I didn't know which category this would fall into. It actually has elements from several, so I just left the little identifying disc off. Hope that doesn't offend anyone.
I have never had much use for dreams. I don't mean the life aspirations kind of dreams. "I have a dream to be a late night talk show host." Those are useful - rarely realized - but useful. I mean the kind of dreams that invade your mind, wrecking an otherwise peaceful sleep. Some people dream all the time. It's usually really vivid stuff. And they can remember almost all of them the next morning. My wife and daughter are both like this. Every morning they can give you a rundown of their dreams. I'm not like this. I guess I dream like most people, but I rarely can remember them the next day. I'm talking maybe once a month. (Until recently, when it has been happening almost daily.) So when I do, they are usually very vivid and/or troubling dreams. And my mind has trouble differentiating between what happens in my dream and real life. So I'll wake up all upset or scared for no good reason. Fun stuff.
Most of my dreams are troubling. It is almost like my mind dips into all the stuff that scares the crud out of me and creates a movie out of it. There have been dreams about losing the kids. A large number of my dreams involve me getting into a fight or getting attacked. I'll get into huge arguments with people - ones that have massive ramifications within my dream world. And, I guess this is normal, I'm naked a lot in my dreams. Like, when I shouldn't be. I'll be running around trying to hide myself while at the United Nations to argue with someone. Weird stuff like that.
I have had very memorable dreams where I got into a big knock down, drag out fight with a work superior that I was having trouble with in real life. That is always a problem. You wake up and are all wary of the person when you get to work. My mind is on hyper-alert with that person - all because in the dream I finally unloaded all the stuff that I had bottled up in real life. Even now, I'll have dreams involving massive showdowns with former pastors, bosses, nemeses - usually they are people that I didn't feel resolved with when they left my daily interactions. I'll be all irritated at them all over again - only they are peacefully doing their daily routine five hours away.
It's always weird who ends up in a dream. Completely random. Like, I won't think about a person for years. Then one night, WHAM, they are there running around with me trying to overthrow some evil overlord. And my mind has the ability to come up with some wacky stuff. Back when I was in elementary school, I had this horrible nightmare where I was getting attacked by all these weird monsters. The one that absolutely freaked me out was this guy who had what looked like a dryer hose coming out of his suit where his neck and head should be. (Kind of like Chairface Chippendale from The Tick, but a dryer hose instead of a chair.) But, it was really a big vacuum hose, and it actually would suck things towards him. I always called him Vacuum Cleaner Man. It was horrifying. And the worst thing is that I took one of my infrequent weekend naps that day and the stupid dream picked up right where it left off the night before. Back to running away from Vacuum Man. (Must have been generated by my extreme hatred of housework.)
I very rarely have happy dreams. But I did have one the other day. It was like I was watching a "Behind the Music" show - one of those television documentaries. It was about Steve Burns, from Blue's Clues. Of course, it also was a melding of other shows - like Bob the Builder. Steve was narrating the show. He was talking about how the show had been going well. Then he said, "But things were about to get tougher. Little did they know the controversy that would soon erupt. What was the problem? Take a look at this video and you'll see." Then a clip started to play. Blue was riding down a hill on a sled. Steve came running up from behind and jumped on the sled and they raced down the snow. Trees and houses were whipping along behind, and then there was a flash of orange for just a second. "Did you see it? If we slow it down, you'll see what many people perceived as a cross in the background." The film slowed down as they passed the orange and, sure enough, it was a weirdly shaped orange cross. "People soon began to accuse Steve of the unthinkable - that he was claiming to be . . . Jesus Christ." (What?!?) Steve continued in that typical overly emphatic voice that narrators use. "Many people found this accusation ridiculous. And Steve, of course, denied it. But, little did they know . . . that Steve . . . had the twelve apostles in his backyard . . . as lawn chairs." And it cut to a series of pictures showing his backyard. Sure enough, there were a whole bunch of molded plastic chairs that looked like caricatures of the Twelve Apostles. Their arms formed the arms, their legs were the front two legs, their face was the upper back of the chair, and the rest of the chair looked like robes. They showed Peter, John, James. Then I woke up. I had to laugh at that whole thing.
