Friday, January 30, 2009

Commitment or Constrainment?

No, I'm not talking about marriage. I apologize if you are disappointed. Talking about decisions, future, etc.

I rejoice in how transient my life is. I'm in my mid-20's and have already lived and visited numerous places in the world. Countries my parents and grand-parents have never been or will ever be. I recently drove to Mexico for a week just because I could. Really, I'm spoiled. How many people have the discretionary income, time, and opportunity to just go on a road trip with their friends? No many.

Because I'm single my place of dwelling is primarily up to me (sure God, family, calling, work, friends play a part). So as I anticpate graduation the "world," is at my fingertips. Oh, the options. This is like giving me $10 for iTunes, or letting Adam walk into a bookstore with a blank check, or trying to choose where to eat in Chicago suburbs!

Theoretically speaking, I (and many of my friends) could up and move tomorrow. After graduation I know there will be opportunities for me across the United States and the world. I don't say this to be cocky or prideful, it's just the truth. Many of us young single adults with a four year degree (or more) bred from a middle class background have the privilege of being transient.

So where to go?

Fear says, "be careful of constraint. If you go somewhere and you don't like it that would be terrible. You are so young, take advantage of it."

Truth says, "you need to commit. You just can't be a nomad hoping from place to place. That is no way to live. Community, deep relationships matter, they foster intimacy and life."

Wisdom says, "don't just stay around here because you have these deep relationships. Don't become too comfortable and use that as an excuse to not follow where God is leading."

This I am sure. The attraction of other places will always remain. They are unknown, contain possibilities, and have an alluring mystery. God surely calls us to go out into the "wilderness." I am also sure that in a world of transience and mobility it is a greater discipline to remain committed and rooted in a particular location.

I guess the one place I am looking for is the balance.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Recent Reading

I read plenty, and from plenty of sources. I try to maintain a variety of streams, although I know it's hard not to insulate myself with writers whose ideas I will already agree with.

If you're interested, you can see some of what I'm currently reading here. These are a few notable articles I've read and appreciated recently. You can also subscribe to this site feed via Google Reader and follow it that way.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Avoiding Grace

I am the best of men when I am alone. I am also the worst of them then as well. I have learned that there is no such thing as a Christian hermit. The life of the Christian only occurs in relation to others. No one is a Christian by himself. What would he look like?

Oh, sure, we feel changed and improved over time, but it's only a delusion if we are not better to be around. The change is real only as we rub each other the wrong way and learn how to keep loving each other. If no one benefits from your changing self except you, you can be sure it is worthless. This is why the greatest commandments are relational: "Love God. Love people." Loving your enemies, your neighbors, and your God is the substance of the Christian faith. Nothing else. We are changed only as our relationships change us.

The rub of conflict always seems to slow a relationship down. Conversation is closed off. Distance grows. But for the Christian, conflict can be the grease that moves us closer to God by making us a bit more like him as we relate to others. That the friction becomes the fuel for God's work in you is a paradox built by grace.

Creating conflict is easy. Just go about your business. Conflict for me has meant two things: apologizing and confrontation. I hate both. I am good at reasoning myself out of doing them and instead glossing things over. But I am no more like Christ then, and neither is my counterpart.

I prefer to believe that I am a good man. Apologizing dislodges that belief. I can't apologize and still believe that. Or, if I'm a bad man, I would prefer to be the one telling myself that than to have others do it. But confrontation opens me to that possibility. Maybe I'm the one who's wrong.

Resolving it all is the scary part. It's scary because I won't be the same when it's over. I like who I am now. But God won't let me settle in here, the way I am. He's not content with letting me be half finished and better than whomever I might compare myself to. Maybe Paul had something like this in mind when he wrote, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." I'm feelin' that.

Even before God, we are not alone (Foster said it to comfort us). We are accountable. We stand in relation to God. In the same way that we get ready for a wedding, if we are to be ready for heaven (the wedding and the reception and the dancing), we must be "clothed with Christ," in part by resolving conflict with others. We've got to get ready for the party by letting conflict fuel the change in us. It's grace at work.

