Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Should Heaven be a Place We Want to Go?

I read an article this morning from Relevant Magazine entitled “Everyone Wants to go to Heaven Just Not Yet”.  The point of the article is that there seems to be an absence of longing for heaven in all but the oldest Christians among us (whose longing seems logical because their bodies are deteriorating and they have already experienced a full life).  This lack of longing for heaven is presented by the author as evidence of our attachment to this world and lack of eternal priorities.  While I think there is some truth to his argument it seems a bit misdirected.

When Longing for Heaven is a Bad Thing
While there is certainly room for more longing for God in all of our lives, sometimes a longing to go to heaven can be rooted in escapism and a fear of living life with all of its challenges and trials in the here and now.   My limited experience as a Christian has seen many examples (at times from my own life) of folks whose spirituality is exemplified by retreating from the culture and an obsessive hope of one day escaping this evil world.  Too often these folks see little value in this physical world and thus slip into a form of Christianized Gnosticism that makes people so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.

But what if our lack of longing for heaven isn’t as bad of a thing as it has been made out to be?  What if our lack of longing for heaven is because we were made for earth?  What if heaven isn’t a place that we are to escape to but rather a realm we are to pray to intersect with ours? 

Rocky Mountain National Park, Photo by Crispin Schroeder
On Earth as it is In Heaven...
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus encourages his followers to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Jesus never encouraged his disciples to long for heaven as an escape from the troubles of the world but rather to long for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Romans 8 in which Paul talks of creation groaning under the curse of sin as it awaits the revealing of the sons of God.  Paul also talks about the Spirit groaning within us.  These pictures of groaning that Paul gives in Romans 8 are perhaps closer to the appropriate longing of Christ-followers—a groan that doesn’t seek to escape the troubles of this life but instead groans with the creation, that expresses solidarity with the hurting, a longing that prays and seeks that God’s kingdom will be manifested in the midst of this sin-scared world. 

While heaven is no doubt glorious beyond all imagining I am a big fan of earth!  I love the stuff I have experienced on planet Earth: friendships, sunsets, movies, mountains, concerts, coffee, campfires, my wife and kids, Texas barbeque and Cajun cooking, and I could go on…    The picture we get in Romans 8 is not a picture of creation marred beyond repair but rather creation being held back, unable to reach its full potential.  And what we see at the end of the Bible is that at some point heaven and earth will be in the same place (the Apostle John writes in the Book of Revelations of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth, and also of the new heavens and new earth).  Perhaps the reason we love earth is because it is the natural habitat of humans.  God created all of this for us.  God knew how stoked we would be by sunsets, food and friendship, by a place that gives us all of the natural resources to express our own creativity from playing instruments to building buildings, from painting pictures to cooking—And God created a world in which all of those buttons would be pushed on a regular basis.  While it is not bad to long for heaven, our longing should be that heaven will be manifested on earth, that the very creation will be set free from the curse of sin and death and that this marred world will be freed to be as God had originally intended when he created it in the beginning.

So, should heaven be a place we want to go or a place we want to come into our world?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Outsourcing Memory

A few months back I published a review of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  One section of the book deals with how computers and the internet have been increasingly become supplements to our memory to the point where we no longer bother to memorize facts anymore because in a moment we can find the answer via Google or Wikipedia.  For the first time I really began to realize this phenomenon personally when I went on a study retreat.  For my study retreat I intentionally chose a cabin that had no internet so I could be freed from distractions a bit.  Over the few days I was studying and planning I began to notice that it was very hard for me to remember certain things... nothing big, but stuff I would have had no trouble remembering a few years ago like the name of a movie or an actor or a band.  It is clear that I have been outsourcing my memory with the aid of computers and the internet for so long that I have now become dependent on these technologies for some of the more trivial memory functions.  What was really interesting is how frustrating it was to be cut off from the access to immediate answers via the internet.  I guess this lends support to the thesis proposed by Nicholas Carr, that the internet is truly changing the way we think and use our brains at a fundamental level.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Religion, Patriotism, Commercialism and Wal Mart

This week an organization called American Atheists caused quite a controversy when they posted a billboard that said, "You know it's a myth... this season celebrate reason."  I heard plenty of angry callers call a local radio show to voice their opinions on this issue which for the most part looked at the billboard as a bad thing (even several atheists called in and mentioned how inappropriate it was).  I don't really care to weigh in on such an issue myself because this is simply another example controversial soundbite warfare that really does nothing but stir people up on both sides of the issue.  I came across something tonight which I find much more offensive.

I was watching the classic Christmas cartoon of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with my Dina and the kids when a really disturbing commercial came on.  The commercial started with a woman singing O Holy Night and then changing to America the Beautiful and then back and forth through the commercial.  As the music played their were inspirational pictures of Christmas and America followed which ended with the Wal-Mart logo (I have tried to find the commercial online but unsuccessfully so far).

There's no doubt that Christmas has become overly-commercialized but when I see Christmas becoming patriotized as well I can't help but cringe.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Waves of Memories

I hear a song in my mind
Whose melody reminds me of another
A song which inhabited a certain space
A certain geography and time
Along the backdrop of my life

These memories and associations
So languid
As waves on the water
Colliding effortlessly
As form is lost then reshaped
Making their way towards the shore

The water longs for equilibrium 
Craves rest
The waves give neither

The wave itself is not the water
But a force that acts on it from within and without
Sometimes as memories from far away
And at other times awakened
By immediacy unforeseen

Yet mostly it is both
As the past and the present mingle
In this metamorphic dance
Moved ever onward to the future’s shore

Friday, December 17, 2010

Desiring the Kingdom, a Book Review

In recent history we have heard plenty of talk on the culture wars in America between the competing philosophies of secular humanism and the Judeo-Christian ideals that once held such a prominent place in America.  This battle, played out daily in universities, churches, and in the culture has for the most part centered on putting together well-crafted arguments for beliefs while each side tries to poke holes in the logic of the other.  But for James A. H. Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, this way of going about things has failed to get at the way people are truly formed by ideas. 

