My writing

Kanye Dig it?

Obviously, from the pun above, you can tell that this post is going to be about Kanye West. Let me apologize in advance for saying that, and I’ll explain my apology later. Much has been made about Kanye’s conversion to Christ and, with the dropping of his latest project, Jesus is King, his situation is being debated by Christians and non-Christians alike. The dirty little secret about Christians, and I’ve made no secret that I am a Christian, and what happens when a celebrity converts is that most Christians cheer it immediately, but then we put them under the microscope and any mistakes they make are magnified. We don’t give them time to grow and then we attack them for being immature Christians. Or, we assume that they’re “converting” for ulterior reasons. So, when my pastor mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Kanye West had professed faith in Christ, I raised my eyebrows and smiled. Then, I did some research.

Maybe I was behind the times in hearing about Kanye’s conversion, but as I researched, I got the impression that what my new brother did to ground himself in the faith was amazing. He’s spent time with his pastor. He’s been having private worship services at his ranch. He’s worked to grow in the faith and get a strong grounding in God’s word. I was flabbergasted. While I hadn’t followed Kanye much, I can tell you that he didn’t impress me. But what I’ve read about how he’s responded as the grace of God has moved in his life puts tears in my eyes. While my opinion isn’t worth much in general, if someone were to ask me how a celebrity should respond once they come to Christ, I’d have given a road map much like the one Kanye followed.

Many of the people who’ve been negative about this conversion have brought up sins from his pre-conversion days to make the case that this conversion couldn’t be real. I guess because God can’t forgive sinners who go over a certain threshold? Perhaps they forget Paul’s claim to be the chief of sinners? So, if we accept Paul at his word, perhaps we could make Kanye’s pre-conversion days the lifestyle of the second worst sinner of all time – which would then force us to acknowledge that if God could forgive Paul, maybe He can forgive Kanye? Does Kanye have a checkered past? You betcha! I don’t think I’d want people to go back and listen to his old music, for example. That being said, all those past sins are forgotten by God. They’re thrown away as far as the east is from the west. He’s forgiven. His sins, like mine, were nailed to the cross and God’s mercy is more than enough to bring forgiveness.

A friend of mine, Lori Twichell, wrote an excellent post about this story and included some great videos. She noticed two things about him that caught my attention: 1) This man had peace that radiated in his face and through the answers to questions. He had no trouble with tough questions and seemed to welcome them; and 2) Kanye used to be all about himself and now he describes himself as a servant of God. He talked about Jesus and about what God had done in a couple of interviews Lori mentioned and included links to in her post. And that’s why I apologized earlier. I think Kanye, were he to be sitting here commenting on this post, would chastise me for saying so much about him. So, any of the praise I’ve given to him, make sure you realize that Kanye would probably deflect it to Jesus.

So let’s get down to his recent project released the other day: Jesus is King. I’m going to be honest. I’ve listened to most, if not all, of the album and I’m not a fan. It’s not bad in any sense of the word, it’s just that my ear isn’t tuned to the cadences of rap/hip hop and I have a hard time making things out. From what I could understand, it’s on solid ground theologically. I’ve had one friend who noted that it’s very sound theologically, moreso than many worship songs we all seem to enjoy. I’ve had another friend say it’s the best Christian album of the year. It may be, but it’s not my cup of tea. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be. From what I could understand of the music, I wouldn’t be ashamed if anyone found out I listened to it, and will listen to it again. I wouldn’t turn it off if it came on the radio. That being said, though, Kanye will reach people I could never reach with this album. A number of people commenting on his songs mentioned their need to go back to church. I hear a lot of paise for Jesus coming through the music. I would have no problem recommending that someone who likes that style listen…and I would add, old geezers like me need to be willing to listen to it and hope to understand that God can use music like that to reach people I could never reach.

The conclusion of all this is that I believe that Kanye’s conversion is real and that he’s already exhibiting a vibrant faith that some of us older people can learn from. I also believe that somewhere along the way, Kanye will stumble and sin – which sin will be magnified beyond measure because of who he is and the number of spiritual vultures waiting for him to fall. When that happens, I hope and pray that i’m the first one to extend God’s love and forgiveness to him as he gets back on track wth his growth. And, even though Kanye would never read this let me just say, “Brother Kanye, welcome to the family! Walking with Jesus is an amazing ride that will never boring and will never get easier. I’m excited for this change in your life and I pray that as you go forward and grow in your faith that you’ll experience God’s presence and grace in the best of times and the worst of times.” I praise God that Jesus is being preached.