A lot of people have sexy dreams. (Uh, oh, where is this going?) It is pretty common. And, according to dream analysts, they don't mean anything. This type is not as frequent for me as other types. Sometimes, an element of that will take place when I am running around naked trying to fight ninjas. You know, like in the movies where two people in extreme danger find time to make whoopie. Like there isn't anything better they could be doing to prepare for the impending doom. But, my strong sense of inner morality always short circuits those sections. That has been the case since I was a teenager. Very strange - like a subconscious dream purity ring.
I think the worst dreams are the ones that involve things that are so close to life that it takes supreme effort to convince myself it didn't happen. A few months back, I had a dream where my good friend and ministry partner Charles and I had a really ugly fight. It was nasty. At the end of the dream, we ended up disbanding Defender Ministries and swearing to never talk to each other. I had such a hard time the next day that Heather had me call Charles, just so my mind could reboot. I felt stupid, but it worked.
The reason that I was even thinking about all of this was because last night I had a rough dream. My family and my in-laws were all at some big fancy house (kind of like the one in Modern Family last night). We were waiting for some guests to arrive. And I was all excited because everyone was going to see how much weight I had lost. I was nervous all day, so I kept munching on food. Mostly it was just almonds. But I also drained a container of cheese balls. (I HATE cheese balls. But the kids had some the other day, so that must be where that came from.) Finally, the other people showed up. My Aunt Dee was there (but in a wheelchair). And there were several other people too. I came running down the circular staircase without a shirt on (but, oddly, not completely naked). And they all criticized me because I hadn't lost enough weight. They thought they would be more impressed. And, cue alarm clock.
Needless to say, I felt pretty bad about myself when I woke up. I try not to take too many messages from dreams. I think they are so wacky that you could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what was going on. Or you could come up with some bizarre conclusions that really would mess you up if you tried to apply them. But I am pretty sure that our insecurities in life do seep into our dreams. Maybe that's why I'm always naked - I'm afraid that people will see me for what I really look like. I know if I am troubled that I will often have more vivid troubling dreams. (Hmmm, I've had those every day this week. I wonder what that says.) I don't know what I should take from last night's dream. Maybe I am afraid that even after all this work, that other people still see me as a big fat failure. Maybe I'm worried that I am going to start eating things I shouldn't. Maybe it was nothing more than the turkey last night didn't sit well.
Fortunately, battling dreams isn't a whole lot different than battling my own perceptions. I frequently will assume that people around me are thinking something about me or secretly judging me. "Hey look at that fat guy. Man, he's fat. And what's he thinking wearing THOSE shoes?" In reality, they probably didn't even realize I was there. They were too busy worrying that everyone was judging THEM. Part of my food addiction efforts has been convincing myself that what I think other people are saying about me, is actually what I am saying about myself. So I have to fight my inner dialogue (which, trust me, can be more vicious than anything anyone else would say to me). When I start in on myself, I have to fight those statements with truth. And that is the same thing I have to do with dreams. Because, let's face it, neither perceptions nor dreams have anything to do with reality. Now if I can just find a way to stay dressed...
Apr 15, 2010
Apr 13, 2010
First, I like the cooler weather. I always have preferred it. I hate hot weather. I sweat a lot and just don't feel that great. I know, I know. Then I should move out of Florida. I've gotten as close to leaving the state as possible without leaving it. We are like thirty minutes south of Georgia. But, its like a dog with an imaginary fence. For some reason I just can't cross the border. Second, there is a lot to look forward to in the cooler times of year. There's Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and New Year's. There aren't as many of those cool things in the Spring/Summer. Third, for some reason things are always much tighter financially for us from April to August. I don't know why - it just happens that way. It has for years. That adds a lot of stress.
One of the biggest things is that we are getting really close to summer break. Most kids were thrilled for summer. I was, to an extent. But I got bored very quickly. And I was a big fat nerd, so I loved school. School was where I excelled and was a big shot. Summer just meant sitting around alone. I rarely saw my friends during the summer. So most of summer was spent sweating, sunburning, and getting my butt whipped at various sports by my brother. Now, with kids, summer is rough. Last summer was the first one I had as the primary caregiver. It was not an easy time. I got very depressed. And I think the stress of that summer is part of what is making me anxious now. I'm thinking about last year, and worrying about this year. I know this one will be different. I have a year's worth of experience under my belt. Gabe is a lot more independent than he was. We'll be living in Jacksonville for two months - so I won't be alone anywhere near as much. But that fear still lurks.