In his book Desiring the Kingdom, Smith writes of how the Enlightenment bought completely into the philosophy of Descartes – “I think therefore I am”, the underlying philosophy being that humans are primarily thinking creatures.  In reaction to this idea the church gradually adopted a philosophy that we are primarily creatures of belief summed up as -  “I believe therefore I am”.  But Smith sees that these philosophies, both of which have been at war to the present day, fail to understand that we are primarily creatures of desire which he encapsulates as “I love therefore I am”.  He makes his point by use of various illustrations, one being that the early church was worshipping God and living out faith long before the New Testament was ever solidified or before doctrines and theology had been marked out and that there even Trinitarian ideas in early church hymns long before there were ever any discussions on the doctrine and theology of the Trinity.  In other words, we don’t start with thinking or belief but rather in the realm of desire which then gives rise to our beliefs and intellect.

Smith makes the case that there is a desire for the kingdom in all of us (not necessarily God’s kingdom.  He uses kingdom as the metaphor for whatever is perceived to be the good life.)  So from this angle he sees that certain aspects of our lives are moving us towards a version of the good life (kingdom) and that they are acting upon us at the point of desire and thus shaping our thinking whether or not we are even conscious of them.  To illustrate this he paints a brilliant picture of how the local mall is a type of worship experience where parishioners (shoppers) arrive and meet in a sanctuary from the world with its own religious pictures and icons (advertisements and mannequins) that prod shoppers towards its picture of the good life (kingdom).  Products are attained and an offering is made at the counter.  While this picture of the mall as a religious institution may seem silly (it is developed much better by Smith than my little summary) he makes the point that advertisers and marketers have realized something of which those waging the culture wars of ideas and beliefs have seemed ignorant which is that our lives are shaped by liturgies (whether secular as in the case of shopping at the mall or religious) that orient our desires towards a kingdom (version of the good life).  Thus we are continually being shaped in our beliefs and thinking by going through the rituals (liturgies) of shopping at the local mall, mostly without even recognizing it.  We see the promise of happiness in wall-sized advertisements of shiny happy people enjoying life and it gets at us at a gut level – our desires.  Without even being aware we begin to move in the direction of that version of the kingdom precisely because it isn’t trying to argue with us about intellectual ideas and beliefs but because it is reaching us and shaping us through our participation at a much deeper level. 

Smith points out how we are shaped and formed by liturgies:
“Liturgies, whether “sacred” or “secular”,—shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world.  In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love.  They do this because we are the sorts of animals whose orientation to the world is shaped from the body up more than from the head down.  Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies.  They prime us to approach the world in a certain way, to value certain things, to aim for certain goals, to pursue certain dreams, to work together on certain projects.  In short, every liturgy constitutes a pedagogy that teaches us, in all sorts of precognitive ways, to be a certain kind of person.” (P. 25)

Thus Smith argues that students in college are formed as much or perhaps more by the routines of a university whether dorm life, frat parties, and meals in the cafeteria as they are by the actual information they receive in classes.  These routines (types of liturgies) have a profound way of shaping the way people think and believe. 

Smith makes the point that the primary mode of Christian formation in the church does not come in the dissemination of beliefs in the sermon but in the actions of worship when people actively participate in liturgy (this is a point many a pastor already suspects and maybe even dreads because there has been such a focus on the sermon as the centerpiece of church gatherings).  (note: Smith makes it clear that liturgy is not simply the stuff of more traditional churches but is every bit as present in Pentecostal and other nondenominational churches because a liturgy is simply the action of worship whether Charismatic and flamboyant or high Church.)  The Christian liturgy is engaging people in their desire for love by activity that directs their desire towards the Kingdom of God. 

In the final chapter of Desiring the Kingdom Smith turns his attention to Christian education which is admittedly part of the reason he wrote this book.  I will close this blog with a quote from this concluding chapter A Christian University is for Lovers:

“Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn’t actually touch my desire, and that while I might be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market?  By reducing the genius of Christian faith to something like an intellectual framework—a “perspective” or a “worldview”—we can (perhaps unwittingly) unhook Christianity from the practices that constitute Christian discipleship.  And when that happens, we end up thinking that being a Christian doesn’t radically reconfigure our desires and our wants, our practices and our habits… To be blunt, our Christian colleges and universities generate and army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive their SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder “from a Christian perspective”(P.218).

In conclusion, I found Desiring the Kingdom to offer fresh and insightful perspective on issues of faith and culture which have become so bogged down in the wrong kinds of debates in recent years.  The biggest weakness I found in this book was in terms of the practical ways of implementing this approach of steering desire towards God’s kingdom.  But perhaps this shows Smith’s gifting more as a philosopher than practitioner.  For my part I will definitely be wrestling with these ideas and their implications for a good while as I endeavor to connect people with the kingdom of God in my little corner of the world.

Wrestling With Genesis

A few years back I read the compelling book The Language of God  by Francis Collins who spearheaded the Human Genome Project which became the first group of scientists to map out a complete sequence of human DNA in 2003.
In The Language of God, Collins writes of his faith journey as it has happened alongside his journey as a scientist and how he has come to deal with some of the major questions that folks of faith seem to be wrestling with in recent years, the biggest question having to do with the creation narrative of Genesis 1-3.  While Collins is thoroughly convinced that there is a God (and furthermore that Jesus is God) he is also thoroughly convinced (largely by his research on DNA) that evolution is the means  God used to create this world (he refers to this concept of deistic evolution as Biologos).  Collins doesn't see science and faith as ways of thinking and believing that are at odds with one another but rather has come to see that there can be great harmony.   I stumbled across a website called Biologos.org founded by Collins that seeks to pursue a path of harmony between science and faith rather than pitting one against another.  What drew me to the site were a couple of videos I stumbled across on Youtube which I have included below.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Christmas Songs (in no particular order)

One of my favorite things about this time of the year is Christmas music.  In recent years I have made quite a hobby of collecting Christmas songs, especially more obscure ones as I endeavor to put together the most awesome Christmas music mixes.  So… I thought I might share my top current top 20 favorites.  This list contains some classic renderings, some great originals, and some quirkier carols by some folks you have likely never heard of.  Read the list and let me know any you think should be on it.

1. Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty
What can I say about this one?  I love Tom Petty and he captures the childlike celebration of Christmas in this great little tune.  As with other Tom Petty songs, it’s brilliance lies in its simple straightforward songwriting.  This is a must have for any Christmas music mix

2. Silent Night – Kenny Burrell
I love me some Kenny Burrell!  This understated and slightly bluesy jazz guitarist is one of my favorites and what he does to Christmas songs is just tasty!  While I love most all of his Christmas tunes this one in particular captures what he does best.

3. Here Comes Santa Clause – Los Strait Jackets
While this song is kind of a gimmicky instrumental mixture of music that lands somewhere between alternative rock and surf music it is quite a festive rendering of this Christmas classic that is sure to liven up any Christmas party.

4. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause – John Melloncamp
I haven’t been the biggest John Melloncamp fan, but like the Tom Petty song at the top of this list, this catches Melloncamp at his best.

5. I Pray on Christmas – Blind Boys of Alabama
While I love the original by Harry Connick Jr. these guys just kick it up a notch with a little help from one of my favorite organ players – John Medeski.  This one is gritty and soulful and makes me smile.

6. Blue Christmas/ Let it Snow – Gypsy Hombres
I stumbled across this gem of a gypsy-jazz band a couple of years ago.  Their album Django Bell has some amazing interpretations of Christmas standards done in the gypsy jazz style made famous by Django Reinhardt.  This little medly of Blue Christmas and Let it Snow is really cool (so is the whole album though).

7. Christmas Time is Here – Erin O’Donnell
While I have heard many covers of this classic from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Erin O’Donnell has turned out my favorite version.  Her voice just works with this melody.  Beautiful!

8. My Favorite Things – Dave Brubeck
I can think of very few songs that fit Brubeck like this one with it syncopated rhythms and well crafted melodies

9. O Come All Ye Faithful – Chris Potter
This version of O Come All Ye Faithful is performed solo on sax with some beautiful improvisations around the melody.  Very creative take on this classic without being gimmicky.

10. Sleigh Ride – From Christmas Grass featuring Cody Kilby, Darrin Vincent, Joe Caverlee, Rob Ickes & Scott Vestal
Christmas bluegrass?  Yep!  You’d be surprised by how well Christmas music works in the realm of bluegrass.  This track is one of many excellent tracks in the Christmas Grass collection which really captures the dynamic of mandolins, bajo, acoustic guitar and sleigh bells.

11. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan
While I would have never thought of putting these artists together on a Christmas song but this is just crazy enough that it works.

12. Feliz Navidad – Los Lonely Boys
Growing up in west Texas I got way too much of this song in my childhood.  Thankfully Texican group Los Lonely Boys have breathed fresh air into this otherwise hoaky song.  I love the Texas Blues treatment that they bring to this tune.  This is the way the song needs to be played!

13. Peace is Here – Jars of Clay
Last year Jars of Clay released truly one of the best modern Christmas Albums simply titled Christmas Songs.  Peace is Here is an original that really adds life to this genre of holiday music with an amazingly well-crafted song.

14. Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
This one is just hard to improve upon.

15. Merry Christmas Baby (3 Versions) – Otis Redding, Charles Brown and Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King
I love this song but I can’t make up my mind which version I like best so I have listed 3 versions and they all find their way into my Christmas mixes.  Buy all three and you won’t be disappointed!

16. O Come All Ye Faithful – Wynton Marsalis
Of all the songs on Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card I love this simple solo piano track the most.  Nothing flashy here in this simple piece that somehow captures the hope and reverence of the Christmas story in such an understated way.

17. Sleigh Ride – Relient K
This band obviously has some fun turning out their Alternative Punk infused Christmas tunes.  Sleigh Ride is just fun!

18. O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Sixpence None the Richer
Sixpence treats this song with great care and really capture the feel of the words in this Christmas classic.

19. O Tannenbaum – Vince Guaraldi Trio
My favorite track from the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

20. The First Noel – Over the Rhine
Over the Rhine has a knack for turning out really great Christmas songs.  This song, unlike most of their holiday songs, is an instrumental which is built around a cello as it’s centerpiece in this darker and reflective Christmas tune.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You Are God

Wrestling With the Lord's Prayer

A few weeks back I posed a question on the line from the Lord's Prayer "Lead us not into temptation" - Is temptation from God or the Devil?  ...So after wrestling and reading and dialogue with others on the subject I got some ideas together which I put into my message at Northshore Vineyard last weekend.  You can listen to it on iTunes here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Where Are You Going?

Last week I went back to the Vineyard Church of Kenner to speak as a guest speaker.  It was great to be back and to see all of our friends.  Here is a link to audio from the message I gave there called Where Are You Going.  

