Category Archives: Christianity

Hell, Here We Go Again

*Originally posted at Sacred Duty, my Chron.com blog

Just when you thought the impassioned discussion about Rob Bell and his theology “about heaven and hell and the fate of every person who ever lived” was going to fade quietly into the distance, several publishers thought it might be a good idea to get everyone riled up again.

Back in March of this year Christian pastor Rob Bell got the whole Evangelical universe into a general freak-out mode when he released a teaser video and then a few weeks later launched his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven and Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Following the teaser video there was a Twitterverse and blogosphere explosion, resulting in a lot of name calling and back-and-forth. Rob Bell went from hip-young-evangelical-pastor to black-rimmed-glasses-wearing-heretic-evangelical-pariah overnight (read more about When All Hell Breaks Loose in the Evangelical Twitterverse). Then the book came out and the reviews started coming in. Conservative neo-Calvinist Evangelical leaders decried the book’s theology and Scriptural interoperation about heaven and hell and made it clear that a) Bell is a universalist and b) that he is WAY off the track of orthodox Evangelical Christianity.

At the time there were plenty of soul-searching and Scripture-exploring Christians, skeptics and de-churched individuals seeking out the truth, reading the book, perusing the blogs and lamenting the whole “he said…no, she said” environment of the (dialogue, discussion, debate) drag-out fight.

As the religious community and the general public got over the initial news, many thought Bell’s Love Wins was going to recede into the background and that the Evangelical climate would calm. They were wrong. Rushing their tomes to press, influential publishers, teachers and authors are reviving the debate and hitting back at Rob Bell for his proposed hell heresy. The editor for HarperOne, the publishing company behind Love Wins, Mickey Maudlin says he is sad to see no less than six different ripostesbeing penned and printed to counter Bell and his newest book. Of those six I know of three prominent pieces: Waterbrook Multnomah Press’ forthrightly titled Hell, Rob Bell and What Happens When People Die, Mark Galli with his God Wins and Evangelical super-pastor Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell.

With all the publishing publicity the blogs, Tweets, book reviews, videos and articles on Rob Bell and his theology of heaven and hell are starting to pop up yet again. If this were not enough to clue me in to the fact that the debate is really just getting started I received three messages just this last week asking for my perspective on Love Wins, Rob Bell and the whole theological debacle. Certainly, with the ongoing discussion, the staying power of Bell’s book on the bestseller list and the release of several new titles on the topic it is clear that the Evangelical community is in for a protracted review of its doctrines of heaven and hell.

So, religious community and Evangelical universe, brace yourselves for another round of “hell-ish” discussion, because here we go again.

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Why Religious Conservatives Aren’t Winning the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

*Originally posted at Sacred Duty.

You may not have heard, but New York passed a small bill concerning same-sex marriages this week. A few people reported on it.

Note. Sarcasm. Here.

In the words of San Diego’s finest, Ron Burgundy, the news is “kind of a big deal.”

No doubt you, the reader, heard that New York passed a bill in favor of same-sex marriage. No doubt you read articles in favor of the bill and against it. No doubt your opinion was already formed before the news broke. No doubt your opinion will not change after reading this blog, or any other blog for that matter. Your opinion is already formed based on your cultural perspective and interpretation of the Bible.

One such pre-formed opinion came from Professor Lee Jefferson of Centre College who wrote a popular article entitled “What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gay Marriage?” for the Huffington Post. In it he contends that, “the Bible is a complicated collection of documents that was never meant to ‘speak’ to our contemporary situation” and that opponents to same-sex marriage misinterpret the Bible as they use Scripture to decry marriage for homosexuals and fight to “maintain the sanctity of marriage.” Jefferson goes on to make four succinct points, asserting that: 1) the institution of marriage is a secular and social institution, 2) the Bible does not clearly endorse one form of marriage over another, 3) the Biblical arguments against same-sex marriage are not proffered from texts that deal with marriage, but from texts that purportedly deal with marriage and 4) any reference to same-sex practice by a Biblical writer or a Greco-Roman writer has no knowledge or understanding of the concept of “same-sex orientation.” He concludes by saying:

The Bible is not specific, literate, or even concerned with what we call same-sex orientation or gay marriage. But the state of New York recently had quite a lot to say about gay marriage. Those that would insert the Bible into this debate would do well to reflect upon the text itself. If only we quit focusing on what the Bible didactically “says” and converse with the text in its broader cultural context. Then one can realize the multivalent value of such a book that a narrow reading cannot service.