One of the things that helps me in dealing with my various issues is writing about it. That is why I have all these blogs. I really think that one of the biggest helps in my efforts with food has been documenting stuff on the Darth Fatso blog. I know this past summer I wrote more frequently on this site, trying to deal with the big life changes in our family. I think that I will probably start writing more often again. I have tried to limit my posts, so I don't become "that guy" - the one who constantly is updating his site and posting notifications on Facebook. But, as my wife kindly reminded me the other day, people are free to not read everything I put up anyway.
That all being said, when I think about funk, naturally I think about fish. You know, fish smell funky. And they look . . . uh . . . funky. And then there are those fake mounted fish that sing funky music. Yeah, I was stretching pretty bad there. I've been eating more fish lately. I've been surprised at how much I like it. I found out there is a fish market here in town last night. I'm really excited to go there and check it out. Very big change for me. I've never been a fish fan. I hate fishing. That is about the most boring thing possible. You stand there in the heat and just wait . . . for usually nothing. (This is not genetic. My mom's side of the family are all fishing people. My grandfather made fishing poles and owned a fishing supply store. I'm just weird.) And I have always avoided fish as a general rule - with just occasional eating of tuna steaks.
So fish has been on my mind. Which made it extra interesting that on Sunday at church, we were talking about fishing during the Bible study time. We are trying (another) new church. I can honestly say that finding a church up here has been one of the more frustrating things I've had to do. This church is smaller, but so far we really like it. So, in class we were discussing Matthew 4:19, when Jesus called some of His first disciples. He said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." The teacher made the point that many people seize the second half of that statement and forget the first.
You can see that happens. The fish has always been a big symbol in Christianity. Several of the Disciples were fishermen. Jesus used fish frequently in his demonstrations - the huge catch of fish, the coin in the fish, the fish and loaves, eating fish after rising. And He chose this characterization when calling the fishing Disciples. So you can see how this has become a common symbol. Many people believe the fish (ichthus) symbol was how early Christians recognized each other - drawing it in the dirt as a means of identification. And the modern Church uses the fish in a similar way - with the fish on their cars. It is very easy to grasp that image and run with it.
Our teacher was making the point that we grab that part and forget the whole "follow me" imperative - which actually is the more important phrase. He asked the dangers of doing that. The discussion that followed was really good. If we focus on the last part of that verse, it is easy to be caught up in thinking WE are the ones in control. We believe WE are responsible for finding the fish and catching them. But we also start to feel that we are the primary reason for the success of the catch. It must have been something that we said or did - some clever way of telling the Gospel. This is a HUGE problem in the modern American church - something that ties in to my post about Christian celebrities. We take credit for something that is not our doing. We may begin to use our own methods and plans - trying to generate more fish. Even though the goal may be noble, our approach is wrong. We also may not be happy with our catch. We want the big fish or rich fish. We aren't happy with the Church equivalent of smelt.
We forget all about the fact that it is a dependent relationship. Our following Christ leads to our calling and ability to fish. It isn't about us. It is about following Him. And then He leads us to places where fishing can occur. As I thought about this, I also began to realize that a lot of times we aren't even the one fishing. We may be the lure. We may be the hook. We may be the rod. God uses us in a bunch of different ways. We are just a tool in his tackle box. Our goal should be to see the Kingdom advanced - not ourselves. We have to change our perspective, our priorities, our plans. That is not a natural thing to do in our society. Everything is about self promotion and advancement. But there are definitely times when we should be content just to play a smal role in the grand design. We never know how we are being used. Recognizing that is a good way to shake the funk, too.
Apr 11, 2010
Anyway, I wanted to see what exactly the fuss was all about. I know that Avatar has made some ridonkulous amount of money so far ($743 million in US, $1.9 billion in the rest of the universe). And it had a bunch of Oscar nominations. So, what was so special about the movie? How did it do what so many people thought was impossible? How did it knock Titanic off its perch as highest grossing film ever?
I have already posted my thoughts about James Cameron in general. And I already voiced my displeasure at the way the Oscars played out. But after seeing this film, I just have to say that it reiterates many of my points in those posts. First of all, James Cameron is a genius. I don't believe he is the greatest filmmaker of all time. But, I think he has to rank up in the upper echelon of the most creative movie minds of all time. He came up with the Terminator universe - which has spawned four movies, a television show, theme park attractions, multiple video games. He expanded the Alien universe. He has been in control of four different "game changing" movies - The Abyss, Terminator 2, Titanic, and Avatar.