Thursday, November 04, 2010

God Takes Care of The Schroeder’s Day

As many of you who read this blog know back in July I had a heart attack.  Fortunately I made it to the hospital before things got too out of hand and by the next day I was having an angiogram which lead to two angioplasties as well as one stint being put in my artery.  While I have been in good health since the procedure, I have been wondering how the heck we were ever going to pay the hospital bill of over ninety three thousand dollars because for the first time in many years we did not have any health insurance.  It’s not that we didn’t want insurance or that we had not tried to get it because we had been trying for months before the heart attack but to no avail. 
The only thing I could do after my hospital stay was to apply for the hospital’s compassion program and pray for mercy.  So that’s what I did.  Back in August I put my best writing skills to work on crafting a letter to the hospital explained our situation and asked simply for their mercy.  I submitted the letter along with my application and tax returns hoping that my plea would come before someone in power who was in a merciful frame of mind only to find out that the process was mainly done by computers that crunch numbers.  According to the number crunching it looked like the best we could hope for would be getting maybe forty percent of the bill covered.  While that would be welcome, it would still be a debt I would likely be paying for the rest of my life.
But on Monday this week I got some great news!  The financial counselor called and told me that the hospital had agreed to cancel the whole debt.  Yep, the whole thing!!   At first I thought I had misunderstood the lady so I had her repeat herself slowly.  I was truly dumbfounded!  I don’t think that I have ever experienced such an act of mercy in my life!  It was as if I had cheated death and won the lottery!  Supercool!!
…So after doing my end-zone dance and calling several people who had been walking with us through this I began to ponder how we could rightly celebrate such a blessing.  My mind immediately turned to the Old Testament and how children of Israel would celebrate a feast to commemorate God’s rescue and how that celebration would be a part of their yearly calendar from that day forward (one example would be Passover).  So that’s what we were going to do.  That evening we decided that we would have a dinner and thank God and remember the way he has taken care of our family. 
After considering a list of restaurants we needed to go to a restaurant we had never been to as a family so that our experience would be new and fresh.  We opted for a nice Chinese restaurant.  We all put on our Sunday best (which for a Vineyard Church means jeans and a button down shirt) and headed to dinner.  After ordering our food I pulled out the Bible and read from Matthew 6 where Jesus instructs his followers not to worry about their daily needs of food, housing or clothes but to seek God’s kingdom first and trust that he will take care of us. 
This has been a key scripture for our family since we decided to plant the church.  I remember first reading these words of Jesus to the kids just weeks after deciding that we were going to plant a church on the North Shore.  It was a night when my daughter was crying because she was going to be moving and all of the things she loved about where we lived.  I remember sharing those verses with her that night telling her that we were going to trust Jesus to take care of all of the things that matter to us believing that he would.   
As we sat around the table at that Chinese restaurant that night we recounted how God has come through in amazing ways to not only move us to the North Shore but in leading us to a place to live, and bringing new friends into our lives and protecting and providing for us as he had done most recently with this debt being cancelled.  It was a beautiful time of reflections on a year that has been filled with struggles and trials but at the same time God’s overwhelming care and faithfulness.
That night, November 1, was our first observing of this new family celebration we are calling God Takes Care of the Schroeders Day.  We intend to keep this day in our calendar as a day to remember God in future years. 
Just a closing thought…  A friend of mine mentioned today how when the children of Israel would refer to God as Jehovah-who-heals or Jehovah-who-provides it was not merely a confession of what they were hoping to see of God but rather a name based on a specific experience with God.  In other words, the name came after God rescued, healed and provided for his people.  In the story of our family, we have a new name for God that is based on what he has done in our lives – God-Who-Takes –Care-of-Us.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Temptation: From the Devil or From God?

In the last few weeks I have been doing a series of teachings at Northshore Vineyard on The Lord's Prayer covering one line of the prayer at a time each week.  Last week I did a message on ...Give us this day our daily bread.  Next weekend I will be turning my attention to the one line which seems, at least on the surface, to be a bit problematic, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

I have to admit that I haven't thought much of this being a difficult passage when I pray the Lord's Prayer because I typically just lump it under the heading of keep me safe from evil, but someone recently did ask me about what seems to be an apparent contradiction between asking God to not lead us into temptation and the verses in James chapter 1 that speak of God tempting no one.

So how's about a little theological wrestling?  What do you think Jesus is getting at in the Lord's Prayer when he implores us to pray "lead us not into temptation"?  Is this more a matter of God helping us in temptation to not fail when tested or are we really asking God to not put anything in front of us that might cause us to sin?  I have some ideas on this but I will keep them to myself for the moment.

By the way here's a little wrestling I did on the subject of temptation a while back on this blog
: Lead Us Not Into Temptation...

SNL Skits Should Not Become Movies

I don’t usually watch Saturday Night Live that much these days but have certainly been a sporadic fan over the years of certain skits and characters particularly the classic episodes featuring John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray and Dan Akroid.  But one thing I have come to hold as a rule: SNL skits make lousy movies (the one exception that comes to mind is The Blues Brothers).  It’s one thing to make people laugh for 3-4 minutes in a show of short skits but quite another to develop those same characters and plot into something that actually works as a full-length feature film. 
The Blues Brothers is one exception to the rule.

While I am generally pretty good at keeping this principle in mind when I watch movies I occasionally get sucked into an SNL skit-turned-movie by the previews.  Unfortunately this happened last night.  I dropped by our local Walgreens to pick up some dark chocolate and noticed the new Red Box DVD rental out in front.  I figured paying a dollar for a DVD was pretty low risk.  Well, after renting MacGruber, the movie made from the SNL skit parody of McGyver I want my dollar back!  The previews actually made it seem like it would be pretty good.  But the previews truly had the only funny parts.  I would offer further review of the movie but I honestly don’t want to waste anymore of my time on it.

So here’s the question of the day:  
  • What is the worst SNL skit-turned-movie that you have come across?  
  • The second question: is there an SNL skit that actually worked as a movie?

