Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - Review

Back in January 2008 I came across an MP3 of Donald Miller speaking at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids from November 2007. The title of his talk was Story, in which he discussed some of the lessons he learned about life and faith as he had been working with two friends on coming up with a screenplay for his book Blue Like Jazz which they were trying to adapt to a movie. I have to say that his talk was very insightful and that I have revisited it many times since. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life is a much more in-depth fleshing out of the premise he set forth on that talk.

A Million Miles begins with Don being approached by a filmmaker named Steve who wants to turn his now famous memoir Blue Like Jazz into a feature length film. Miller takes him up on the offer and then the work of getting the story right begins in earnest as Don, Steve, and a cinematographer named Ben spend many days and nights in front of white boards in Miller’s living room struggling to adapt ideas from the book into a story that will work on screen. Miller doesn’t initially realize what he is getting into and just how painful this process will be as it begins to reveal his own insecurities about himself and more fundamentally the story he has settled for in his own life.

For all intents and purposes Donald Miller was living a good life. He had seen great success as a writer with Blue Like Jazz and several other books he had written since and yet as he started studying about the elements of great stories and characters he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t living a very good story. This epiphany began to eat at him as he realized that he had settled into a life that lacked any kind of ambition for anything larger than his own comfort.

A Million Miles is the story about how he began to find his heart again, of how he began moving towards living in a bigger story that is not simply about comfort and security but of connecting with others and doing something good with his life. The book chronicles various “practice stories” as he calls them from hiking the Incan Trail in Peru to connecting with the father he hadn’t seen in over thirty years to a bike trip across the country. Miller calls these mini-adventures practice stories because he realizes that there is still a greater story that he is being called to live in, but with each practice story and all of the accompanying physical and emotional pain that it brings something happens within Don to make him into a better character within the story.

While I don’t want to spoil the book by revealing many of the parts in detail, I will say that this book was a truly inspirational read. I almost hate using the word inspirational because it reminds me of Hallmark cards and Christian book stores and this book was certainly not inspirational in that kind of way. It was inspiring for other reasons though. Miller’s struggles, of which he is very open, without slipping into self-absorbed narcissism, are the kinds of things we all struggle with- love, work, being authentic, and wanting to do something good with one’s life. He doesn’t deal with these struggles as someone who is trying to fix himself, or others for that matter but as someone who is simply trying to head in a better direction. His writing is very accessible with an ability to connect with folks in a number of different situations. Miller writes as one who has come to terms with his own smallness and yet who has seen a vision of a better place in which the journey is not contingent on talent, or money, or fame but a simple willingness to put the remote control down and get off the couch and start living. It is this simply accessible idea that makes the reader want to join him because the on-ramps are right in front of each of us.

As one who loves to write and create myself, I found that reading this book made me not only want to live in a better story myself but to start writing more. Reading this book had the same affect on me that I’ve noticed when I’ve been to concerts by a select few bands over the years. While there are plenty of great bands to catch live there are very few that make me want to quit everything I’m doing for a bit to start playing music and writing songs. Miller’s book had this effect on me concerning writing. Reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years was the type of read that makes me want to write.

How our world needs more books like this that hit on faith and life from a different angle than that typical of theologians and Bible teachers. Donald Miller doesn’t seem to be trying to teach anybody anything or even make any grand theological statements. He is just sharing a bit of his story of trying to live a better story with us, but as he points out in this book—a story, a good story, is a very powerful thing indeed.

Free Falling

It’s been many years since I watched Jerry Maguire. I figure the last time I caught that movie must have been around the time Dina and I had just got engaged, which certainly provided a different frame of reference for that kind of movie. We no doubt applied the lines “You complete me” and “You had me at hello” personally with all of the accompanying feelings of butterflies in the stomach that you get in those spring days of love.

