the spiritual formation of “being there”
Tuesday August 15th 2006, 8:28 am
Filed under: faith, thinking..., family

i was reading scot mcknight’s the jesus creed last night in my cozy bed in our 15th century home, and the section was talking about spiritual formation. so it’s on my mind a bit today. this morning, liesl and i were sitting amidst about 11,000 british teenagers in the largest tent i have ever seen in my life. this event, these 11,000 teenagers (even even moreso, the organizers of the event), are a slightly different tribe than liesl and i come from. they’re charismatics — but, good charismatics (the we’ve got the spirit, but we still engage the world kind, not the we’ve got the spirit, and we’re withdrawing from the world kind). in fact, i never hear american charismatics talk about justice like this. but i digress.

we were sitting there in singing time, and there was a time when the band stopped playing, and the 11,000 teenagers kept singing. and liesl was singing along with all the voice she had, and the whole thing sounded so beautiful. and it struck me, liesl was being spiritual formed by this experience.

so often, as a curriculum guy, i tend to think of formation as something one does, or maybe pursues. i don’t tend to think of formation as something that happens. not that singing a christian song is necessarily formative for liesl. but something about singing a worship song with 11,000 other teenagers, all of whom are british and very “other” than her (which she clearly feels), but sensing that she is connected to these british charismatic teenagers in some way, that she is one of them. and this experience — being here — will form her (spiritually). i expect she will remember that moment last night when all the power in that massive tent went out, but everyone kept singing, even notching it up a bit. and this will all become part of her journey, part of her story.

sure, she’s stoked about going to london this weekend. but i’m pretty excited about seeing her in this parallel universe (british, charismatic).

oh, and did i mention it’s freezing cold, and i only have shorts and t-shirts? doh.

books read in the last few weeks, part 2
Monday August 14th 2006, 11:55 am
Filed under: thinking..., books

china.jpg, by t. colin campbell, phd and thomas m. campbell II. michael bridges, half of the ys-loved musical duo lost and found, sent me this book after reading my posts about my cleanse. it rocked my world. i’ve had more discussions in the last few weeks as a result of this book than from any book i’ve read in years. written by a scientist (not a science-buff opinionating), the book is, primarily, a summary of the largest nutritional study ever conducted (he brings in a massive quantity of other clinical research also). his primary findings are that the diseases that kill americans (he calls them “diseases of affluence”, because they’re found only in populations that can afford an animal based diet) are all direcly linked to animal proteins. heart disease, all the leading cancers, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, obesity and many others: these diseases, for the most part, do not exist (to a great degree) in countries and populations that eat a plant-based diet. here’s the upshot: i’m seriously considering — and anyone who knows me, or has even seen me, will know what a big statement this is — pursuing a vegan diet. i’m not sure i can pull it off. i do like meat! but i think i’d rather have a cancer-free, heart disease-free, and many other diseases-free next 30 years of my life, than have cheeseburgers and filet mignon (and milk, cheese and eggs). i’m sure i’ll be blogging about this more this fall, as i’m tentatively planning on trying a vegan diet for one month at some point. really, you have to read this book! even if you never adopt a whole food, plant-based diet, it’s a brilliant and accessible read.

rejuvenile.jpg, by christopher noxon. i’ve ruminated a few times on this blog about “grups”, the name given to adults who are erasing the generation gap by continuing to embrace values and tastes traditionally associated with adolescents. this book (pointed out to me by bob carlton) notches it down a few years. while most of the “grup” discussion has centered around rock concerts and expensive jeans, noxon’s book looks more at kickball leagues and toy collectors (not adult toys like jet skis and GPS, but real toys, like dolls and super-soakers). noxon is clearly pro-rejuvenile, though he says the word is neutral, and has positives and negatives. the book gets a bit wordy at times (i love all his examples, but they could often be shorter), but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile read, identifing what i believe is a significant cultural shift in affluent populations. fun reading with plenty of implications for those of us in youth ministry (or any kind of ministry, for that matter).