I still don't like conflict or confrontation or apologizing. But I love God, so I'm making an effort. But I'm just starting, and it's slow and awkward and unsettling. Where I have faced conflict, I am trying to confront it. Where I have been wrong, I am trying to apologize. I still hate it, but it's getting a little easier.

Just a little.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:13-14

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That's Super

A couple of years ago CT published this article about Christianity and football. Not only does the author teach at my parents alma mater but he is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan which made me like it even more. If you want a better perspective than read that article, I won't be offended.

I'm a Steelers fan. Yes, I do have a Terrible Towel. No, I do not refer to the Pittsburgh Steelers as “we,” “us,” “our.” I am excited that they are in the Super Bowl. Like everything I critically think about why I cheer for the Steelers and the logic of my fanship.

Probably the greatest draw to the Steelers is the positive memories I have with my family. Both parents are from Pittsburgh and although I don’t see my extended family much it is something we all hold in common. From a young age I inherited my Dad’s team and have made the choice to cheer for them as well. (Do you see the overtly religious overtones here? This is exactly how people talk about their faith.) The city of Pittsburgh conjures up good memories of family vacations, Grandma’s apple butter, my cousin’s big backyard, and road trips.

Although I have never lived there the blue collar town of Pittsburgh fascinates me. The football team epitomizes the people of the city. They are gritty, hard working, and simple. All traits I admire. They are loyal to their team and expect the best. Also traits I admire.

The population has declined rapidly in the past 30 years. The economy has seen better days. So in a city steeped in crisis (and what feels like a culture of depression) there is a football team that has a tradition of success. It gives them a chance for vicarious triumph.

I’m not going to call the Steelers “saviors” of the city. I won’t justify the temporary and artificial hope of professional sports. But the ethos of their team reflects the character of the people who live there. In most professional sports it is rare to find a team and a city that are concerned with more than money and entertainment. Sure the Steelers are a financial enterprise but I commend their investment into their specific location.

Now the city is on the eve of a re-birth. With the relocation of some companies and the arts it is starting to become trendy. If Pittsburgh is a hipster place in years to come that is fine. As long as they aren’t too hip for their football team.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blinks ("Blog Links")

I have cool friends. A few of them blog too. I've mentioned them before, but I appreciated some of their writing from the weekend and thought I'd pass it along to you.

Laura wrote a few thoughts about growing up and waiting to wake up 10-years-old again. I've asked other young adults how old they feel, and I get a similar response: 30 at work. 15 the rest of the time. It's part of being a twixter.

Chaka posted a quote from Soren Kierkegaard that kicked him in the pants. It's definitely aiming for the groin.

My friend Amber (the aspiring writer) posted some good thoughts the differences between Youth Pastors as Rockstars. Every youth pastor should read it. Anyone in ministry or on mission should too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Prayer

A couple weeks back Adam posted a prayer. I appreciate Scot McKnight's blog where he frequently writes out his prayers along with a bevy of other wise insights. I find that when I try to pray my mind often wanders but when writing my prayers I am focused, sure, and aware of my place before God. So for about the last two years my "journal," just consists of my prayers for the day.

The prayers of the saints and of Bible are often used in personal and corporate worship. I find it so empowering to use another Christian's prayer as my own. In a mysterious way we come together and unite beyond time and space. Through the power of the Spirit the prayer, (which originallg might have met a completely different need than my use of it) echos into eternity.

For example, when I read Adam's prayer I was thinking about my post-graduation plans (finding a source of income), my desire for simplicity and God's demand that I count him as my only resource. I don't know what Adam was thinking when he penned those words but their relevance to my life is a testimony to the power of prayer.

We are doing a great disservice to one another if we are not sharing our prayer language and content. So here is a prayer that I often rely on, it is in a way my version of the Jesus Prayer. It is a prayer I use to center myself when feeling overwhelmed or anxious

One in the Father
One in the Son
One in the Spirit
Three in One

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fear and Good Works

I was recently looking over this article, when I came across this line: “I believe that at our cores, we all want to help others, but we are unwilling to take the risk.”

