice column in the March issue of Fort Worth Magazine.

“I was in church last Sunday, and a woman in the row ahead of me began breastfeeding halfway through the service,” said the person seeking advice in the article. “I’m a big proponent of women breastfeeding their babies, but it was very distracting during a time that I wanted to focus on the sermon … What is proper church etiquette?”

How did the columnist respond?

“Ick. I know that many think a woman providing nourishment to her baby is a beautiful and natural thing, but putting on a show in the house of the Lord is unacceptable in my book,” Forthright replied. “In fact, I can’t think of a place in public where I would want to ever see that.”

The fallout from breastfeeding-gate brought a threat of a nurse-in outside the magazine’s headquarters in Fort Worth.

It is not clear the circumstances surrounding breastfeeding in this church. As a pastor, I don’t have a problem with breastfeeding in church. Moms have fed their children in my church. Usually, moms are pretty discreet about it.  Our church features comfortable “gliders” for nursing moms.  I can only imagine in Jesus’ day, when moms were in the temple, mothers had to breastfeed when their baby was hungry. I see breastfeeding in church as a mom doing what moms do.

What do you think? Is breastfeeding in church what mothers should do? Or, thou shall not breastfeed in thy church? 

Comment using Facebook below or use the comment section at the bottom of this post.

Mumford: Don’t call me Christian welcomes Greg Mamula as a contributing blogger. 

I have become a big Mumford and Sons fan.  Before you cast me into some “band-wagon” “fair-weather” pop culture music participant, I must say I first listened to Mumford about two and half years ago and wore out their first album “Sigh No More” long before they were ever on American radio.  Their lyrics are powerful, their music is catchy, and their live performances are some of the best around.

I actually first saw them on a  live TV performance before I ever knew much about them.  I was inspired by the passion of performance and the fact the lead singer Marcus played a kick drum, while playing guitar, and singing at the same time. Their lyrics are full of religious overtones.  Huff Religion references a Rolling Stone Magazine article on the band’s spiritual lyrics:

During an interview last month, the Rolling Stone reporter, Brian Hiatt, asked Mumford whether he “still consider(s) himself a Christian. “Mumford gave the following answer: “I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. … I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.” His spiritual journey is a “work in progress,” Mumford said, adding that he’s never doubted the existence of God and that his parents are unbothered by his ambivalence toward the Christian label. 

I am a Christian and clergy to boot. For me it has strained relationships with family members, friends, and strangers I meet.  It is always a little awkward at first when I am sitting on an airplane or getting a hair cut and having someone ask, “So what do you do?”  Because “what I do” is in fact “who I am.” So when I say, I’m a minister, or I work with all the denominational churches in a region, I mostly just get blank stares.  They don’t know what to say or do to that response.

When I travel and people learn that I am a Christian, they respond in two ways. First if they are Christian they want to tell me all the things we have in common and assume we interpret the faith in identical ways.  This is often true but sometimes it is not.  It makes me grateful the Christian tent is a large one that can hold all sorts of people and perspectives.  Or people respond a second way, they want to tell me all the things wrong with the church, why they have never been or won’t go back, that we need to stop trying to be involved in politics, and how judgmental Christians are.  And usually they are right.

Mumford’s lyrics clearly demonstrate someone who wrestles with his faith more than most self identified Christians.  He uses biblical imagery that rivals that of Johns Gospel. He might not self identify as a Christian but he certainly believes in resurrection (see Roll Away Your Stone), redemption (see Lover of the Light), forgiveness (see Awake my Soul, Broken Crown, I Will Wait),  a new heaven and new earth (see After the Storm), and genuine love (see Blank White Page, Lion Man, Lovers Eyes).  Sure he uses the F word sometimes but I think it speaks to his honest passion and frustration with his humanity and need of healing.

Perhaps he is more Christian than he gives himself credit for.  Perhaps he just doesn’t want to have awkward conversations with reporters.  Perhaps like the Huff Religion article states, he “falls between Dorothy Day’s famous “Don’t call me a saint — I don’t want to be dismissed so easily,” and Soren Kierkegaard’s, “Once you label me you negate me.”

So take them or leave them for their music.  But don’t deny their journey or yours.  We are all works in progress.  My prayer is that you are willing to simply get on the path.

Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister for American Baptist Churches of Nebraska.

When religious isn’t religious

As I started my daily read of newspapers, I was shocked (well, disappointed) to learn that our region was one of the least religious regions in America. A new Gallup poll found that, “Only 26 percent of those surveyed in this area say they are very religious, which puts the Albany-Schenectady-Troy region in ninth place among the least religious of the 189 areas polled.” Is this a situation when ‘religious’ isn’t religious?