Avatar trumped all of the other things he has done. It isn't even close. I know that Titanic was like an earthquake in Hollywood. Everything changed after it. The aftershocks are still being felt. The special effects, the scope, the budget, the event nature of it - in addition to launching two huge movie stars and spawning a ginormous music hit. All of it made Titanic a benchmark movie in film history. And Terminator is a huge series. It had amazing special effects, enduring story and characters.
But Avatar surpassed all of that. The event nature of it was bigger than anything. People felt like they HAD to see this movie. And not just see it, but experience it in IMAX and 3D - even though those things cost tons of extra money. The special effects were just amazing. I kept looking to see where the computer ended and the film began. It wasn't possible. One of the scenes I thought was going to be shaky was when the main guy (Jake) showed up on Pandora. Turns out that was actually shot on film. The creatures were very realistic - even more so than Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, King Kong. The filming was gorgeous - every shot was rich in image and color.
That gets into what I think was so jawdropping about the film. When a movie helmsman creates a film universe, usually it is within the construct of what we are familiar with. For example, the Terminator franchise was set on Earth with cities and humans. The technology portrayed on film was far beyond our current times, but it was in line with our advances. Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate (the trinity of sci-fi franchises) all have tons of humanoids roaming around. No matter where you go in the universe, it appears that there are going to be human looking aliens with slight modifications (pointy ears, ridged forehead, weird voice). Avatar didn't do that. It wasn't supposed to be some foreign alien planet that looks a lot like the Amazon or Vancouver. It was completely new.
Cameron went beyond the call to create a completely new universe. Yes, humans were there. But the rest of the planet was so unique that it really was just amazing. He didn't just start with a fish and then do something minor to it and suddenly it was an alien. These were species that were completely unfamiliar. The flying banshees, the thing that chased Jake in his first night as an avatar, even the creatures crawling on a tree or floating by. One creature was kind of like a dinosaur, but not really. Another was kind of like a dragon, but no. Even the Na'vi - the main blue creatures - had two legs and walked like people. But they were bigger and different, with ponytails and tails and glowing sweat - so it wasn't just some dude in blue body paint. Cameron even went so far as to create vegetation that was vastly different. Glowing grass, shrinking flowers, floating seeds, levitating mountains. Each detail was creating by Cameron. He didn't just pull stock sci-fi imagery and toss it in there. His team had to create every single thing.
Even the on the human side, they had to come up with planes, helicopters, shuttles, bombers, guns, grenades, oxygen masks, computers that would reflect the advances in technology needed to advance the story. I am currently reading the Space Trilogy series by C. S. Lewis. I kept thinking about that series when I was watching Avatar. In it, Lewis created a similarly alien world for his story. In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, the main character Ransom ends up on an alien world. Nothing there is familiar. The "water" is different." The creatures are completely foreign. The vegetation and landscape were extreme in scope and appearance. It was impossible for Ransom to even process or know how to proceed. He didn't know what was safe or not, what was even intelligent or not. That is kind of what happens in Avatar. Everything is so foreign, so new that we feel like Ransom (and like Jake in Avatar) - completely taken in and mesmerized by everything around us. [I would say it is a good bet Cameron read the Space Trilogy. I would like to ask him that.]
Visually, the movie was unparalleled. I can somewhat imagine what people felt the first time they saw Star Wars. You are so amazed by what is on screen. In the movie, you are drawn into this strange new world. While at the same time, you are thinking in your seat, "Everything just changed, didn't it?" One movie reviewer called Avatar "the first movie of the rest of your life" - implying that it had just upped the ante. I agree. I remember feeling that way watching The Matrix. At first, I was thinking, "What the heck is this weirdness. Way to go, Melvin, making us go to this stupid thing. " About thirty minutes in, I was just sitting there sucked in. And by the end, I was trying to figure out where movies could possibly go next. I felt that way again during Avatar. I'm glad I saw it on the IMAX - it really was the only screen that could do the movie justice. I'm actually kind of interested to see how it does on DVD and BluRay. Can those smaller screens actually hold the epic nature?
