Dec 01 2011
On Being Too Secular. Or Too Christian. Or Whatever.

When you work in public, you get lots of input.  And you better like it.  Shoot, roadside construction workers get input from passers-by.  ("You guys taking another break?")  It's the nature of the biz.

I occasionally hear I'm "too secular".  A legit point, well-made, and sometimes gracefully put.  I love getting feedback.  But it's a good chance to explain something, so that - even if you think I'm messed-up - you'll know where I'm coming from.  It's always good to have your suspicions confirmed ("Now, I know this guy's messed up...")

I don't believe in a line between sacred and secular.

A tree isn't "secular."  A car isn't "secular."  And, while most agree my accordion will not be in heaven, it isn't "secular", either.

There are Christians in the music business, and not just in the "Christian Music Business."  Some of the best "Christian Musicians" will never win Dove Awards.  They play bass trombone for the Boston Symphony (Douglas Yeo) or principal trumpet for the NY Philharmonic (Phil Smith) or sing mezzo soprano for the Metropolitan Opera, like Wendy White.  They're not "secular."  They're gifted by God as artists, participating in His creativity, Soli Deo Gloria.

And your job?  Your computer isn't secular.  If you mop a floor at work, you're not mopping a secular floor.  If you're mowing grass, you're not mowing secular grass.

It's God's grass, man.

And Jesus didn't change water into secular wine.

You can now buy Christian-marketed pants.  Does that mean my current pants are secular?  Have the Christian pants truly repented?  And what can be done to reach my pants for Christ?

Is Left Behind a secular book series because it's sold in secular bookstores?  Is Relient K a Christian band, or, if MTV likes them, do they lose the "Christian" label?  What about The Fray?  What about U2?  You say "no" to U2?  Okay, what about Mercy Me, who covers U2 songs?  Or Sanctus Real, who covers U2 songs?  Or Michael W. Smith, who covers - you know - U2 songs?  (And Chris Tomlin's song, "Where the Streets Have No Name"...? You better sit down.)

What if an album is recorded in digital by a secular producer, with a secular studio bass player, mixed in analog by a Christian, and then mastered by an agnostic, printed by a Christian-owned-CD manufacturer, and distributed by Sony, before being played on Christian radio stations?  What then?

My head hurts.  Good thing we really don't have to keep track, huh?

I believe the Kingdom of God is here, and the King wants everything.  All truth is God's truth, which means we can be unafraid of finding it, as we do, all over the place.  And we find it in unlikely places.  "Secular" scientists can find it.  And so can - you know - smelly animals:

“I had a professor one time... He said, 'Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So, if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway'.”
― Rich Mullins

And, oh yes, your favorite Approved Christian Publishers (TM) and Christian Radio Personalities (TM) can miss it.

So, if you hear me talking about what you consider "secular" news stories, or secular TV shows, or secular hot dogs you can have sent by mail, well, just know what my problem is:  I don't see the world that way.  I used to.  I don't anymore.

God's grace, His beauty, His truth, His obvious HUMOR -- it's everywhere.  The whole earth is filled with His glory.

Can our culture misuse it, abuse it, discolor it?  Oh, sure.

For now.

But, like Mike Yaconelli said:  Our purpose isn't to condemn the culture, it's to redeem it.

Nov 27 2011
The Penn State Press Release I Wish They'd Write


Penn State Board of Trustees

November, 2011



We are Penn State.  


And Penn State is a university, an institution of education.  This is our identity and mission.  The alarming recent events have revealed we have a created a insular and powerful culture, one parallel to our mission, that has little to do with the real work of Penn State University.  We, the trustees, have an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-calibrate our institutional priorities, given our existing mission statement:


Penn State is a multicampus public research university that educates students from Pennsylvania, the nation and the world, and improves the well being and health of individuals and communities through integrated programs of teaching, research, and service.

Our major college football program has not advanced this mission.  In fact, it has damaged it, and distracted from it.


While are not the only school guilty of over-emphasizing sports, we are not charged with making decisions for all schools.  We are charged with fulfilling the mission of Penn State.  To that end:


-- Our football program will cease operations; to begin again in the spring of 2015 for the 2015 season.

-- Penn State will be no longer be offering athletic scholarships.  Prospective student-athletes will gain entrance to the same admissions process as non-athletes.  Need-based aid will be available to all students.

-- Current athletic scholarships will be honored, but football athletes will be extended a release to transfer to other schools upon request.

-- Penn State will continue to field athletic teams, based largely on an Ivy League model.  

-- We will be severing our athletic ties to the Big Ten conference.


We certainly recognize that specific businesses in our immediate area will be impacted by the loss of traffic on several Saturdays during the year.  While we are saddened by the hardship that may produce, we also recognize our job, given that we are entrusted with the Penn State University, is not to provide football-related income to area businesses.  We are charged with our educational mission, solely.


We recognize that this step away from "big-time" college athletics will alienate some who've aligned themselves with the Penn State "family".  However, we're convinced true Penn State supporters and alumni, those who did not confuse football with our very mission, will stand by us in our re-focused commitment to educational excellence.


While there is certainly much a student may learn from sport, we are convinced it need not be in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry. We realize that students, nationwide, have often come to expect big-time college football as part of a "college experience", but we believe this marketing emphasis has largely been a means of disguising a decline in the overall value and quality of undergraduate education.


At Penn State, we will continue to offer a true college experience, one centered around the very meaning of the word "university":  Together, we will pursue truth, from diversity of both academic discipline and perspective.


As we re-commit ourselves to this purpose, and this purpose singularly, we recognize the idea of the "university", or even the purpose of "education", has largely become incoherent.  Few, including many in the professoriate, can articulate its purpose, and perhaps this very fact has contributed to a stunning "mission drift", yielding a beer-and-circuses "college experience" as a stand-in for the larger, catalyzing mission of education.


Penn State has an excellent academic staff, and excellent students.  We have allowed, but will no longer allow, what should be a mere adjunct to learning - sports - to become a culture with power (financial or emotional) capable of staining our academic standing.  


While this decision will strike many as draconian, the Board of Trustees disagrees. When we indicated serious measures would result, we were not merely hoping for the press firestorm to move on, and then merely insert "better" people into a system that is fundamentally broken.  This decision will enhance, not subtract from, Penn State's reputation for educational quality.  (We note that the University of Chicago, to give a relevant example, hardly suffers an identity crisis without its former membership in the the Big Ten.)


We have been proud of our group identity, but we recognize it was too often founded on producing an entertainment product, not our mission.  We have an opportunity, now, to either continue with the status quo, or change to make Penn State better than ever.


We are Penn State, and we are sorry for the culture we inadvertently created, one which valued the reputation of an athletic program over doing what is just and merciful.  


While we are humbled, we will use this opportunity to learn.  We will cast a vision for course-correction.  We hope this horrific chapter serves as a clarion call to purpose.  We will not let this happen again. 


We are Penn State, and we will not be content to offer cosmetic solutions to systemic problems.  We are changing more than our coach.  


We are changing our culture, and we are changing it immediately.