It was an intriguing claim to me, the idea that we innately desire to lend a hand to someone who needs it. I look into my own heart and oftentimes don't see that. Sometimes I do.

I think of a simple case like someone stranded on the highway. I don't think I've ever stopped for someone with car trouble (once, for an accident). I don't rationalize it each time I pass a stopped car, because by now it's just habit to not stop. But my reasoning goes something like, "I could stop, but I have somewhere to be. Besides maybe it's a serial killer using it as a ploy." Don't laugh. You think it too. "And if it's not a serial killer, they might think I'm a serial killer. If it is a legit car problem, I'm sure they have a cell phone and have already called for help. They don't need mine."

What further interested me was that the author cited fear as the reason we avoid helping others. Our fear of risk, of danger I suppose, is stronger than what he calls our intrinsic desire to help. We weigh it out, do the math, and pass them by. "I don't want to die today. But if they do really need help, I don't know how long it will take, and I don't have all day."

Strangely, growing up, my favorite Bible story was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I just liked the compassion it embodied--going out of your way to help a stranger. That compassion connected with me. I think the Good Samaritan was taking a risk himself, like stopping in the bad part of town known for crime and you're the minority.

But now it seems like a naive story from my childhood.

So what do you think? Is it in our nature to help others? Is it fear that prevents us from following through on doing good for others?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Define Diversity

Starting another semester lends to blog-writing-apathy. But with Adam's blistering pace I'm going to grind out this post in a couple of quick minutes (even though it is a little undeveloped!).

I give props where props are due. So props to my Mom! In the course of conversation this weekend we discussed diversity within the church. She made the important point of diversity within context. A major mandate of the church is to be contextual sensitive in respect to it's location, people, needs, etc. So diversity shouldn't be any other way!

This requires an expanded definition and appropriation of what constitutes diversity. So I'm looking to the Bible for an accurate view of diveristy. This is a limited survey and predominately based from the New Testament. Also the list is defnitely not exhuastive.

Imagine what this would look like in your church.

Spiritual Gifts- 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. One spirit but multiplicity of gifts

Age- I Peter 5- young men and elders. 1 Timothy 5:2- young and older women. All ages are included in answering the call of Christian living.

Gender-Acts 8:12, Romans 16- male and female. Men and women both play a prominent role in the body of Christ. Paul, James, Gideon, Miriam, Mary, and Phoebe all were ministers of God's covenant.

Family- Colossians 3-All memebers of the family have roles in their own nuclear clan and the family of God.

Socio-economic class-Luke 14:13, 1 Corinthians 11 (Paul's instruction abou the Lord's supper is all about rich and poor not eating together). What would it look like to have a church full of people from different social classes. I'm becoming convinced that classism is becoming the new racism.

What if our context doesn't afford an opportunity for diversity in the above areas? For instance, several communities are predominately white, black, rich, or poor. Some churches constitute a bunch of senior citizens or young people.

I believe when our context becomes increasingly homogenized we need to be prophetic and question what that is. Why is it that our context (city, neighborhood, etc) only has white people, only has rich people, only has men, only has blacks...? We must be critical in examining the powers that underlie the potential for diversity. If we lack the possibility of diversity than we might find that we are already segregated based on an underlying affinity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Digestion

Thanks for the conversations (both on- and offline) about the past few posts. Here's the whole series if you missed one.

"Have It Your Way" - the conflict between affinity and the virtue of selflessness
"It's Better Here" - the conflict between affinity and diversity
"I'm Lovin' It" - diversity as affinity, and affinity for God's values
"The Fire's Ready" - beyond affinity

Two comments from Bryan and Ben interested me in regards to their experiences with diverse small groups.

Bryan said: "Our Bible Study is racially diverse. We have white-folk, a few Latinos, a black Jamaican 'mon', and some mutts that I dare not even try to categorize. This is all in a group of about 15 or so people and the thing that unites us is our common Christian walk."

Ben said: "I've been in two very diverse groups (age, race, class, marital status) that I found static and unchallenged while I've found groups with a bunch of other hipster post collegians to be rock solid."

Any final thoughts from you?

"The Fire's Ready"

Do we love the same things God does?