However for some reason I have been bumping into Jerry Maguire a lot in the past week. I used the infamous “Show me the money” clip when I was speaking last weekend and now for the last 2 days I keep catching different parts of the movie as it is in heavy rotation on TBS. Yesterday I was ironing some shirts for work, when I caught the last part of the movie, the part where most of the romantic elements come together. I couldn’t help thinking of how I could have never imagined in my bachelor days that my future would include not only being married, but spending a Saturday afternoon ironing shirts while watching Jerry Maguire (alone by the way, which adds a bit more a pathetic spin to the scene.) So I watched it and it was certainly better than the infomercials and reruns on the other channels and when I was done I put on one of those freshly ironed shirts and went to work.

This morning as I was trying to wake up I turned on the TV at 7 a.m. and low and behold Jerry Maguire was on yet again. But this time I was catching the story a bit earlier into it than yesterday. I was picking up on the story just after Jerry left his job with the talent agency to step out on his own and follow his heart as a solo talent agent.

What follows is that Jerry goes to meet with an upcoming football player who will be his biggest client if he can close the deal, a potential number one draft pick. If he can land this client his career is set. It’s kind of a big deal because this guy is one of two sports players that he is courting and certainly the most promising of the two financially. He meets with the young football player’s father, rehearsing his sales pitch as he is walking into the guy’s living room. Jerry knows that everything will rest on this one meeting and his ability to talk the father into keeping Jerry as his son’s agent even though he has left the larger tallent agency. Surprisingly the meeting is very short. The father tells Jerry that he made up his mind that if Jerry showed up he would keep him as his son’s agent. The father then tell Maguire that he doesn’t believe in signing contracts but that his hand shake is stronger than oak. And with that he offers his hand. Jerry shakes his hand and then hugs him and then just about loses it because he is so excited. This was tremendous news!

The next scene shows a very happy Jerry driving down the highway elated at the success of his deal. He did it! This kid is going to be his bread and butter! All the thoughts of self-doubt are just trailing in the wake behind his car. Maybe he wasn’t completely crazy to follow his heart and leave the talent agency after all. He’s not a looser! He is going to make it and maybe even make it bigger than he had ever dreamed!

So there he is celebrating in the car scanning through songs on the radio for something that might capture the emotion of the moment. He needs a song, and not just any old song will do. He tries a bit of a Rolling Stones song. No that’s not it. After a brief pause on “Just Call Me Angel of the Morning” and a lesser-known country tune he finally lands on “Free Falling” by Tom Petty. That’s the song! He sings it like an anthem giddy with delight over closing the deal, “Yeah I’m freeeee!”… “Free fallin’!”

Maybe it’s my place in life or maybe because I saw the other part of the movie yesterday and know what really happens next, that he’s not going to be this kid’s agent after all because he didn’t get the father to sign a contract and his rival is going to scoop him up behind his back, but this scene on the highway is just brilliant! Jerry is singing “Free Falling” obviously identifying with the free part of the chorus but I know, because I saw the other part of the movie yesterday, that shortly he will be identifying with the falling part.

It’s scary business following your heart, stepping out, leaving your place of comfort and security. Sometimes it feels like freedom and sometimes it feels like falling but most of the time it’s a mixture of both. Six months ago Dina and I made a decision to step out and do some things we feel God put in our hearts. The decision involves leaving our jobs, our home, and breaking the rhythm of a way of life that we have come to really enjoy and moving across a really big lake to start a new chapter. Back in June I felt compelled to buy 3 Tom Petty CDs because they seemed to be the songs running through my mind. They seemed like they would provide the right kind of soundtrack to this season in our lives with songs like Running Down a Dream, Learning to Fly, I Won’t Back Down, and most of all Free Falling. As I watched Jerry Maguire this morning I couldn’t help but connect with that scene of Jerry driving down the road singing, celebrating, not really having a clue what turns await him in the story he’s living in.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Need to Feel Small Part 2