Monday, October 25, 2010


Courtesy Allen Young

After many years of studying all kinds of diet fads from low carb to high carb to fat free to the cave man diet, the secret to losing weight has finally been verified and it boils down to the rather obvious solution of either reducing caloric intake or increasing calorie burning (exercise) or both.  I have been wondering if that same principle might be applied to the information we take in as well.  What happens to our brains when we get too much information?  I have recently found it increasingly hard to keep up with the handful of blogs and online discussions that I am a part of, as well as the RSS reader, my podcast subscriptions, the 5-10 books I may be reading at any given moment in addition to all the other noise and clatter from TV, cell phones, and radio.   Sometimes I think I am suffering from a bad case of Too Much Information.  It’s not that the information is bad or not useful it’s just that, like the food we consume, at some point my brain can’t do much with it and it just turns to mental flab.  I think I need to either go on an information diet or start setting aside more time to write so that I can turn this flab into mental muscle.

On my days off I am fond of sitting on my back porch with my pipe and a good book however lately I have found that I don’t even want to read because the sound of the birds and the wind through the trees is just too beautiful and serene to mess up with the words of people.  So I’ve been doing a lot of sitting and staring and getting quiet when I get the chance.  When the noise outside fades I can finally truly hear again.

The apostle Paul once wrote, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”  I’m a big fan of knowledge and information but without love, without connection, without action they ten to leave me a little bloated. 

So here’s a couple of questions:
  • Do you feel like you are sometimes drowning in a sea of Too Much Information?
  • How do you turn your mental flab into something of substance?
  • Do you ever find it helpful to cut back on your intake of information?

Monday, October 18, 2010

God is Not a White Man

I stumbled across this one today.  Great stuff!

Book Review - Lost + Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair

I recently picked up Lost + Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair after reading a review of the book and interview with author David Trotter on my friend Chad Estes’ blog.  As one who has been in ministry for years and has certainly experienced not too pleasant experiences along the way I was very interested in any insights Trotter might have both on the preventative side and for those who have gone through a similar ordeal.

Lost + Found is a cautionary tale of ministry and infidelity that centers around David Trotter, a pastor of ten years who, after planting a church just 5 years before, finds himself burned out, unfulfilled in both his marriage and ministry and experiencing romantic feelings for his wife’s best friend.  The story that ensues is a heart-breaking story of a man who throws away everything: his marriage, his family, and even his church for the fantasy of romantic love.  Trotter tells this story sparing very little of the sordid details by including journal entries, letters he wrote to his wife and his mistress, and tales of conflicts he experienced with many in his congregation over his self-destructive decisions.  The story is often painful to read as David recounts his feelings for another woman while on a mission trip and the eventual ensnaring of his heart by the subsequent affair.

While I have known plenty of people in ministry who have committed adultery, Trotter’s account really seeks to get at some of the motivation behind why a pastor would leave his wife, kids, and church for the arms of another.  While Trotter doesn't pin his infidelity on any one cause he is very clear that he was living in a very toxic environment built on his own lack of living within boundaries as a key factor in setting the stage for adultery.  As he mentions early on the foundation for this toxic environment was the idolatry of ministry.  As he writes ministry was his mistress long before he ever cheated on his wife.  The Bible quite often uses adultery as a picture of idolatry and this picture is very clear in Trotter’s story.  What started with looking to ministry for life, purpose, and meaning ended with David’s betrayal of his wife, kids, friends, family and the very church he built from the ground up. 

As I read the story I couldn’t help but think of my own struggles with living beyond God given limits, of looking to work for meaning and purpose, of rationalizing overwork as something spiritual, and of the times when I became disconnected from my wife, kids, and even my own heart because I was so burned out.  Lost + Found is a good reminder of why it is so important to tend to our lives and relationships daily by setting aside time and space for the things that truly matter.  I can only hope that his story will connect with many in the ministry who are struggling with similar issues before they suffer the same kind of fate. 

While the story ultimately ends in a redemptive place with David’s relationship restored to his wife and kids, it struck me as a little odd that he would write this story so quickly after the events happened.  Much of what he writes about happened less than 2-3 years ago.  While I am grateful for the restoration of his marriage and family and for his newfound humility and brokenness it seems a bit too fresh to write as though it is all just fine and dandy now.  If anything this book really strikes me as sort of a part one of a much larger story that will hopefully be written in another 5-10 years speaking of God’s continued faithfulness and restoration.  I don’t doubt Trotter’s zeal and passion for this new place and life but I just can’t see deep personal character transformation being over and done with this quick no matter how much he'd like that to be true.   That said,  I think he is definitely on the right track by continuing to meet with a therapist and by staying very close and connected with authentic friends and family as he learns how to live life for the first time in years without the idol of ministry at the center.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unlikely Collaborations that Work Well Part 1- Robert Randolph

Once in a while you come across a wonderfully unexpected combination of things that actually work together.  Last year I wrote a brief review of one such item called Mo’s Bacon Bar, a chocolate bar with smoked bacon.  I was inspired by this idea and tried dipping crispy bacon in Nutella and it was crazy enough that it actually worked!
In the last few weeks I have stumbled across a 3 albums that fit into the category of crazy combinations that actually worked out quite well:  1. We Walk this Road by Robert Randolph and the Family Band, 2. You Are Not Alone by Mavis Staples and 3. Band of Joy by Robert Plant.  While each of these albums are by amazing artists in their own right it is the collaborations with the producers that make each of these projects truly remarkable.  I’ll start off by reviewing The Road We Walk by Robert Randolph and the Family Band and then post separate reviews on Mavis Staples and Robert Plant.
Robert Randolph