In 1 John 4:7-17, John writes “anyone who does not love does not know God.” If we are going to have God’s priorities, then we must begin with loving too. Jesus clarified this better when he instructed us to love God and love people, our first two priorities. At the end of his famous chapter on love (1 Cor 13:11-12), Paul says that this sort of love will, in the end, transform us, indeed make us like God.

And it makes sense. John argues the same thing in 1 John 4. As we begin to mirror God’s priorities—loving the way God loves, loving what God loves—we begin to know God, to be like him, to approach him.

Interestingly, I think that if you could find a few people who loved what God loves and hated what he hates, you’d find quite a variety of people. They wouldn’t all be the Religious Right. They wouldn’t all hail from Emergent Village. They wouldn’t all be white Westerners with certain views about God’s mission in the world. They wouldn’t be learned intellectuals. And they wouldn’t all be like me, I have to admit.

So what of this matter with affinity? That’s what started this whole thing. What about affinity’s propensity to promote selfishness and discourage diversity?

I think it is something like what Lewis said, “We love too weakly.” This word affinity means something like “having a liking for or a natural inclination toward.” It lacks any sort of inspiring passion. It sounds like warm water. What’s that good for but putting out fires?

When God gets hold of our lazy affinity, it changes. It’s a bit like Paul’s “cloudy mirror” scrubbed clear. We see detail, brightness, contrast. In short, our smoldering affinity becomes burning love.

Where affinity was driven by my own preferences, love is driven by the other’s best interest. Where affinity focused inwardly (how dark it is!), love shines outward for others to find their way. Where affinity narrowed our field of vision, loves broadens it. Where affinity found commonality among friends, love covers over a multitude of sins and reconciles enemies. Where affinity selected one and rejected many, love binds all together.

When love gets hold of selfishness, it transforms our exclusive interests into skills that serve others. When love gets hold of diversity, our differences supply for each others’ needs.

When we make choices driven by love, we are not choosing to meet our own needs. We are seeking to meet others’. When we’re church shopping, we’re not looking for what will first and only meet our needs. We’re looking for a place to serve and pour into others’. When we’re faced with conflict in small group, we don’t react by abandoning it. We approach it as an opportunity for love to do what it does.

And in the process we are changed.

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

"I'm Lovin' It"

As Mike and I talked about church shopping and small group hopping, we dreamed about what a small group could look like if it were more diverse. What would bind them together? Commitment? A common vision? What would compel them to work through conflict, to keep coming back?

Then, I said to him: “But then, isn’t the unifying aspect just a commitment to diversity? Doesn’t it just become an affinity for diversity? If a small group is put together in the interest of acceptance and reconciliation, isn’t that just another way of categorizing them?” Sure it’s a noble purpose, one everyone would support these days. But underneath, it’s the same old affinity. Even in this “ideal” small group, we were back to trying to avoid affinity and subvert selfishness.

We have the option in the U.S. not to live with people who aren’t like us. Thus, diversity itself becomes optionalized. It’s just another matter for our desires to decide. Affinity. We couldn’t get around it.

A few weeks later I sat down at Chipotle, where all great mysteries are given light.

I sat down outside, enjoying some of the last warm days of November before winter settled in. Off to my right, at a table for four sat two girls and two guys. The first girl looked to have a Latino heritage, the second a European one. The one guy was Asian, and the other was Arab, complete with a turban and a surprisingly dirty mouth. I sat listening to them laugh about something or other. They were the most diverse group I’d ever witnessed, and they seemed to genuinely enjoy being together.

I gawked at this diversity anomaly for a while. And I thought about it from a spiritual standpoint. While outwardly, these 4 seemed to embody diversity, inwardly their affinity embodied unity. They valued the same things, laughed at the same things. After all, our commonalities bring us together far more often than our differences do.

I think the same is true as we relate to God, who is most unlike us (“wholly other,” Tozer wrote). Our affinity, our desire, is what shapes us more like him. It gives us common ground to connect on. The more we become like him, the nearer we approach him (Lewis writes of this in The Four Loves). “Be holy, for I am holy,” he said. Holiness is a value of God’s. If we are going to approach him, we must become like him. We must be holy too. (It was our differences that separated us from God in the first place.)

