Friday, August 14, 2015

Jesus Never Asked You to Vote

My name is Ray Hartsfield and I have an addiction. I shamefully admit that I'm a junkie when it comes to current events, NPR, and most of all, politics. I get a lot more enjoyment from a presidential debate than a Sunday night football game. It's a peculiar itch, I know, but I'm working on it. The election season, which keeps getting longer and more dramatic, isn't making this proclivity easier either.

As the political storm picks up speed, social media feeds have become a powder-keg of contradicting opinions and biting rhetoric. We argue, we debate, we practice our apologetics for this or that candidate and it often gets pretty heated. Here in America, though, it seems we've intermingled our faith with our civic beliefs to such a degree that both get bruised and battered in the process. Perhaps we ought to take a moment and reflect carefully upon how our faith guides our entire political outlook, instead of merely letting it guide us on the individual planks of the political platform.

Jesus never asked you to vote. There's no denying that. The Great Commission does not hinge on government approval. I say this as a person who enjoys politics and the public discourse regarding policy and legislation. Voting falls into a grey area, Biblically speaking, with many other parts of modern life. Does the absence of voting in scripture mean Christians shouldn't do it? Not necessarily. It does mean, however, that we should seek God's will and tread quite carefully when casting judgment on others and their political behaviors... or lack thereof.

We've gotten our Christianity tangled up with our nationalism, and that's a tragedy. Jesus doesn't need the senate to accomplish His will -- He desires His followers to do that instead. There was a time when Christianity first came into bloom, and in those moments (like the entire book of Acts), the Jesus movement was a grassroots event. It was not a top-down, authoritarian decree being doled out by a king or president. We must mobilize and stop waiting for our politicians to do it instead. We cannot entrust the Gospel to the federal government. We must dispense the good news ourselves.

Don't misunderstand me here. I'm no fool -- I realize that every voter is going to vote with their convictions in their front pocket. The question that must be answered is whether voting is all you do for the advancement of your beliefs. If you believe abortion is wrong, don't just cast a vote for a pro-life candidate and then walk away feeling satisfied with your efforts. Make a difference instead of asking Washington to make a difference for you.

Furthermore, we must carry ourselves in a conduct that follows Christ. If you proclaim Biblical beliefs but you're a jerk in the process, the gospel has not been advanced. Americans in general are hair-triggered when it comes to public discourse. The polite and thought-out dialogue of two people who disagree is beautiful. Too often, however, we tarnish our claims to divine grace by acting unloving in our conversations.

There's a scripture that often gets misapplied regarding America and Christianity, and it's 2 Chronicles 7:14. Check it out:

 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Often, zealous leaders and preachers will quote this as a rallying cry for America to repent for it's transgressions. This scripture says "My people", but who are God's people? In the New Testament context, of course, it's Christians. If Christians, not Americans, will repent and change their course, God's healing will transform our landscape. This means that step one in the healing process is for Christians to get on their knees and plead forgiveness over the sexual misconduct within the church, then perhaps we will see the nation at large changed as well. Do you want financial reform and corruption eradicated on Wall Street? Christians need to return to their prayer closets and repent for the widespread fraud and financial follies within the Church walls first.

Voting and political action is neither an imperative nor a prohibition to the Christian life. It's something we should approach with caution and care, knowing that our political behaviors have the capacity to bolster our Gospel proclamation or ruin our testimony, depending on how we carry ourselves. Most of all, we must embrace the notion that we are the bearers of the Gospel, not the government. Jesus doesn't need conservative voters, He needs devoted and mobilized followers. Let's walk in the light of our true, Christ-centered identity.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fearmongering is Not God's Will

Hannah and I are avid myth-debunkers. We love to fact-check and think critically in regards to things we see or hear online, or in real life for that matter. Though we usually take urban legends and sensationalist internet tripe with a grain of salt, it's become a concern of mine that Christians have become associated with the rapid spread of misinformation. This simply should not be.

1 Corinthians 14 tells us that God is not the author of confusion -- he does not rejoice in disorder. Furthermore, we know that He desires for His people to have a spirit of courage, not fear and paranoia. Unfounded anxiety is not a fruit of the Spirit. The Great Commission is one that orders us to go forth and spread the good news, not to propagate the bad news. If you are a Christian, your calling in life is to be a beacon of hope, not a dispensary of fear. It's time that we check our hearts on this matter.