That is not to say Avatar was perfect. Far from it. I basically could figure out everything that was going to happen scenes before it did. I knew what each character would do before they did. They would show a creature or tell a story, and immediately you knew how that would turn out. No surprises, as far as story telling went. The characters were very one-dimensional. They seemed like caricatures of people. The good-hearted scientist. The evil military leader. The greedy and shallow corporate shill. There was not a whole lot of depth in any of the characters. But, let's be honest, that is all pretty common in Cameron films. That is why he has only had two acting nominations in his films. The most conflicted character in the Terminator saga was a robot. So, kind of par for the course. (I will probably do another separate post on the religious, political, and economic statements in Avatar.) And find a movie that isn't flawed. I thought Up in the Air was 95% amazing. If you broke down the movie into 20 segments and rated each one, it would have gotten a perfect score on the first 19. And then a big fat zero on the last one. The ending was horrible - absolutely stupid. And that was considered the "best all around" movie of 2009 by most people.
That all being said, I still think Avatar should have won Best Picture and Cameron should have won Best Director. I still haven't seen The Hurt Locker, but I have talked to several of my movie expert buddies. And they all thought it was ridiculous it won. And, as I have said before, I am NOT of the opinion that the biggest movies should win. But when you have a movie that is amazing, epic, groundbreaking, entertaining, high quality, beyond adored, and able to be close to the top of the heap - it HAS to win. There is more to Best Picture than an academic assessment. I think it also needs to take into account the legacy and overall impact of the film. That is why Saving Private Ryan never should have lost Best Picture. That is why I still think Star Wars, The Dark Knight, The Matrix should have won - even more so in years that don't have a superior option. [Shakespeare in Love, Annie Hall, Slumdog Millionaire, American Beauty won in those four years instead. This is what happens when the most memorable movie in a year doesn't win. You get a stupid winner that everyone says, "How did they win?"] These enormous movies don't come along every year. They are not common. And they need to be treated that way. When you have a film that is going to be remembered for decades - one that will define the year it was released - I think it has to be rewarded.
Apr 1, 2010
Today I did something I have not done in the years since I joined Facebook. I actually unfriended someone. I didn't just unfriend him, I also removed myself from his fan page and stopped following him on Twitter. Why? Did he do something horrible? Was it a moral failure that caused such a response? No, to be honest, it was because I got sick and tired of his relentless self-promotion. Multiple times a day, I was subjected to his opinions, teachings, and thoughts about everything from fatherhood to manhood to church building to sports. And in every single case, without fail, he portrayed himself as the bringer and dispenser of correct knowledge. His suggestion were put down as law. It was as if God Himself had come down, spoken with that pastor, and told him that UFC was the only real sport for real men to watch. And if they didn't, then they were not following the Biblical rules for manhood and womanhood. This was one of his favorite areas to bloviate on - questioning the manhood of men who didn't do exactly what he did. If you didn't have your ten kids signed up for twenty sports, while also racing across the country to speak at every single church available, you weren't a real man.
I put up with much of that. But I finally just got tired of hearing about all the big shot people he knew and the crazy places he went. Instead of being known for breaking down the Bible, like he built his reputation on, he know became a spokesman for the modern church. He was everywhere - preaching seven times a weekend, going to launch churches in his self-created denomination, hobnobbing with "mega church" pastors, appearing on television and in magazines. I used to think it was great that he had those platforms. But I soon realized that it was actually all platforms, under the guise of being a pastor for one church. The final statement I got from him was a justification of his huge site church on the grounds that it saved gasoline. Good bye.
Some of you may know who I am talking about. This isn't intended to target him - but he is an example to me of what is wrong with this modern day Church cult of personality. We are drawn to these big shot pastors and speakers. Our churches desperately want to reach their level of success, so like puppies our ministers follow them around - hoping to pick up some scrap that will launch their church into the stratosphere. They go to their conferences. They buy their books. They get the identical $300 haircuts. They practice the cadence. They grown their chin hair down to their belly button. Whatever it takes to be just like these guys.
