Tag Archives: NPR

What to expect if your loved one is in the media

The first thing we’ll probably do if our loved one is in the media is have a big emotion, right? — like when the cameraperson in the stadium puts you on the jumbotron.

Most of us will be excited. I was VERY excited when NPR discovered our Debt Annihilation Team and talked about them on two different podcasts, recently.  I hope you saw the notice on the Covenant List:

My loved ones sounded like their brilliant selves and our vision for following Jesus looked pretty great, too.

But sometimes you might feel puzzled, at best, and horrified, at worst, at how your loved ones gets twisted by inaccurate or unscrupulous reporting that will probably be on the internet forever.  The first time I ever got my picture in the newspaper they said my name was “Tod.” They got both the dogs’ names correct, however.

Our most recent relationship with the powerful media was pretty great.  NPR treated us generously. But I also feel disappointed with how the producer of “This is Uncomfortable” summed up  our radicality in a way none of his subjects implied.

Here are two things to expect if your loved one is in the media.

It is going to be depersonalized while looking personal

The segment of Marketplace I heard was the 23rd in a series about “Life and how money messes with it.” “Life” is a thing” and “money” is a force.  You’ve entered the media machine and it has a worldview. The show has a topic and you are being fit into it.

I kind of like the show’s point of view. We need to know that the average amount for people with credit card debt is over $6000. They said our team was “turning to a very ancient text, the Bible, to solve a very modern problem.” That’s all great.

Caroline Butcher sounded like a very charming, sincere person. The story of her troubles, joys, problems, and hopes was inspiring. They said saving, and living within one’s means is a social act.  They showed how sincere the group was about not compromising their Integrity. Caroline said the money helped her finances, but maybe even more profound, the group helped her change her view from “me” to “us.” When the reporter outed her in the Sunday meeting she owned her place on the usually-anonymous DAT — that made her shame lose some power, which might be the most profound experience of all. So that was all good.

I was impressed how love and hope kept leaking through the carefully-flat presentation of the format.

The producer will have a way of inserting their agenda which does not match what you said

There was really only one line in the segment that made me sigh with disappointment and a little bit of irritation. It was this:

“What’s so radical about that church’s system to pay off debt is that God doesn’t actually have to be a part of it. It’s really just a community helping each other out.”

Nobody said anything like that. God was a main player in all of it. It is hard to come to his conclusion from what he presented himself!

Image result for Peter Balonon-Rosen marketplace
The producer

On the one hand, it’s true. We would like to help people who don’t trust Jesus and his people. Being mutual with them would be great. Community is powerful. But I don’t think the producer meant to say just that. He was interested in the radicality of having community, not knowing God. He pointedly took God out of the question, for some reason.

So on the other hand what he said wasn’t true and was just plain poor reporting. He tweaked the whole thing on the sign off, after Caroline was up front about her faith journey, after people had allowed him to record them praying, and after Joshua gave a dandy explanation of the Debt Annihilation Team’s biblical foundation in a few sentences. All the people in the piece were open and vulnerable with their faith and the author summed it up with “Faith doesn’t matter anyway; this is all about people getting together, not God.”

Most of us wake up every day with some indecision about what matters or whether we even matter. So I can give the producer, Peter Balonon-Rosen, a pass on his conclusion. Most listeners probably listened to his summary and wondered what people he had listened to, anyway, like I did. But he would probably be a fine dinner guest.

When you get involved with the media, don’t be surprised if the producers produce what they want with the raw material of your story. They’re running a big machine looking for stuff to process and the machine has  some big assumptions to organize our thinking — on purpose or unwittingly.

Suddenly we were talking about hell again

Suddenly we were talking about hell. Last night after the PM, it came up again, like it often does, because that is what everybody seems to have been taught about Christianity: it is heaven or hell. People don’t really believe in heaven or hell. But they would love to be Christians.

