Archives For Culture

I must confess, I occasionally click on those silly pop-culture posts dancing in my Facebook feed like the cyber-version of the supermarket tabloids (don’t judge me). The most recent “where are they now?” featured an actor from one of my favorite TV shows of all time. My wife and I rarely missed an episode of House, living vicariously through the filterless, brutal commentary of the cranky, yet brilliant, diagnostician.

This particular headline teased the post-show whereabouts of House’s closest friend, Robert Sean Leonard (affectionally known as Wilson). I was curious as to what he’s been up to, so I clicked (I said don’t judge me). While his dramatic resume is rather rich, I was surprised to hear Leonard talk so openly of his love for being the “second guy.”

“I like being the best friend,” he said. “I love my role the way it is.

Since House’s wrap, those are the exact kind of roles he’s continued to pursue. His skills are critically acclaimed, but you’ll still almost always find him with a minor part. While most of us would would clamor for the gold star on our dressing room door and the much bigger paycheck, here’s a guy who actually aspires to be a supporting actor.

Weird.

But it got me thinking. This is exactly the way we were designed to live. It’s true. Tim Keller calls it “the dance.”

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We were meant to center our lives around God and to serve other people. That’s not just a nice, moralistic suggestion. It’s where we find our meaning, it’s where we secure our identity, it’s where we encounter our deepest joy. It’s the way God created us.

Yet most of us instinctively view ourselves as the main character in our own story. We fight to put our stake in the ground, to pen the narrative from our own perspective, to negotiate for headliner wages. We spend our days wondering why the world (and even God Himself) doesn’t do a better job of playing a supporting role to our brilliant thespianism. And most of us are pretty unfulfilled and frustrated.

When we approach life as if we are playing the lead role, we completely whiff on life’s meaning. And we will struggle to find any rest or peace.

When Jesus summed up the entirety of God’s Word into two simple concepts – love God and love other people – he wasn’t just giving us a nice command we should try and obey if we can somehow muster the spiritual stamina. He was showing us where to find our true selves.

We find joy when we stop seeing ourselves as the central character of the story. We were designed as beloved members of the supporting cast.

The Fear Economy

Erik Cooper —  September 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

There are plenty of genuinely scary things in this world. Radical militants committed to death and destruction. The fragility of the global economy. The spread of deadly diseases. The rise in violent crime. Planes flying into the sides of skyscrapers. Wars, and bombings, and sickness, and political infighting, and money, and corrupt leaders, and dating NFL running backs.

One quick glance at today’s news headlines and there’s enough fear to script a whole new franchise of horror films. And while we undeniably live in a broken world with broken people who do broken things, it also seems that savvy minds have learned a scary truth (pun intended):

Fear sells.

If I can awaken your fear gene, trip your fear wire, make you afraid something bad will happen, that you’ll lose something of value, fall behind the masses, miss out on a big opportunity, damage the growth and development of your children (pick a category, any category), I can control you. Fear makes you take action (or paralyzes you from taking action). So if I can scare you enough in just the right places, I can get you to do exactly what I want. That is scary.

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Here are just a few messages I’ve noted lately where someone was trying to play my fears for their own purposes:

Civilization as we know it will be in jeopardy if Republicans win the senate in November.”

For centuries, politicians have attached doomsday predictions to the possible election of their opponents, scaring potential voters into taking action in order to keep them in power.

“Did Jesus reveal Barack Obama as the antichrist?”

This ridiculous YouTube video is making its rounds in conservative christian circles. Fundamentalists of this stripe know they can raise up an army against of biblically illiterate followers by scaring them with “prophecy.”

“The world is moving to solar power! Don’t be the only one of your neighbors to miss out on this groundbreaking opportunity!”

This commercial plays ad-nauseum on satellite radio, stirring my subconscious fear of falling behind what everyone else is doing. What if I miss my chance!?!?

“Don’t put your money in the Wall Street casino! Earn guaranteed, safe returns that won’t be impacted by the next inevitable market crash. Just call this number…”

I’ve read about the Great Depression. I remember the 2008 financial crisis. That’s scary stuff! Maybe they’re right? Or maybe they’re just selling something.

“If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”

Some of you may disagree, but this method of “evangelism” has always bothered me. It may scare people into making a decision that looks good on church statistical forms, but I’ve seen very few life-long christians who were “terrified into the Kingdom.”

Listen, I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of a perfect world where nothing bad ever happens. Disasters are real. Tragedy happens. Suffering is an undeniable part of the human journey. But as followers Christ, I pray we grasp the scripture my mom often quoted to an 8-year-old me when I was scared to go to bed at night:

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
–2 Timothy 1:7

A lot of people will be selling fear today. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy.

There’s a famous story attributed to English writer and theologian, G.K. Chesterton, from the early 20th Century. The Times of London was planning a cover story titled “What is Wrong with the World?” and sent requests to Chesterton and other well-known philosophers of the day asking how they would answer this deep question.

In quintessential Chesterton fashion, he replied with the shortest (and yet most profound) answer in journalism history:

Dear sirs,

I am.