This is part 2 of a series of blogs called The Need to Feel Small. Read Part 1 first here.
When I was in my early teenage years I remember occasionally going to the local First Baptist Church youth group. The youth group was a standard youth group with a very common approach to evangelism. This meant that one was likely to hear the words “if you were to walk out of this room and get hit by a car and die tonight where would you go?” quite frequently. So, as with many of the other teenagers, I found myself praying the sinners’ prayer often just to cover the bases because one can never be too safe with one’s eternal destiny. But this was by no means the only kind of appeal to get the kids of the youth group to respond to God. Another evangelistic argument that was used just as frequently as more of a positive motivation went something like this, “God loves you so much that even if you were the only person on planet earth Jesus would have died for you.” This certainly put things into a bit more of a positive light than say, getting hit by a car when you walk out of the room tonight, but I can’t help but thinking as I continue my faith journey, just how small this kind of thinking is.

The problem with this kind of thinking is not God’s love or for us but that it is so focused on the individual with no greater context other than being forgiven and going to heaven when you die. While the argument was compelling in the moment it certainly didn’t seem to connect with my actual everyday life very effectively. So I was saved, but for what, some kind of disembodied state of bliss when I die? (Bliss, by the way, always seemed to be defined in these contexts as a never-ending church service in the sky which wasn’t all that appealing to me as a teenager and I can’t find it that appealing at this point in my life either.)

I needed to know God’s love for certain, but I needed to feel small as well, not in an insignificant way, but small in terms of being a part of a much greater story. When I responded to the evangelistic messages of the youth group as a teenager the story that was communicated to me, rather unintentionally I suspect, was that I was the story, that I was the point of it all. It’s no wonder that it failed to really affect my real life that much. Perhaps we need to realize that we as individuals are not the point but one of many points in a much larger story of which we are invited into by Jesus to be a part.

I can’t help but think of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings. They were small both physically as well as in their place of prominence in the world. Yet Frodo and company found their purpose in a much larger story of overthrowing evil and bringing freedom and peace to middle earth. In the story of Lord of the Rings there was no lead character, it was an ensemble cast, a fellowship where everyone involved played a part in overthrowing darkness. It simply wouldn’t have worked if any of them had had too large of a view of themselves or of their particular place in the world. The fellowship worked precisely because they understood they were each a part of something much, much larger.

God loves me and God loves you but He is not simply after setting his kids up for a great retirement community in the here after. He is actually calling each of us to be a part of something much bigger, a fellowship in a much larger story than we have likely settled for. Perhaps we need to take a step back and see the story in it’s epic glory. Perhaps we need to feel small again.

For further reading on this subject I recommend checking out Christianity Beyond Belief by Todd Hunter

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Further Exploration of 5 Notes that Changed the World

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Luke posted a link to this video on the last blog called Bobby McFerrin Hacks Your Brain With the Pentatonic Scale (thanks Luke). Bobby McFerrin is one of those geniuses that really gets music not in a cerebral way only but intuitively. This video is an amazing illustration of how there is something in the human experience which seems hard wired to get the simplicity of the pentetonic scale. This is very cool. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Speaking of 5 Notes that Changed the World

Last month I posted a blog entitled Wiley Pitman and 5 Notes that Changed the World A friend sent me a link to this compelling Youtube clip which further illustrates those same 5 notes changing the world from a different angle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Need to Feel Small Part 1

Have you ever had the experience of laying out under the stars, or gazing over a breath-taking view of mountains, or standing on the shores of the ocean watching wave after wave pounding into the beech? Moments like these have a way of bringing forth sense of awe, of holiness, a sense that we are so small in this massive universe, a sense that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We desperately need times like these because so many things in our world are vying for our attention and pushing us to an inflated and false sense of self-importance. When life becomes nothing more than working tirelessly for financial security, for power, for prestige and possessions we need moments of beholding the beauty of God’s creation to rescue us from too large a view of ourselves. We need this sense of perspective not merely in a sense of our physical place in the universe but even when it concerns our aspirations, the things we pour our lives into, and the way we spend our money and time. Nature itself testifies that there is something much more grand that we are a part of and letting ourselves feel weight of this once and a while is absolutely crucial.