Reading Rob Bell won’t damn you

My friend brought up Rob Bell. He’s reading Love Wins and he thinks that his guilty pleasure in the book might put him outside the faith. No it won’t. This is what Rob Bell says in Relevant magazine:

“I believe…people choose hell now. I assume people, when you die, you can choose hell. So there is no denial of hell here. There is a very real awareness that this is a clear and present reality that extends on into the future. But the real question is essentially if millions and millions of people who have never heard of Jesus are going to be tormented forever by God because they didn’t believe in the Jesus they’d never heard of, then at that point we will have far larger problems than a book by a pastor from Grand Rapids.”

I haven’t really kept up with arguments about Rob Bell. Who is it that quibbles with him about what he is thinking? It sounds like he is just like my friend, getting his head out and realizing that people have been speculating about the afterlife for a long time. These days, people are recognizing that the Renaissance/modern views that have dominated theology for 500 years may not be all they’re cracked up to be – like those views probably aren’t nearly as serious about the Bible as they claim to be.

Ten-year-old faith on NPR

Before I got to the PM it was hell on NPR, of all places! On Snap Judgment a twentysomething woman was telling her lack-of-faith story. It was not as if she had closed the book, she just had other things to do. I am much more interested in what this woman says about heaven and hell than what Rob Bell wrote. I’d love to introduce her to the Jesus she’s never met.

She talks about her ten year old self realizing that everyone is going to die. Her mom tells her that she imagines death as a curtain opening to a white light. But then she goes to the store to pick up dish soap and that is about it from Mom.

This is the character of the piece. Afterlife would be nice, but the necessities and allure of the present: the mundane responsibilities and the boyfriends, are occupying most of the space where faith might reside.

Final Judgment in the Florence Duomo
Final Judgment in the Florence Duomo

But she gives faith a try. After seeing a painting of hell in Florence, she imagines an afterlife and decides she has more goodness than sin and will make it to heaven. She learns a prayer from her friend and makes a container for holy water in her bedroom complete with a toothpick cross taped to it.

Ten year old faith is about as far as most of us get, unfortunately, and it proves about as sturdy as you might expect — or maybe as sturdy as your faith has proven to be. I guess whole denominations kind of practice ten-year-old faith, but none of them would say that’s all there is to Jesus.

Submitting to the latest hell

So back to this woman on Snap Judgment. For a week she prays, until a boy puts a love note in her locker. Then she forgets to pray. Love affairs continue to come and go. In high school she learns nihilism and existentialism. Post college she learns insurance claims, automatic bill pay, and how to move your car on certain days so you don’t get towed.

She is so vividly making a commitment all the time. But she is acting like she isn’t! Doesn’t that resemble a lot of people you know? They collect a bunch of thoughts that contradict and confuse them and leave it at that, as if automatic bill pay were real and Jesus a pleasant irrationality they can get to later, maybe. Like Bell protests, people choose the hell of submitting to the latest oppression and succumbing to the mundanity of whether to have a beer or not as their big choice. That’s hell enough.

But sometimes she still misses something to pray to. People die. The piece ends with her at work on a Saturday wondering what to do that night. She no longer believes in hell, maybe not heaven, maybe another dimension, maybe ghosts.  But like her mom was with her, when she asked her about things at ten, she hasn’t gotten far enough to make a choice. The end of her story is clever: “Then I feel a cold familiar feeling run through me, a knot in my stomach that gets tighter and tighter by the minute. ‘Damn,’ I think, ‘I really have to register my car.’”

I groaned out loud as I motored down Washington Ave. Jesus will knock on her door again and she will think He’s from some horrendous painting from Florence. Jesus will knock on her door and she will not even hear it because she fell asleep in front to the TV when she was finishing up The Wire. Jesus will knock on her door and she won’t even be home in her own life because she’s occupied with her list of little demands the system is making on her — as if that were her life. It is a poor worship she is choosing. Her little dish of holy water, as absurd as it was, made more sense than bending the knee to the DMV!

