Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Church: A Barbarian Revolt or a Passing on of the Faith Story?

December 27. Today is our anniversary. Imagine, Dee putting up with me for 28 years! Our partnership, our friendship, our commitment and abandoned passion has given us quite a ride.

Every anniversary it happens to me: I get this "What's the new, next, around-the-bend reality and calling that needs a fresh look?" feeling. I pull out books I had meant to read, revisit journal entries, fire up my (some would say hyper-) critical facilities, and attempt to align my mind and soul and heart with what God is up to.

So I read a book by a well-known Christian influencer this morning. It disturbed me, mostly due to the abundance of sweeping, unsubstantiated generalizations and unending use of stories to prove points the author has already asserted (and now wants to drive home with a family anecdote). Filled with over-statement, accusation, and condescension, the book is less about what it means to be a devoted follower of Christ than it is a shot across the bow, okay, a shot between the eyes, toward those who the author believes have allowed themselves to be complacent, "civilized" Christians. One example of how whole congregations are cast:

“Civility focuses our energy on all the wrong places. We spend our lives emphasizing our personal development and spiritual well-being. We build churches that become nothing more than hiding places for the faithful while pretending that our actions are for the good of the world.”

Yet, at the same time, I'm glad I read it, for there is a basic message flowing from these pages that need to be heard. It can be summarized in these two statements:

“Domesticated Christians are far too willing to abdicate the battle for the soul of the world… The driving purpose of this barbarian revolt is to liberate every person who longs to find freedom in God.”

I want to think more about this. Without resorting to an almost offensive assault on those whose faith expressions look different than mine, or who do value education and piety and reflection, I am struck by the simple and abandoned core reminder that, especially in today's world, those who publicly use Christ's name can easily be seen as having little passion for or commitment to the radical message of the Gospel.

I will thank this author when I see him. I will also ponder and then take these thoughts into my Fuller class starting January 5, Youth Outreach. For you who are taking the class, get ready for a ride.

Happy anniversary, Dee. Thanks for the gift of life together. May we always stay the course, and run and free after the prize for which Jesus has taken hold of us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When it comes to politics, Who do we follow?

Lots of noise about Obama (the man I voted for) and his recent statements and political appointees (For Obama to win AIPAC he needed Rahm Emanuel to help Obama prove he was a bigger friend of Israel than Clinton and McCain. According to this MSNBC video
( it was Rham who set AIPAC up for Obama to pledge his loyalty to AIPAC as you can see here:

For example Obama has had to declare what Rahm Emanuel believes and what AIPAC continually pushes for... "Jerusalem is Israel's undivided capital". Contrary to international law and U.S. official policy.)

This is my response to the person who sent me this information:

... this is why I want to concentrate on following Christ more than politically lining up no matter who it is. Rham was a terrible choice, but obviously highly political.

Politics is exactly that - politics. Life and faith and love and care are values of the Kingdom. I think many of my friends and colleagues have it wrong... a state cannot simply be more "Christian" by lining up a handful of policies, especially during an election, and Obama looks and sounds so much more like someone we align with, but we need to remember we really don't know the people and players behind the scenes...

My suggestion to all of us:

1. refrain from demonizing those in public whom we really don't know... "love your enemies" comes to mind

2. believe in, hope and pray for the best in our leadership, especially now... the stakes are as high as they've ever been

3. interpersonal love, care, consistency, discipline, integrity, and faithfulness are far, far more important to God than "changing the world" - God is the one who is bringing in his kingdom, our job is living out "His righteousness" (the sermon on the mount is almost entirely about our personal lives - matthew 5-7)

4. Even though it sounds old-fashioned and out of vogue, there is no doubt if the Gospel means anything it is about responding to Christ's love and care in such a way that we become his dispensers of his mercy and grace: "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13) ...


May those who follow the King take care to represent him well...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Been dabbling in Isaiah

I've been taking some time in Isaiah, and so this fall I'll toss out a thought or two now and then.

Isaiah 1:2-3

The opening vision begins with the Lord referring to Israel as the children he "reared" and "brought up." When reading this book, it seems to me to vital to keep in mind the affective and intensely personal bottom line of God's concern for his people. No, not just his people, but his children.

When I consider my life, there is no person, no dream, no plan, no ambition that has power over my heart, mind and soul than my kids. I worry some about all of the above and more, yet, at least for me, rarely do any of these consume me. When I think about my children, I celebrate the most innocuous events and genuinely cherish the simplest things. I also know no greater fear or anxiety when my kids are in pain, or struggle, or fail. My experience tells me that I am not alone, that most parents feel that way.

When each of our three kids were born, within hours they grabbed my pinky. I have been a dad for 27 years tomorrow, and in my view nine months longer than that. Not a day has gone by when I am not profoundly aware that, although they may not feel it or even know it, they have never quite let go.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Celebrating the "gifted" child

Who doesn't want their kid to be accepted in a "gifted" program? Whether it is an official invitation from school officials due to "objective" criteria, like grades, test scores, or nomination, or making an elite team or association (i.e., competitive soccer), parents experience an emotional jolt when their kid is thus affirmed. They are proud, happy, and fulfilled, at least at the moment.

This sense of identification with the winner is not limited to parents. The more public or noteworthy the "opportunity," the wider the circle of pride goes. The boy who is the star of his all-star team receives dozens of notes paper-clipped to the three line description of his four hit game from neighbors and people at church. The pretty girl who gets the commercial deal in third grade has an entire school of fans who clamor to be identified with their little star. The kids who win the league championship, or whose cheer team is invited to Disneyland to compete on ESPN, or whose SAT scores grab the attention of teachers, administrators and colleges all know that they are celebrated for one reason - their accomplishment brings joy and pride to those who either never were able to reach such heights themselves or who use the moment to dust off their own trophies on their fireplace mantel.