Perhaps some of this comes down to practicality. It's so easy to read an alarming news article and click the "share" button without vetting the source. This is a matter of discernment -- is it the Spirit inside of you that's alarmed or your flesh and it's tendency towards timidity? I believe that many of us, if we're honest, are motivated by our flesh when we partake in the rumor mill whether online or in-person. Let's embrace a higher way of thinking.

Politics can be a powder keg of controversy for our community, but if you feel passionate regarding our nation's governance, channel it into a positive form that is founded upon facts, not fear. Activism does not begin with reading the National Enquirer. The dangers of the present moment are clearly laid out before us. There's no need to cull the shadows and the muck to find something to be alarmed about.

So Christians, this is my challenge -- check your sources, think critically, and pause before sharing your latest rumor about Obama or the New World Order. In the Kingdom of God, there is much work to be done, and we must steward our time and our energy wisely.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Moral Analysis of "Take Me to Church" by Hozier

We're back with another set of moral insights on today's chart-toppers... and this week we're taking on a real whopper -- "Take Me to Church" By Hozier. Once again I'll repeat that our intentions here are not to simply slam popular songs, but instead to look through them like windows into today's culture, for better or for worse. We'll inventory the victories and downfalls, treasures and trash. I must admit that I'm surprised at this song's success considering it's subject matter and anti-religious angle, but maybe that's because most people haven't really listened to it at all. Let's investigate further.

My lover's got humor

She's the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody's disapproval
I should've worshiped her sooner

Right from the onset, Hozier establishes the tone of this song by describing his irreverent lover and her attitude towards the faithful masses. He also mentions worshiping his lover, which will become a key component in the song's overall theme as we continue. Worship is a curious word to choose considering its religious connotations. Let's proceed.

If the heavens ever did speak

She's the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday's getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
"We were born sick," you heard them say it

In this stanza, Hozier describes the teaching of the church as poison, and addresses the fact that the Christian worldview presumes that people are born as sinners. In other words, we are facing a clash of perspectives. Are people essentially bad, with the hope of becoming better? Or, are people essentially good, and evil is the exception? Hozier seems to embrace the latter.

My Church offers no absolutes

She tells me, 'Worship in the bedroom.'
The only heaven I'll be sent to
Is when I'm alone with you—

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Now we are beginning to close in on the true meaning of the song. His lover tells him, point blank, that worship is sex. Sex is worship. Heaven is discovered in the arms of another person, and nowhere else. This is a message most pop music has been promoting, albeit covertly. Hozier instead chooses to say it loud and clear.   It's also worth noting that Hozier embraces his own "sick" nature.

Take me to church

I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Once again, Hozier dresses his relationship and sexual experiences in religious garments, with all of the ceremonial trimmings.  He compares sex to worship and offers himself as a sacrifice. He is essentially turning his lover into an idol, a newly emerging god that solely serves him. Hozier even ties a Christ reference into this, referring to sex as a "deathless death". I'm not here to tell you whether or not to avoid the song, but if blatant sacrilege is not your thing.... beware.

If I'm a pagan of the good times

My lover's the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice

Drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That's a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We've a lot of starving faithful

That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

This verse becomes admittedly unclear, although the listener can at least discern that Hozier is continuing to combine the carnal and the divine.  He admits that he is a pagan, in the traditional sense, serving his own desires. In doing so, he's turned a lover into a goddess. Now that's insight! The same thing could be said about so many people, living their lives for selfish satisfaction and indulgence.  He demands that this new goddess needs a sacrifice, both monetary (something shiny) and physical (something meaty).

Hozier also suggests that the religious and uptight masses are acceptable offerings to the appetite of this new deity. The faithful and the high-and-mighty are starving, and Hozier suggests that sexual gratification is the answer. In other words, he believes that he's discovered the true remedy for that which makes the masses sick.

No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am Human
Only then I am Clean
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Here, Hozier ends the song by describing "the ritual" which is undeniably referring to sex. He claims that their sin is instead an act of innocence, and that it both humanizes him and cleanses him. For the person who claims a Christian worldview, this bridge is an absolute minefield of theological errors. Sin doesn't cleanse you, Jesus does. Lust doesn't grant you innocence. Humanity is not something granted by desire. Truth has been totally turned on it's head.