To say the least, there are conservative pundits and preachers who disagree with Mr. Jefferson.

The conservative exposition that Prof. Jefferson has in his sights as he writes this article is promulgated by theologians citing Leviticus 18: 22, 24; 20: 13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 as speaking of homosexuality as a sin. Furthermore, conventional Christian scholars refer to Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24 and Matthew 1:24-25 to out forth the Christian ideal of marriage between a man and a woman. Their interpretation of these texts leads to them to denounce the movement to legitimize homosexual relationships, vote against expanding the marriage rights of same-sex couples and disparage moves like that of the New York legislature.

My theological interpretations and opinions aside, I believe that the whole debate regarding homosexual marriage, same-sex partnerships and whether or not Christian Scripture speaks to the issue in a clear-cut way reveals a lot more about the state of America’s religious climate in regards to sociology and interpretation of the Bible (hermeneutics), than it does on gay marriage or the Christian Scriptures themselves. In fact, I believe it is because of a sociological shift and contemporary Biblical scholarship like Jefferson’s that leads to defeat for religious conservatives on the issue of same-sex marriage.

First, the sociological development. Following an ever secularizing trend in American society the general opinion regarding homosexuality has taken a progressive turn. While this shift occurred most markedly in younger demographics, the general trend has been towards more leniency when it comes to homosexuality and same-sex marriages (see a General Social Survey from 2008). Given time, those with a favorable opinion of homosexuality and same-sex marriages will soon be in the majority.

There is also the hermeneutical shift to appreciate. At the heart of Prof. Jefferson’s article is the concept of whether or not the Bible speaks to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Regardless of his final exposition of the source, Jefferson shows his cards to the reader in the second paragraph when he directly discloses that he believes the Bible does not speak into the contemporary scene. This is his interpretational principle. Along with Jonathan Dudley, a graduate of Yale Divinity School and guest blogger at CNN’s Belief Blog, Jefferson locks the Bible (and subsequently its proclamations) into its original cultural context. By their belief, the Bible cannot speak into the contemporary situation. It is a historical document to be understood within its own context, and not interpreted for life today. The contemporary situation acts back and interprets the Bible on its own terms, not the other way around. Such a hermeneutic is ever more popular this day and age. As is well documented in texts like The History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader and bemoaned by conservative Christian scholars, the modern Biblical hermeneutic is far more liberal than it was in the past.

Jefferson is absolutely correct when he opines that his interpretation does little to “satisfy any opponent of gay rights or of same-sex marriage to any degree.” Particularly if the opponent is coming from a conservative Biblical background. Conventional Christian scholarship reads the Old and New Testament texts as if they are meant to speak both to their original audience and to the contemporary scene. Their interpretational principle is that the Bible is meant for all ages and its words are binding both in the past, present and future. Thus, when they read passages from Genesis, Leviticus, Romans or 1 Corinthians they believe that they speak as much today as they did then. From such a viewpoint they are able to apply the Bible’s morality to contemporary situations, and in the case of homosexuality such a hermeneutical principle clearly reveals the Christian Scriptures as condemning homosexuality as a sin and marriage as meant for a man and a woman. With such an interpretation they take their moral maxim from the pulpit to the pew, from the pew to the home, from the home to the streets and from the streets to the halls of congress.

Before the debate even begins, the juxtaposed sides are coming from two very different starting points. It makes sense that conservatives and progressives disagree when interpreting the Bible and judging the validity of same-sex marriage because neither of them can agree to view the issues through the same lens. And because of the power of culture and sociology there is little that can be done at the moment to change tac. Thus, while Jefferson and his compatriots preach to the “sociologically and hermeneutically converted,” conservative religious pundits preach their sermons to their own converted, organizing rallies and voting vehemently for conservative political candidates in line with their moral stances. All the while, the conservative religious voice on social issues such as homosexuality (and sexuality in general) diminishes more and more into the background.

Currently, liberal sociological and interpretational trends are trumping the conservative hermeneutic and essays like Jefferson’s are indicative of a wider, and well documented, liberal trend in contemporary Biblical scholarship. Thus, while state legislatures may soon pass bills in favor, or against, same-sex marriage, a rising tide of favorable opinion towards homosexuality and against conservative readings of the Bible is not likely to abate anytime soon. Because of this, those who hold to more traditional sexual values and conventional readings of the Christian Scripture will, at least for now, find themselves on the losing side of this sociological, political and theological struggle.