Love Is an Orientation - Book Review

There are few issues these days that are a divisive and polarizing as homosexuality and Christianity. Most recently this debate was played out in front of the nation in typical fashion during the Miss USA Pageant when gay gossip columnist Perez Hilton asked contestant Carrie Prejean to give her opinion on same-sex marriage . When Prejean gave an answer affirming traditional marriage it reignited the debate in our country that has been growing for years over gay rights. This most recent culture battle reveals that while the rhetoric is getting much more inflammatory on both sides, nothing redemptive is coming from it. The most obvious fruit of this culture war has simply been greater division and deeper hatred of each other from both camps.

But what if the conversation could be elevated a bit from back and forth accusations that have characterized this issue? What if instead of shouting and condemning people from both sides there could be a different way forward based on love and respect and seeking to understand others? This is precisely what Andrew Marin is attempting to do in his book Love Is an Orientation.

Andrew Marin, who describes his background as Bible-banging and homophobic, was thrown into a world of turmoil and confusion when over the course of three consecutive months three of his best friends revealed to him that they were gay (Youtube of his testimony). The once distant cultural debate that had been played out in the media and in conversations had now become personal for Marin because these weren’t strangers or TV personalities or even simple conversations around the water cooler. These were his closest friends. Marin shares that after he got over the initial shock of his friend’s revelations he felt God inviting him into a journey of love and understanding. The journey lead Andrew Marin, a heterosexual, evangelical Christian, to immerse himself in the gay community of Boystown in Chicago seeking not to argue or convert people to his way of thinking but simply seeking to try and understand those in the gay community better. This cultural immersion had a profound impact on his life of faith and in the years since he began this journey he has gone on to start the Marin Foundation, an organization that is actively involved in trying to elevate the conversation between the Evangelical and Gay communities.

While books on homosexuality and Christianity are everywhere and while opinions on the subject are numerous, Marin writes in a way that doesn’t treat homosexuality as just another topic to be debated. Through story after story of people he has talked with, prayed with, and listened to from the gay community, Andrew Marin succeeds in rescuing the conversation from speculation, accusations and opinions and bringing it to the place where it needs to be discussed—the context of real people.

This will be a frustrating read for those looking for easy answers to hot-button issues because Marin offers very few concrete answers. Instead he offers a fresh set of questions and a way of dialogue that is based around building bridges rather than walls. The basic premise for Love Is an Orientation and the Marin Foundation is that Christians are not called to judge people or even to convict people of sin, that’s God’s job, instead Chris followers are simply called to love people the way Jesus does. This approach doesn’t ignore or gloss over the issues but engages them in a completely different way.

I found Love Is an Orientation both challenging and refreshing. While loving others by entering into their world is certainly not a new concept or even a foreign concept to Christianity (it’s kind of foundational to the life of Jesus), Marin’s application of this way of love simultaneously expands the evangelical horizon while at the same time making it much more personal. What’s great about this book is that Marin doesn’t just talk about the merits of loving others but rather gives some very practical teaching based on his years of dialogue with those in the gay community on how to actually go about doing this in real life. He also brings a much needed dose of humility to the conversation reflecting on the many times he has experienced greater love, authenticity, and community with gays in Boystown than in much of the church. I found the closing chapters of this book very helpful, not only for conversations on homosexuality and Christianity, but also for more redemptive ways of approaching any of the myriad of hot-button issues in our culture today.

I am grateful for this book for several reasons. First it has helped me to better understand homosexuality from the vantage point of those within the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community rather than from the outside looking in. Secondly, this book has shed light on both the spiritual yearnings and the spiritual hang-ups of many within gay community. Finally I have found this book has managed to show very practically how love can transcend all kinds of arguments, hang-ups, and divisiveness in a way that is utterly redemptive and which points people, gay and straight alike, towards Jesus. In my opinion Marin has succeeded in elevating the conversation with this book and I can only hope that this approach to the issues at hand gains more adherents.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Myth of a Christian Religion - Book Review

I first came across Greg Boyd in a 2007 documentary on CNN called God’s Warriors which took a look at Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in three two-hour documentaries. I found the two-hour segment a little disheartening not because it seemed critical of Christianity in American (because it seemed pretty balanced in it’s investigation) but because I increasingly cannot comfortably identify myself with much of the type of Christianity of which was given most coverage in the documentary… that is until they interviewed Greg Boyd. Out of all of the churches shown in the two-hour documentary, Boyd’s Church – Woodland Hills Church of St. Paul Minnesota was honestly the only church that I would even want to be a part of.