books read in the last few weeks, part 1
Sunday August 13th 2006, 6:52 am
Filed under: thinking..., books

exuberance.jpg , by kay redfield jamison. fascinating book. jamison is a professor (and researcher) in psychiatry, and has done most of her work in the area of clinical depression and abhorant behavior. but she decided to take a rather different subject this time around and dive deep in the emotion of exuberance. full of story and biography, rich in science and observation, it’s a pithy study of an emotion i love, experience often, and never get tired of. i earmarked dozens of pages in order to pull quotes and ideas - wish i could type in a few of them here: but i don’t have the book with me, so i’ll leave that for a future post. this is one of those “i don’t normally read this kind of book” books that stretched my thinking in ways well beyond, i’m sure, the intentions of the author.

yossel.jpg, by joe kubert. one of the five books i picked up in the bookstore at the holocaust museum, this illustrated book is fiction (all the others i bought were non-fiction). it tells the story of an uprising in the warsaw ghetto in 1943. yossel is the name of the main character, a pre-teen boy with a huge skill in drawing (which keeps him alive, as the nazi soldiers like his drawings). the entire book was drawn in pencil (most illustrated books are done in pencil originally, then inked later for the final version) to give it an unfinished vibe. the story is good, the characters are good, and the drawing is some of the best i’ve ever seen. i enjoyed this as much as any illustrated book i’ve read. highly recommended.

an american tradtion
Monday July 31st 2006, 1:59 pm
Filed under: thinking...

i was in grocery store the other day, and noticed this…


the supermarket sign saying “an american tradition” is located right above the liquor section of the store.  interesting.

fascinating and beautiful interchange
Wednesday July 26th 2006, 12:46 pm
Filed under: faith, church, thinking...

you may have seen dr. martin accad’s wonderfully raw and pleading essay on christianity today’s website last week, called Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon. it’s absolute must-read stuff for any christian, and anyone interested in the world beyond their own front door or steeple.

but here’s the kicker: accad built much of his essay around comments made by a dr. david gushee. and, in a truly beautiful open letter, gushee responded this week to accad. an excerpt:

I hear the desperation and misery in your voice. I sense your fear for the well-being of your loved ones and your grief over those already torn to pieces by Israeli bombs. I hear your rage at the nation that is inflicting this suffering on your people, and at Hezbollah for starting this latest round of fighting, and at the feckless international community, and at global evangelicals, especially in the United States, and at the U.S. government itself.

I, personally, am struggling deeply right now to have any hope about many of the same things that you are struggling with. I think the United States government has been pursuing a disastrous foreign policy since September 11 and that now we are reaping some of the consequences of that mixture of unilateralism, militarism, Wilsonian idealism, and negligent incompetence. My sympathy for Israel—which is indeed deep, a mix of all kinds of factors, some rational, some emotional—does not extend to support for what has clearly become a massive and disproportionate military offensive. And when I read about Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Syria, and Iran, and the growing sophistication of the weapons being fired at Israel, and the emergent pro-Iran Iraq, and the tangled web of ties and dark plans that connect Israel’s enemies, I sense a coming conflagration.

then, accad responded in an open letter back to gushee. an excerpt:

David Gushee’s gracious response also, in his “Open Letter to Dr. Martin Accad” that Christianity Today published, gives me the desire to be picked up from the roadside despite my wounds. At the end of this weekend I have more hope, because I have discovered life in a part of the church’s heart that I had thought dead. Thanks, David, and thank you to the new friends I have made.

If so many in the church in the U.S. actually care enough to listen and respond to a Middle Eastern Arab Christian cry, then perhaps there is enough hope, will and faith in this church to lean over the wounded “enemy” in the Middle East so that the universal church can address injustice and somehow bring to a halt this deliberate targeting of faith communities.

these three open letters have become larger than their content. don’t get me wrong: they’re all worth reading purely for their content, to more clearly understand the current violence between israel and hezbollah and its impact on the lives of real people. but beyond that, accad and gushee provide us a model for dialogue in a public space. there’s almost none of this in the christian world, from people with widely disperate viewpoints. put jerry falwell and jim wallace on nightline together, and they’ll rip each other and both make ridiculous overstatements and repeat the same lines (created by some soundbite specialist) over and over and over until i want to take a sledgehammer to my tv and the whole notion of christian debate. hrmph.

but these two guys i’d never heard of — gah! that’s the kind of interchange i want with the people i disagree with (especially my brothers and sisters in the church with whom i disagree). makes me hopeful and frustrated at the same time.