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Waking a Sleeping Giant

*Originally posted at my Houston Chronicle Belief Blog – Sacred Duty

A few weeks ago there was a “wikiconference” of Christians in Katy.

Wondering what that is?

The term “wiki” was popularized by the ever popular site Wikipedia that allows users to add and edit content on the site in a collaborative manner.

A wiki conference is more than conference, it’s about collaboration.

This wiki conference in Katy is a collaboration of sacramental mission leaders and church planters hoping to come together to learn, collaborate and grow for the sake of the mission of the Christian church. It’s called Five Two, based off the idea that God provides what the church needs for mission (as he did in the story of the five fish and two loaves – Mark 6:38).

Predominantly made up of Lutheran attendees and a few others from mainline and non-denominational churches the Five Two wiki conference promises to serve as a “missional matchmaker seeking to connect you with the people who have been where you want to go.  We desire to help you reach God’s lost people in a sacramental, community-focused way.”

The Lutheran church, particularly the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod of which many of the participants at this wiki conference are members of, is typically made up of a pretty traditional and conservative bunch. To say the least, the LCMS is not popularly known for its contemporary worship styles, its community oriented programming or major mission focus.

Billy Graham once called the Lutheran church in America the “sleeping giant,” implying that if it woke, revival was sure to come to the whole Christian church in the U.S.A.

The leaders of the Five Two network who are putting on this wiki conference are hoping to inspire, coach, collaborate with and connect various sacramental (read “predominantly Lutheran”) church planters as they seek to reach out to their communities and grow the church.

Such an undertaking comes with its fair share of challenges.

I had the opportunity to ask Bill Woolsey, a member of the Five Two leadership team and Sr. Pastor of Crosspoint Community Church here in Houston, what the greatest promises and greatest challenges are for Five Two, the Lutheran Church and other sacramental church planters in the years to come.

The greatest challenge Pastor Woolsey could identify is what he called a “post – even pre-church culture” that is  “not church-centric” and generally beyond or not familiar with Christianity. He noted that if the Christian church, and in his context specifically the Lutheran church and its congregations, did not recognize this “culture shift” then there would difficult times ahead for the church’s mission in the world. Churches would die. Church planters would struggle. Numbers would dwindle. The sleeping giant would slip ever deeper into its comatose sleep.

David Campbell and Robert Putnam in their comprehensive tome on the state of American religion, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, note that following a shock (the cultural liberation of the 60’s) and two aftershocks (rise of the Religious Right and a backlash against) the present American culture is quite adverse towards mainline churches (Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans). According to many sociologists the mainline church is on decline and its churches are dying amidst a culture that no longer cares for its message or finds community within its walls. The LCMS, and its fellow mainline brethren, face an uphill battle if they desire to grow in the years to come.

Nonetheless, Woolsey didn’t leave the conversation on a sour note. Instead, he spoke of the great hope he had in “grace” oriented church planters who understood that it is God who takes the initiative in our relationship with him and in the mission of the church. He shared that a group of grace oriented believers armed with a “no ‘buts'” grace-oriented theology would see miracles happen in their community as they grew and matured together as a community Church.

Certainly, his is a hope-filled vision in the face of a difficult cultural context.

There have been other attempts at mission advancement and revival in years past. There were various challenges present then as well – theological challenges, practical impediments and cultural hurdles. Many mainline churches, in their struggle to be more missional and yet hold on to their sacramental, or more traditional, practices often wind up with two camps in their tribe: one ready to bravely step into the culture around them with their Christian message and another who is happy to maintain the status quo, even it means dwindling numbers and eventual church closures.

They will have to navigate not only the external culture of their community, but also an internal culture that may not go along with such a mission focus.

Only time will tell if this missional movement within mainline denominations like the LCMS will effectively take hold. The Five Two wiki conference is a brave attempt by a group of like-minded folks hoping to stem the tide.

This week as the Five Two folks get together to collaborate they will be sure to discuss what promises, and challenges, lie ahead as they attempt to awake a sleeping giant and redeem what they see as an ever secularizing culture around them.

As can be assumed, waking a sleeping giant is not an easy thing to do. It’s big, it’s ugly and it’s fast asleep. The Lutheran church, and mainline churches like them, are all sleeping giants well sluggish in their slumber; no minor movement and no little effort will awake such a beast.

