I'll admit it. I started writing for Revelife out of boredom.
It was a difficult season in my life. I had just moved to a new town where I knew next to no one, having just left behind the dream and career that I had thought was going to be my life. It was a season of disappointments and frustrations, of realizing that the picture-perfect life I thought I had was starting to unravel before my eyes, and there was little I could do to fix it.
Revelife was an opportunity to do something different. If you want to know the truth, I only got the internship because I knew the editor. I've known him since high school, which is a story in and of itself, but that is for another time. And I only got the editorship because my friend stepped down to pursue other ventures. It was a God's will kind of thing that got me to where I am today, and I'm going to tell you how I know this is true.
There have been many times in the last two years I have wanted to shut the site down. It's not really an easy job to take care of an entire community of people when you're the only one on board. My most recent attempt to shut down the site was in May of this year. I had just gotten back from Haiti and, having experienced significant life changes as a result of the trip, I thought maybe the season for Revelife had ended for me.
I was convinced not to do it, and discontented though I was, I pushed ahead and kept the site alive somehow. I had no real concept of why I was running the site anymore, or why I had even been running it in the first place. Nothing in my life had changed, and when all you get to hear are the complaints and frustrations of people who hate trolls and atheists and spam, it's hard to tell that anyone else has changed because of the site either.
Travis is one of the few close friends I have made since I became a part of the Revelife community. Over the last two years, we've been as best of friends as two people who know each other exclusively on the internet can be. Which is surprisingly close, actually.
Right around the same time I was attempting to shut down the very site that brought us into each other's lives, Travis sent me a message that seemed innocent at the time, one that I had completely disregarded -- and he can attest to that -- but that would change the course of my life forever.
He introduced me to Michael.
It's kind of crazy to say that an internet friend introduced me to a real-life one, but that's what happened. And it was just as awkward at first as you can imagine, but it worked surprisingly well. Very well. Very, very well. Weller than anyone could have imagined. (It's love.)
But it wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for Revelife.
I never would have thought that this year would be the year I would understand why God put this site into my hands. And if this is the only reason I ever obtained this editorship at all, then praise God. But I have to think that I'm not the only one with a story to tell. For all the crazy, messed up stuff we feature on that silly little site, there's got to be more life change going on than we know. Because we serve a God who likes to do crazy, messed up things that turn out spectacular and awesome and defy all the things we think we know about life and love.
And so it goes on. I can't say I feel much better about my job than I did in May. It's still not easy, and there's still not enough time to take care of the site the way I want to, but clearly God has a reason for that. Maybe it's because what I want Revelife to be is not what He wants Revelife to be. Revelife is crazy and messy and frustrating and beautiful. It's beyond my control. It's beyond anyone's control. It's an organism of diverse people with conflicting ideas where nothing ever gets truly solved but ideas get laid out on the table and people -- hopefully -- learn something new.
Isn't that cool? Isn't that the best that we, broken and imperfect, can do? And behind the scenes, behind the made-up usernames and harsh words and loving words and profile pictures, God is doing works in each of us that no one will ever know unless we tell our stories, too.
So thanks. Thanks for the blog submissions and comments. Thanks for the "eProps" (lame!) and recommendations. And thanks for being a little part of the big picture of what God is doing in lives that you don't know.
And here's hoping I don't go crazy and shut the site down in 2012!
In movies, television and video games, the next big thing is 3D technology. If you're like many, you've probably seen a movie in the theaters in 3D. You may have even had the chance to view a 3D television at your local big box retailer.
So what does this have to do with the church? For one Florida congregation, 3D is more than just new technology; it's an outreach opportunity.
According to Mashable, "the Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Florida, is joining the digital age with a campaign that melds both augmented reality and 3D." And despite the hi-tech nature of the campaign, the concept is surprisingly simple.
The church is featuring 3D technology during all of their 20 Christmas services. In order to spread the word about these services, the congregation is passing out invitation cards. You can also print out an invitation card from the website.
Here's where it gets geeky. With invitation card in hand -- and access to a webcam and audio -- guests are encouraged to surf over to the 3D Christmas website. Then, they simply hold the invitation card up to their webcam with the marker facing the screen, and the site will recognize the marker and play an augmented reality video of pastor David Hughes inviting the guest to one of the 3D services.
This is a great example of a congregation using relevant means to reach people who might not normally attend a church service. There is but one problem: the whole thing seems a bit gimmicky. I can only hope that the Christmas services these guests attend live up to the hype and offer good Christian truths -- not just cool gadgets and technology.
What do you think of the hi-tech inclusions in this Christmas service? Do you think it's mostly gimmick, or do you think the guests who attend will also get good teaching? Would you attend these services?
I remember around this time last year, a girl I worked with asked off for the entire week of Halloween. She had mentioned to our manager that it was for a Christian event. Having told me she was a youth pastor, I thought perhaps she was taking her group on a trip. I asked what her youth group was doing during her days off, and she explained:
We're having a Hell house.
You may have seen signs for Hell houses in your own area. They look like any other haunted house attraction on the outside, but the purpose is very different. While the scenes and events inside are scary, they are meant to depict sin in its ultimate vile form. Many Hell houses portray controversial issues – such as abortion, suicide, murder and death – in a detailed, gruesome light.
All of this is to contrast the final portion of the Hell house tour: an open invitation to accept Christ and avoid having to face all of these horrifying images in real life.
The first Hell house was created in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, televangelist and founder of Liberty Christian Academy. Scaremare, as it is called, is now in its 38th season, and its website boasts having led approximately 26,000 into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Another well known Hell house is the Temple Hell House in Temple, Texas. Hosted by Bethel Chuch, the Temple Hell House includes, according to its website, a 45 minute tour “guided by a demon,” featuring “guns, blood, violence, intense scenes and disturbing images.”