For all of its theological missteps, I can say one thing about Hozier -- I respect him, and here's why. He has the guts to admit his deification of sex, whereas others only act like it. Hozier has one song where he admits that sex is his religion, but how many other artists say the same thing implicitly through their whole discography? Heck, many Christians even live such a life, claiming Jesus as their savior but bowing to the altar of Aphrodite instead. We live in a culture that views sex as a divine power, an emerging religion of its own. Hozier just wrote the anthem for it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Moral Analysis of "Don't" by Ed Sheeran

We're back again with another moral perspective on a chart-topper of 2014-2015. This time, we'll be reviewing "Don't" by Ed Sheeran, a unique acoustic/hip-hop fusion song about the pitfalls of casual sex. Though a listener might feel like this song is an endorsement of such relationships, a deeper examination will reveal differently. Check it out:

[Verse 1:]
I met this girl late last year
She said, "Don't you worry if I disappear."
I told her I'm not really looking for another mistake
I called an old friend thinking that the trouble would wait
But then I jump right in
A week later returned
I reckon she was only looking for a lover to burn
But I gave her my time for two or three nights
Then I put it on pause 'til the moment was right

In this introduction, Ed meets an interesting lover who makes it clear that she's not the commitment type. He assumes that she is trying to hook up with him as an act of revenge (not healthy, FYI) and he just runs with it. Not a solid foundation for a relationship, to say the least.  He spends some time with her and then steps away for awhile.

I went away for months until our paths crossed again
She told me, "I was never looking for a friend."
Maybe you could swing by my room around 10:00
Baby, bring a lemon and a bottle of gin
We'll be in between the sheets 'til the late AM
Baby, if you wanted me then you should've just said

Once again, his female admirer makes it clear that she's not searching for a mature relationship. This song is yet another tune about hookup culture and the glory of "no strings attached", though we will see its dark implications by the end.  Casual sex is not so simple after all, it seems.

She's singing
Ah lahmlahlah
Don't f*** with my love
That heart is so cold
All over my home
I don't wanna know that babe
Ah lahmlahlah
Don't f*** with my love
I told her she knows
Take aim and reload
I don't wanna know that babe
Ah lahmlahlah

Although Sheeran is a quite adept lyricist, I must admit that this chorus is pretty unclear. Often, pop artists sacrifice lyrical clarity for the flow of a melody, and I think that's the case here. Regardless, the general vibe of this chorus is that she, the female subject, is standoffish towards relationships. She is wary of commitment and the attachments that follow. She thinks that attachment is dangerous, although we will soon find that it's not so easy to separate sex and affection.

For a couple weeks I
Only wanna see her
We drink away the days with a take-away pizza
Before a text message was the only way to reach her
Now she's staying at my place and loves the way I treat her
Singing out Aretha
All over the track like a feature
And never wants to sleep, I guess that I don't want to either

Well, well, well. Look what we have here. The two lovers who once insisted they only wanted sex, not friendship, have become close despite their efforts.  It's almost like friendship, affection, and sexuality are linked somehow. Imagine that!

But me and her we make money the same way
Four cities, two planes the same day
And those shows have never been what it's about
But maybe we'll go together and just figure it out
I'd rather put on a film with you and sit on the couch
But we should get on a plane
Or we'll be missing it now

We find out that the female subject leads a life like Ed's, with plenty of glamor and admiration. Maybe she's an actress or a singer. In any case, Ed pines for a simpler life where he can cuddle on the couch like most married couples do. It looks like casual sex leaves something to be desired, even in the hearts of men. Intimacy =/= sex.

Wish I'd have written it down
The way that things played out
When she was kissing him
How? I was confused about
She should figure it out while I'm sat here singing
Ah lahmlahlah

Sheeran feels betrayed when his flighty lover acts in her true nature. It should be no surprise. After all, she told him on multiple occasions that she wasn't looking for a friend. In the end, an ill-founded relationship built around sex ends up coming back to hurt the ones who agreed to it. Sheeran became emotionally invested in a physical relationship, and now he's paying the price.

[Knock knock knock] on my hotel door
I don't even know if she knows what for
She was crying on my shoulder
I already told ya
Trust and respect is what we do this for
I never intended to be next
But you didn't need to take him to bed that's all
And I never saw him as a threat
Until you disappeared with him to have sex of course

In this final verse, the drama and tension of this haphazard relationship reaches a fevered pitch. Sheeran's clandestine lover comes back crying, only to find him lobbing accusatory statements about her unfaithfulness. But wait, how can she be unfaithful when they never agreed to any commitment in the first place? This is the danger of undefined, vague relationships in general -- expectations are unclear.