What is frustrating about this statistic is that as you ride through the Albany region is that there are four to six churches per town. In my town, Ballston Spa, New York  there are six churches in a one mile radius. That is a tight area with a lot of churches. Those churches represent a range of Christian sects: Baptist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic. That doesn’t even count smaller non-Christian groups.

With so many churches in this area, you’d think that if you build it, people will come. That was true 50 years ago when returning men from War World II were looking to join a civic community were church attendance was expected.

The trouble with using a term ‘religious’ in a poll is that the word “religious” is seen as a pejorative term. As another Times Union article points out, that if the poll used the word “spiritual” the results may have been different. And, using both terms of “spiritual” and “religious” would most likely yield a higher religious or spiritual affiliations. Case in point, a Rasmussen poll found that 54% of American adults feel at least “somewhat connected” to their local church. In addition, 34% said they are “very connected.” The poll did not ask respondent’s religious affiliation. Church connection is another way to measure religious affiliation.

In 2013, ‘religious’ isn’t religious any more. More accurately, the term ‘religious’ carries many negative connotations. Even the term “religious conservatives” carries a reactive wince to many. How many times do we hear the term, “religious liberals”? Almost never. Many would see that term a contradiction but it is not. Most in the media just drop ‘religious’ .

The word religious is not inherently negative, but we Christians and religious folk alike must turn the tide of the negative sediment. In addition, news outlets and polling groups need to understand that they are using outdated and inaccurate terminology. We continue to be a “religious” nation without using the word “religious”.

The War on Easter

As billions of Christians worldwide prepare for Easter this Holy Week, it seems that some television personalities think that our culture is waging a war on Easter. Bill O’Reilly declared on his show that the War on Easter is being waged via the Easter bunny:

But the war on Judeo-Christian tradition continues on in some public school districts… in some schools you are not allowed to say the word “Easter.” On Long Island, the East Meadow school district, holding a Spring egg hunt — not Easter eggs, Spring eggs. Same thing in Prospect Heights, Illinois. Manhattan Beach, California. Flat Rock Elementary School in South Carolina, and a school district in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. No Easter. They are having Spring egg events. Moderated by a Spring bunny, at least in San Diego. I know it’s stupid. You know it’s stupid.

There is a difference between saying “you are not allowed to say the word “Easter” and billing an event without the word Easter.  Perhaps it is overly sensitive to have a “Spring Egg Hunt”, but  I’m sure you are allowed to say the word “Easter” as a point of reference. I seriously doubt if two teachers were talking about their spring break plans that they would have to say “The holiday that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection” instead of “Easter”.

When it comes down to it, there’s nothing inherently Judeo-Christian about the Easter Bunny or Easter Eggs. Last time I checked the Bible, the Easter Bunny wasn’t there. There is nothing religious about a giant bunny magically giving children baskets of candy. Saying that there is a war on Easter is an affront to the nature of real wars in which people die.

The very word “Easter” is not very Christian. The modern English word “Easter”  can be traced to an older English word Ēastre or Ēostre or Eoaster, which refers to Eostur-monath, a month that the Germanic peoples named after the goddess Ēostre. The word Easter has connections to pagan rituals of celebrating the spring time. So, to not use the word “Easter” shouldn’t offend Christians.

I don’t believe in the war on Easter. Secular and public institutions are not the keepers of Christianity.  We Christians are keepers of Christianity. If Bill O’Reilly thinks the epitome of Easter is a public school Easter egg hunt, then he seriously misses the core message of Jesus. Perhaps O’Reilly misunderstands Christianity because he also thinks Jesus was killed over taxes.

Let us put down our Easter eggs as weapons and not allow the celebration of Christ’s resurrection be used as television entertainment.

New England mission field is not to be conquered

Having spent over four years in Upstate New York, I’ve experience my fair share of “New England” religion. Though New York is not part of New England, being so close to a New England state has naturally brought its culture over the border. I have church members who are former residents of Vermont, New Hampshire, and a few who grew up with “Chow-dah” and “Hah-vahd”.

New Englanders are hardy folk. They endure harsh winters and only one NFL team for several states. They are compassionate. Simple and respectful. They don’t wear their religion on their sleeve. They are rich and poor. Tall and short. They are Americans just like you and me.