While Hell houses attract thousands of people, they also cost thousands of dollars and require thousands of volunteer hours to put together. But if you want to start a Hell house, New Destiny Christian Center in Thornton, Colorado, wants to help you out – with its Hell House Outreach Kit. Its promotional motto:
Shake your city with the most "in-your-face, high-flyin', no denyin', death-defyin', Satan-be-cryin', keep-ya-from-fryin', theatrical stylin', no holds barred, cutting-edge" evangelism tool of the new millennium!
The Hell house has been around for quite a long time, and while the concept is indeed interesting, it is no less controversial. It may be a bit deceptive, but many churches claim it's nothing if not effective.
Have you ever been to a Hell house? Have you ever helped put on a Hell house? Do you see these as effective ministry tools, or are they too deceptive?
I can still remember the first time I entered a megachurch. What first surprised me were the trees -- real trees in the lobby, situated right next to the Guest Services counter that looked like the check-in kiosk at an airplane terminal. Then there was the very Starbucks-inspired coffee bar, and how could anyone forget the ocean of seats lined in pretty little rows across the auditorium.
Megachurches have sprouted up like weeds across the United States. And while the faithful do flock in droves to their highly produced, often televised services, they are also racking up their fair share of debt -- the key ingredient in this economy's recipe for disaster.
Case in point: Crystal Cathedral. While you may not know it by name, you have probably heard of the Hour of Power, a televangelist program hosted at the California megachurch. Crystal Cathedral is also known for its extravagant Easter and Christmas productions, complete with live animals. Thousands attend these holiday extravaganzas, but few consider the exorbitant cost to put on such an event.
According to The Huffington Post, live animals for Crystal Cathedral's nativity scene alone cost $57,000, and Kristina Oliver, who owns the company that was contracted for the animals, doesn't expect to get a dime.
"The church never made any kind of advancement that they wanted to pay their debt, that they were willing to try to make it happen," Oliver said, "and every time we tried they told us, 'You can't tell us how to run our business.'"
The Associated Press estimates that the church's debt lies somewhere in the tens of millions of dollars, and on Sunday, founder and pastor Robert H. Schuller tearfully begged the congregation for their financial support. "If you are a tither, become a double-tither," Schuller pleaded. "If you are not a tither, become a tither. This ministry has earned your trust. This ministry has earned your help."
What has taken place at Crystal Cathedral is in no way indicative of what will happen at all other megachurches, but this news certainly does beg the question as to how much longer the era of megachurches will last.
Do you think the problems faced by the Crystal Cathedral are symptoms of a broader dysfunction within the framework of the megachurch? Are there megachurches that, unlike Crystal Cathedral, are surviving or thriving in this difficult economy? What do you think will be the future of the megachurch?
In case you didn't know, Sufjan (pronounced: Soof-Yawn) Stevens is the darling of the indie folk world. His 2005 album, Come On, Feel the Illinoise, made it all the way to number one on the Billboard US Heatseekers Chart and received much praise and critical acclaim. So popular was Illinoise, in fact, that the accompanying album, Avalanche, containing outtakes and songs cut from the original album, both met and, in some ways, exceeded its predecessor in popularity.
Yet in the five years that followed, very little was made of Sufjan. He released a cinematic and orchestral ode to the British-Queens Expressway in 2007, but outside of that, despite hints and the occasional new song at a concert, there seemed to be no hope of a new album.
On August 20, Sufjan surprised everyone, releasing an eight-track digital EP entitled All Delighted People.
All Delighted People is an orchestrated roller coaster of emotion and personal struggle. While very similar in terms of sound and musical structure to Illinoise and Avalanche -- a choir of voices, wailing electric guitars, a haunting piano and epic string sections all make their appearances in this EP -- missing are the civic anthems and patriotic melodies found on Illinoise. There are no references to forgotten heroes and local tall tales; replacing them are the thoughts and reflections of a man who seems to have seen a lot of hurt and pain.
The EP focuses on one song performed two ways: the title track, "All Delighted People." While the name might suggest it is an anthem for happy people -- and the recurring phrase, "All delighted people, raise their hands," might also suggest uniting all happy people for a celebration -- it is a dark and sinister song, focusing on war, hate and the apocalypse. When Sufjan asks for delighted people to raise their hands, it is not out of excitement and unity; it is out of the hope that someone, anyone, will raise a hand in these dark days.
These dark and brooding themes transcend the entire EP. In the second track, "Enchanting Ghost," Sufjan seems to be drawing inspiration from personal heartbreak. He beckons an unseen antagonist not to leave him, but then retracts that statement, saying, "If it pleases you to leave me, just go." Elements of heartbreak also exude from the seventh track, "Arnika," in which Sufjan grieves of this life:
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of waiting for someone I’m tired of prices; I’m tired of waiting for something
There are a few pleasant surprises to be found on All Delighted People, not the least of which being an electronic-infused bridge at just past the one-minute mark of the fourth track, "From the Mouth of Gabriel." Considering the more cynical nature of the rest of the EP, this bridge is perhaps the most delightful moment of the entire album, and, even further, might be seen as a harbinger of new things. Sufjan's upcoming album, The Age of Adz, is an epic electronic opus slated for release on October 12.
Overall, All Delighted People is a well-constructed, diverse collection of thoughtful and sometimes painfully honest reflections on the state of life, love and the world around us. It is, musically speaking, the exclamation point on the end of the Illinoise and Avalanche sentence and the preamble to The Age of Adz still yet to be released.