*I must admit that this blog verges into the territory of our Houston Belief Lutheran pastor/blogger Pastor Charles St. Onge and his blog Lutherant. I encourage you to check out his blog and learn more about Confessional Christianity from a Lutheran perspective.

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Texans Love Their Crosses

*This is a repost from my Houston Chronicle Belief Blog – A Sacred Duty 

At a Drops Like Stars event in Tempe, AZ evangelical speaker Rob Bell asked how many people in the crowd were wearing crosses. A little over half the crowd raised their hands. Bell wondered aloud why it is that so many people wear ancient symbols of torture, pain and death such as the cross. It was a fair enough question.

Bell offered the explanation that it has to do with the art of solidarity; that God sent Jesus into the world to scream alongside of us. He says in book form, “This is why for thousands of years Christians have found the cross to be so central to life. It speaks to us of God’s suffering, God’s pain, God’s broken heart. It’s God making the first move and then waiting for our response.” For Bell and, as he argues, many Christians the cross is a symbol of redemption through suffering. Jesus suffering with us, redeeming that suffering and standing in solidarity with all of humanity that screams out in this present darkness.

So the cross serves as a symbol of suffering and pain, but also one of victory and redemption.

Then there are crosses in Texas.

In Texas, crosses are, well, odd and fascinating pieces of art.

Since moving to Texas some ten months ago I’ve seen more crosses than I’ve seen anywhere else in the entire world (albeit I’ve not yet been to the Lithuanian hill of crosses). In every boutique, on living room walls and diamond studded on tee shirts, hats and women’s hand bags there are crosses of varying sizes and carrying assorted messages.

Britannica encyclopedia states that religious iconography, or symbolism, serves religious communities with “basic and often complex artistic forms…to convey religious concepts and…[to represent] religious ideas and events.” As a religious symbol, the cross has remained a strong sign of Christianity throughout the ages conveying the Christian belief in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and testifying to their concept of redemption for humanity through that suffering. The art of the cross is a wide and diverse stream and the cross has been transformed and translated throughout the ages to speak in new ways to new people for various contexts. I’ve experienced this first hand. While traveling around the world my wife and I amassed a diverse array of crosses with a sundry of forms, crafted from a myriad of media and reflecting each culture’s unique take on Jesus and the cross.

In Texas the cross has taken on a whole new form reflecting both Texas’ strong belief in its “Christian heritage” and its rough-and-tumble independence. Thus, in Texan shops and homes you’ll find crosses made out of leather belts replete with belt buckles at the apex, a cross with the state of Texas smack dab in the middle with words like “reign of God,” “LORD God Sabaoth” and other militaristic/kingdom oriented words from Scripture etched into the frame, a cross made from cowboy rope, a cross studded with turquoise or diamonds or the ubiquitous barbed wire and star cross with barbed wire wrapped around a cross of rough wood and christened with a texas star in the middle and a horse shoe to boot

Texas is Texas that’s for sure.

When you meet people and ask where they are from native Texans respond with pride telling you that they are from Houston, Austin, Dallas, Odessa, Lubbock or Midland. For those not from Texas the standard line is, “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as fast I could.” Texans support their respective colleges and universities with unabashed loyalty and a hint of hubris. They believe in the Texas ideal and flirt with secession. The Lone Star Republic still means something to Texans and so the large tri-color flag flies right next to the American flag with patriotic zeal. In Texas, BBQ and Tex-Mex are sacramentally akin to the bread and wine of Christian communion and on Friday the football stadium is church.

Texans garner these attitudes and convictions from a history of rugged independence and pride of roots formed on ranches and fields bringing forth cotton, cattle and oil.

Unsurprisingly, such perspectives find themselves reflected in Texas cross art.

If, in general, the cross is a symbol of suffering and an icon of redemption and victory through pain and death then in Texas the cross serves as a symbol of freedom, ingenuity, rough-and-tumble independence and strength.

When religious scholars and leaders suppose the cross to be a symbol of suffering and by association, a sign of humility, their hypothesis does not stick when reviewing the crosses of Texas.

Every cross in Texas is imposing or impressive or both. In that way they reveal something telling about Texan Christianity, and in some ways, Texan religion in general.

It’s loud, it’s proud and it is undeniably Texan.

This forces us to ask, “what hath the cross of Texas to do with the cross of Golgotha?”