In becoming like God (Eph 5:1) it’s not so much about always knowing the right things but about loving the right things. It’s not so much about knowing what to do but about knowing what’s important. It means knowing which decisions we can leave to others and which ones we must make ourselves.

I think what it means is loving what God loves and hating what God hates*. I think that’s part of what God meant when he said, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” God doesn’t much care for what we say but where our hearts are. We can know all the right things, but if we don’t love the right things we are nothing.

Do we love the same things God does?

In 1 John 4:7-17, John writes “anyone who does not love does not know God.” If we are going to have God’s priorities, then we must begin with loving too. Jesus clarified this better when he instructed us to love God and love people, our first two priorities. At the end of his famous chapter on love (1 Cor 13:11-12), Paul says that this sort of love will, in the end, transform us, indeed make us like God.

And it makes sense. John argues the same thing in 1 John 4. As we begin to mirror God’s priorities—loving the way God loves, loving what God loves—we begin to know God, to be like him, to approach him.

*God doesn’t just love everything without discrimination. One time he said, “I hate divorce!” and another time, “Jacob I have loved. But Esau I hated.” So it’s not as simple as saying, “If I love, I’ll be connected with God,” as if just the act of loving something is what’s important.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What's The Point?

In light of Adam's recent posts about diversity I think about church trends. My critique of all things emerging/Emergent is these churches tend to be white, suburban, young, educated, middle/upper class yuppies. An appropriate blog entry for Stuff White People Like would be the emerging/Emergent church. I say this in jest but there is truth in the criticism. How many African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians in the United States are involved in the emerging/Emergent discussion? Not many.

On Thursday I was talking to my professor about this and poking fun because he is involved in one of these communities. He acknowledged the critique and expanded the conversation to include many Chicago-suburban churches as well. He than posed a question around the topic of economic sharing and poverty. He asked, "Why should people in the suburbs partner with an African American church in the South Side?"

Now, he knows why. He knows the mandate to be a unified body, to work together, to help out our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But this question pertain to diversity as well. I ask, "Why should people in the predominatelet white sburubs partner with African American churches?"

At my alma-mater, Bluffton the student body was about 90 percent white. But the leaflets and photographs had a fair balance of white, black, etc. It was an image that tried to capture an idea of diversity. So should white churches just aim to get "token" minorities for the sake of saying they are diverse? Is this actually part of our call as the body of Christ? What is our definition of diversity?

I am asking more questions than answering questions. I will suggest this; for us to move forward we need a Biblical understanding and a God-centered focus on the diversity of the Trinity.

Friday, January 09, 2009

"It's Better Here"

This conflict between making selfish decisions and the virtue of selflessness comes into ironic focus when you begin “church shopping.” For Mike and I, this conflict was a bit more specific, but nearly identical, as we discussed finding and choosing a small group.

Small groups are structured around various commonalities: location, age, sex, marital status, even ethnicity. One current trend is affinity-based small groups: groups united by a common interest. For some groups, this basis only determines the topics, like relationships, books of the Bible, or spiritual practices. For others, it extends to interests like authors, sports, homemaking, or community service.

Many people seek out a small group based what they’re looking for. Can you blame them? We’ve grown up making decisions this way. We don’t know of another way to choose. It’s how the game is played. But when we choose a small group based on our preferences—what suits us—we tend to choose to be people with whom we something in common. We choose people we like.

This in natural. We don’t naturally fall into relationships with people who aren't like us. We even tend to cluster geographically with people who are like us—just look at an election map.

For small groups, when our differences cause conflict or we can’t agree on a topic, we may conclude that another group would be a better fit. We’re accustomed to think that conflict is an indication that we’re in the wrong place, that we haven't been following God closely enough.

One of the issues Paul faced in his writings was Jews in conflict with Gentiles. There were lots of conflicts of interest between various groups in the New Testament. Jesus faced plenty of conflict. (Read John 5-8.) Nothing’s changed really: We like people who are like us. But Jesus called us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Our world becomes smaller when we surround ourselves with those who are like us.

