Holiday music: Thanksgiving edition

The Christmas music season doesn't begin until Black Friday. Most of those I know who insist on playing those festive tunes earlier in the year do so because (according to them) there is no such thing as Thanksgiving carols. I beg to differ. There is a host of holiday appropriate music for the gathering around the table to gorge yourself on turkey or ham and all the trimmings. Below is what I have playing at my house today. And if you wish to listen along with me, it's all in a playlist at the bottom just for you. To all my friends and family, thank you for everything. I love y'all dearly.

1: Thank U by Alanis Morissette from the album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
2: All I Can Do (Thank You) by Mikeschair from the album All or Nothing
3: Thank You by Dido from the album No Angel
4: Come, Ye Thankful People, Come by Leigh Nash from the album Hymns & Sacred Songs
5: Thank You by Chris Cornell from the album Unplugged in Sweden
6: No One Like You (Thanksgiving Mix) by David Crowder Band from the album Sunsets & Sushi
7: Thank You by John Reuben, Manchild, & Othello from the album (Sees Everything In) Hindsight
8: Thankful by Jonny Lang and Michael McDonald from the album Turn Around
9: Thank You by Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary from the album Kingdom Come
10: Thankful for You by TobyMac and Byron "Mr. Talkbox" Chambers from the album Eye On It
11: Thank You by KJ-52 from the album Behind The Musik (A Boy Named Jonah)
12: Grateful by Lecrae and J.R. from the album After The Music Stops
13: Thank You God for Saving Me by Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham from the album Burning Lights
14: Thankful by Caedmon's Call from the album 40 Acres
15: Grateful by Wyclef Jean from the album The Preacher's Son
16: Thank You, Lord, For Sending Me the F Train by Mike Doughty from the album Skittish
17: Thankful by Scribbling Idiots, Wonder Brown, D-Minor, Ozay Moore, & MotionPlus from the album Invitation Only
18: Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant from the album Ophelia
19: Thank You, Goodnight by All Star United from the album International Anthems for the Human Race


American Idolatry

Every four years, I see something peculiar happen inside Christian culture: evangelicals stop evangelizing and begin campaigning. Many within the church trade the cross of Christ for the cross of a candidate. Under the guise of patriotic duty, we begin to worship an idol.

I can see you now - recoiling at my damning indictment. How dare I accuse God's people of worshiping anyone other than God? Chill for a moment and allow me to explain.

Let's start with the definition of the word. According to Merriam-Webster, an idol is: "a representation or symbol of an object of worship; a false god."
Dictionary.com defines an idol as "an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed." Or "any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion."

For many Americans, their patriotism borders on jingoism with such fervor that it resembles religious devotion. Straight ticket voters, partisan polarization, and party purity pledges exemplify blind admiration and adoration. The GOP, DNC, TEA Party, Constitutionalists, and Libertarians are the political versions of Baptists, Methodists, Jesuits, and Lutherans. If political parties are the neo-denominations in this faux religion, elephants and donkeys are their graven images; the names on a ballot are false gods.

But how does the Bible define idolatry? In Old Testament scripture, idols were constructed of wood, stone, gold, or silver. Where people were created by God, lower case gods were created by people. Deuteronomy, calls them "a thing made by the hands of a craftsman." They are described in Isaiah as "the work of their hands … what their own fingers have made." And Habakkuk asks "What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image?" In the letter to the Colossians, Paul gave a broader definition. "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

Covetousness is idolatry.

Covetousness is a word of greed. It is a state of desire for wealth and possessions, frequently wealth and possessions belonging to someone else. Paul describes this as idolatry because we are placing a greater value on terrestrial things than we do on God; we love this thing or person more than it/he/she deserves.

In an interview, John Piper explained it like this: "It starts in the heart, craving, wanting, enjoying, being satisfied by anything that you treasure more than God. That is an idol. Paul calls this covetousness, a disordered love or desire, loving more than God what ought to be loved less than God and only for the sake of God. But covetousness is the condition that this disordered heart is into, an act of loving too much what ought to be loved less."

Piper's perspective is that idols are anything we love greater than we love God which brings us pleasure. Idols are seeking security, or satisfaction, or peace outside of God’s design. An idol is any person or thing that is loved, wanted, or desired more than God. Idols are those activities or relationships we enjoy or value above God.

Do our political obsessions fit this definition of an idol? Are we seeking security in an elected official or their promise of Supreme Court justices? Will we find satisfaction if our preferred candidates win? Are we hoping our political ideology is represented in the final vote tallies?

This doesn't mean you are forbidden from showing an interest in politics. Nor is this meant to criticize anyone who gets involved with the process as either a candidate or a campaign worker. The implications should not paint all of politics as a den of idolatrous hedonism.

We need to vote. As long as we live in a country that grants us the freedom to do so, we should always exercise our right to vote. And we should vote according to our conscience or in accordance with our moral standards. However, for the Christian, weather we are casting a vote or asking people to vote for us, we must remember that our hope is in someone bigger than an election. We hope in someone greater than America.

As the Psalmist wrote,
"I find rest in God; only he gives me hope.
He is my rock and my salvation.
He is my defender; I will not be defeated.
My honor and salvation come from God.
He is my mighty rock and my protection.”