It's not like we were both on tour
We were staying on the same f***** hotel floor
And I wasn't looking for a promise or commitment
But it was never just fun and I thought you were different
This is not the way you realize what you wanted
It's a bit too much, too late if I'm honest
All this time God knows I'm singing
Ah lahmlahlah

Sheeran is at odds with himself -- he didn't want commitment.. but actually, he kinda did in his heart. Free love is all fun and great until you get stung by it.  In the end, Ed realizes that his relationship has been poisoned by the very principles it was built upon -- no rules, anything goes, just satisfy yourself.

Overall, the song "Don't" by Ed Sheeran plays out like a cautionary tale on the dangers of today's hook up culture. Avoiding commitment may seem like the easy way out, but as we see in this song, there is always an emotional investment that takes place. Look at it in a grand historical perspective -- in the sixties, everybody was about "free love". Sleep with whoever you want, do whatever you want, satiate your urges. Then, the economy of free love came crashing down as STDS and HIV began to skyrocket. Furthermore, in the seventies we see a lot of music about dysfunctional relationships (Fleetwood Mac!) because love isn't really so free after all. Free love has both physical and emotional consequences.

Heck, we see the same thing arise in polygamous relationships via the Bible. The Bible depicts many polygamous relationships in the Old Testament, but they are almost always portrayed in a negative light... because they breed contempt, jealousy, and despair. Humankind has been refusing to learn this crucial lesson for ages.

A great deal of pop hits on the radio right now are about dysfunctional relationships (Sam Smith, anyone?) and it looks like the hookup culture is to blame for it. Ambiguity, unclear boundaries and commitment problems are bad for relationships, period. Although I don't endorse Sheeran's embrace of casual sex relationships, it's obvious that this song is not a glowing review of them either. In fact, I think that simple title of this composition summarizes it well-- when it comes to hookups, just.... don't.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Moral Analysis of "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift

I am a youth pastor... And I am also a singer/songwriter. This provides me with a particular perspective on pop culture that is both creative and spiritual. With that being said, today I am beginning a brand new series on JHT where I will analyze songs from both angles given my background. 

This is not intended to be an endorsement of any given song, or a moral imperative to avoid it. I will analyze songs I love and songs I despise, and everything between. The decision to listen or avoid rests upon the listener's conscience. Furthermore, this is not intended to skewer or lambast any artist, but to investigate their anthems in a new light... So here we go. Our first subject is the pop hit "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift.

Nice to meet you
Where you been?
I could show you incredible things
Magic, madness, heaven, sin

This verse is Taylor's swift version of "Dark Horse"(by Katy Perry), essentially. She is promising the subject that her affections will bring about a spiritual or mystical experience. Kinda creepy.

Saw you there and I thought oh my god
Look at that face, you look like my next mistake

Women are capable of lust too, and this is what it looks like. This is no different than the hip hop star who pens a verse about the voluptuous woman he ogles in the club. The difference is that it's not considered sleazy if a girl does it.

Love's a game, wanna play
New money, suit and tie
I can read you like a magazine
Ain't it funny rumors fly
And I know you heard about me

When it comes to relationships, her reputation precedes her.  After all, the vast majority of her singles revolve around relationships and breakups. By the end of this track, we'll gain new insight into why these relationships tend to fail. Keep reading!

So hey, let's be friends
I'm dying to see how this one ends
Grab your passport and my hand
I could make the bad guys good for a weekend

Ok, here's the thing. Most pop divas use their sexuality as a marketing ploy. They leverage it for financial and personal gain. Many fans think that Taylor swift is a higher kind of pop star, rising above the likes of former stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilara, or contemporaries such as Katy perry and Rihanna.This is Swift's proclamation that they are wrong. She is not above the fray. She is your usual pop star wrapped in girl-next-door clothing, and she leverages her sexuality all the same. She likes flings and bad boys. She embraces poor choices in her relationships. She's part of the pop diva bloodline, clearly. 

So it's gonna be forever
Or it's gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it's over
If the high was worth the pain
Got a long list of ex-lovers
They'll tell you I'm insane
Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game

Another "Dark Horse" rip off. She is warning her lover-to-be that he's stuck. Stay or pay. She's a black widow, a femme fatale of sorts -- she will chew you up and spit you out. This is the faux nice girl version of the Katy Perry hit. Morally, it's built upon the same bedrock: overstated promises of pleasure and unfair proclamations of ownership of the unfortunate lover.

Cause we're young and we're reckless
We'll take this way too far 
It'll leave you breathless
Or with a nasty scar
Got a long list of ex-lovers
They'll tell you I'm insane
But I got a blank space baby
And I'll write your name

In this chorus, Swift makes it clear that this relationship is a fling. She expects its demise right from the start. But nonetheless, she loves to play the field and her subject does too, so their predilections will complement one another. It's no wonder that this song is a hit, because hookup culture and the era of "no strings attached" is in full swing. Commitment just isn't hip right now.