So, now we have two strikes against affinity: (1) It encourages selfishness, and (2) it discourages diversity. It’s not looking good for affinity. Is there a better way to choose?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Speed Reading

I made one New Year resolution and started it on January 5th. Now, three days later, I am officially giving it up. The resolution; to read the entire Bible in a year.

I have to read large chunks of the Former prophets, major Prophets and Acts for my classes. So why not make it part of my daily devotions? It makes sense but I ran into a problem; it is a lot to read. It was more like running through the Bible in a year. The Light Speed Bible (photo above) is actually marketed as a tool to help read the Bible quicker.

(Here come some lacking metaphors) I find that reading through four-five chapters everyday is like getting drunk on wine or gorging on chocolate or speeding through the Alps. Wine should be sipped, chocolate savored, the Alps appreciated. Likewise, we need to marinade in the Word to the extent that our fingers are looking like raisins. I'll read the Bible in it's entirety but it won't be of the instant coffee version. Instead I'm going to pick the beans, give them a good smell, grind them up, and let it energize my day.

"Have It Your Way"

I think most people would agree that one of the core values and teachings of the Bible is selflessness. It goes in all directions and indeed goes deeper than we typically realize. It is a bit like Anne Lamott talks of first “getting saved.” It’s was a pretty sweet deal where Jesus moves in and cleans up the house. Then one day she looks out the window and sees a crane and a wrecking ball closing in on her house. At that point she realizes that Jesus wasn’t really there to just clean up but to tear down and start over.

Selflessness has similar proportions. It make faithfulness for the modern Christian a challenge. Consider why as you read this description of Generation Y, or the “Net Geners” from The Economist:

Net Geners value freedom and choice in everything they do. They love to customise and personalise. They scrutinise everything. They demand integrity and openness, including when deciding what to buy and where to work. They want entertainment and play in their work and education, as well as their social life. They love to collaborate. They expect everything to happen fast. And they expect constant innovation.

Life in the U.S. is structured around choice. Thus, it’s built on whatever we like, our affinity—that is, our interests and values. We can afford the luxury of selfishness and choosing according to our desires. Selfishness in many spheres of life doesn’t cause much of a stir. That’s just how the game is played.

But it’s not without its challenges. One problem a lot of us face today is simply making a decision. For example, here’s a common question: “Where do you want to go out to eat?” Even the question indicates how “optionalized” our lives are. How do you decide? We ask questions like “Well, what are you hungry for?” or “What are you in the mood for?”

We throw out some suggestions, and perhaps one really awakens a latent craving. Or, if those questions don’t narrow it down, we ask “Well, what haven’t you eaten recently?” or “Do you want Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or American fare?”

Any restaurant will in fact feed us. That’s really all we require. But it is not that simple. We have to decide which restaurant we want to accomplish that. In the end it comes down to preference, our own affinity.

As you know with choosing a restaurant, this freedom doesn’t make the decision any easier. In fact, having to choose based exclusively on desire (that is, affinity) may actually make the decision more difficult. Making this sort of decision suddenly requires that we examine ourselves in some psychological way and discern how we’re feeling. I doubt I’m exaggerating. Most people mill about precisely because it is just that complex. Instead, we respond, “I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”

Oftentimes, we’re happy enough to let others decide for us because we’re exhausted from making so many decisions like this. When you reach that point though, there are still some important decisions you shouldn’t shrug off.

You need to decide about decisions. It’s important to figure out which decisions you’re willing to have made for you and which ones are really important—important enough not to leave to someone else. Letting others make decisions about where you eat is one thing. Letting others decide how you spend your money is another. And letting others decide what you believe or value is even another.

All these sorts of decisions, though, drive us back to where we started: selfishness. They require selfishness to simply move forward. We have so many options, selfishness is the practical answer in making these choices. But if our Bibles teach that selflessness is a virtue, how do we navigate this conflict?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Hard Reads

I’m reading a hard book. Back in college I read Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart (is to Will One Thing) and grasped very little of it. Now I’ve picked up another book of his called Fear and Trembling. The title I suppose tips its hat to Philippians 2:13: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” It is a verse I’m fond of, as you might imagine, and so perhaps was one reason I picked up the book.