Sincerely,

G.K. Chesterton

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(Photo credit: The Noble Heart)

Amidst the heated debate about the denigration of our culture and the seemingly daily assault on judeo-christian values, it was good for me to hear this old story once again. I don’t know about you, but my gut reaction to the question, “what’s wrong with the world?” is simple:

They are.

You know who they are. The idiots. The rebels. The sinners. Them.

That’s where Chesterton’s pithy letter gives me pause.

Idiot, rebel, sinner describes me without the Gospel. Me without Jesus.

Last time I checked, the school of grace doesn’t hold graduations (at least not in this lifetime). I need to be drenched again and again in its healing and renewing power every single day. Except for Christ, I am what’s wrong with the world.

So as we stand up for morality, as we defend our religious freedoms, as we fight for what the Bible says is right and wrong (and yes, there is right and wrong), let’s do it as recipients of a gift. It will soothe our tone, it will humble our position, and it might even convince some people Jesus is who we know Him to be…

the only thing that’s right with the world.

I have more to be thankful for than perhaps any one man should. A comedy of blessings (if there ever was such a thing). A full-on cornucopia of goodness, most of which I can take very little credit for.

A godly heritage.

18 beautiful years of marriage.

Three healthy kids.

A meaningful job.

Influence.

Love.

Friendships.

More house than I deserve.

More opportunity than I’ve known what to do with.

The list could go on and on (and on).

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But as I sit here at my desk just a few short hours before Thanksgiving Day, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for one ridiculously amazing thing. Something we all have access to if we choose, whether our journey is overflowing with blessings or littered with brokenness (or more than likely some mixture of both).

God came for us.

No, really. Did you catch that?

God. Came. For. Us.

(I know, I know, it’s really more Christmas imagery. But if you can fire up your Spotify Holiday Playlist in late October, I can be thankful for the Incarnation on Turkey Day).

In a world that spouts religious obligation from both old-line legalists and new-day radicals (which are really just old-line legalists with their new twist on earn-as-you-go christianity), I’m so thankful for the never-changing message of the Gospel.

God’s Demands (Law) – Perfect. Holy. Impossibly High.

Our Efforts – Broken. Feeble. Far short of the necessary standard.
(Even the self-righteous ones. Perhaps especially the self-righteous ones).

God’s Gift (Grace) – Jesus paid it all. Finished. Gift. Forgiven.

You see, God didn’t demand that we shape up, get it together, and come to Him. He didn’t insist we trudge out to cross the cavernous divide with our own self-made religious contraptions. He didn’t leave us where we were or with what we deserved. He came for us.

Wait, did I say that already?

God. Came. For. Us.

And that changes us. That changes everything.

Regardless of whether you live in a mansion or a shack, if your table is overflowing with a feast or your cupboards are bare, if you can’t wait to gather at Grandma’s or your family is more dysfunctional than the Bluths, we all have one thing we can unequivocally be grateful for this year: 

The Gospel is real. God came for us.

And for that I’m eternally thankful.

The Secret to Belonging

Erik Cooper —  October 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

Sometimes I learn the most beautiful things in the most unexpected places.

This past weekend, my wife and I took our three kids to the launch of a new experiment at one of our company’s apartment complexes. Community Life is a brilliant organization that moves strategic people into rental communities to help foster healthy connections and relationships among the residents. We’ve been working on this partnership since I started back at CRF last year, but only last month did their team finally find the right people to make it work.

Saturday was the official kickoff at one of our two designated developments, so we dragged the kids over to help the new Community Life Architects with the hot dogs, bounce house, and hay rides (and on some level just to be nosy). The event was fabulous, but it was an off-handed conversation my wife had with one of the residents that undoubtedly made the biggest impact on me.

“In all my years of living in these apartments, I never thought I’d see what I saw here today. Residents volunteering to serve other residents. That’s crazy. That’s not normal here. It blows me away.”

Sure enough, she was right. Residents setting up tables. Residents working the food line. Residents cleaning up the trash. For a few short hours, there was a beautiful, spontaneous symbiosis happening right in front of our eyes, and I didn’t even notice it. And that’s when it hit me…

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We all long to belong, and we’re hard wired to look for connection via what we get from a community. Will I be accepted? Am I invited in? Are they kind? How will I be treated? Will they get me? Will they make a place for what I bring to the table? We define successful belonging by the way others are willing to make way for us. What will they do for me?

But what if the secret of connection is actually found in what we’re willing to give? By how we’re willing to serve?

Maybe this gets you thinking about your own neighborhood, or maybe you just began attending a new church or started a new job. Perhaps you’re pondering feelings of isolation with your spouse or tension in your extended family (and with those dreaded holidays on the horizon, too). Maybe that connection you long for is isn’t buried in winning the relational lottery. Maybe it’s right there inside of you.

How can you meet a need? And don’t start with the glamorous stuff, try the little things that can’t be confused with ulterior motives.

Encourage someone.

Teach a class.

Write a check.

Listen.

Serve hotdogs.

Put away tables.

Take someone to lunch.

What can you give? How can you serve? What can you do for the community?

Maybe the secret to belonging isn’t being lucky or likable enough to be invited in, but being humble and generous enough to be poured out?