(ht to dave palmer for pointing out the last two open letters)

i wonder…
Tuesday July 25th 2006, 11:57 am
Filed under: personal, thinking..., humor

we’re doing some re-furnishing of our family room right now. i wonder if this would fit, in time for the new season of 24…

awkward similarities
Sunday July 16th 2006, 9:42 pm
Filed under: church, thinking...

so. i know this post is going to come off as way-inflamatory. really, that’s not my intention. i’m extremly hesitant to post these thoughts because i fear they will:
a. incite a vicious plethora of responses to me and about me, which i really don’t feel like wading through, and/or
b. be quickly and easily misunderstood as the liberal rantings of one of “those emergent types”.

but i visited the united states holocaust museum recently in washington, dc. i’d not been before, and had heard so much about it. it was really great, though my feet were dog-tired by the end and i was a bit whiney.

here’s the thought that kept jumping in front of me, even when i tried, repeatedly, to dodge it: there are so many awkward similarities between the nazi party’s tactics and the christian religious right’s tactics in current-day america.

now, let me stop right there and make some important disclaimers:
1. i’m not saying the religious right ARE nazis.
2. i’m not equating all conservative christians with the religious right. frankly, until very, very recently, i still considered myself a conservative christian (and i’m darn close to it still, in many areas — i’d now likely consider myself a moderate evangelical); but i’ve never seen myself as a part of the religious right. there are tens or hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of conservative christians who should not be unfairly labled as part of the religious right.
3. i’m not referring to racial cleansing or hatred. the only comparisons i’m going to refer to are tactical.
4. i’m was not intending to post this in such close proximity to the discussion about isreal and lebanon. i’d been planning this post for a week and a half, since having these thoughts in the holocaust museum. while there may be some connections, that’s not my intent.

the holocaust museum is divided into five levels — the basement being a cafe and such, and the main floor being a lobby, special exhibit and bookstore. visitors begin the actual tour on the top floor, and work their way back down. the top floor is the rise of the nazi party, the 3rd floor is mostly about the concentration camps and “the final solution”, and the 2nd floor moves into the final days and liberation from the camps. i’m bothering to explain this because this nagging comparison kept coming to my mind ONLY in the top floor — the rise to power.

here are a handful of things i noticed:

1. fear is a tool.
i was intrigued, learning about the rise of the nazi party in germany — while they were still considered the minority, the fringe wackos — how they used fear to both mobilize people and win people over to their agenda. they systematized the cultivation of fear, rather brilliantly, if one can use a word like that. as i was reading and experiencing this in the museum, i was bowled over by the similarities to much of what is happening in the american church right now. the constant use of war imagery (”we’re in a battle for a generation” or “we are on the brink of being the last christian generation in america”) and fear-based tactics are the dominant themes in much of the fundraising and publishing released into the (american) christian world these days. it’s not helpful. it seems to me, the only time jesus really talked about being fearful of the influence of “those people” was when he talked about religious leaders.

2. “popular culture is bad, and threatening our way of life.”
this is a varient on #1, really. but it was a massive message of the nazi party prior to their rise to power. they condemned other germans at this point (which became something of a moot point, and a message they stopped using, once they rose to power). the early nazi party spent much of their communication coin on pointing out (from their perspective) how their own country had become infiltrated with abborhant behavior and thinking, and that popular expressions in culture were threatening to extinguish the only things that were truly good about germans (and other aryans). this oppositional approach to culture is being consistently laid out by the marketers and fundraisers of the religious right in american also. what struck me (when thinking about this in the museum) was how selfish it is. even if ‘our way of life’ is being threatened (which i don’t believe), the jesus-approach would be to be missional into culture, not to spend all our effort drawing lines of demarcation, and retreating from culture. some might say that the religious right’s “engagement” in politics is missional, or at least, an effort to engage culture. but i don’t buy this when the effort is fueled by a desire that is ultimately self-serving.