If anyone assures you their candidate is the only one who can fix things, it’s idolatry.
If anyone claims their candidate will protect their way of life, it’s idolatry.
If anyone says the other candidate will destroy their way of life, it’s idolatry.
If anyone places more faith in a candidate than they do in God, it’s idolatry.
If anyone is worried that God might not be able to protect them if the wrong candidate is elected, it’s idolatry.
If anyone insists that voting for a specific person is your Christian duty and anyone voting for the other person is a heathen, it’s idolatry.

By the end of today, I hope you have voted. If that means you voted for Clinton, awesome. If that means you voted for Trump, OK. If that means you voted third party, great. While I don't think that Clinton will be a good president, I'm not worried what will happen if she wins. Even though I think Trump will be a dangerous and disastrous president, I'm not worried what will happen if he wins. Even if it is bad for me personally, I am still not worried because my hope does not rest upon the shoulders of Clinton, Trump, or any of the other candidates. My hope is in God.

Assuming the worst rumors and accusations about Clinton are true and she destroys America, I'll be alright because I'm God's. And if the worst of what anyone has ever said about Trump (including himself) is true and he destroys the planet, I'll be alright because I'm God's. And even if I'm not alright, I will still be alright because I am God's.


What Halloween says about our economy

In a few days, voters will be walking into polling stations all across the US to choose who they want to be the next President of the United States of America. Or rather who they don’t want as the next President. Lesser of evils and all.

But I digress. For months we have heard how this is the most important election in American history, usually from the people who said the same thing four years ago and will probably repeat the claim four years from now. It is just an election. And come the morning of November 9th, whether we like the results or not, life will go on.

Yet election 2016 seems different than what we have seen in years past. This go-around seems to be fueled by two elements: fear and anger. I get it; people are scared and mad. Why? Well, as one campaign strategist stated during the 1992 campaign season, “The economy, stupid.”

Of course, it doesn’t help when one of our two major candidates says things like:
“We’re in a big, fat, ugly bubble and we better be awfully careful. When they raise interest rates, you’re going to see some very bad things happen.”
“It’s not just the political system that's rigged, it’s the whole economy.”
“We have a country that's doing so badly, that's being ripped off by every single country in the world.”
“There is practically not a country that does business with the United States that isn’t making – let’s call it a very big profit.”
“If we don’t, things are just going to had in a direction that's going to be almost impossible to recover from.”
“Our country is in deep trouble.”
“We're losing our jobs, so many of them.”
“Our country is losing so much.”
“We’re a debtor nation. We’re a serious debtor nation.”
“We’ve become a third world country.”
“We have the greatest mess anyone’s ever seen.”

If this is this voice, or others like it are the predominant sources of “truth” in your life, then fearful and furious would be the most logical emotional state to occupy your being.

But is it really that bad?

In 1980, then nominee Ronald Reagan posed a question that has been asked many times in the 36 years since: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Are you? I know I am. And I’m not alone in that sentiment. Polls taken all over the US reveal similar statistics. More people are agreeing that they are better off now than they were around the time we elected Obama into his first term. I know not everyone thinks we are living in a better America, that is why Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” is so powerful. Too many people feel weak and powerless. Too many people believe like America is in shambles. Too many people fear our economy is in the toilet and on the verge of being flushed.

But is it really that bad?

Monday night, I took the kids out trick-or-treating. While out celebrating Halloween, I noticed a few details that seem to contradict the doom and gloom Trump preaches at his rallies.

1. I saw far more kids out trick-or-treating than I have in recent years. People have long complained that year after year, fewer kids show up at their door looking for candy. That could be due to more parents seeking safer alternatives like community trunk-or-treat events or church harvest parties. But this year, the neighborhood was packed with kids, bringing back memories of what it was like in the 80s. A few houses we visited had actually ran out of candy – they were not prepared to see so many kids.
2. I saw more parents dressed up in costume while they escorted their kids. Sure, we as parents always make sure our kids have a costume, but the money to spend on costumes for ourselves is a luxury.
3. My kids received full-sized candy bars in their buckets. There were a few houses that skipped the bite-sized, fun-sized, variety packs of candy, they went straight to the big stuff. One acquaintance of mine reported handing out 80 full-sized candy bars. In all of the years taking my kids trick-or-treating (note: Christian is 12), this is the first year I have seen anyone handing out full sized bars.
4. My neighbor left a bowl of candy outside his door with this wonderful sign posted above it. Strategy like this risks the possibility of an enterprising youngster dumping the contents of the bowl into their own bag, leaving behind a few empty wrappers for future trick-or-treaters. I haven’t seen anyone this trusting with Halloween treats since Shane and I did it in 1999.

Is the economy crashing? Maybe. I’m not an economist though and my college economics class was a primary reason I never completed my business administration degree. So I might not be the most qualified to speak to our nation’s financial stability or future. However, from a layman’s perspective I am not convinced we’re (as Trump claims) a third world country in deep trouble and the biggest mess anyone has ever seen. After what I saw on Halloween, I’d say our future is bright.

If our economy was a dire mess teetering on disaster, I don’t think I would have seen so many kids out in the neighborhood. I don’t think I would have observed as many grown-ups in costume. I doubt any one would have been giving away full-sized candy bars. And I am skeptical anyone would have left a bowl of candy on their porch with little more than the honor system to govern its distribution.