In the last 10 years, several evangelical denominations and faith groups see New England as the last American mission field. This thinking is misguided and sees this region as a place to be conquered as if it was ancient military victory. Yes, everywhere we go is a mission field but the holier than thou attitude that some church planters exhibit smacks of arrogance.

Case in point are the tactics the Southern Baptist Convention is using to plant churches in New England. NPR reported that a church planter walked a traffic island with a very aggressive religious sign to drivers:

It’s not malicious… but they’re church-planting by stealth…On a recent February afternoon, horns honked and a middle finger flew as Cabral walked the traffic island. Drivers also kept engaging him, trying to answer the question on his cross, which he’d explain meant, “Are you ready to face God when you die?” Cabral would share how he knew that he was, then hand out a card with a gospel message and his church’s address.

Is that how New England is seen as a mission field? A place where the first exposure to an evangelism effort forces unsuspecting commuters to be confronted with judgement rather than the love of Jesus Christ? What of the existing congregations trying to reach out to their communities? Often, many of these church planting movements ignore existing churches in order that they reach number goals.

Treating the birth place of American religious freedom like it is a foreign mission field gives no regard to local culture, local needs, and local programs. Theologies of missiology explore existing culture rather than establishing a new culture and religious norm. For instance, recent statistics reflect new church plants instead of focusing on existing ones:

Since 2002, the Southern Baptists have spent roughly $5 million to plant churches around the region, and have another $800,000 committed for this year… They’ve started 133 new churches in that time, a nearly 70 percent increase that brings their regional total to 325.

What about the churches trying to reach their local community? What statistics and funding goes towards strengthening existing churches? Building new churches is a little more sexier than using existing churches. It looks good to show a mission board statistics on new churches. But, initiatives like Transformed by the Spirit seek to empower existing churches to find new life. Not considering what challenges and opportunities exist in current churches ignores the work already being done by other Christians.

Working with existing churches and their struggles is not glamorous as starting a new church. However, there are communities, people, and towns that need their congregations to be renewed and restored. Let us not see the “New England mission field” as a place to be conquered but as a place where we respect local church hopes and dreams.

Rob Bell’s new book and trailer

Author and pastor Rob Bell is no stranger to controversy. His last book, “Love Wins” drew criticism from conservatives that Bell preaches universal salvation theology. Recently, Bell hung up his pastoral duties and now focuses on speaking and writing. There are rumors that he is working on a TV show with some Hollywood producers.

Now, Rob Bell is out with a new book, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God.” His website explains the new book:

Pastor Rob Bell explains why both culture and the church resist talking about God, and shows how we can reconnect with the God who is pulling us forward into a better future. Bell uses his characteristic evocative storytelling to challenge everything you think you know about God. What We Talk About When We Talk About God tackles misconceptions about God and reveals how God is with us, for us, ahead of us, and how understanding this could change the entire course of our lives.

With a new book coming out, Rob Bell released a trailer for his new work:

I’d love to get a copy from his publisher. I’m reviewing a book for John Piper’s publisher and I will be writing my review shortly.

What do you think will be the impact of Rob Bell’s new book?

Best part of ‘The Bible’ was on social media

I really was not expecting much from The History Channel’s “The Bible” but it made for some interesting discussion on social media. Folks on Facebook and Twitter really had fun with the ‘epic’ story.

Many hailed “The Bible” as on par with “The Lord of the Rings”. It wasn’t. One reviewer said, “It has a huge budget, so expect polish and high drama in the mould of historical epics like Game of Thrones. There will be violence. There will be deception. There will be fire.” Well, maybe it wasn’t that epic.

“The Bible” was good. I enjoyed it. I had low expectations. But, this was a History Channel production. I quickly realized that if you want to tell the story of The Bible, you have to have characters like Noah narrating Genesis 1 & 2. You have to take some liberties. Angels fighting with jujitsu, for one. But, the writers managed to make sure Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. With a $22 million budget, you can’t make everything happen.

For “The Bible” didn’t do, it did achieve something notable. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were afire with comments. Here’s a few from Twitter:

Social Media provided the laughs and the show provided the fuel. I’ll keep watching the series, but I think you should check out what is being talked about on social media. Follow me on Twitter for some pithy quotes and witty comments.

History Channel begins epic ‘The Bible’ on Sunday

What is being hailed as an ‘epic’ drama on the scale of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, “The Bible” premiers this Sunday on the History Channel. As many media outlets and TV channels begin focusing biblically related content during Lent, many are excited about the History Channel’s new take on major biblical stories.

