Saturday, October 29, 2005

Rosa Parks and Birmingham in 2005

From December 1, 1955, to the passing of Mrs. Rosa Parks this week, the struggle to eradicate racial divides in Alabama has remained at the forefront of the minds of many in the United States. When one thinks of the Civil Rights Movement, Alabama is naturally one of the places that comes to mind with the obvious contributions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., only to mention two of many who have worked hard and sacrificed for what is right.

As a transplant to Birmingham only 1 1/2 years ago, I see two Birminghams. The downtown city of Birmingham is a run-down, exhausted city that shows glimpses of a time when the steel industry was booming and the city was thriving. There are efforts underway to revitalize the downtown area, and I hope they succeed, but one has only to drive through on I-65 to make a judgment that is basically true. While the UAB area of downtown is growing exponentially, the future of the center and northern parts of downtown are still up in the air. Downtown areas west of I-65 become increasingly dangerous. When murders are reported on the news, the Ensley area is usually assumed unless otherwise noted.

The other Birmingham is what is commonly called "Over the Mountain." Red Mountain serves as a geographical border between the city that thrived in the early and mid-20th Century and the areas to the south that are now thriving. Red Mountain also serves as the socio-economic divider for the area. Property investments have obviously moved away from the old into new for the metro area over the past 50 years.

Is there a racial divide present in Birmingham? Apparently, yes. Is there an economic divide? Obviously, yes.

While my personal observations are limited (and fallible), it appears that both divides are problematic and tend to fuel each other. Obviously the history of racial segregation has impacted the way that the area is settled. Regardless of skin color, the majority of those who live in middle and upper class income brackets live "Over the mountain," and the majority of those living in poverty live in Birmingham proper.

Life "Over the Mountain" seems to be fairly well adjusted racially. (I'm not saying things are perfect or that there is not progress to continue to seek.) People live and work in harmony, and there are many races represented in the work force. While life may fall short of the average beer commercial ratio of racial perfection, interaction and life seems to be close to arriving at the right place.

Not so in old Birmingham. There are plenty of reasons that could be discussed, but traveling around downtown and areas west of I-65 would lead one to ask whether anything has changed since 1955. I can only imagine what Booker T. Washington would write today, 104 years after his visionary book Up From Slavery if he were to take a walk through the streets of West Birmingham. The poverty is blatant. The crime is daunting. There is a feeling of hopelessness on these streets that calls for fresh thinking and something to be done in 2005.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Something Fishy

Exxon Mobil Profit, Sales Soar to Records
There are lots of questions to ask our beloved oil companies now...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Big Business

Coming Soon to a Church Near You demonstrates how marketing is 'catching on' to the church audience behind the doors of the church.

"Twenty-five years ago, there were fewer than 50 churches in the United States that attracted more than 2,000 people each week. Today, there are more than 1,200. Many boast professional-quality sound systems, large-screen projection systems and comfortable seats that rival those of any commercial theater. Most also have bookstores or gift shops."
I might add that the changing of money and the availability of doves for purchase are also a growing industry within the church.
The rest of the article further turns my stomach.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Heaven, Hell, and the Gospel

Along I-65 between Birmingham and Louisville there are plenty of 'evangelistic' billboards at which to laugh, but a sad reality lies behind the message - a message that choosing heaven or choosing hell is the essence of religion in this world. Jesus does teach quite a bit on the topic of hell, but today the topic has become so distorted that either escaping hell or assuring oneself of heaven seem to have been completely separated from the person of God.

I am reminded of an evangelist (with perfect evangelist hair, of course) who preached a thrilling message on heaven and the wonders of heaven. He preached with passion and great zeal in this first message to our church, and then, having adequately painted a picture of the gloriousness of heaven, he gave an invitation: "Come, now, and you can have heaven." (My paraphrase.)

Removing the message of the Cross, the death and resurrection of the Son of God, the absolute need of mankind for redemption, or the fact that our salvation is supremely for God's glory (not to satisfy our own desires for a better place) is to take the gospel out of the gospel. Just as Scott Slayton has pointed out the lack of an explanation for the invitation given by Joel Osteen, there is an absence of the gospel out there in places where some unspecified religion is being proclaimed.

I certainly believe that the Bible teaches a literal heaven and a literal hell, but making the choice out to be a simple Eternal Choose Your Own Adventure is to present a lie to people. Holding heaven over a person's head like a carrot and then leading them to pray a prayer that equates to the ticket is from the father of lies.

Speaking of the fire kindled in us by God, Richard Sibbes writes:
"Heavenly truths must have a heavenly light to discern them. Natural men see heavenly things, not in their own proper light, but by an inferior light. In every converted man, God puts a light into the eye of his soul proportionable to the light of truths revealed to him. A carnal eye will never see spiritual things." (from A Bruised Reed)

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Apprentice - As Good as it Gets?

I'm not initially impressed with this 'season' of The Apprentice, the only reality show I watch (and pretty much the only TV aside from sports.) My early favorite is Randal – he's smart and sensible, not so self-absorbed, and educated to the hilt. I think he fits the pattern of the other three winners so far. Trump doesn't seem to hire other 'Trumps.' The reason I'm not impressed overall is that there just seem to be a lot of ridiculous people on the show. Pretty people and abrasive personalities make the ratings better, I'm sure, but there just don't seem to be many that would truly be capable of running a business in Trump world. (My second favorite would be Alla, maybe the truest entrepreneur of the group.)

While George and Carolyn (Trump's 'eyes') are so easily likable, Trump himself is another matter. In some ways I think he is a true representative of the American persona (both good and bad...maybe a topic to flesh out later.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Accommodate. v. to make fit; adjust; adapt; to reconcile.

Accommodation has long been a dangerous element in people's theology. The church today is no different. One of the antonyms listed by Roget's for 'accommodate' is 'inconvenience.' Churches that ask too much are considered an 'inconvenience,' an inconvenience that people are easily able to overcome:
1. Go to another church that has fewer inconveniences
2. Stay at the inconvenient church, but smooth over (and ignore) what is troubling.

Rather than taking an approach to the Bible and one's subsequent understanding of God that asks: What needs to change about me?, people would rather just accommodate their theology for the areas that they might 'disagree with.' Most churches have lost any notion of authority that has historically (and correctly) come from an authoritative view of Scripture. Christians (I use the term loosely) join churches but hold on to their own understanding of the ways things should be. Concerning the Bible, people read and even study it without being truly open to change within themselves. Maybe that's why there are 1,527,983.75 different theological positions within a church of 500 people.

Rather than working through conviction, our very nature is to figure out another way. We accommodate our beliefs rather than admit that our thinking on a topic is wrong. Very quietly the church is full of Jeffersonian Bibles with pages cut out and verses marked out. Sure, other verses are highlighted and underlined – these are agreeable – "I will live by these," we declare.

Not only on the level of how we live, but our very understanding of God is shaped more by how we think God should be than by what the Bible actually says: "I don't think God is like that" or "I can't believe in a God like that." A person who accommodates the God of the Bible to be the god of their wishes cannot be called "Christian."

Likewise, entire churches and denominations are built on a spirit of accommodation. "Loving" or "compassionate" are usually key terms emphasized as the reason for their convenient interpretation of Scripture. "Acceptance" is more important than any biblical standard of how believers should live. The latest CNN poll on public opinion is their Bible. Their own feelings serve as their 'god.'