My favorite of the three albums I came across recently is Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s We Walk This Road.  I have been a big fan of Robert Randolph since I first heard his patent sacred steel on The Word, a collaboration album with the North Mississippi Allstars and John Medeski.  From that moment I was hooked.  While I have had the opportunity to catch Robert Randolph in concert on one occasion and have all of his albums I have to say that he struck me as someone who was still searching for a sound, an artist who still needed to come into his own.  That moment has arrived on this latest project produced by T-Bone Burnett.  Burnett’s production has a way of bringing Randolph’s pedal steel back to the spiritual roots of gospel music and yet in such a way that it doesn’t sound like a typical retro kind of album.  The album is firmly rooted in the past but very much in the present.  
T-Bone Burnett

This album isn’t simply a major point of growth for Randolph and Company but for T-Bone Burnett as well.  One can hear how the many recording techniques Burnett has been experimenting with over the years from his work with the Coen Brothers on the Ladykiller’s soundtrack to his own solo project The True False Identity has finally developed into a solid sound that is subtly beautiful, soulful, and colorful.  The production is patently low attack eschewing hi-hats and cymbals for shakers and muted drums.  In the end it is hard for me to imagine exactly how this sound would translate into a live show because this definitely strikes me as more of a studio production, yet at the same time T-Bone has really helped Randolph and Family strip their sound down to the bare essentials, the soul of what they have been doing for years.  This could be one of those albums that actually begins to define their sound for the coming years and that would not be a bad thing.

While I find the whole album enjoyable even after repeated listens there are a few stand out tracks - I Still Belong to Jesus is a beautiful song of God's faithfulness even when we stray.  It strikes me as a statement of one who in the last 10 years has jumped headlong into the music business and seen some the vanity of it all and who finds himself drawn back to the love of God that has always held him.  Other standouts include If I Had My Way with special guest Ben Harper, and Traveling Shoes which emerges right out of an archival recording of a blues spiritual (probably something Burnett came across when putting together the soundtrack for O Brother Where Art Thou).

Randolph's previous album Colorblind was a bad case of a producer making a band into something they were not.  The soul and grit of Randolph and the Family got squeezed out in a slick R&B style production that was obviously geared at breaking into the mainstream.  The Road We Walk is just the opposite.  T-Bone Burnett has found what makes this band great and built an album around that.  While I would have never put Burnett with Randolph it turned out to be a great paring.

Blog Apologies

Blogs where people apologize for neglecting their blog are weak... so I won't do that... 

...So can this comment count as a blog post?  
...What if I throw in a cute picture of a cat?
...in a guitar case
...in black and white for artistic effect?

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Real Life Illustration of Loving One's Enemies

Julio Diaz 
Last week I wrote about how Christ-Followers should not treat their suposed enemies using the real life example of Pastore Terry Jones who had planned on burning Korans on September 11 (thankfully he cancelled his plans).  Today I came across a story of someone who actually illustrates a different way of treating one's enemies.
The story, A Victim Treats His Mugger Right,  is of Julio Diaz who when being mugged in a New York subway offered his coat as well and then ended up treating his attacker to dinner.  Following the ways of Jesus doesn't always work out but this is a great picture of what it looks like when it does.  Check out the story and leave your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Muslims, Americans and Jesus Kind of Love

When I was still on staff at the Vineyard Church of Kenner I would speak at the weekend services about once every 6-8 weeks.  On one occasion when it came time for me to speak I was given the text Matthew 5:38-48 as my part of a series on the Gospel of Matthew which we were in at the time.  While I had read these words of Jesus on loving enemies, turning the other cheek, blessing when insulted and so on many times, I quickly realized that I had never, in all my years as a Christian, heard a message on these words of Christ.  I had heard numerous messages on how we should pray against our enemies, on how we need to boycott certain products, or shows, or theme parks, and how we as Christians always need to side with Israel against Muslims when there is any kind of conflict.  I had heard these messages time and time again and never really questioned if there might be a better way, but studying these simple words of Jesus were like a splash of cold water on my soul.  No doubt the reason I had never heard a message on loving your enemies before was because… well… who really wants to do that?  But this is exactly what Jesus did.  He didn’t simply teach about loving enemies but he lived a love for everyone including… his enemies.
Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center

I find myself saddened by reports this week that Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida is planning a “Burn the Koran Day” this Saturday.  I am having difficulty understanding how folks who claim to follow Christ can think that burning sacred books of another religion would be an acceptable way to act.  Book burning has never been a very effective strategy for quelling the opposition, but burning a sacred book from another religion, which by the way has an awful lot of good things to say about Jesus, seems to fly in the face of the very teachings and example of Jesus Christ himself. 
Let’s remember that in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry the dominant religion in the Roman Empire was a form of paganism that combined worshipping ancestors, idols, and temple prostitution with a civil religion that viewed the Emperor as the very son of God.  If there was ever a religion at odds with the teachings of Jesus it was Rome and yet Jesus did not once pick a fight with Roman religion.  Jesus was simply about his father’s business, bringing the kingdom of God to bear in this world through healing the sick, setting the oppressed free, loving the outcast, and preaching the good news. 

Hegel, the German Philosopher once wrote, “What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”  Unfortunately the same can be said of the church.  From the days of Constantine Christians have been picking up their swords to fight and kill those of other religions and many times other Christians with differing views.  The truth is much of the tension we see today between Islam and Christianity no doubt goes back to the crusades when Christians, ignoring the teachings and example of Jesus, willingly participated in the killing of untold numbers of Muslims and Jews.  I can’t help but wonder how differently history might have played out if the majority of Christians would have actually endeavored to live these teachings of Jesus concerning loving enemies. 

There is no more scandalously beautiful picture of God in the Bible than when Jesus, dying on the cross, prayed “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”  In the moment when Jesus was facing the wrath of fundamentalist Judaism and the brutality of the Roman Empire he didn’t hate in return or retaliate.  The sacrifice of Jesus in that moment seemed like absolute weakness to the rest of the world but it was the very power of God destroying once and for all the curse of sin and death.  Jesus kind of life and love doesn’t ignore evil but it does not perpetuate evil either.  If this pastor Terry Jones from Dove World Outreach Ministries goes ahead with his International Burn a Koran Day he will only be adding fuel to the fire which will result in perpetuating evil.   What's worse is that he is failing to recognize our true enemy, the one who loves to see Christians eaten up with contempt, arrogance, and hatred for others. 

