Empty Laments and So Many Words

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Lin Manuel Miranda“Where were you when 9/11 happened?” Or Columbine… or the Challenger explosion… or Kennedy’s assassination? There are events that leave a collective scar upon the conscience of our society, that mark us deeply as a people and as a country. Will the deadly and bloody events of Sunday, the deadliest shooting in American history be one of those moments?

I woke up on Sunday morning to the giggles of my little girl, staring at me in the face. “Get up papa,” she laughed before turning around and running out of our room. I rubbed my eyes, gathered myself just a bit and thought, well I’m going to just lay here for a bit while she sprints around the apartment… why is my child such a boisterous morning person?! I grabbed my phone and was immediately met by a notification, “20+ dead, 50 wounded in mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.”

There was no shock in my reaction. There was no surprise. There was no outrage… no sadness… no emotion. I simply thought, “Yeah, sounds about right.” There have now been 1,000 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, since we declared, “Never again!” So much for our collective will.

One-thousand mass shootings in 3-and-a-half years.

1,000.

Let that sink in for a moment.
We just hit the century mark.

1,000… and just for good measure, outside of the Orlando mass shooting, there were 5 other mass shootings that weekend with 10 more being killed and 12 wounded.

As the numbers continue to grow day-by-day-by-day, I’ll admit I have become numb to these events, I have lost my ability to lament or grieve in these tragedies. They have all become numbers, statistics. There once was a day when the lament came quickly, even easily but I fear that my heart has hardened beyond repair and I wonder if our collective national heart has too.

In the wake of these tragedies, it seems that everywhere I turn is another argument full of feigned outrage and platitudinous compassion. The talking heads on the news are full of the same sentiments reading from the same worn, tattered, overused script. Social media screams out with the same sort of overused collective vitriolic scream: “We must ban guns!”; “We need to arm every citizen!”; “This is a mental health issue!”; “Guns aren’t the problem, people are the problem!”; “Muslims are the problem! Ban them!”; “Why isn’t the President using ‘Radical Islamic Extremist’? (He’s a secret Muslim you know!)”; “This is ISIS and the President isn’t dong anything to protect us!”; and on and on and on the back and forth grows.

In the wake of these tragedies we have become practiced screamers, spewing angry words from our fingertips, we trot out our trite and cliché hashtags, and link article after article to support our point, and when all else fails we become professional “Memeticians”*.** We have turned to blaming liberals for being weak and conservatives for being bigoted; liberals for being socialists who want to take away our guns, and conservatives for loving guns more than people. We have thrown blame and dodged it just the same, over and over and over in this cycle we inhabit.

And as we are tossed about in this spin cycle of our creation, we have lost our ability to lament. We have lost sight of the real tragedy that has unfolded in front of us and continues to unfold in front of us day-by-day-by-day. We are more concerned with winning the argument or maintaining our “rights,” whatever we believe they are. We have replaced lament with grand-standing and grief with self-righteousness. We see the suffering and the pain but we do not feel it, we cannot feel it, we’ve become numb, stuck in our feigned outrage and platitudinous compassion.

Monday afternoon I spent some time on YouTube catching up on the Tony’s. I wanted a break from the banality of the spin cycle. I watched beautiful performances and even caught a couple of acceptance speeches. However, there was one sonnet in particular–yes a sonnet–that captured my heart and broke the cycle for me. Lin Manuel Miranda stood in front of a theatre full of people and spoke passionate words of truthful lament into the hearts of a nation:

“When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

That nothing here is promised, not one day…

We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;

We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside”

I stepped outside of the spin cycle and was reminded of what really matters in this life. It is not the argument, it is not my rights or your rights, it is not fear and terror, it is not platitudes. Perhaps what was the most surprising of all was that it only took a minute. A minute to listen to an artist call attention to the truths that surround us. That above all it is love. There is faith, there is hope, and there is love but the greatest of them is love, love is what remains. And we are implored, follow the way of love!

We are beyond the point of well reasoned arguments and logical statements and sentiments. We need our artists to help us feel again, to stir up a passion within us that we cannot ignore and cannot deny. We need our artists to call us out of our malaise, to pull us out of our spin cycle now more than ever. We need artists to employ their craft to remind us of our story, of our shared humanity.

Who will write the song of Orlando? We need you. Who will write the song that will help us grieve, that will connect us to a love unmistakeable? We need songs that help us grieve! Poems that call us towards love! Paintings that illuminate and reveal what lies beneath the story! We need sculptures and sonnets and dance! Artists we need you! Artists, let me say it again, we need you! Our culture needs you. Now more than ever. Please tell the story of Orlando, make us feel it like we’ve never felt anything before and never, never, never let us forget.

