Friday, April 24, 2009

Conviction: Saying no to a good thing

Some time back, Mike and I heard about an indie documentary making the rounds called, "Call and Response." It's in that trendy genre of documentaries that are advancing a specific cause, usually attempting to bring awareness to an injustice being suffered somewhere in the world.

We didn't even see it, just heard about it. That was enough for Mike to say, "I can't see that film. Then I'll have another thing to feel convicted about, and I'll have to do something."

I resonated with that. Don't you? There are a lot of good causes out there.

Yesterday, at work, we had a presentation from a group called "The Lost Boys Rebuilding in Southern Sudan." I already told their stories to some other friends. The Lost Boys gained notariety from, among other things, a 60 Minutes episode devoted to their story. 27,000 boys under the age of 13 fled their homes to avoid being killed by the government. They travelled 3 months, 1000 miles, to Ethiopia. They faced threats of lions, hyenas, and crocodiles. Many were killed by these predators as they tried to escape the hunt of their fellow human beings.

That was the late 80s. They were my age. While I was going to kindergarten and coloring pictures and playing cowboys and indians, they were fending off man and animal. Now, they've grown up into men, my peers. They're using their notariety to gain support and build new schools and dig new wells in southern Sudan. These are good things, great causes, worth my time, energy, money, and conviction.

I feel like Mike though. I can't be convicted about every good thing that cross my path. I can't spread myself that thin emotionally or financially. I don't let myself be.

But I could do more than I do now. I'm so privileged. But where do I draw the line? I know I could do more, but when am I doing enough? Is it ever enough? No. But at what point do I start saying no to good things?

Instead I default to saying no unless I'm really compelled to say yes. Maybe it should be the other way around. Maybe yes should be my default. Does anyone out there have a good paradigm they use for choosing?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Going to War

This isn't something most Christians talk about but it's on my heart. The more I grow into God's grace the more I feel attacked.

Something often ignored in much of Western Christianity is spiritual warfare (especially some of my peace tradition background). It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago I considered it more fully. Ironically it was the physical indicators that lead me there.

There was about one month straight where I was sick. Just physically beat up from the flu, sinus infection, a busted up head, and some ankle stuff from soccer. Evil works in hidden ways far beyond our medical dictionaries and it makes sense that our bodies feel the effects. The whole Platonic spiritual/physical dichotomy is a gross misrepresentation of humanity. We are whole people, not sectioned selves.

Underneath all those ailments is this battle over the future. It has been an incredibly hard practice to just poke along towards graduation. No firm job, plans, or place to go. Just a vision, some like minds, and a lot of waiting. The more I doubt and get anxious and worry the more I try to flee God.

In light of the past "attacks," the last month has been one of the most fruitful periods in the last year. It's great to hear God anew and there has been some awesome things in my life revealed and cultivated. But as soon as God's Word comes so does a rival voice of doubt. As soon as God's blessings are realized they become twisted and convoluted. As soon as praise is shouted so is worry. As soon as rest comes so does unrest.

I can't help but be didactic through this testimony. When doubt, worry, unrest, and lies come go to God. Before you get your friend or family's advice seek God. Before you try to fix the problem seek Scripture. Before you rationalize get on your knees in prayer. Before you move quickly try to fast. Before you forget remember you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Trust: A Breath of Fresh Air

I’m continuing to read Jesus on Leadership. It continues to be worth my time.

Trust is the key idea I read about today. Primarily the author, Wilkes, talks about the trust that followers must have in their leaders. He talks about the level of trust James and John had in Jesus when they said to him, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

At first, that doesn’t sound like trust, it sounds like selfishness. But I think trust allows people to say what they think or feel without fear. This sort of trust is a huge freedom and a valuable benefit in a relationship.

Last week, I bought a new car. Mike drove me over to pick it up before a meeting he had that evening. When he got home from the meeting, it was late, about 10pm.

“Do you want to go for a ride?” I asked. I just needed a reason and someone to share the experience with. But it wasn’t an overwhelming desire, just something that sounded fun.

After a pause, Mike said, “Honestly, not really.”

“That’s fine,” I said. I wasn't hurt. It was just a suggestion. I was glad he’d trusted me enough to be honest and not just appease me by doing something he didn’t want to do.

Honesty requires trust and that’s what James and John had with Jesus. They were willing to be selfish and not fear judgment or shaming from Jesus. Jesus, they knew, would accept them no matter what—selfishness and all.

We need that sort of trust, those sorts of relationships, in our lives. Wilkes says it well, “Trust destroys an atmosphere of control and creates an air of freedom.”

Take a deep breath. Let your pinched shoulders relax.

More here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"You can't run away from your feelings!"

Once I got a coaster for being part of a wedding. It said, "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." I really disdained it. Your heart will mislead you everytime, I thought. A fool follows his heart and ends up ruined.