But it is a hard book, not easily grasped or understood. I have read books like this before. I’m sure that you’ve had books like that too.

There’s nothing more frustrating than finishing a book and feeling more confused than when you began. This fear is one good reason many abandon books that seem to be headed in that direction.

I have learned, though, reading books like this, that it is valuable to take a “wait and see” attitude. Hold off on making a final judgment.

Now, there are many poor writers out there who simply can’t communicate well. A reader can spot them easy enough. Others write well, but their ideas leave the reader scratching his head with conclusions just out of reach. In the middle of either book, the reader may feel the same temptation to abandon it for fear that all this confusion will not clear, and his time will have been wasted.

Not so fast. Which kind of book is it? If it is the first kind, poorly written, of course, throw it out. If it is the second kind, clear yet confusing, soldier on. Often the book’s reputation, or the author’s, can help you figure it out.

Reading good, hard books, I’ve learned, requires trusting the author—believing that he will uphold his end of the bargain we’ve struck. He has spent the time writing it, wrestling with the ideas; I have agreed to take the time to read it and wrestle with them myself.

I’ve also learned that there are often indicators along the way with books that will make good. Even as I read and the big picture is unclear, brief moments of clarity will often appear. Bits and pieces will make sense. These are encouraging moments and signs of a good book. Look for them. These moments renew my trust and perseverance. If I simply make it to the end, the book might yet come together.

Another thing I’ve learned is to hold the ideas loosely and let them roll around in my head. The key isn’t understanding them but just remembering them. I find that if I can do this, I’ll make connections between ideas later, and eventually this web will begin to hold something tangible. The key is remembering.

Even at the end of a book like this, though, sometimes the clarity isn’t at all like what I expected. In fact, sometimes, I reached the end only to realize that in order to really understand, I’d have to go back and reread some or all of it. It’s as though, once I’ve finished the book, all I’ve acquired is the delicate web. But it’s a web I didn’t have when I started. Now, to reread the book is to begin to strengthen the web and catch the ideas strewn about. The book helps do this.

I also think life is a bit like a hard-read book. I have lots of the same worries and questions. I wonder if it will turn out okay. I wonder if it will bring any clarity, or just more confusion. I wonder if it’s really going to mean something.

And just like a hard book, I know I have to trust that the author is a good writer. I know that I’ve got to keep reading, believing that for all this confusion, there will be some “crystalarity” at the end. It’s not a word, but you know what I mean. Some clear and tangible. Something real and true.

And there are moments of crystalarity. And they renew my faith long enough to keep going.

But I also recognize that I need to practice remembering a lot better. There are a lot of moments that go by without much thought or concern. I don’t pay attention to them because I don’t know whether or not they’re significant. I can’t spot the important moments. But when I look back, I can see them better. The key is simply remembering—remembering long enough to see them come together. Sometimes that takes a while.

And sometimes that means getting to the end first before going back to reread the book. We need the web that we can put thing into. But that’s the value of remembering. We put memories into that web and we see them in context of the ending. We make sense of both the memories and the ending when we see it all together.

But it’s still a hard read.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Best of 08

I don't know what is but couldn't find an image for this post. But Crack Beery is pretty fun to say.

Just like last year I'm going to do a random best of 08 list. The categories are as follows...

Best Movie in Theater- I saw about 7 movies in the theatre this year which is more than I saw the previous 3 years combined. I paid for probably 2 of them, thanks to my ex-roomate working at AMC. Most of them were poor but the best was probably Dark Knight.

Best Movie watched at Home- Lars and the Real Girl. A compeletely non-sequitor movie about a guy and his plastic girlfriend. Thanks to Amber for picking this movie out for our friends to watch.

Best Book Read for Class- Two books here. First, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? You might not like schoarly jargon like "post-modernity," but this book will make you re-think Christian perpective of evagelism, worship, and gathering.