A few months after watching the documentary I was preparing a teaching for the Kenner Vineyard on Matthew 5:38-43 where Jesus teaches, among other things, to love one’s enemies (a radical text indeed!). As I was discussing the text with a friend of mine, he recommended a book by Greg Boyd called The Myth of a Christian Nation, thinking that it might be helpful in my preparation. So I picked up the book that afternoon and read through it in a matter of days. The book proved to be immensely helpful not only concerning the text at which I was looking but in so many other areas where we have commonly confused American Christian culture with the Kingdom of God. The Myth of a Christian Nation is one of those rare books I’ve read that has affected my life of faith in a profound way, not through deep and esoteric truths hidden in scripture, but with straight-ahead Jesus teachings.

So when I came across Boyd’s new book The Myth of a Christian Religion, I picked it up as soon as I could, anticipating the same kind of kingdom centered critique of church and culture. I have to say that I am normally not all that fond of authors who find a niche with books of the same titles but this second book bearing the title “Myth of…” doesn’t seem so much as marketing a franchise as a legitimate continuation of the ideas pioneered in The Myth of a Christian Nation.

Myth of a Christian Religion, while provocative, is practically minded which likely has something to do with Boyd not only being a theologian but a pastor. The chapters of Myth of a Christian Religion are not mere musings on theological ideas but rather are very much tied into practical application for the life of a Christ-follower. Boyd’s thesis is that Jesus never intended to start a religion—He was after nothing less than revolution. The Myth of a Christian Religion is about revolution, not in the traditional rebellious sense of the word but of a revolution with love as it’s driving force. So each of the chapter present what a love-centered revolution might look like addressing everything from idolatry to judgment, greed, individualism, consumerism, nationalism, violence, racism, and so on (as each of the book’s chapters are laid out). It may seem that Boyd is trying to cover too much in one book, but I would again reiterate that this book is written for practitioners of faith rather than those looking for more theological information and thus reads much more like a devotional (with an accompanying action guide for each chapter at the back of the book). This book seems like it would readily lend itself to small groups or book studies or as a primer for getting discussion started on the various topics contained within.

Though this book is written with everyday Christians in mind it doesn’t mean that Boyd steers away from anything controversial (discipleship light!). On the contrary, I suspect most readers will have a hard time with some of the ideas he is putting forth particularly when it comes to mixing Christianity with nationalism (I had my toes stepped on a couple of times). However, whether you agree with his assessment of American Christianity or not, I think his thoughts definitely merit attention. I would also note that Boyd’s treatment of such controversial issues does not come across as either whinny, contentious, or rebellious like so many on talk radio, cable news and countless other authors who have tried to argue on similar points. Boyd seems like someone who is genuinely interested in really living this stuff out and not just complaining about it which in and of itself is very refreshing these days.

As Christians we need someone to splash some cold water on us from time to time to wake us up to how easily we have succumb to individuality, consumerism, violence, and even nationalism in the name of following Jesus. Greg Boyd is just the person to do this and I would definitely recommend this book for those who are serious about living a life of faith.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Deep Fried Butter and Post Rapture Pet Care

I have come across 2 creative ideas that are so out of the box that they just deserve mentioning. The first is good old State Fair of Texas deep fried butter. As decadent as the idea sounds it may very well have more nutritional value than a Krispy Kreme doughnut. I can just hear Homer Simpson saying "MMMMMM deep fried butter."