Feelings can be scary. My feelings have gotten me in trouble all too often. I don’t trust them very much. They’ve led me in the wrong direction more than once.

But I can’t resist or deny the idea that God shows up in very emotional ways in the Bible. He’s angry and loving. He grieves about things and hates things. He’s jealous and joyful. God’s an emotional being, take it or leave it.

It’s hard to get a clear understanding of how God could be emotional. I don’t trust emotions much, but they’re part of who God is. I feel a lot of ugly emotions, but God is righteous and good. Feelings seem like a paradox between my experience and God’s personality.

The reason I’m thinking about this is that I just finished Feeling Like God. I wanted to give it a quick read because it’s an area of interest of mine, so I wanted to see what Chris Tiegreen had to say. This was the problem he was trying to resolve. We have a high level of trust in rational thinking and enlightened reason, and our emotions are just sort of a scatterplot graph of BB gun shots. We’re happy if our emotions make it on the graph.

There was some good stuff in the book. If you don’t mind I’ll share just a couple thoughts that relate here.

First, we tend to trust our reason much more than we trust our emotions. Is this right and good? Tiegreen asks, How many times have you been wrong about something you remembered, concluded, or believed? Plenty, right?

“What’s our response when this happens? We certainly don’t lament the unreliability of human reason and decide that it should never become the basis for our decisions.” No, “we press ahead in our quest for knowledge.” The same should be true, Tiegreen says, in how we treat our emotional dimension, “acknowledge its fallibility and continue to develop it as a powerful asset.” Haven’t emotions carried us to do courageous things, risk amazing triumphs, build beautiful new paths? Why does love have reasons that reason does not know? “Why,” asks Tiegreen, “do we decide that the flaws outweigh the useful benefits?”

I think he makes a good point here. Believing that our emotions are more prone to failure than our thoughts, that our minds are more susceptible than our hearts, simply doesn’t make sense. Both are broken by sin, redeemable by God. We need to use both humbly, but we need to nurture both to thrive and grow and guide us as we seek to be more like God.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Silence, Solitude, Hospitality and some Monks

About three weeks ago I went to a monastery in Chicago for a day. I'm confident that it's not my calling in life (that noise you heard was my parents cheering).

The days weaved in and out of the daily offices and meals. Across from their living quarters and church I stayed in a guest apartment. Really, I don't have much to say about my time, which is quite fitting because no more than 50 words escaped my mouth that day. They live by the rule of weighing their words considerably and in turn speaking very little. I talk a lot, so that was hard. Surprisingly the solitude wasn't as difficult. One of my last classes here at Northern is on the Spiritual disciplines so these practices are becoming more and more comfortable. Silence and solitude.

One of the biggest impressions made on me was by a brother named Ignatius (that is a sweet name). As he escorted me to the apartment I thanked him for taking me in. He paused and said, "We are so blessed, so blessed to get to serve so many people. We are so blessed."

After he left I read the sign on the door, "Receive all guests as Christ." No wonder they feel blessed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Delinquent Blogger

Some friends told me I hadn't been blogging much. Bless you!

To the contrary, I've been busy, but the blogs haven't been as polished. Take it for what it's worth. Here's my rationale.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Matthew 28:6
He is not here; he has risen, just as he said

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Today at the Marsh (the Teams Challenge Course I work at) my group consisted of 14 teenage Girl Scouts.

I explained at one element, "If you fall off the platform you land in the 'water' and sink."

A spunky girl playfully asked, "What if I'm Jesus?"

It was a whimsical comment but didn't go unnoticed.

One scout said, "Well, than today you are dead."

There was a solemn and unusual silence as they all looked towards me for direction.

"Well Jesus," I said slowly, "Today I'm sad, but tomorrow we are going to party."

Friday, April 10, 2009

A poem for Good Friday

Today, Good Friday, I drove home to my parents' house, from Illinois to Iowa. I was reminded of a favorite poem of mine by a favorite poet, John Donne. It seemed appropriate:



"My God.......

My God.......?

have you forsaken me?"

my, God

Monday, April 06, 2009

Frog Soup

The parable goes:

If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water,it will leap out right away to escape the danger.But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with cool
and gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling,the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late.

Supposedly this is false but the lesson bears remembering. So...I wonder what are the things in our culture we have grown dangerously comfortable with?

I'm not arguing to completely remove these things. I believe in balance but also believe the church has grown numb. We are called to live alternative lives and that require alternative actions.

So let's call attention to these cultural "norms"

Cars. Sure everyone has cars but whenever I drive by a bus stop and see people waiting I feel like offering them a ride. If they are headed in my direction why not use the extra seats? But this would creep most people out. We need to also remember the sheer amount of time and money that get thrown into automobiles. As Adam has pointed out before, cars are not an investment, they loose money.

