Friday, May 25, 2012

Carma, Karma, and What Goes Around...

Have you ever heard someone say, “What goes around comes around!” when something bad happens to someone else? Or maybe you’ve heard it used as encouragement to get someone to do the right thing. It’s a common enough saying here in America, one that people use for many situations. But is it biblical?

The idea behind the saying is that of “karma” or  “the law of cause and effect.” Here in the West, we use the cliche to explain why someone goes through times of happiness, sadness, pain, poverty, wealth, and a host of other things. In essence, it is the idea that we can store up goodness for ourselves by doing good things. Thus, when things happen in ways that make us happy, it is because we must’ve done something good in our past to warrant such rewards. (Does this sound familiar? You might remember this concept from the Bridgestone Super Bowl Ad, The Sound of Music or Justin Timberlake’s 2007 song “What Goes Around...Comes Around.”) However, the reverse is also true: if you experience poverty or sickness or death or any kind of suffering, it’s because you did something bad in the past.

Karma actually originates in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism and, in its most basic form, describes how one can reach enlightenment. These religions believe that, through karmic cycles, one can eventually transcend this world and become one with the universe. Conversely, the karmic cycles can prevent one from reaching enlightenment if one’s bad deeds outweigh his/her good deeds. Ultimately, it is the idea that you get what you deserve.

The difference between the West’s version of Karma and the East’s version of Karma is its focus: in the West, Karma affects the here and now, the things that happen to you in this lifetime. In the East, Karma affects your eternity.

Most of us probably know that Karma comes from Eastern religions, but what may surprise us is just how prevalent it is in American thought. Even if we don’t claim to believe in it, we tend to act like we believe in it when we say that God is either punishing or blessing us based on things we’ve done. So is it possible that the Bible speaks of a similar concept?

Galatians 6:7 says that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” In addition, Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:52 have spawned the sayings, “violence begets violence” and “live by the sword, die by the sword.” These seem to carry the same meaning: that if you do good, good things happen to you (and vice versa). So is this “Christian Karma”?

Absolutely not! While it is true that there are consequences to our actions, the Bible does not speak of these things as if they are set in stone or “laws of nature.” Rather, God’s Word is speaking practically, reminding us that it is foolish to believe that we can act in certain ways and believe that there won’t be consequences, either good or bad, for what we do. But this concept found in the Bible is also accompanied with an immense measure of grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:8), something that is absent in Karma and Eastern religions. 

The Word is clear that God is not keeping tabs on what we do, waiting to dole out blessings or curses based on our actions. Instead, it says that God does not want any to perish but instead to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as well as that He wants to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13). If we were under a law like Karma, then none of would have been saved from the punishment of our sins, let alone have anything good in our lives, because none of us deserves it!

What other movies, songs, TV shows, or books have you found that talk about Karma and can be used as a good illustration? Is this even an important topic for a Christian to understand? You may comment below...

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Face-off with Facebook

In light of the building hype surrounding Facebook stocks going public, perhaps it’s time to ask yet again, “What in the world is going on?” Several sources list the social media Goliath worth around 100 billion dollars.  That is a lot of money.  I recently noticed that Isla Paradita, a private island off the Pacific coast of Panama, is up for sale at the bargain price of $3,700,000.  Facebook has enough money to purchase Isla Paradita 27,027 times. Or, if Facebook were to choose to single-handedly stimulate the American housing market it could purchase 367,647 homes based on the average cost of an American home ($272,000), according to the 2010 census. The point is that Facebook is worth a lot, and is a worldwide sensation that cannot be ignored.

So what is going on?  Steve Jones, a professor who studies online culture and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago makes this observation: "We've added social networking to our lives. We haven't added any hours to our days. The decision to be online on Facebook is simultaneously a decision not to be doing something else."