The second idea is one of the most positive or should I say enterprising ideas to come from the atheist community. The atheists over at Eternally Earth-Bound Pets want Christians to know that since they don't believe in Jesus they will be left behind if there is a rapture. So for a small fee they will take care of the pets left behind by their raptured human owners. In these days of intense debate between atheists and religious folks sometimes you come across an idea like this and just have to smile. They may be atheists but their creative. I just want to know how many folks take them up on the offer.

Wrestling Match - Mark Driscoll vs. The Shack

Few figures in American Christianity have managed to draw as much controversy in the last couple of years as Mark Driscoll, Senior Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and William Young, author of The Shack. So when I recently came across a video clip of Driscoll talking about The Shack I couldn’t resist giving it a watch.

As a matter of disclosure I have read both The Shack and some of Driscoll’s writings as well and I am currently reading one of Driscoll’s recent releases - Vintage Church. As one who is in the process of planting a church right now I can say that few books have stirred the fire for church planting the way that Driscoll’s “Confessions of a Reformission Rev.” have. As for The Shack, I read that book about a year ago and found it a refreshing and insightful read that dealt with difficult questions concerning suffering and even the doctrine of the Trinity among other topics. As with other authors such as C. S. Lewis, Gene Edwards, Hanah Hernard (Hinds Feet on High Places), and even John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress) the method of using fictional literature as a means of getting to the heart of theology seemed to me to work quite well.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The Shack this next section of the blog will not make as much sense, so I would recommend reading it before continuing this blog so you have a bit more context.

In this Corner Mark Driscoll...
I wasn’t surprised to see that Driscoll was an outspoken critic of The Shack being that he is consistently a pretty outspoken critic on many issues. While I certainly don’t agree with many of Driscoll’s points of contention with The Shack I think the very nature of the critique raises questions about the relationship between theology and art and is thus important for consideration for artists and theologians. I will sum up the points of the argument and then give my own commentary and then propose a way forward for those of us who are creative people of faith. Here are the main points of Driscoll’s argument:

1. The whole purpose of The Shack is the Trinity.
I would disagree with Mark Driscoll on this because while the Trinity is central to this book, some of the main points have to do with wrestling through bad things happening to the innocent and finding God in the midst of tragedy.

2. The Shack makes a graven image of God by representing God the Father as a Black woman named Papa.
This seems to me to be the weakest of Driscoll’s arguments against The Shack for many reasons. First the very scriptures often refer to God in ways that compare him to attributes in creation:

Psalm 17:8 says, “Hide me under the shadow of your wing”. It is mother chickens that will hide her chicks under her wings. So is the Psalmist saying that God is a mother chicken? No. The psalmist is using an analogy to illustrate our relationship with God.

How about Psalm 23? “The Lord is my shepherd…” Is the Psalmist actually saying that God is a literal shepherd? No. He is getting at a relationship.

Finally Jesus was known to refer to the Father as vinedresser or farmer (John 15). Was Jesus creating a graven image by referring to God as a farmer? Not in the least. In reality he was helping folks understand their connection to God in a deeper and richer way.

It makes me wonder if Mark Driscoll even read The Shack because it is obvious that Papa (God the Father in The Shack) had a purpose in revealing himself as a black woman in the first part of the book and then as a middle-aged white guy with a pony-tail towards the end of the book. While this is certainly a fictional account it is not inconsistent with what we encounter in the Bible. God reveals himself to Israel sometimes as a husband, sometimes as a judge and sometimes as a warrior and yet sometimes as a more nurturing figure. The key in all of this is that it is God revealing himself to people for His purposes. It is very clear to me that this is what was going on in The Shack. God had a purpose in revealing himself to Mack the way that he did at different times and the purpose is made clear.

I think that making the point that William Young is leading people into idolatry with The Shack is quite a stretch.

3. The book encourages goddess worship since it represents God the Father as a woman.
This again ties back into my previous argument so I won’t continue it here but I don not think this book promotes goddess worship at all in any way. To make such statements misses the point and the very arguments set out plainly in the book.