Cherry lips
Crystal skies
I could show you incredible things
Stolen kisses, pretty lies
You're the king baby I'm your queen
Find out what you want
Be that girl for a month
But the worst is yet to come
Oh no

Another verse where swift brags about her ability to conceal madness beneath the veneer of being quaint and quirky. Once again, she promises to show the subject marvelous things, as if her sensuality has some kind of deeper power.
Screaming, crying, perfect storms
I could make all the tables turn
Rose garden filled with thorns
Keep you second guessing like oh my god
Who is she? I get drunk on jealousy
But you'll come back each time you leave
Cause darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream

She's a crazy ex girlfriend waiting to happen, and she's proud of it. Yikes.  Some would call this whole thing women's empowerment, but I don't think women really want to be empowered to be manipulative and conniving. I want my daughter to be an astronaut or the president, not this. 

Boys only want love if it's torture
Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you
Boys only want love if it's torture
Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you

In this final section, it's unclear if Swift is talking to the audience or the male subject. In any case, she suggests that men are attracted to the kind of bad girl persona that she secretly maintains. Sorry Taylor, but men are only drawn to you for the kinds of relationships described in this song-- fleeting, shallow, and fragile. 

In summary, Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" is a departure from her usual material about breakups, instead  granting insight into her romantic decision-making in general. This song shows how her relationships start; most other Swift tunes show us how they end. Now we know why.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best of 2014!

2014 has been an amazing year in entertainment. Here's our roundup of favorites from the last 12 months-- Let us know what we missed this past year and what should've made the list.

Best TV Show of 2014

Brooklyn 9-9 is a mockumentary-style comedy show in the vein of The Office or Parks & Rec. It actually started in late October of 2013, but really gained traction in 2014. The beauty of Brooklyn 9-9 resides in the fact that it centers around a team of ragtag police officers and it often subverts the too-familiar tropes of shows like Law & Order or CSI. The entire cast is genuinely likable, and many of the characters add a slight twist to otherwise worn-out television archetypes. Take Terry Crews' character, for example: what if the usual bald, tough-as-nails NY police officer became a family man and was terrified of being injured or killed in the field? This subversion ends up turning Terry into one of the least macho people in his precinct. It's sheer genius! Overall, Brooklyn 9-9 is just outright fun, and that's all you could ask for, isn't it?

Best Movie(s) of 2014

This is where Hannah and I diverge a little. Without a doubt, 2014 has been a tremendous year for film, and you don't even want to know how many movies we saw in theaters. Nonetheless, a few rise to the top as truly remarkable works of story-telling. My obvious choice for movie of the year is the sci-fi blockbuster Interstellar. I could write a book on why, but let me be brief -- the acting is poignant, the visuals are stunning, and the cinematic score is luxurious. If you have children, this movie is a must-see. If you are a space nerd like myself, this movie will probably rival anything you've seen on screen. Seriously, it's the most believable depiction of other planets you can find, bar none. Interstellar is a hard science fiction piece, with real technology and realistic procedures. It's not fluff. The emotional gravity of the film is crushing, so be ready to have your heart broken about halfway through the film. It's still in theaters, so go see it now in theaters, so go see it now.

Hannah's pick for best movie is the film adaption of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about this film at first, but seriously... it's amazing. If Interstellar breaks your heart, The Fault in Our Stars will leave you dead inside. But, kind of in a good way. It takes every standard of chick-movie making and smashes it to pieces. The most important ingredient in this story is the issue of mortality -- the risks are high for two young lovers who decide to open up to one another, knowing they could die at any moment. The characters are expertly crafted and the plot floats along as effortlessly as the romantic relationship develops. On a side note, the male protagonist Augustus "Gus" Waters has some serious charm. Husbands, take some notes while you view this film, because you could learn a thing or two from this dude.

Best App of 2014

Prepare for your life to be ruined if you download this game. Hay Day is a farm simulation game that starts off simply -- plant some wheat, harvest it, sell it, and continue. However, the game quickly explodes into so many directions with new crops, new buildings, and so much more. I shudder to think how much time the developers spend on updating and expanding this app. Hay Day actually launched in 2012 but blew up in 2014 with a humongous update from the developers. There's just something so mesmerizing and relaxing about managing your little farm and developing it slowly over time. Considering that the game is free to play, with optional purchases inside, you can't find more entertainment for your investment. Just remember, I warned you.

