Tuesday, June 20, 2006

American Idolatry

Sorry for the long interval between posts . . . alot has happened since I last posted - I turned 27, we made it through the second Central Ohio Work Camp, Clark survived a week with my parents to mention a few. We'll be leaving for Louisiana in less than a month to do some work down near New Orleans as they continue to clean up from last year's hurricanes. Summer's definitely here.

Last week our church hosted a work camp - we went out and painted people's houses for free. It was a great week of bonding, serving together, working for the Lord. Painting houses seems menial in the face of the greater needs of society (health care, food, counseling, etc.) but it what our experience provided us was the opportunity to enter someone else's story. For one week, a group of teenagers had the opportunity to spend seven or eight hours a day inside the world of someone they would ordinarily pass by.

One homeonwner's husband was dying of Alzheimer's disease. She was a sweet lady who was so appreciative. On Thursday, I met her boyfriend. Another homeowner was a sweet, intriguing elderly African American man who lived in northern Columbus. He was overjoyed by the experience. Another homeowner was an elderly couple who had a mooching grandaughter and husband, and other familiy members living with them. Each experience unique. Each a welcome opportunity for us to share in.

So many things happened during that week, it'll take me a few months to process all of it. The teens' lives were changed; I firmly believed that. My life was changed . . . my convictions regarding poverty, social injustice, and systemic sin were deepened. An initial reflection I have regarding my experience has to do with idolatry.

The Minor Prophets blasted Israel for her worship of idols. They cannot see, hear, or do anything. What a mockery. Today we join the prophet's chorus mocking the idols archaeologists dig up today: rock statues, paintings, etc. Who could worship such a thing? But are we any better than our distant ancestors? I suggest not. No longer do we worship the stone fertility gods that Rachel stole from her father, but make no mistake: we still have our idols. Here are some idols that have poignantly shown themselves to me in the midst of the suburban life:

* "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" . . . well, that one isn't going anywhere
* the SUV phenomenon - we must have the biggest, newest, best vehicle around - perhaps there is something we can learn from the Europeans here. Why do we think we "have to have" an SUV? Perhaps the idol here is space. Seen in vehicles, houses, malls . . . it's all about space.
* the American flag - in the midst of a "flag lowering ceremony" at a Christian camp of all things, a French exchange student turned to me and asked why we treated the flag as an idol . . . hmm, that's going to be a tough one for many American Christians to see, but our flag has become an idol to our churches. American nationalism pervades theology in American churches. American policy is dictating our understanding of the ethics of war, poverty, economics, justice, and everything in between.
* sports - where we spend our time and money is indicative of our priorities, our passions, and our worship. Many families in our youth ministry comment about the cost of youth events, the time it requires . . . funny I seldom hear those same comments made regarding their soccer camps, baseball tournaments, etc. The new idol in American society is athletic excellence. Teenagers are pushed to succeed in sports, but for what end? Professional sports (of which I am a guilty idolator) have become modern day gladiators. Football stadiums are full of white crowds enjoying the games played by black physical specimens. Our idols have turned from stone and gold to round and pigskin.

Maybe I'm too negative. Maybe I'm the naysayer. Maybe I'm so cynical that I overstate the case. Probably all are true. At the same time, I refuse to uphold the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality. It is time for Christians to stand up in the midst of these idolatrous times. It is time for us to show the world the true God who deserves all worship, glory, and honor. We must stop wasting our time and money on insigificant things that will perish.

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