I will close with some lyrics from U2 that I ran on a recent post that seem particularly poignant at this moment:

“They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you
…Jesus can you take the time
throw a drowning man a line
peace on earth”  From Peace on Earth by U2
I ask that you would join me in praying for the following:
  1. The church in America, that we could return to our first love and be that love to the world around us.
  2. For the situations of contention between Muslims and Christians in this country whether the proposed building of the Islamic Community Center near ground zero or this National Burn the Koran Day.  Pray for the people on all sides of this conflict.  Pray that God would reveal himself and that the true enemy, the god of this age who blinds the hearts of men, would not prevail.   
  3. Finally let’s pray for our own hearts to be filled with the love of God and empowered by the Spirit of God that we could truly exemplify the Jesus kind of life and love to the world around us today.  

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Best Questions Come From My Daughter

It was around 9:30 in the evening when I heard Dina’s voice calling from the other room, “Crispin, can you come here?  Tevia has some questions”
 “Okay, coming…” I said nonchalantly, having no idea the heady questions I was about to be asked by my, then 6-year-old, daughter.  When I sat down on her bed she proceeded to ask the fundamental question that philosophers have wrestled with since the days of Plato and Aristotle, “Daddy, why are we here?” 
The question was eerily similar to a question posed on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond by Raymond’s own daughter.  My answer was maybe slightly more nuanced and hopefully a bit more helpful than Raymond’s but boy was I caught off guard by that one.  I guess I had expected that Tevia would ponder these kind of existential questions once she was in high school or college but not at age 6… come on that’s just not fair!  It’s one thing to banter about philosophical ideas with fellow college students or friends but quite another when you are trying to discuss abstract concepts about purpose and meaning with a child.  So that evening I stumbled through my answer for probably longer than I should have before telling her good night and heading to bed but I knew from that point on that I was in for serious challenges in the coming years with my daughter’s search for truth and meaning.  Though I certainly prefer my son’s easier questions concerning Luke Skywalker, superheroes and bodily noises, I really appreciate my daughter’s willingness to think deeply about life and to be honest with her questions.

Not long ago Dina called me to my daughter’s room for another series of questions.  This time her questions were more theological in nature.  She started with questions about the virgin birth and then moved to the doctrine of the Trinity and then to questions involving evolution and the story of Genesis.  These were great questions—questions that I have wrestled with for many years myself.   We probably talked for about 30 minutes as I tried to answer her questions the best I could without shutting down her quest for the truth with pat religious answers.  In the end I shared how I still struggle with some of the same questions particularly on the harmony between science and the scriptures but that ultimately I don’t think God is scared of our questions.  Actually I think questions are a serious component of vibrant faith.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a good parent when it comes to spiritual things because I don’t have so many concrete answers for my kids.  I wasn’t always this way.  If my kids had the version of their dad that existed in my early years as a Christian I would likely have more solid answers for every question they could ask.  As a new Christian the world was much more black and white.  I knew all of the answers and could spout them off chapter and verse.  But as my faith has been tried and tested in numerous ways from intellect to emotions, from relationships to spirituality, I have come to see that everything is not so black and white as it once seemed.  I realize that I don’t have all of the answers anymore.  Truth be told, at this stage in my spiritual journey I have more questions than ever.  I am realizing that God cannot fit into the small religious thinking—the tidy pat answers that I used to offer folks on a moments notice.  I guess I have come to believe that how you think is just as important as what you think.  Over the years I have seen kids who grew up being taught what to think only and who were never encouraged to ask questions who eventually grew up to be extreme fundamentalists or rebels (or oftentimes fundamentalists atheists… the worst kind of rebel).  I don’t think that our world needs more fundamentalist extremists or rebels but sincere Jesus followers who love others even when they are enemies, who consider the needs of others whether poverty, sickness, or alienation, who are marked not by ideology but by humility, love and grace. 

In the end my answer to my daughter’s questions went something like this:
I believe the whole point of the first 2 chapters of Genesis is simply that God created everything, and that it all started good… really good and that God made man woman in his own image with a purpose and a plan.  That is the main point!  The author of Genesis wasn’t trying to answer the scientific questions of our modern rationalistic world.  So whether the earth is ten thousand or ten billion years old, I believe God is the one behind it.  As for science, I am a big fan and I don’t see my spirituality to be at odds with science, in fact the very complexities of science are to me the very handy-work of our creator.  In the end I encouraged my daughter to not waist time arguing with people over these kinds of issues but rather to keep a heart open to God. 

A few weeks after our “deep” theological discussion Tevia began to open up with Dina and I about a hard time she was having with someone at her school.  Over the next hour or so of we were able to talk about the very words of Jesus concerning loving enemies, forgiveness, and peace in the midst of struggle.  These topics were not abstract at all.  They were the stuff of everyday life—the simple struggles we face each day that over time can end up defining us.  We talked about how hard it is to walk in the truth of Jesus but how it is the path to freedom and love.  We closed by praying for this person she was having trouble with and praying for God to give Tevia the grace to love and not hate, to forgive instead of getting bitter.  When we finally put her to bed that evening I walked away thankful for the gift of her questions, particularly the questions of that evening.  I realized that though I may not have sufficient answers to all of the theological, philosophical, and scientific issues of our day, she is being lead in the path of Jesus in her everyday life.  I am betting that this is ultimately what matters most.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Who Reads Newspapers Anymore Anyway? A Partial Review of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