Channel Guide Magazine neatly summarizes the show:

History presents the ambitious 10-hour, five-week miniseries The Bible, dramatizing the most famous tales from the Good Book beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation. Stories depicted include the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood, the Exodus, David and Goliath, and the Gospels. The series concludes on Easter with the story of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ.

I will be watching on Sunday with a keen eye. What makes the show interesting is that Survivor producer Mark Burnett is on the project. It makes me wonder, Will Noah get voted off the boat in this series? Condensing the Bible into 10 hours seems like an impossible task, and it is.  Hopefully, the writers did the script justice. When you name a series, “The Bible” there is an expectation that the totality of the Good Word will be covered.

Perhaps what is interesting about this show is why it was created. Former “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey, married to Burnett, felt called to bring the project to life. The Salt Lake City Tribute reports:

“In my prayer and meditation, I imagine somehow running into a stadium carrying this,” Downey said. “The light is not the Olympic torch, the light is the series. And as I come into the stadium, instead of people standing and cheering, I feel like everybody’s running down and grabbing a bit of that light and running with me.”

“Three-and-a-half years ago, I felt the call to do this,” Downey said. “I got my husband to share the vision. He is a great man for making things happen. He doesn’t hear the word no.” Downey said her spouse is “deeply humbled to be given this once-in-a-generation opportunity to breathe new visual life into the Bible’s profound stories.”

I’m always fascinated how Hollywood depicts Bible stories and characters. Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion of the Christ” was a game changer. Will “The Bible” do the same? Find out this Sunday @ 8:00 p.m. ET on the History Channel.

Check back Monday for my analysis of “The Bible”.


The perils of being a Christian athlete

In an electrifying game the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers to become Super Bowl champions of 2013. As Baltimore holds celebrations for their winning sons, reporters will look to uncover any tantalizing details into strategy that won the big game.

Case in point, The Washington Post covered a rumor concerning Ray Lewis‘ use of deer velvet antler spray to win. What!?! This takes performance enhancing drugs to a whole new level. Lewis’ response?

Don’t let people from the outside ever try to disturb what’s inside.’ That’s the trick of the devil. The trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That’s what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you’re trying to do.

Lewis’ faith in God has been well covered. One particular article on his faith in the The New York Times caught my attention with the tile, “A Sinner Holds Tight to Faith And Second Chance.” The article comes right out and jams the two extremes of Lewis’ life: his faith in God and his run ins with the law. During a 2000 Super Bowl party, Lewis was implicated in the murders of two people. The charges were dropped on the condition he pleaded to obstruction of justice and testify at the murder trial. The reporter very clearly had a grasp of Lewis’ conflicted life:

During an interview last year at about this time, I asked Lewis which biblical figure he most closely identified with. Without hesitation, Lewis cited David, who is often depicted as a flawed but righteous king, warrior, musician and poet.

To many, Lewis is seen as hypocrite. He talks about God publicly but his actions do not speak well of his character or faithfulness. Ray Lewis describes himself as David. Perhaps this is a fitting image. A king of the football world, but is flawed by his temptations and behavior. However, this is the peril of being a famous Christian athlete. You struggle with doing the right thing but your mistakes are broadcasted around the world. More than the average person.

There are other more “clean faced” Christian athletes. That is, their failures are smaller, just well hidden, or minimized. Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Jeremy Lin (remember Linsanity?), and Robert Griffin III just to name a few. If any of those guys ever did something wrong, the criticism would be great because the public knows of their Christianity and would be judge more harshly. Why? Because they wear their faith on their sleeve. Their fall from glory is greater because they are viewed as being more virtuous and religious. Those players have told the world they answer to a higher power and our culture sets the piety bar higher.

Ray Lewis, for example, is a guy – a Christian – who tries to follow God. He sins. He fails.  He repents. He is forgiven. He wins football games. He is no better or worse Christian than you or I.  He admits his journey on the road of faith is not an example of piety:

“Trust me, don’t ever take my path… Don’t ever do it the way I did it, because everyone won’t make it. You got to be willing to walk in a storm. That’s what I tell people all the time. If there’s something in your life that you know needs changing, make sure you change it before God’s got to change it. Because if God’s got to change it, you ain’t going to like it.”

The perils of being a Christian professional athlete abound. Let’s not judge them with a higher standard just because they are famous a Christian.   Abraham, Issac, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter all made sinful mistakes. They were called by God to lead God’s people. We tend to remember their successes but not their failures. Just because a professional athlete is a Christian it doesn’t automatically called to role model leaders for Christianity.