So how should we think, and ultimately act, upon this not-so-new phenomenon that continues to soak into every fiber of every demographic? The answer isn’t necessarily obvious, because Facebook is not necessarily the problem. It’s often easy to blame societal problems on certain innovative technology that strongly influences how we perceive the world around us. For example, it’s tempting to think “The internet is the reason why kids don’t play outside anymore, and are so unhealthy these days.” This is an easy assumption to make, but I’ve never actually seen the internet physically restrain anyone from reading a book, painting a picture, or going outside and enjoying the fresh air. If we begin blaming our problems and trends on secondary sources, then where do we stop? If a band of thieves rob a bank using steak knives, who is to blame? The thieves, of course, not the steak knives!  Human nature certainly has the capability of misusing anything, even technology that has great potential for good use. Tread softly and be cautioned. It turns out that our fallen nature gets in the way of Truth and Wisdom. Technology isn’t the problem. We are.

We make choices every day, and the choices that we make show those around us what drives us--what we value. In the midst of the current frenzy surrounding social networking, Christians have an opportunity to take a step back in order to discern how to use networks such as Facebook with wise moderation, and not become disillusioned by false community. We must understand that we’re created for relationship, but let’s not be deceived by replacing true relationships with virtual friends-of-friends-of-friends.
to be continued....

How much is Facebook worth to you? And what are some ways you think we can use it well? You may comment below...

*picture borrowed from

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

13 Million Views and Counting!

[WARNING: This post describes some language that Nicki Minaj uses in her song Super Bass that we do not agree with. However, we are posting some phrases below (bleeped out), that are vital to this discussion. Please note that this post is meant to help parents understand some of the music their teens are listening to, and is not meant to be offensive in any way. Thank you!]

Young kids can be hilarious, especially when they sing, dance, and put on shows for their parents. There aren’t many parents who wouldn’t get out their video cameras to record it, no matter how terrible the performance actually was. The parents of the girls in the video below are quite proud of their girls--wouldn’t you be if your daughters’ talent took them all the way to the Ellen Degeneres show?

Not only is Sophia Grace (8) extremely cute, she’s actually pretty talented. And, needless to say, she and Rosie (5) have become sensations since this appearance on the Ellen Show. The media attention of the girls was sparked by a homemade video of them rapping “Super Bass” that their moms posted on YouTube. Since then, they have met tons of celebrities, appeared on countless TV shows, and even have their own YouTube show. From many standpoints, there’s a lot to be proud of as a parent.

That is, until we take the time to think about what these sweet girls are actually learning, singing about, and saying. The girls say that they picked up the lyrics to “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj in about two days, yet when asked, they replied that they have no idea what the song is actually about. All they know is how much they LOVE Nicki and want to meet her. But what is behind their role model and what exactly is she rapping about?

When we look at the lyrics, we see, overall, that she is singing about the kind of guy that she is attracted to: one who has lots of money, dresses well, has the right body, possibly deals drugs, and buys her lots of diamonds. Ok, not too horrible yet (although not what I’d want my 8-year-old singing about). But when we zoom in and look at individual phrases, things get much worse. Words like “ho,” “hell,” “n**gas,” and “motherf***er” make their appearance, as well as “eff” (a common substitute for the “F” word). Worst of all, at one point Minaj even sings about her “panties comin’ off.” Granted, these little girls were probably listening to the “clean” version of the song, but that’s not much better since words are merely bleeped in a way that it’s not hard to guess what the missing word is.

And if words weren’t bad enough, there are the images in the music video, which the girls say they have seen (and LOVE), to reckon with. Like most pop videos today, it is extremely well made and strewn with suggestive dancing and scantily clad women and men. And what about Minaj herself? Since she is somewhat new on the pop scene, not a whole lot is known about her yet, but she has recently come into controversy over her Grammy performance in which she played a character possessed by the demon “Roman” and which evoked images of an exorcism. She has been quoted as saying that Roman is just one of her many alter egos, and she speaks of him as if he is a real person. In addition, she is one of the most explicit artists currently in the top charts.

So what’s a parent to make of all of this? Isn’t it harmless? They’re innocent little girls who have no idea what they’re singing about, so what’s the big deal? They’ll grow out of it!

The problem is that little girls always grow up to be big girls. They will eventually understand Minaj’s innuendos, slang, and vulgarities. But she’s already their idol, and we humans are creatures of habit. We don’t like change, so the most likely scenario is that Sophia Grace and Rosie will not stop idolizing Minaj and other pop celebrities who espouse depraved lifestyles and personal happiness above all else. 