Certainly, Texas crosses acknowledge the suffering, but associate it with their own hard fought road to freedom and glory (notice the rough hewn wood, the dark colors and the barbed wire). More than any other country or cultural context I’ve witnessed, they add a strong dash of pride to their cross. In some way, this pride might even come to overshadow the humble carpenter’s son from Jesus who Christians claim died on a cross almost 2,000 years ago.

In another way, it reminds us that the cross of Texas is less a symbol of a religion and more an icon of a culture – a distinctively Texan culture where every cowboy, rancher, service man or woman, football player, student, oil refiner or engineer is meant to be hard working, independent and faithful to God, family and Texas.

Viewed in such a light it makes perfect sense for every cross to bear a belt buckle, some bling, a little barbed wire or a boot. For more than speaking to God’s suffering and Jesus’ redemption of the world through his own pain and death, the cross in Texas conveys a culture’s pride in fortunes won through blood, sweat and tears and reveals a cultural ideal of faith in God and country.

Therefore, if you visit Texas you will find the cross proudly displayed in homes, in shops, in restaurants, on trucks and in fashion. After all, if Texans brazenly fly their flag they expectedly brandish their cross as well as a sign of what it truly means to be Texan.

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Houston’s Diversity: An Airport Addendum

A few weeks ago I blogged about Houston’s Stunning Diversity, sharing the numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians in Houston and sharing stories about Houston’s religious hotspots. I took you, the reader, on a virtual tour of a Vietnamese Buddhist Boddhisatva temple, a Swami Devotee Hindu Bhakti Temple and a local Muslim Masjid.

Of all the places I escorted you to, I did not take you to Houston’s Hobby Airport.

This then, is my airport addendum to that post.

Here at Hobby, waiting for my flight, checking my bags, standing in the security line and getting a coffee I am met with a microcosm of Houston’s stunning diversity.

Currently, I am on my way to California and sitting in Houston Hobby Airport’s food court . Enjoying my vanilla caramel soy latte, I am struck again by how religiously and racially diverse Houston’s populous is. It reminds me why I love this town.

Raised in California, I treasure heterogeneity and seek out cross-cultural contact. When I think about my childhood in the Los Angeles area I fondly recall having Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Evangelical and Atheist friends and neighbors.

Galavanting across the world over the last few years – in New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, Indonesia, Peru and Singapore – I’ve sought to gain a greater understanding of this world, its people and its religious soul-beat.

Now, living in Houston the world has come to me. It takes all of five minutes to find somebody who thinks, speaks and acts differently than me because of their cultural background or religious devotion. Here, in Houston Hobby, all I have to do is look to the person sitting next to me (who, by the looks of it is a Hispanic Roman Catholic replete with a rosary).

From Caucasian Khalsa Converts (Sikh) to Coptic Christians and “God Bless America” Baptist African-Americans, Houston Hobby has it all and I’ve seen all of these adherents here today.

I share this with you because I hope you may share the same awe. If you live in Houston, I encourage you to look around, open your eyes and see the stunning diversity that exists around you.

If you live somewhere else, have you noticed how melanged your hometown is? The USA is growing more diverse by the day. Maybe you live in a small town and you feel like your trapped in a homogeneous cage. Look again, and you will find pockets of religious and cultural miscellany in the most unlikely of places. Take a moment the next time you are in a public place – a mall, a post office or an airport – and recognize the mosaic that is your community. I even encourage you to go a step further and get to know someone different than you.

As I prompt my world religions students to do, take some time to introduce yourself to someone from a different religious background. Ask questions, listen to stories, share your own and dialogue with a Catholic, a Sikh, a Hasidic Jew, a Copt or a Hindu. As corny as it may sound, try sharing instead of staring.

Odds are you will come to appreciate your town for its cultural and religious multiplicity like I do. At the very least you will learn something about the world you didn’t know before.

On that note, goodbye H-Town, I look forward to seeing you again and hope to bring back some new stories from California. Until then, you stay stunningly diverse now you hear!

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If The World Ends on Saturday

The very fact I am writing about this on the Ubuntu blog is a testament to the power of media in religion today.

The hash-tag #iftheworldendsonsaturday is numero dos on Twitter right now…

…and that’s weird if you think about it.

A relatively small radio station and Christian ministry named Family Radio  has got half the world talking about whether or not May 21 is doomsday.