If you don't believe this is true, just go on the Twitter accounts of some of these celebrities. Andy Stanley, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Carlos Whittaker, Rob Bell, Ed Young, Joel O'Steen, Rick Warren. They will let you know how important they are. Go to register for their conferences. Better yet, to get a true understanding, apply to be a vendor at their conferences. That is when you truly understand the truth of the money these guys generate. To be an exhibitor at Andy Stanley's Catalyst conference costs over $2000 - just for a table! (That doesn't include putting ads in the program or having add-ons at the table. The most expensive one we've seen at another conference was $700.)
Celebrity is a dangerous game. There are some good things about having someone to look up to. It can drive us to be better. It can encourage and inspire us. But, there is a line that gets crossed. We can see how unhealthy it is to put anyone on a pedestal. Just examine the ways our regular celebrities routinely crash and burn. Tiger Woods was seen as this amazing sports idol. He was good looking, well spoken, talented beyond belief, a family man. And he had a strong sense of giving back to the community. Now? Well, you would think the world of sports journalists were made up with eight year old boys - with how devastated they were to find out the truth. We constantly hear stories about how our teenagers put ridiculous demands on themselves while trying to live up to the image or body style or fashion of some television star or singer. What they don't see is the army of stylists and lawyers and publicists and fake romances. They see some famous sixteen year old in public, but they don't see those same people destructing behind the scenes.
In the Church world, celebrity is even more dangerous. Our pastors try desperately to replicate these mega ministers. They try to implement their exact programs. They even copy their sermons (yes, that does happen more than you think). But, what they don't think about is that each situation is different. Each church is unique. It has its own staff, membership, locale, neighborhood, history. Just because First Church of the Flamethrower in Hell's Bend, Arizona can institute a "Dragon of Death Men's Event" with huge numbers does not mean that every church can or - more importantly - SHOULD do it. I remember a few years back a big Baptist church had ridonkulous success with an evangelism program. Massive number of salvations, pretty big number of baptisms. So, naturally, churches everywhere tried to replicate the same program. It got so big, the entire denomination ditched its old training methods and went with this one. What happened? Huge flop. Churches everywhere saw their numbers plummet - fewer members going on visitation, fewer people accepting Christ, fewer baptisms. The creators blamed those churches, saying they did not put it into practice "exactly the way it was designed." My argument was that they could NOT do it exactly the same - because they were not the same. These churches across the country were not located in a tourist-heavy Florida city that revolved every single church program around this strategy. So, by being somewhere else, they had already changed the variables. Little wonder it didn't work.
So, just because Mark Driscoll caught lightning in a bottle in one of the most unchurched areas of the country (Seattle) and now has a monstrous multi-site church up there, it does not mean that First United Methodist Church in Woolly Boolly, Kansas needs to follow exactly the same model. They aren't in Seattle. They don't have the same staff or same structure or same history. So, trying to mimic that style isn't going to have the same outcome. That is in addition to the fact that the pastor IS NOT MARK DRISCOLL. He shouldn't try to be. He should try to minister to his church in his style as led by God. (The seminaries are terrible at forcing their graduates to fit a mold. Many a good pastor has been ruined by being seminarified.)
You know that stuff I said about the danger of following celebrities? It is just as true with Christian celebs - if not more so. You see, if you hear about Jesse James cavorting and cheating on Sandra Bullock - are you honestly that shocked? Yes, they may have appeared to have a great marriage, blah blah blah. But, at the core, they are celebrities - Hollywood celebrities. And those people live by different rules. Both parties have been divorced before. Their has been substance abuse reports. Celebrities are just like us, with all our dumb fights and arguments. Except they also have millions of people telling them they are important. So, that colors their behavior, enhances their worst elements. The same is true of celebrities in the Church world. They are the same as us - with all the same weaknesses. They have egos and anger issues and greed and poor self esteem and vanity and selfishness and lustful hearts. They just have a whole congregation (and sometimes a publisher, agent, editor, and denomination) that are telling them they are special.