3. “people who don’t believe like us are ruining our country, and threatening our way of life”
again, this is a variant on #1 and #2. but it moves beyond culture as an amorphous disembodied “thing” and toward a personal level. this was the primary message of the nazi party to other germans in their early years. hitler’s speaches were peppered with this language, as were the collateral materials printed by the nazi party. in our own setting, this connects with the (wrong-headed) notion that american is a christian country, and should be preserved as such — in order to protect our way of life (which, at the end of the day, means “my way of life”). i realize it’s a bit cliche to mention this, but real christianity (real, passionate, following of jesus christ) has never flourished in a christian country. jesus never encourages us to become the dominant thought-power or political leader, and certainly doesn’t encourage us to expunge those we don’t agree with from our midst.

4. shows of strength provide courage where courage is lacking.
when the then-young nazi party realized that the majority of germans thought they were an odd fringe group, they were proactive in showing their growing strength, though marches and rallies. this show of strength brought a sense of movement, and brought ‘courage’ to those who were waffling. the nazi ranks grew exponentially during this period. there was almost a sense that “if that many people are part of this, it can’t be competely wrong — in fact, maybe it’s right.” our rallies on the steps of governmental steps and our million-man marches may have the same apparently-positive affect of fostering courage. but it’s not the route to courage given to us by the bible, or by jesus. those approaches are more acts of zeolotry than acts of passion for jesus (see scot mcknight’s fascinating multi-part posting on zeolotry). courage — biblical courage — is not something we drum up in ourselves. gaining courage — to have a full heart (from the french and latin roots of the word) — is a contrite and humble process of asking god to fill our hearts, asking god to be our source of courage.

5. the primary task becomes about defining who’s “in” and who’s “out” by whether or not they exist in our boundaried set of beliefs.
the early nazi party (again, this became somewhat of a moot point after their rise to power) were brilliant at systematizing detailed descriptions of who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. they developed detailed charts of family trees and partial acceptability, based on heredity. they developed photographic charts that ‘proved’ the undesireable ‘outs’ based on size of nose and forehead, among other things. of course, there’s nothing quite so blatant in our context. we’re much more subtle about it - more sophisticated. we write books about why we can’t have fellowship with other christians because they don’t believe exactly as we do. we spend inordinate amounts of time and effort refining and clarifying and arguing our propositional statements of belief, and communicate that it would be wrong to associate with others until you completely know and completely agree with their statement of belief. we spend more of our time and effort (in the american religious right) explaining who and what we are not, clarifying why we’re more right and pure then ‘them’. and we’ve become obsessed with boundary marking, rather than stacking hands on core essentials.

and a parallel in government’s response to both groups:

6. keep them close, give them some power, in order to control them.
this was so interesting to me. i hadn’t been aware of the final steps in hitler’s rise to power, and had never quite understood how he (and the nazi party) got to complete power. for the few who, like i was, are unaware of these final steps: the moderate president of germany thought hitler was a nut, and thought the nazi platform was misguided. but his advisors encouraged him along the lines of the old adage “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. the president decided it would be easier to control hitler by giving him a position of partial-power. so he appointed him chancellor of germany, a somewhat ill-defined role that was a bit more ceremonial than not. but this was a huge miscalculation of how much power hitler and the nazi party had already garnered. within months (weeks?) of hitler’s appointment as chancellor, those in parliament (or whatever it was called) from the nazi party had taken over power of the real government. they quickly moved to outlaw all other policital parties. and in a shockingly short span of time moved germany to a totalitarian state. parallels to our context? well, there are certainly many christians in america (myself included) who are surprised by the clout of the religious right. much of their ‘power’ in controlling the republican party is based on an assumption (right or wrong — i’d like to think it’s wrong, but i’m not sure) that they have the ability to control a significant-enough segment of the american voters to control those who are elected. so one of our only two feasible political parties has been co-opted by “keep them close” thinking. i think this is highly dangerous for all of us — including for the religious right. there is no example in history (that i’m aware of) where a religiously uniform group dominating the political scene of a country has been a good thing for the country, or for the very people who aspouse the views of the religiously uniform group.