4. Mark Driscoll goes on to accuse William Young of pushing the heretical teaching of Modalism that stands in opposition to Trinitarianism because it doesn’t respect the three-ness of God but instead blurs the lines. He cites the line in The Shack where God the Father states, “I am truly human in Jesus.” Driscoll makes the point that God the Father was never human only Jesus.

Again, I think that Mark Driscoll was missing the forest for the trees. Modalism was never a remote possibility to me when I read this book. Even the line that he was referring to was more about what Jesus referred to as “I am in the Father and He is in Me” than of blurring the lines of their distinctness in the Trinity, that though the three persons of the Trinity are completely distinct they are intimately connected in ways of understanding which we cannot even comprehend.

5. The last point that Mark Driscoll makes is that the book shows a version of the Trinity with no sense of hierarchy that it just gives a picture of a never-ending circle of love. He cites the passage from The Shack in which God tells Mack that hierarchy “only makes sense where there is sin”. He sees this as a big problem because Jesus obviously showed deference to the Father in his earthly ministry and that the New Testament seems to point very clearly to the idea that the Spirit points to Jesus, Jesus points to the Father.

Of all of Driscoll’s arguments this is the one that is the strongest in my opinion. I think that we Americans naturally tend to be much more egalitarian than most cultures and think of equality as one of the highest virtues there is. So this view of God as having no sense of hierarchy is appealing to some of our highest ideals in this culture. That said, it may be a stretch to put this ideal on God and thus on anything else in our world that exhibits hierarchical leadership.

If the Trinity is hierarchical it is not in a sense of power-over but in mutual love. So rather than throw hierarchy out altogether I would say that in the Trinity we see hierarchy apart from corruption—authority in love.

Closing Thoughts / A Way Forward
In the end I think The Shack has helped so many people begin to grapple with theology because it does so by way of art, speaking the language of the heart. Just as Jesus bypassed technical, theological language and arguments of the Pharisees with simple illustrations from nature and the culture, William Young has helped people into a deeper conversation about suffering, God, and the Trinity by speaking with language and pictures that connect with people in some of their biggest questions about faith and suffering and relationship with God.

This very discussion brings up how important theology is, particularly for those of us who create art whether music, writing, or painting. We must continually wrestle with theology in community and create art from that place. Our world desperately needs theologically sound artists who can communicate in the language of the heart so that folks who would never pick up a Bible commentary or theological text might begin to grapple with some of these larger issues themselves. I am grateful to William Young for writing The Shack and communicating in such language for the very reason that he is getting the conversation going in places where it has been stuck for a long time. Here’s to wrestling!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Exploding Diet Coke in My Hot Car

I have never seen nor heard of this happening before but I left an unopened can of Diet Coke in the cup holder in my car. When I was getting ready to leave the office I looked down to see that the top of the can was pealed back and half of the Diet Coke was gone (gone from the can that is because it was partly on the windshield and the passenger seat was soaked). As messy as it was I have to say it was pretty freakin cool!

"I Am One of Them" - Review of Mute Math, Armistice

The much anticipated follow-up to Mute Math’s first self-titled CD has finally dropped after more than three years of the band working on it. Did the time put in pay off? Yes. While there are no songs that pack quite the same punch of Chaos and Typical from their last album, Armistice shows definite creative growth in a positive direction for this New Orleans indie rock quartet. While their last album had more of an overt influence from The Police, this album in some respects reminds me more of U2 (more in spirit rather than trying to be U2 clones). This is perhaps due to the enlisting of Dennis Harris as producer who’s production style really brings out the rhythm section (Roy Mitchell-Cardinas and Darren King) in a way that creates space and energy for Paul Meany’s vocals and Greg Hill’s guitar work. The result is a very cohesive batch of songs which, while still capturing the indie-energy of this band, tie it all together in a bit more of an accessible way than their previous release.

Unlike Mute Math’s previous release, Armistice offers many more questions than answers. Lyrics such as “anymore, I don’t know who to fight anymore, I don’t know what is right anymore” from the song Clipping, and “And if it’s all black and white then tell me what is wrong and what is right, I don’t suppose that anybody knows” from No Response reveal Mute Math’s movement from a world of black and white absolutes to a place where beliefs and people don’t quite so easily fit into the boxes we make for them.