Blessings and Curses from Perky Christian Radio

I was driving somewhere in the Poconos in that other world beyond the Philadelphia city limits during our vacation. I decided to turn on the radio which was set to the usually-blue-state NPR. However, the frequency beaming in from Honesdale was not NPR, it was WZZH coming at us with The Word FM. I don’t listen to “Christian” radio very often, so it is usually rather enlightening for me to dip into the subculture. This dip was unusually so.


mandisa and janeWhen I first heard Mandisa singing Overcomer I was a little taken aback because she reminded me of Jane Fonda’s workout song from the 80’s. But then I decided, “No, this is a very encouraging song and you need to go with the positive flow of this perky radio station.”  Immediately, I could imagine one of my most positive friends doing her signature wedding-reception dance moves to Mandisa.

Take a breath.
Don’t forget.
Hang on to his promises.
He wants you to know
you’re an overcomer!”

Good sermon, and it has a beat.

Good to Be Alive

But Mandisa is not all that is happening out there. I was less impressed by Jason Gray’s Good to Be Alive. Not only is the video terrible, but the catchy chorus is laced with that strange “holiness” theology that makes me kind of crazy.

jason grayI want to live like there’s no tomorrow,
Like I’m on borrowed time.
It’s good to be alive.
I won’t take it for granted.
I won’t waste another second.
All I want is to give you a life
Well lived to say, “Thank you.”

Now before I sound critical, I think there are some good reasons to sing Jason’s song:

1) I  won’t take it  for  granted. You realize how entitled you think you are and you want to live like you recognize that whatever you have is given to you (1 Cor. 4:7).
2) I want to live. You are tired of being low-level depressed, are changing your focus, and allowing yourself to live your life (John 10:9-11).
3) I won’t waste another second. Your have decided to work with Jesus on his redemption project and you understand how brief the time is to do that before he returns or you die (Romans 13:10-12).
4) Say, “Thank you.” You want to be mature enough to base your life on gratitude and receive each moment with praise (1 Thess. 5:17-19).

It is good to be alive and God has showed his goodness by making us and redeeming us!

The curse of bad thinking

There are blessings on the radio to be received from good-hearted people with good singing voices. But there are a couple of viewpoints in Jason’s catchy lyric that I don’t want stuck in my head. They are kind of cursing me.

1) I’m not sure Jesus freed me from death so I would feel like I was living on “borrowed time” (that is, time after one would normally expect to be dead). I was dead in sin, true, but that’s the fact of my old life. Likewise, I don’t think Jesus wants me to live like “there’s no tomorrow,” as if today were all I have. Isn’t that the condition from which I was rescued? I think he wants me to ease right into eternity and fearlessly be eternal. Yeah.

Is there some reason we are supposed to think that we don’t deserve the grace we have been given? Isn’t it a bit insulting to God to think he would come for undeserving creatures who he says he loves but doesn’t really need or respect? Are we redeemed to keep acting like unredemption is a short step off our tight rope?

2) The more dangerous aspect of this song is the promise not to take life “for granted” or “waste” any of it, thereby proving that I am worthy of it. I’m not sure I am supposed to give myself a rubric for successfully operating the Jesus life. I think some people misconstrue the idea of living as an act of worship (Romans 12:1-3) to mean that they are giving their life back to God as a sacrifice – something like: Jesus gives me himself; I give myself back, and we’re even. This reminds me of an even more subversive song covered by Kurt Cobain – he got the problems with the theology.

Is there some reason we are supposed to be perpetually getting over the hump with the amount of thankfulness we are expressing for our salvation? Is Jesus so insecure that he will be offended if you don’t turn to him, as he is walking beside you all day, and say, “I’m walking beside you to give you a life that says ‘thank you?’”  I think he’d be more moved if we just lived with a thankful heart and didn’t think we were proving it by doing something that pointed to how we were doing it. When I hear another “asprirational” song that says “I want to” do something, I often want to yell at the radio, “So just do it! And quit talking about yourself!”

OK, let’s settle down. I just want to object enough so we don’t start thinking that our actions produce the worthiness we long for. We can’t say thanks enough. Let’s accept that, say thanks, and live like we have an endless amount of tomorrows to be our true selves.

Sing as you go, if you like. You’re an overcomer.

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