Daily Work, personal

Is Ramsey As Good or Bad as People Say? (Part Two)

The second part of Dr. Barrett-Fox’s critique of Dave Ramsey deals with issues of faith. She notes that Ramsey stresses personal responsibility when making financial decisions at an everyday level, but also points out that if he were consistent, he wouldn’t dismiss socially responsible investing. 

“But he also doesn’t ask you to be responsible for anything beyond your own financial situation. For example, he is pretty condescending about and dismissive of socially responsible investing (the idea that your investments should align with your values).”

She quotes from Ramsey and provides Ramsey’s exact words in the link from her article. Ramsey seems to be saying that 1) it’s too hard to track every part of your investment and 2) when you buy stock in a company, you aren’t handing the company a check, you’re paying the guy who had it before you – unless you buy in an initial public offering. Dr. Barrett-Fox makes an excellent point that by buying the stock, you do support the company and she borrowed from Ramsey’s example of buying a used car: Ramsey said that the original car company doesn’t get any of that money; Dr. Barrett-Fox pointed out that by keeping the resale value high, you support the company. She also noted that there are people who track their money and keep track of where they shop . 

While she exposed a weakness, a contradiction actually, in Ramsey’s philosophy of responsibility, it’s hard to do values investing when using mutual funds. As Christians, we can be diametrically opposed on critical values issues. Just to give one example, while many Christians oppose abortion, many Christians support it. If you’re opposed to abortion, you’d have to be concerned about stocks that might aid or abet abortion. Even if the company doesn’t participate in providing supplies for abortion, what if their company charities allow employees to support abortion providers. Meanwhile, if you support abortion, you could easily invest in a company that provides equipment or support for abortion, but they might also povide the drugs for states that do executions by lethal injection. 

SmartAsset described the dilemma this way:

It isn’t always easy to determine which investments are strictly socially responsible. For instance, a company could practice ethical manufacturing processes, only to dispose of waste in an irresponsible way. Some companies boast that they support female empowerment, but don’t have any women on their board. It’s important to do your homework to be sure you’re investing in actually socially responsible institutions.”

I should add that the article I just referenced does contain the names of some mutual funds that practice socially responsible investing, so read the article and check them out. I guess that means I want you to be responsible for your investments.  

I should add that this quote from Dr. Barrett-Fox really slams home her point:

“So I see Ramsey preaching personal responsibility when it comes to how your financial decisions impact your life but not when it comes to how your financial decisions impact the larger world. I think Christians should have a broader vision.”

The next thing Dr. Barrett-Fox deals with is Ramsey’s materialism. 

Ramsey … likes what money does for him and is well-known for his massive house and car collection. He isn’t a critic of having too much.

He points out during his teaching that there’s nothing wrong with having stuff, as long as you pay cash for it. However, in railing against the materialism of a society that needs everything now, so put it on credit, he fails to ask himself the question “How much is enough?” Is materialism acceptable if you pay cash? 

In a society where materialism is based on credit, is it enough to say, “Oh no, don’t put things on credit; use cash,” or do we need to reject the accumulative ideology of the world and seek ways to live more simply and use cash to help others? I believe Dr. Barrett-Fox would say that we should live more simply and help others. Ramsey would say we shouldn’t deny ourselves, but we should also give to help others. D. Barrett-Fox recommends a book to think about how that question should be answered. “For a perspective on how to live with joy with what you have, I recommend More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess.”

Dr. Barrett- Fox keys in on one of Ramsey’s pet phrases: “Live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else.”

One of his favorite slogans is “Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.” This seems to me to be a paraphrase of Luke 12:13-21, in which a man saves us his riches and then is able to relax and “eat, drink, and be merry.” For a Christian, I think, the purpose of money shouldn’t be to store it up now for later; it should be to use it now for what you value and use it later for what you value. For Christians, this should be to care for others and creation.

To be fair to Ramsey, in his climactic lesson, he changes that to “Live like no one else so that later you can GIVE like no one else.” That being said, this attitude of Ramsey’s concerns me. Not that we should live more simply, which is what he means when he uses that phrase, but that giving should be delayed. We read stories occasionally of people that you would least expect leaving millions dollars to various charities. That kind of gift makes a big impact, but any charity that depends on such big gifts will soon die. Charities must depend on the small, regular gifts that come in every month. This is the major adjustment my wife and I have made to Ramsey’s system. We find ways to give to people in need and important causes now. We get great joy out of doing it and being able to do it. 

I don’t mention that to have you say anything about me, but to remind you that one of the perks of being debt free is that you have more freedom to give to support other causes and people right now. 