Perhaps on of the most insightful lyrics on the album in from the song Pins and Needles,
Sometimes I get tired of pins and needles,
Facades are a fire on the skin.
And I'm growing fond of broken people,
As I see that I am one of them.

As one who has followed members of this band for many years I cannot help but see these lyrics in light of the journey they’ve been on from leading worship at a local church to the Christian rock band Earthsuit to their current incarnation as an indie-rock band. Perhaps I am finding myself identifying with this point in their journey myself because in many ways I have been in the same place.

How we would love to have all of the answers and have people classified in tidy little containers, to be so sure that we’re the good guys and their the bad guys but as one journeys one can’t help but see that many of the distinctions that we make are very artificial. Truth is we are all broken people, and coming to terms with this is not a casting off faith but rather a deepening of faith—a realizing of faith and love in the deepest places of the heart.

As I said earlier, in some ways this album reminds me of U2 but this is not simply in the musical approach of the band or in how the album was produced but also in the way that this band of Christians is beginning to wrestle with faith as they find their horizon expanding. Armistice is one of many albums coming out from Christians in the last few years that I would say offers a soundtrack to the changing landscape of faith in the western world, a world where suddenly questions have loomed larger than answers. This wrestling with faith may very well seem scary to many but it is a very necessary part of the journey to authentic spirituality—wrestling always is!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Prayer for Obama

I was saddened today to hear of a pastor in Tempe Arizona by the name of Steven Anderson who has reportedly preached against President Barack Obama even to the point of praying for his death by brain cancer so that he could die as Ted Kenedy last week (which he no doubt links to God’s judgment).
While this kind of hate-speak would be disturbing from anyone, it is particularly disturbing to hear such talk from a minister who identifies himself as a Christian.

Though the words from this pastor present us with an extreme case of Christians opposed to Obama, they do raise the question of how Christ followers are supposed to treat enemies and furthermore who can even be considered an enemy. I suspect that most Christians in America would probably very much disagree with this pastor’s rhetoric and yet many would still have absolutely no problem with associating Obama with the highest forms of evil and feeling very much justified in criticizing, opposing, and wishing ill to him.

It would do us good to remember as followers of Christ that no matter how much we may disagree with certain people, people are never the real enemy (no matter how much you may disagree with Obama he is not the true enemy). As Christ-followers we are to fight for people rather than against people, to love when hated, to bless when reviled, to return good for evil (Matt 5:43-48 , I Peter 3:8-9 , Romans 12:14 ). In this we reveal what God is like and overthrow evil. This doesn’t mean that we need to completely discard any views on politics, religion, or morality but that we cannot ever let our views excuse hatred, a desire for revenge, or even our own self-righteousness.

The path of Jesus is not easy, nor popular for that matter, but it is the only true option for those of us who consider ourselves Christ-Followers. We must be diligent to remember that Jesus overcame the evil of the world not by force or violence but by loving people sacrificially even when it cost him his own life.

So perhaps we can take our lead from Jesus and instead of criticizing Obama for his beliefs and actions we can pray for him, asking God to grant him wisdom and understanding and to surround him with His Holy Spirit. Perhaps we can pray for God to bless him physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and to bless his relationship with his wife and children and even with his colleagues. Perhaps instead of slinging more mud we can choose to love instead.

A prayer for Obama
Father God,
We thank you for President Obama
We ask that you would bless him right now
Refresh him and renew him by Your Spirit
Let him feel Your grace and Your strength
We ask that even in this moment
that You would lift the stress and anxiety from his mind and body.
Grant him the wisdom he needs for this day in all of the situations he is facing.
Let him sense Your presence
And let his ears be open to what You are saying
We pray that every spiritual attack directed against him would be thwarted
And that You would uphold him and protect him from those who would wish him harm.

In the name of Jesus