Second, The Shaping of Things to Come. I was at a suburbian-white-affluent church on Sunday and they were giving this book away for free. Awesome! Just read through the first and second chapter, that's all, and it will make you re-think church life.

Best Book read not for class- Two books again. I just finished Shane Claibornes Irresistable Revolution. Like most people who read it I feel convicted, inspired, and challenged.

Second, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis. I'm more inclined to Lewis' fiction because it is easier to read! :)

Note: As of right now I am tired of hyperlinking everything I write. I suggest just "googling" anything if you want to find the website. Sorry but you have to earn your websites from now on.

Best Sports Moment- I was in Pittsburgh visitng family. My lowly Pirates came down from a 7 run deficiet to win in extra innings off a walk off homerun! Probably the most electric sports enviroment I have ever been in!

Best New Band/Musician Discovered- Bon Iver is quite the artist. Thanks to Daniel for this find. But really it has been a slow year for new music, I've just been looking forward to my favorites putting out new albums.

Best CD/Album..whatever- O.k. so for Christmas I waited to get some iTunes $ to purchase Anathallo, Brave Saint, Saturn, Cool Hand Luke, Denison Wimter's new works. I'm going to guess all of those could make my list. But in terms of what I have listend to extensively I would put Steven Delopoulos Me Died Blue on top of the list.

Best Web Site- I started to use Facebook this year...but it's nothing to write home about. I don't think there is anything for this category.

Best Blog- I really enjoy Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. And of course this little piece of internet real estate!

Best Beer- I like beer but I really only like good beer. That makes me really white and snobbish but would rather spend $5 on one good drink than on a bunch of crud that taste like water. And drinking to the point of pointlessness has never appealed to me.

Traquair Jacobite- A nice Scottish Ale made with some coriander and chocolate so no bitter aftertaste.

Arogant Bastard Ale
- Sorry about the name but this beer is rare. Another heavy Ale but brewerd here in the U.S.

Best Place Visited- I just returned from a drive to Meixco and back but would say that the city of Baltimore was my new favorite city. Going to the Republic of Georgia is up there too.

Best Food- One Saturday I helped my brother-in-law move some mulch. My sister made me a Peanut Butter and Bannana sandwhich on wheat bread. It was amazing.


A few technology articles for your modern consumption.

On the iPhone:

"The Christian and the iPhone: A Primer for Black Friday"

"One Phone to Rule them All"

On Twitter:

"A Theology of Twitter"

Technology on kids these days:

"The kids are alright"

Friday, January 02, 2009

Prayer for a New Year

O God, . . . give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?”
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Marketing is (not) Evangelism

My sister showed me the latest Christianity Today cover today: "Marketing Jesus: How to evangelize without turning God into a brand."

How timely! Thanks to Laura and Ben for offering their good insights on the last post.

The actual title of the article betrays a bit more of author's opinion: "Jesus is Not a Brand: Why it is dangerous to make evangelism another form of marketing." I'll link to the article when it's up on the web, but for now I'll whet your appetite with a few quotes from the article.

"By marketing, I refer to all the activities that help organizations identify and shape the wants of target consumers and then try to satisfy those consumers better than competitors do."

The pro-church marketing thinking goes like this:

"Even if you do not intend to market your church, that's how consumers are going to perceive your outreach. They will take it in through market-conditioned filters."

"So, unless we completely withdraw from any kind of evangelism, marketing is inevitable."


" is not a values-neutral language."

"...evangelism and sales are not the same. And we market the church at our peril if we are blind to the critical and categorical difference between Truth and a truth you can sell."

"Thus our dilemma: The product we are selling isn't like every other product--it isn't even a product at all. But if the gospel is not a product, how can we market it? And if we can't avoid marketing it, how can we keep from turning it into the product it isn't?"

If you're looking for some resolution on these matters, go buy the mag or wait for the article to come online. (I want to honor CT by not giving away here all the insights they offer in the article.) The article is written by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who wrote Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age. Thus, he's certainly given the topic a lot more thought, so if you're really interested in Christianity, church, branding, and marketing, I'm sure you'd find more value in reading his thoughts there than mine here.

1.2.09 Update: Kim kindly pointed us to the article, up this morning.