Shouldn’t we, as parents, do everything we can to seek Truth and expose lies, even in the mainstream media? Instead of looking at Sophia Grace and Rosie, and thinking, “Aren’t they so cute?!” let’s see it as a reminder to not encourage blind acceptance of the flashy, beautiful, or appealing, but rather to engage culture and foster wisdom in the young ones whose lives we can influence.

What do you think about these little girls and their performance? Are we making to big of a deal about the lyrics? We would love to hear your thoughts. You may comment below...

Who’s Your Daddy Tree Frog?

Imagine if a small UFO were to crash land on earth. The crash site is on a hillside overlooking a fairly large, busy town. The people in this town are diligent, hard-working, successful, and generally happy. The town is in all respects just like any other town filled with normal people doing normal things. Soccer games, dentist appointments, coffee dates, business meetings, dog walking, etc. And yet there is something peculiar about this town...

Back at the crash site two aliens emerge from the steaming wreckage. They are funny creatures, these aliens. From the front they appear like some sort of boxy robot with random blue and green lights fading in and out rapidly. When turned sideways they nearly disappear completely as they are literally as thin as paper. They move about by some sort of fluttering motion in their lower appendages which causes them to hover a few inches above the ground.

Upon observing their foreign surroundings, the aliens find a rather normal hillside setting. Grass, a few bushes, lazy insects dancing in the air, several trees, and thousands of tree frogs. That’s right, tree frogs are everywhere. The aliens don’t know that excessive numbers of tree frogs are somewhat abnormal, so they merely emit a few curious electronic gurgling sounds and decide to visit the civilization below. They hover, slip through cracks in doorways, hide, and begin to observe the natives.

In the town, everyone is consumed with tree frogs. Large billboards with massive pictures of tree frogs advertise a variety of products. People gather at local eateries with large television sets and watch programs about tree frogs. There are signs throughout the town with information regarding the multiple tree frog festivals continually occurring. A large, beautiful building with impressive stained glass is located in the center of town. People visit this building to pay homage to tree frogs. And upon close observation it could be noted that almost everyone owns a personal, living tree frog. Some people carry their frog on their shoulder, while others gently hold them in their hand. Still others own very tiny tree frogs and place them just inside the opening of their ears. The townspeople are very attached to their tree frogs. In conversations, most people can be seen consulting their frog and then speaking to another person, who then consults their frog before responding. The very language that the people of this town use to communicate is intricately woven together with their relationship to, well, tree frogs. Having spent a day observing the townsfolk, the aliens determine that in order to figure out what exactly makes the people of the town tick, they probably need to educate themselves on one topic a little more thoroughly.  Tree frogs. They head back up the hill to investigate.

What a ridiculous town! And what a ridiculous story. But bear with me.  

Let’s suppose the aliens were to land in a real town. Maybe your town, and observe the language of communication that consumes our society. What would the tree frog be? What do we consult, rely on, worship--in order to interact with others? Perhaps our tree frogs are smartphones, Facebook, WiFi, texting, iPods, and our addiction to virtual community. The purpose of mentioning these forms of technology isn’t to suggest that we all immediately drop everything. We should be thankful for smart phones, right?

The point is that as thinking Christians we should be willing to recognize the language of our culture without being consumed by it. Jesus told us to make disciples, and in order to do that we need to build relationships. In order to build relationships with anyone we must learn the language of that environment. This must be done using caution and wisdom, lest we get swept away by the frequency of those high tech tree frogs all around us.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2

*picture borrowed from:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Castle (TV Series)

Ideas have consequences. Every day, we consume 7:38 hours of media (average), and every movie, every song, and every TV show is selling us ideas. 

This popular TV police drama follows Richard Castle, a famous crime novelist marked by his witty, charismatic personality.  Castle frequently sees the world through a romantic lens, and he is aways willing to voice an idealistic, even supernatural possibility to any given circumstance.

In order to gather realistic ideas for his novels, Castle is given permission to tag along with NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett, who is a practical, in-charge character who bases her investigations entirely on facts and evidence.  

Throughout the show’s seasons there is a stark contrast between Beckett’s belief in material evidence and Castle’s leaning toward immaterial, intuitive evidence.