After a million dollar ad-campaign involving road-side billboards, bus tours and picket signs the internet took care of the rest of the hype. Spurred on by YouTube videos from Harold Camping himself, self-reporting iPhone photos and videos about doomsday billboards, plenty of blogs like this one and a whole Bible’s worth of clever doomsday Tweets everyone is talking about an obscure California preacher’s judgement day mathematics.

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the strange relationship that religion has with media tools these days (Clairvoyant Radio Ads). That relationship just got stranger than when Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie hooked up this last week.

The whole “is-May-21-the-end-of-the-world?” thing is fascinating, not because it’s another doomsday prophecy (they’re a dime a dozen), but because everyone is talking about it – from pop-music radio stations here in Houston to CNN and folks at the local bar.

And why?

Because of a careful combination of radio, print and grassroots media hype with the added steroid of modern social media sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook (check out some of the buzz here).

Whether or not the world ends tomorrow is not my “concern” as it were. I have a bike ride to go on, a recital to attend and oddly enough, a sermon to prepare for Sunday morning.

However, this is just another example of the power of media, and more poignantly social media, in today’s religious landscape. To study religion today, to be religious today, is to contend and seek to understand how to navigate the spiritual worlds of YouTube, Twitter, iReporting and Facebook.

So, if you are raptured tomorrow try to Tweet about it.

Thanks.

-Ubuntu Spirit

*For more on media, religion and the interesting relationship between the two read the following Ubuntu Spirit posts – 

Everybody Wants to Be Heard

Confession Confusion

Clairvoyant Radio Ads. 

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Everybody Wants to Be Heard

Our "evangelical" Buddhist tour guide

Last week was a cultural and religious whirlwind for me. From a Lutheran Theological Convocation to a discussion with a Hindu in Austin, TX to a Houston World Tour including a visit to a Hindu temple, Buddhist temple and Islamic mosque and even to the Houston iFest where Muslims, Christians and Hare Krishnas were all represented one thing was made clear –

Everyone wants to be heard.

It was my wife who pointed this out to me.

As we were sitting down and enjoying our veggie samosas and palak paneer we were hoping to hear a little bit of Raicas del Peru to relive some of our musical experiences from our trip to Peru last August. We strained our ears to hear the beauty of the Peruvian melodies over the ever loudening sound of drums and chants of “Hare, hare, hare Krishna” coming from, you guessed it, the Hare Krishnas at their booth in the Silk Road Zone. Elizabeth looked at me and said, “I guess everybody wants to be heard.”

Hare Krishnas are known for world peace movements, drums and dance circles…not for quality of vocalisms. Nonetheless, they sang. And then as Raicas del Peru got louder, they got louder.

Like I said, everyone wants to be heard.

Earlier that day we walked past two booths of Muslim groups from Houston. Each time there was someone there arguing with them or talking with them about what they believe. When all was said and done, I wonder how much listening either side did. I bet you everyone did a lot more talking than listening.

Today, I just got an e-mail asking me to come on a local Christian radio program. I am overwhelmed with how many Christian radio, TV and internet programs there are…especially in Houston. Here in Houston, on basic cable, any Sunday morning will have at least 20 different Christian worship services available to watch. Get on the radio and there are at least as many frequencies playing messages and liturgical music.

Of course, these days they also have to compete with Clairvoyant Radio Ads and the ubiquitous sponsor-commercials of Interfaith Ministries on KUHF Houston Public Radio. Maybe, like Houston Second Baptist, they should try billboards.

Oh, the Atheists are using billboards these days too.

Evangelical New-Agey-Hindus, evangelical Muslims, evangelical Atheists and Evangelical Christians, but what about evangelical Buddhists?

Now there’s something different.

I took a group of college students on a “Houston World Tour” last week. Part of our journey took us to a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple near Sugar Land, TX. There, the monk tried to get all the students (all of them Christian) to meditate, do some Buddhist prayers or offer something to the Buddha. In all the times I’ve visited Buddhist temples on three continents and in several cities I’ve never once met such an evangelical Buddhist.

These days, everyone wants to be heard in the modern market place of religious exchange. Hare Krishnas, psychics, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Atheists.

The danger is that instead of getting people’s attention and inviting them into positive religious dialogue we might just be bugging everyone with all of our “HEY, LOOK AT ME!” advertisements. I hope that amidst it all that people don’t just get up and walk away like my wife and I did at the International Fest when Hare Krishnas and Peruvian folk musicians competed into cacophony just so that they might be heard.

In the end, it ceased to be beautiful music and wound up being a whole lot of senseless noise.

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