so. this ‘observational rant’ has gone on long enough. i haven’t been very helpful in suggesting alternatives, i admit. these are merely thoughts that came to me when touring a museum.

from oppressed to aggressor
Friday July 14th 2006, 11:13 am
Filed under: thinking...

the news this week about isreal bombing lebanon has me so sad and frustrated.

i’m continually baffled that a people who have been so oppressed for so long can become such extreme aggressors, such purveyors of violence. i know there’s not a lot of love in the middle east for the presence of israel, and i know some of the arab nations have ill-intent for israel. but israel has become the dominant military power (and economic power) in the middle east, so they are the ones in a position of power.

i don’t pretend to understand all the politics or social and cultural dynamics at play, but i’ve been to palestine, and i’ve seen the systematic oppression that has taken place there for decades.

maybe it’s the influence of hollywood in my life that would like to think a people group so oppressed and violated for so many millenia would result in the most peace-committed nation on earth. or maybe it’s my hope in a gospel of peace. but israel’s actions have continued to be a clear indicator in the opposite direction. maybe the combination of power and a memory of oppression is the worst combination possible for a nation.

your own fireworks show
Tuesday July 04th 2006, 8:43 am
Filed under: thinking...

it’s independence day here in the states, the celebration of our country’s founding. like lilly lewin, i have mixed feelings about the good ol’ u.s. of a. these days. i mean, i love my country, i love it’s people and i love the church here (much of it), and i love the beauty of the land. but there are so many reasons why i’m a bit embarassed to be an american these days also. it’s like having a really odd misbehaving relative in your family — you’re embarassed by him, but still love him because he’s family.

anyhow, thousands of teenagers from dcla will be heading down to the washington mall (the giant strip of greenspace surrounding the washington monument) for outdoor concerts and, ultimately, the fireworks display tonite. i’m excited that we have a good view of where the fireworks will be from the large balcony in my hotel suite. so we’ll be hosting a group of people up here to watch them, rather than braving the crowds.

for a little festivity, here’s your own personal fireworks display.

structural revisionism
Friday June 30th 2006, 11:02 am
Filed under: faith, personal, thinking...

the renaissance hotel in washington, dc, is right across the street from the old convention center. i spent a week or so here in 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2000, plus a day or two here and there for planning meetings. so i feel like i kind of know this hotel (not like i know the renaissance hotel in nashville, where i calculated that i have spent about a quarter of one year of my life, between years of youth workers conventions — before and after working at ys, years of meetings, and a couple emergent conventions). so it’s odd to be here about 6 years later, and see how much things have changed.

the biggest oddity is that the convention center is gone.

it’s a parking lot. see? here’s the view off the balcony of my hotel suite:

that old convention center holds so many memories for me — great ones of long hours and deep friendships and exciting ministry impact. yesterday, i’d google-mapped directions to the hotel from the airport, and then clicked on the “satellite view” to see the actual buildings. i knew DCLA was in ‘the new convention center’ (which isn’t all that new anymore), across the street in a different direction. but i hadn’t heard anything about the old place. and the satellite photo showed it there. i know those photos aren’t always up to date (i’ve had a pool in my backyard for three years, and the satellite photo of my house shows an empty backyard). but i just didn’t think about it.

so it literally took by breath away (not in a good way - more like a sucker-punch) to see the old convention center is a giant parking lot. my guess is it will eventually be something else (it’s too prime a piece of property to be a parking lot — not even a parking garage).

in the mean time, i’ll look longingly across the street and remember the great times when god moved in powerful ways in that space that is now less real than the memories themselves.

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