Detective Beckett’s view seems to follow a naturalistic outlook that the physical world is all that exists, and everything can be explained using physical evidence. 

Castle openly challenges Beckett’s beliefs, and yet his musings often lean toward allowing one’s personal feelings to guide them in making major decisions.  In a recent episode Castle’s daughter, Alexis, is fighting an internal battle of choosing a University to attend. Should she move away or stay near home? Castle offers this single piece of advice: “Follow your heart, follow your heart and you can’t go wrong.”

This particular TV show offers two possible answers about reality.  When referring to situations such as investigating a crime, hard, physical evidence is the only thing that will provide a legitimate answer. However, when dealing with one’s personal life, one must look inside and rely on his or her feelings to guide them.

Here are a couple of practical questions that could be discussed regarding the show:
  1. Society says “follow your heart” to find happiness. Is that what the Bible says? What about the idea that we are all born sinful? Could it actually be true that following our hearts is the most destructive thing we could do?
  2. God created the physical world, but is that all there is?  How does God interact with the physical world to reveal himself?  There’s nothing wrong with relying strictly on physical evidence in a crime investigation, but the Bible teaches that God created both the spiritual and physical world to work together (consider Romans 1).
Castle is a clever, funny, and winsome show, which makes it all the more important to pay attention to the ideas it presents. Tackling these ideas within a home is essential toward teaching students to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Value of Jellyfish

You’ve decided to take that long awaited vacation, just to get away from the daily grind. You plan, you book, you go. Your destination is a bungalow along miles of sandy beach with no civilization for miles. At last, you’ve arrived and are taking a solitary walk along pristine coastline. The tide is rolling in, and the temperature is perfect. The sun has become a massive red ball of fire about to sizzle into the watery horizon. The light sound of nearby sea gulls bantering fills your soul, and you think to yourself, "life couldn’t get any better."

And then it does.

Up ahead you notice a translucent glow on the water’s edge and to your excitement you recognize that the glow is coming from a very rare jellyfish. This particular glowing jellyfish has an extremely painful, yet non-lethal sting, and it’s also fascinating because you can see right through its body. It’s a good thing you have been studying zoology on the side lately in order to recognize such a rare species. As you approach the jellyfish you notice a sparkling glint. To your astonishment you realize that the jellyfish has somehow ingested what appears to be a 20 karat diamond worth at least 50 million dollars. It’s a good thing you have been dabbling in geology on the side along, thus allowing you to notice the class and value of the gem.

You know that in order to extract the diamond you will need some tools because of the toughness of the jellyfish’s skin. You are two miles away from your bungalow, and you can’t leave the jellyfish because the tide will carry it away. You make the only choice that makes sense. You decide to grab the jellyfish, endure the painful discomfort and make the long journey home to get the tools you need to claim your treasure. The diamond is so valuable that you willingly bare the pain as you begin your journey. The pain grows. The bungalow seems further away than you remember. Surely the sand has become deeper making it nearly impossible to walk. Pain is now shooting up your arms and spreading to your neck and chest. Now all you can think about is the pain. The synapses in your brain are exploding. You are halfway home, but you are already finding it difficult to remember why you are carrying this stupid, worthless jellyfish. You hold on for a little while longer. The pain becomes too much, and finally in a burst of frustration you fling the stinging beast into the sea and watch it glide away. As the pain subsides you look up. The warm lights of your bungalow greet you through the early evening dusk. It hits you. You’ve just let go of a priceless treasure less than a hundred yards from home. All because you forgot the value of what you were holding in your arms in the midst of your discomfort.

Perhaps this short parable can serve as an awakening. Christians often become very familiar with what to believe, without spending a lifetime learning the value of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is why many students find it so difficult to hang on to their Christian beliefs when faced with seemingly more exciting options. Hanging on to what seems like outdated religion grows cumbersome, depressing, or downright embarrassing. Unless we understand how precious the Grace of God is in our lives, we’ll surely let go of what we think we believe when life gets frustrating and painful. Our goal should be not only to desire the right treasure, but in turn understand why it is valuable.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  - Matthew 6:19-21

Do you agree? Why do you think it's hard to hold on to faith in God sometimes? You may comment below...

- Daniel Giddings, Team Leader -