Is this a bad thing? Is it wrong to celebrate a kids' accomplishment, or to feel a sense of pride when someone we know, even from a distance, gets honored and appreciated? The answer is neither simple nor obvious. Instead of taking a stand, then, there are two aspects of this that concern me:

First, what about the non-achievers, those kids who not only never make the all-star team, but got cut as a ten year old, or who struggle to get a B, or who build the sets or carry the equipment? How do we celebrate those kids, the ones who are in the vast majority, yet know that all of the accolades and praise that floats all around them will never even begin to dust their own souls? One teacher called these kids "middle kids," and warned me as a researcher-substitute teacher that I wouldn't like them. I worry for these middle kids - who celebrates them? Who throws them a party, sends them a note, or brags about them from the pulpit? What school publishes their name, what newspaper makes note of their Saturdays, what neighbor brags about them at work?

Second, what about the fact that athletics is fickle and standardized tests measure one tiny slice of what might eventually make a successful adult? How are we setting up our "stars" when all too soon they come to the realization that the slaps on the back, the notes, and the stares will only come their way as long as they stay on top. They know that its not about them at all. Their fame, their popularity, their status and prestige is actually more for the benefit of those who cherish them than a way to celebrate them as a person. When the day comes where they have a bad game, get cut, or get in trouble, or their grades slip, or they struggle with eating or cutting or addiction or loneliness, the crowds are long gone.

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Anyone who will not receive the kingdom as a little child will never enter it."
- Jesus of Nazareth

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Hot" - compliment, or flagrant objectification?

In some ways, who wouldn't want to be considered "hot"? After all, it is such a common way to describe someone today.

I asked a bunch of high school at a conference this week what "hot" meant. I tried to get them to offer some synonyms, like "cute" or "attractive." But none of them went there, they said "hot" was different, it was more than cute (one guy even said, "You can be ugly and hot."), it was, in short, a word that describes someone who is sexually attractive.

Did any of them feel like it was kind of an unfair and denigrating word? They were pretty taken aback by my question (even after I explained what "denigrating" meant!), but then just shrugged and said that being hot was a good thing, a compliment, and that any girl, or guy for that matter, would want to be called hot. It seems to be akin to a bit less common but similarly located term, sexy. But at least with that one we all knew what we were talking about.

Hm, I'm certain most people would see using hot is relatively harmless, and let's face it, probably almost everybody does want to be sexually attractive. This is what strikes me about this word: it seems that the familiar use of the word gives permission for leering, lust, and objectifying whomever we designate as hot. Perhaps we did the same thing with sexy, but this one seems to have pushed the envelop farther, and is far more blatant in its goal.

Here's where we seem to stand: to be called hot means that someone is, basically, attracted to that person in terms of sexual potential, and everybody wants to be seen that way. Great.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This is new for me, but...

I've finally jumped in. After years of avoiding this, and being pushed and shoved by people I meet and friends that are way ahead of me, I'm going for it... the weekly (or so) blog.

I plan on rambling about a current event, a comment I've heard (or received, those are sometimes more fun while usually more cutting), or something that has jumped out at me at the most random time. I am excited to have a forum where I can wonder aloud as well as hear from others about the things that matter.

So, for starters, this week... 2 thoughts:

I have just committed to meeting with four young men who are just beginning their careers in ministry. They are all, ahem, somewhat less than reverent (unless you confine that idea to God and the Kingdom, justice, peace, etc.), and fun/funny. They push and pull me, and I am grateful that these four men have the courage to go after life with an old guy who continues o circle the track. I'm sure I will learn more than they, but I do think that the Lord might have some gifts in store for them as well. Stay posted...

This week in class, a family ministry class, I was teaching on the importance of having a solid theology of marriage. An obvious subset is sex (okay, maybe not so obvious, but that's another blog), so we were working through a theology of sex. As I was wrapping up a hand shot up. The mid-twenties guy asked, "Are you saying it is immoral for two people who are committed and love each other to have sex?" (It seemed clear, at least to me, that he had probably heard me right but didn't like what I had said about the definition of "sexual immorality" from 1 Thessalonians 4:3f - anytime we engage in any level of sexual intimacy that is not grounded and surrounded by commitment, and for a relatively deep level of intimacy that meant marriage as instituted by God and reaffirmed by Jesus)

I didn't give him a quick or simple answer (I think, but ask some students), I said that the question doesn't work, for it redefines something that cannot be redefined: "commitment." Today committed means we're committed until we no longer are committed, and therefore the couple that uses that kind of rhetoric is actually just playing with the idea of love as opposed to actually embracing the kind of love God designed as the foundation of sexual intimacy. "In love" as applied today is actually a meaningless concept that doesn't offer any hope for the future, any roots, and trajectory. My marriage works because Dee and I said, "I promise" and we have lived that out every day even when hard, or painful, or lonely. If I'm not promising to be around if she gets cancer or I lose my hearing - or, as in the case of one friend, if I get Parkinson's, does she bail? - then I am neither "in love" or "committed." We use lots of words to mask indecision, lack of discipline, and selfish pushing. Sex only blesses when the beloved is totally safe and secure in the knowledge that I will be there. Otherwise, it is a destructive game of words.