Best Pop Song of 2014

We are admittedly slow to adopt new music. Instead of chewing up and spitting out new releases rapidly, as some listeners do, we tend to slowly and thoroughly appreciate whole albums at a time before moving on. I'm still listening to CDs from the early 2000's. Nonetheless, we inevitably hear the pop songs that dominate popular culture, and not all are created equal. Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" is a brilliantly composed song about the lasting nature of true love. There's something to be said about this composition because plenty of cheap love songs come and go, but a truly well-written and intuitive song stands the test of time. This one will last. As I mentioned before, this song is about a relationship over the long haul -- it's not your standard pop track about finding true lust in a dark nightclub. Sheeran ponders how his love will look when he's no longer famous or youthful. If you haven't heard this song, do yourself a favor and give it a try, and then share it with your spouse or significant other. It's amazing.

So there it is -- the Hartsfield nominations for what we enjoyed the most in 2014. Tell us what you think!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How the Ice Bucket Challenge Froze My Spirit

  As the ice bucket challenge continues to steamroll through the internet at record speeds, there are a variety of news articles and bloggers beginning to re-think and challenge this trend. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I am glad to see this rise in charitable giving and I believe the cause is worthwhile. Money is being donated in huge amounts, and that's a good thing. However, this challenge has had a particular impact on me, and I want to share a little about how I feel on a very personal level. Hannah and I bare our hearts online for the world's benefit, and I refuse to only do it when the message seems pretty, neat, and nicely spoken.

   This summer will be remembered by a few things -- the riots in Ferguson, the rise of ISIS in the middle east, and of course, the ubiquitous Ice Bucket Challenge. I find myself in an awkward situation, because I tried to start a nonprofit this summer, and it has faltered so far because of a lack of funding. This summer, I will always remember watching my aspirations and efforts wither as a viral trend compelled countless people around me to give money to a cause that they hadn't even considered before. Obviously, finances aren't the issue when it comes to compelling the public to give.

    I am certain that I'm not alone. Out there in America right now, there must be plenty of churches who are on the brink of foreclosure. There's a pastor out there who's going to have to lay off a staff member due to funding cuts. There's a great ministry whose plans are indefinitely cancelled because of money problems. Meanwhile, these people are watching the congregation around them donate relentlessly to a cause because it got hitched to a viral sensation by happenstance. This doesn't make the Challenge wrong, but it is a tragic situation to find yourself in. It's the plight Hannah and I are facing every day.

    I didn't take the ice bucket challenge, but I feel like I have. I feel like I've had 10,000 gallons of cold water poured on my spirit and my enthusiasm. I feel like my vision has been stamped out like a cigarette butt. This may be uncomfortable to hear, but guess what? It's even more uncomfortable to feel.

     It's not the public's fault. The Ice Bucket Challenge videos are funny, I guess. I'm sure nonprofits will be shamelessly trying to emulate this fad for the next year, in hopes of striking it rich. In all reality, though, wasn't this just dumb luck? ALS, though tragic, is a relatively rare disease. It's not even close to the top of the leading causes of death list. The ALSA became the surprise beneficiary of a trend gone out of control. People aren't giving because they are passionate or informed, they are giving because the cultural whirlwind is whipping crazily.

     People do the Challenge for a variety of reasons. For some, they enjoy the attention that comes from a wet t-shirt contest that you're allowed to share on Facebook. Why else do it in a thin white t-shirt? I mean, c'mon.  For others, it's a way to broadcast their altruism widely for the world to see (Matthew 6, anyone?).  And for many, I'm sure, it's just a silly and amusing trend that happens to also benefit ALS research. It's not wrong, but it impacts my personal journey. That's why I have a lot to say about it.

    I'm sorry. I'm sorry my cause wasn't funny or trendy. I apologize that our project was centered around a solid vision and a worthwhile mission statement, and it lacked the social selling points to become successful. I am sorry that I failed to entertain the public in the process. I am not saying this with hatred or sarcasm in my heart, just disappointment. Am I frustrated? Yes, of course. But I realize that our community has spoken, and I've learned a lot about myself and the public in the process.

       This is not an aggressive appeal for giving. Honestly, I'm not concerned with that right now. I just want to make sense of the season I've just experienced, and I want to help others in the process. Many of our friends will read this, and this is for them, because they need to know where we stand and what we've been facing. This is how I feel, take it or leave it. Thanks for reading.