Professional Sports. I love sports and follow the pros but how can we justify men (a few women?) who make millions of dollars playing games. Professional sports are pure entertainment and built upon the foundation of profit. This January the Washington Redskins let go of 20 employees because the economic recession. One month later they signed Albert Haynesworth to a record 7 year $100 million deal. Does this strike anybody else as wrong?

Television. The average American home has the TV on for 8 hours a day! What? That is insane. The statistics from that link are appalling. While teaching today a co-worker complained to me how she had a busy night because she had to watch the Cubs game, Dancing with the Stars, and the National Championship B-Ball game. The worst part of this saga is that she doesn't have a DVR! Call me crazy but I don't think that when God created us sitting in front of a screen for 8 hours a day was part of the purpose.

Internet. Ah, the world wide web, I couldn't write this post without you. So I am indebted to your resources but will still criticize. The internet, actually the personal computer pushes, people into isolation. Okay, I know you can connect with people across the world via e-mail, Skype, and Facebook but how many people's lives are truly enriched because of the Internet?

Think about it another way, can you go one day without using it? Probably not because a majority of communication relies on it. We need to ask if it is shaping us into the people we are called to be. I don't think the Web is the Antichrist but I also don't think it is the savior of our problems.

I got more but your attention span is probably already fading. ( I know mine is....and I blame the internet for that problem, it is rewiring my brain) :)

A huge detriment with these "norms," is they destroy community. They promote individualism and venerate us, the consumer, as the center of the universe. Isn't it interesting that consumption was a disease in the 19th century and today it is a way of life. I think we would do well to recover that 19th century definition.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Single Thought

Thanks to Amber and Rachel for the inspiration (If you remember the title for the post feel free to send it to me) :)

Most people will be surprised for me to write about this subject. The fact that people are surprised I’m engaging (pun intended) the topic "singleness," is telling. I’m outspoken in saying I'm content with being single. That might sound forced or fake but it’s not. I’m definitely no lone ranger but have found peace.

A lot of people have stared and literally shook their head, “How? How is that possible? I don’t believe you.” Most people think I’m odd and I can deal with that. But the difficulty is that there is only one friend ever who says he can relate. So here is a weird twist, if you think being single is lonely try being single and being the only one o.k. with that.

Because of my contentment I think many of my friends and family find it bizarre when I talk about potential relationships. I imagine them saying in their mind, “Well everyone single is searching for a mate, but Mike, well it’s Mike!.” Haha, if only people knew.

Check this out. I’ve been told that I have ridiculous standards for dating. Which probably means I have impossible standards for marriage. (Who ever started using the word “standard?” Is dating/marriage like a car impact safety test?) I’ll concede to those accusations and add another weird twist. You might be discontented with being single but imagine wanting to be discontented. As much as I am content with being single part of me would love to be discontented. I would joyfully embrace the opportunity to be discontented.

Maybe a metaphor would work well. If you walk around barefoot everywhere eventually your feet will grow callous and tough. After awhile you wouldn’t need shoes and grow content with being barefoot. But you would notice everyone like you was wearing shoes. After some time you think it would be nice to have shoes but you don’t need them because you have grown accustomed to being barefoot.

Does that make sense? All I’m saying is that it would be great to meet someone who makes me wish I wasn't single.

So I recognize this is hands down my most transparent post but I like to follow my friends lead. If this sounds despairing or like a complaint than you are reading it wrong. Every freaking day I am overwhelmed by the blessings in my life. I tell people they cannot begin to imagine how amazing my life is. The reason is because of my friends and family and the God who loves me.

If there is future wife out there for me than sweeeeeet. No lie, I'll be a good husband. In the meantime I'll wait.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I'll help you get this book....

I read a lot of books for school. The good is that there is a lot I've learned. The bad is that I've learned how to surface read. With so much literature to knock out in a given week I've developed the skill of being able to skim, write, and summarize without fully abiding in the text.

All to say I am almost done with the best book I have ever read. It is called, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a culture of Displacement.

Let me say this is not a liberal-social-justice book about helping the homeless. That concern takes up about 20 pages. This is the idea; we live in a world where people don't have a home. Whether you are on the streets, a traveling businessman, or a young adult who changes jobs and friends on a whim, we are an exiled people. We just don't know how to stay rooted in a place. Our culture encourages migrancy and consumerism advocates for temporary investment.

Enough said. This is the first book I have ever read and am willing to buy for people. Not for a gift but because I think everyone should read it. Granted I don't have loads of cash but if you are interested in it let me know and I'll seriously get you a copy somehow. (Library loan, my copy, purchase a copy). It's that good.

Note: I wrote this post last week and since than have already found a temporary home for it. Also I'm not employed by the authors, I just like the book