* Memetician (n) someone who utilizes memes to spread an idea, behavior, or style from person to person throughout culture.
** I too am guilty of each of these activities and behaviors.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Advertise Differently

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church advertising

This post has been republished by the Exponential Network
……

There are different schools of thought out there regarding advertising and the church, each with their merits. I don’t want to get into the debate surrounding advertising and the church, but perhaps what this post will offer by way of insight is something to chew on and a potential third way to move forward with.

Before I launched IKON (a church plant in downtown San Francisco) I knew I didn’t want to go the standard route of advertising through postcards. I didn’t think that it would resonate well in the city, especially from an environmental waste standpoint*. However, we had a dedicated budget line for advertising and it was generally understood that we would use this for postcards, so if I wanted to by-pass this medium I had to think of a different way to use the dedicated budget.

My friends at REUNION Christian Church in Boston launched a few years before us and found some success in advertising on the T platform (the city’s public transportation line.) I was fascinated by this as a medium but wanted to think of it a bit differently, not as an invitation to join us but as a means of communicating truths to the masses. This is how our first MUNI (San Francisco’s public transportation line) ad came to be.

We paid an artist from Seattle for the rights to use his artwork in our advertising scheme. He had developed a series of wood etchings called “The Fruits of the Spirit” that were “ironic” in nature. We chose 2 for our MUNI advertisements: “Love” and “Peace”. This is how they turned out:

munilovemunipeace

We paid for a 6-week run in three different MUNI stations, however these signs stayed up for over 6 months. When inquiring about the longevity of the advertisements we were told by the ad company that there was a California State Assemblyman who really liked the powerful statements that were being communicated. He asked if they could remain up as long as possible. As a result, the ad company took a bit longer than usual to sell our spots. I received a great deal of encouragement and support from people throughout the city for these ads, many of which were not Christians and many of whom didn’t really have or want a connection to the church. The message resonated well and opportunities for beautiful conversations surrounding gospel truth began opening up.

(We also printed out 1000 postcards of these images and set them in coffee shops around the city, like many other businesses do. They stood out like a sore thumb–but in a good way. It wasn’t outside the norm to see these postcards on people’s desks around the city–most of whom had no connection to IKON, or attached to mirror’s in people’s homes–again no connection to IKON and no clue that I was responsible for these postcards when I was invited into their home for coffee or dinner.)

Our second MUNI campaign was also very well received by non-Christians within the city, however Christians were very critical and disparaging. Again, the idea was to communicate truth and create opportunities for conversation. As a community we were walking through the Gospel of Luke and specifically hitting on a section of the Gospel where the love of Jesus was becoming explicitly clear. We decided to borrow a book title for our sermon series and naturally thought the truth that was being communicated was to good to pass up, so we turned it into a MUNI ad. The truth? Love Wins.

muni Love Wins

Christians inside and outside of the city immediately accused us of promoting Rob Bell’s controversial book by the same title and claims that our church was a cult increased in the Christian community (always a fun battle to walk through). I responded time and again to harsh emails, nasty phone messages on the church voicemail line, and disparaging comments from Christians, however non-Christians resonated with the message and appreciated a church that was promoting love. (This always struck me as odd that we were appreciated by non-Christians as promoting love… isn’t that what the church is supposed to be doing all the time anyways?)

Our third campaign was in its final stages of design and testing before IKON closed. Unfortunately it never saw the light of day, however it was my favorite MUNI ad of the three. This one, however was a bit more bold than the others and actually received some great feedback from non-Christians, especially when asked what they would do if they saw this on a MUNI platform while standing with a friend or co-worker. The general response from non-Christians? “I’d talk about it… not about whether it was right or wrong to have the name of Jesus out there, but I’d talk about what the name of Jesus meant… I mean it’d be hard not to with that staring you down.”

munijesus

I want to advocate that you shouldn’t use advertising to get people to come to your church service. If that is your goal, I would argue that you’re not only caught up in but perpetuating a cycle of consumerism, creating and catering to consumer Christians. Most non-Christians won’t see your ad and think, “Yeah, I want to go to there.”

I want to advocate a different type of advertisement for the church. In fact, this is what I learned. When you advertise the truth about the gospel in creative and bold ways, when you instigate conversation through a MUNI ad, when people are ready to have those types of conversations in a spiritual group, you’ll be the first place they turn. Advertising shouldn’t be a short term strategy to experience numerical growth. Instead, take the long approach and let people know that when they want to have honest conversations about truth, about Jesus they know that you’re the church community to jump in with.

*My original hypothesis regarding postcards was that they wouldn’t work in San Francisco. However, after seeing them work for a church planter in downtown LA and several churches in SF shortly after us it has definitely proved to be a viable option. It works simply because no one uses that medium in the city outside of political campaigns every four years.