So, it is little wonder that these people have developed attitudes and behaviors that are less than Christ-like. I hear all kinds of horror stories about the behaviors and opinions of this class of celebrity pastor or musician. And it isn't just hearsay - I have actually witnessed and heard some of these things for myself. There are pastors who have so isolated themselves from their own church and staff that they only talk to a handful of "chosen people." They have special microphones that they insist on using - or they will refuse to speak. They want a certain brand of water. They have line items in the budget that they have complete control over - sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. They use church resources, personnel, and funds to create their own videos, books, CDs - and then keep the profits. They have the same kind of demands as a concert act. And the money? Some of these guys require $20,000 or more to speak at a conference! $20,000?!? To preach? And, let's not forget, they still are earning their church salary - which is almost always over $150,000 in a church that size (not including book allowance, personal discretionary fund, housing allowance, and gifts from church members). That isn't even to mention that a good number of these guys are just plain hateful and vicious to their staff members. Every problem is blamed on someone else. Every credit is stolen. I've personally heard some of the most hateful comments I've ever heard in my life come out of the mouths of pastors. But, on stage, they never have a problem. They are not beset by any sin. They don't ever struggle. They have the perfect marriage with the wife who is in agreement with everything they do, and who stays out of their way. Their kids can do no wrong (even when they do soooo much wrong). They put themselves up on that pedestal - and then the people around them make it get even higher.
What I think is the most grievous problem with the class of church celebrities is that it then causes the people who look up to them to miss what should be the goal - to be like Christ. It isn't about being like Christ. It becomes about being like these Christian big shots. I don't care how godly a person is, how amazing they are - they still are human. And they still are not who we should be emulating. By holding someone in that much regard, we become a respecter of persons. We create an idol out of these guys. In essence, we worship them instead of God. If you don't believe it is true, go to some of these churches and try to point out something the leader has done. The church members will respond with such anger and defensiveness. "There is no way he did that. And if he did, he had a good reason!" He had a good reason to act hateful and evil? I don't think that exists.
The modern techno age makes this problem even bigger. We can get podcasts and twitter feeds and facebook updates. We can go online and watch the sermons live for big churches. We can buy CDs of the choirs and DVDs of the minister. They all have books for us to purchase. And eventually they will start on the conference circuit - which people will flock to, just like a fan chasing a band. So, it is very easy to become a groupie. We pledge allegiance to the person. There are even dueling groups out there. There are the fans of Al Mohler who don't get along with the fans of Ergun Caner. And the Joel Osteen disciples get ridiculed by the Mark Driscoll apostles. Doesn't that sound like the Early Church? Go read 1 Corinthians (especially Chapter 3). Paul was dealing with this group of Christians who had split allegiances - Paul and Apollos and Christ. Paul couldn't believe it. "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" He sums up his three chapter argument against this behavior with "you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. The End." (I added "the end." It just seemed to fit.)
I know this is slippery ground - especially for a guy who has spoken at conferences and has his share of followers on Facebook from events and who subscribes to a bunch of podcasts. I think that finding people who communicate Scripture in an enlightening way is a good thing. Sometimes that gifted delivery is exactly what launches someone into the limelight. But it doesn't mean that the only people worth following are big shots. Nor does it mean that because they are big shots they are worth following. That is why I listen to certain guys with a smaller sphere of influence - like David Tarkington in Orange Park and Jeff Williams in Temple Terrace. And that is why I also listen to some bigger names like Tommy Nelson in Denton, TX. But I try to be careful about who I follow to closely - and I judge each one of their sermons biblically. As far as my own ministry, I know that when we go to an event we try to do everything we can to make it as affordable as possible - and as easy for the host. We provide stuff to them to help and try to make any situation work - and trust me we have had some problems that we have had to deal with. That is one reason we never have created a contract or anything for engagements (although we will have to create one thanks to late date cancellations that really messed us up.) And being completely honest here, if I ever get to the point where I act the same as the stuff I mentioned in this post, I pray that God shuts me down right there.
So what do we do about it? Well, I think the responsibility falls on each one of us. We need to stop putting people in a position where they should not be. We need to be careful about how much we worship those people in authority positions within the Church world. And we need to pray for them - that God will humble them, that they will be able to let go of the status and power. It is unhealthy and ungodly to have this level of celebrity in our churches. And if you are one of those people, well, let me just say what an honor it is that you are reading my little blog. I mean, wow. Can I have your autograph? Sorry, I forgot myself for a second. Seriously, if you are one of those people, you need to go read one of the most haunting verses in the Bible for any pastor. 1 Corinthians 9:27. "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." It would be horrible if, after spending a lifetime in service to God - preaching, teaching, and trying to do what is right. It would be horrible to then give in to our own hype and become selfish and arrogant and hateful and demanding. And then to face God and have Him shake His head at us - disgusted by what we had become. I don't think celebrity status will get you out of that.