The only quibble I have with Dr. Barrett-Fox in part 2 of her critique comes from this comment: 

I also find him very insensitive to poor people. Ramsey encourages people to pare down their expenses, even if it means “beans and rice, beans and rice”–that is, even if they have to eat the food of the world’s poor. Simple, low-cost meals are considered to be a punishment for your past financial sins or a sacrifice for your future wealth.

I think Ramsey understands poverty to a degree, having gone through it himself. His encouragement to eat beans and rice isn’t a punishment for past financial sins so much as it’s a call to do whatever you have to do to get out of debt. He would say that if someone was willing to do that, they were serious about getting their financial house in order.

Dr. Barrett-Fox and I have differing views on the effectiveness of the Ramsey program for getting out of debt, but I think we both agree that we should do our best to keep our financial house in order. She’s studied many different systems, including Ramsey’s, and can point you to different approaches that may work for you. ‘Ve worked the Ramsey system and I can tell you that when it comes to finances, it’s been the absolute best thing for me. 

But once you get out of debt, now what? I think Dr. Barrett-Fox and I would think along similar lines that we should think about a simpler life so that we can use the financial blessings we receive from God to help others. As she so wisely pointed out earlier, God doesn’t call us to store up wealth so that we can indulge ourselves, instead, He gives it to us so that we can help others. 

My pastor told a story tonight of a scholar who was asked what he might say to God when he got to heaven. His response is stunning. He said that he’d look around and say, “If I had realized how beautiful it was up here, I’d have made a bigger investment in the place.” Choose your investments wisely. 

Daily Work

The Spiritual Side of Egg Salad

The Pastor at my mom’s memorial service asked a great question: “What is it about the Egg Salad Sandwiches?” Apparently, after she died, people started telling the pastor that they’d really miss her egg salad sandwiches. Before my mom became bedridden, any time the church got together, my mom could be counted on to show up with her egg salad sandwiches. While the ingredients were simple, everyone raved about those egg salad sandwiches. Her pastor missed out on that joy.

As I pointed out while I shared at her memorial service, my mom had a secret ingredient that didn’t show up on any recipe card: love. She didn’t make those sandwiches to fulfill an obligation to provide something for people at those church get-togethers, she shared her heart as she made them. She made them for her pastor, her fellow deacons or Sunday School teachers, or fellow committee members. She made them for her children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. I’m sure that she thought about each person who’d be eating them as she made them. She loved the people in her church, and she loved her family, and egg salad sandwiches were one way that she showed that love.

Egg salad sandwiches take a little more effort to make than most sandwiches. For most sandwiches, when you decide what you want, you take the bread and slap on a dressing, some meat, some cheese, and maybe add some lettuce or tomato. Egg salad sandwiches are different though. You have to prepare for them. Eggs must be boiled, then peeled. After I rinse off the bits of egg shell that may be left, I dry the egg on a towel, because water just doesn’t work with egg salad. I chop the egg up, or double cut it with an egg slicer. Then, you mix in the mayonnaise, the salt and the pepper, put mayo on the bread, which, according to the Mary James standard, should be the very thing white bread, and finally add the egg salad.

Tonight, I had the opportunity to do something I know my mother would have enjoyed: I made egg salad sandwiches for a get together at church. We’re doing a dramatic interpretation of Holy Week called “Journey to the Cross” by having people welcome Jesus as He entered Jerusalem, go to the last supper, experience His prayer in the garden and His arrest, go through the trial before Pilate, pray at the cross, and experience the joy of the resurrection. The church is providing snacks each night, and tonight was my night to help.

As I made the sandwiches, I thought of the love my mother showed to everyone by making her sandwiches. Then, I thought about the people who would be eating the ones I was making: the cast, crew, and the participants. While I didn’t know who would eat those sandwiches, I prayed as I spread the mayo on the bread and added the egg salad. I prayed that not only would they enjoy the food I was making, that even more so, that God would strengthen their faith or help people begin a walk of faith because of tonight’s event. I can’t say for certain that I experienced the same kind of love that my mother did as she made her sandwiches, but I can tell you that a lot of love was added to the egg salad sandwiches I made.

Sometimes we go through the motions when making or eating food. We say the right words before we eat, or after in the tradition of some, and then don’t give another thought to it. Today, I had a spiritual experience making egg salad sandwiches. I thanked God for the heritage of my family which continues to stay strong. I thanked God for providing the ingredients. I prayed over each sandwich that those who ate it would experience special blessings from God. I was reminded of the great provision God makes for each of us. I’m reminded that I should never take food for granted, especially in a world where it’s sometimes scarce. All because of a sandwich.