I have been reading a really fascinating book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.  Building upon the insights of media and communications guru Marshall McLuhan who most famously proclaimed, “The media is the message”, Carr makes the very compelling case that information technologies are not neutral in the way they convey information but actually rewire our brains through their continued use.  Carr writes a fascinating history of information and communication from the first written words on clay tablets in ancient Samaria to some of the first written alphabetical languages such as Greek to the invention of paper, books and the printing press.  With each technological jump in media there has also been changes in the way that humans think.  Carr writes of how we are in a major revolution between linear thought, largely a byproduct of reading books and printed media, to nonlinear thought brought about by the internet with its much more concise bits of information hyperlinked and connected to worlds of other information.  He makes the case that for all of the benefits of being able to efficiently sift through information through the web we are losing our ability for deep reading and reflection.  As I read this book I can’t help but think of an illustration of this phenomenon in Sarah Palin’s now infamous interview with Catie Couric in the 2008 presidential campaign.
In September 2008 Catie Couric questioned Palin on what newspapers she regularly reads.  Her now famous answer “most of them,” “all of them” and “any of them” quickly became fodder for blogs and political pundits, particularly those on the left, who saw this as a major strike against her ability to lead the country.  But I found myself wondering why this was such a big deal.  Sure I found it odd how she got so uncomfortable trying to answer that question and to come up with some kind of answer as to where she gets her news, but I seriously wondered if reading print newspapers has anything to do with leadership ability.  The question seemed to me to be very outdated, very behind the times.  I remember thinking to myself, “who actually reads newspapers these days anyway when you have the internet?”  That question seemed about as relevant as asking Palin what top 5 CDs might have in her CD changer.

As a musician and recording artist I am a big fan of full albums and rarely buy single songs through iTunes yet I know I am in the minority.  As much as I may mourn the loss of full albums on the iPods of most Americans, I certainly would not judge a person on their lack of CDs or full albums.  Perhaps Palin would have done better to answer the question with “Who reads newspapers anymore anyway?  I get my news from the internet and TV the way most other red-blooded Americans do!”  While that kind of answer might have been spun to ridiculous lengths by her opponents, it would have certainly expressed solidarity with the majority of the voting public (statistics bear this out).

I have to admit that I have never been much of a newspaper reader, even before the internet.  The truth is that I have read a whole lot more articles that have appeared in newspapers via the web than I ever did before the Web.  I reckon that even my thoughts on this issue demonstrate how much this technological revolution has affected the way I think.  While I haven’t finished The Shallows yet (partly because I keep checking my email and Facebook status updates ;-), I am quite certain that Carr is on to something.  While I certainly have benefitted from the wealth of information at my fingertips, I am finding that it is getting increasingly harder to make room for reflection and contemplation in my life or to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time.  If Carr offers any solutions to this phenomenon, I haven’t read them yet but hopefully I won’t bee too distracted by the technologies in my life to read this book to the end. 

So here’s a couple of questions to wrestle with:
  • When the technology of our modern world is ever pushing us to distractions and fragmentation how might we be able to succeed in carving out more space for reflection and contemplation?
  • Is there anything that works for you in this regard?


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The 20 Best U2 Lyrics

I haven’t posted on this blog in over a month.  Honestly I have just been trying to make sense of things and get my bearings again.  I have several posts that I have been working on that mark a return to wrestling but I thought I’d ease back in to the blog with a fun post.  No doubt one of my favorite rock bands is U2.  While I love their music, they quite often have some gems in their lyrics as well.  So in this post I have compiled what are, in my opinion, some of U2’s best lyrical moments.  This list is certainly not exhaustive so read on and let me know if you agree or wish to correct me on anything I left out.  By the way, these are in no particular order of lyrical goodness.

1.    You’re the real thing… even better than the real thing ( Even Better Than The Real Thing)

2.    And I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that (Acrobat)

3.    Sleep comes like a drug in God’s country, sad eyes and crooked crosses in God’s country (In God’s Country)

4.    When she walks on the street you can hear the strings, grace finds goodness in everything, (Grace)

5.    I don’t believe the devil
don’t believe his book
but the truth is not the same
without the lies he made up (God Part 2)

6.    With a mouth full of teeth
you ate all your friends
and you broke every heart
thinking every heart mends (Crumbs from Your Table)

7.    Here’s what we gotta be
love and community
laughter is eternal if joy is real (Get on Your Boots)

8.    I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one bleed into one
Yes I’m still running. (Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

9.    Love rescue me,
come forth and speak to me
raise me up and don’t let me fall
no man is my enemy,
my own hands imprison me,
love rescue me.
(Love Rescue Me)

10. Only love, only love can leave such a mark,
but only love, only love can heal such a scar (Magnificent)

11. Got the swing
Got the sway
Got my straw in lemonade
Still looking for the face I had before the world was made (Mofo)

12. Early morning April Fourth,
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky,
free at last they took your life
but they could not take your pride in the name of love,
What more in the name of love? (In the Name of Love)

13. Where I grew up
There were no trees
Where there were
We’d cut them down
And use them on our enemies

They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you

…Jesus can you take the time
throw a drowning man a line
peace on earth
(Peace on Earth)

14. The heart is a bloom
it shoots up through the stony ground. (Beautiful Day)

15. Like coming home
and you don’t know where you’ve been
like black coffee, like nicotine
I need Your Love (Hawkmoon 269)

16. Sweet the sin
Bitter the taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out
You gotta cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice
You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
And floated outta here (Running to Stand Still)

17. Red lights, grey morning
You stumble out of a hole in the ground
A vampire or a victim
It depends on who’s around (Stay (Far Away, So Close)

18. I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see (Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of)

19. You’re packing a suitcase for a place that none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen (Walk On)

20. I wanna run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wan to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name (Where the Streets Have No Name)