Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 Stories About 4 Women

I had a fantastic day.

There was quality time with family and friends, travel into San Francisco on an amazingly beautiful December day, and two great stories that, well, were great.

At the risk of sounding incredibly un-masculine, the first story was the musical "Wicked" and the movie "Julie and Julia." Both of these stories focused on two women and I am increasingly becoming an advocate of trying to immerse yourself is stories about people who are different than you in some way. Gender seems like an obvious place to start.
"Wicked" was rad. That's kind of all there is to it. I am listening to "Defying Gravity" right now and will probably have it stuck in my head for a good long while.
I already knew the song, but I had never seen it in context. It is totally intense and I cried.

This will not be the first time I tell you of how I cried today.

Imagine that what you think is the real story of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the propaganda told by the winning side. Oz was becoming an increasingly oppressive Kingdom for the animals and munchkins. Elphaba, who would become the wicked witch of the west, caught on and began to take a stand against it. I'll try not to say any more of the plot, which has some great new twists on the origins of the beloved characters from the story, because it was fun to discover it and try to guess what was going to happen. I was right some of the time and totally wrong on others.

But what was really compelling to me was the arcs of the two main characters, Elphaba and GAH-linda. They both have to respond to the larger forces of the world crushing their idealism and innocence. One has it done to them and the other watches and must realize and atone for her part in it.

After watching it, I immediately wanted to see it again to catch all I missed. Wow that was a great show. I do not go to enough things like that. I forget how much I love them and how inspired they make me feel. Somewhere someone thought that show up and years later, it was made and now people all over the world get to experience it and have their lives enriched by it.

That is called Culture Making people! And speaking of that . . .

I also sat down and watched "Julie and Julia" with my mom. She is feeling pretty sick so this was kind of a no brainer. Sick mom at Christmas + movie I haven't seen = you gotta watch it.

It was a nice change from the intensity of the story in Wicked, but I think I was still worked up from it so I got teary eyed a couple of times. What got me was watching Julie and Julia find joy in the creative act of cooking and sharing that joy with others. And Meryl Streep is amazing. I also just saw "Doubt."

At every turn, someone was telling her that her vision of the french cookbook for americans was not good enough. But she knew that it had to be the way it was and eventually someone was able to understand it and understand her. The scenes where she found out they wanted to publish it and then when she received the copy of the book were so full of joy that I just gave in.

I also really enjoyed Amy Adams' character just going for it and trying something crazy. Over 500 recipes in a year. Not bad. Kind of makes me want to try something like that. I love how her big goal was just a series of short term goals because she knew that she had a tendency to start things and not finish. Hmm, sounds like someone I know.

Anyone have any ideas of crazy things I could do like that?

Oh, and let's hear it for the husbands in that movie! Talk about supportive, encouraging, lay your life down type guys (with some minor hiccups. Nobody's perfect.). They were their wives biggest fans and advocates. Loved it.

A good story is a good story. I just typed that sentence and accidentally typed "A good story is a God story." Maybe I had a point there. hmmmmmmm . . .

Merry Christmas you old savings and loan!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Following Mary

I was prepping a teaching I am going to be doing next week on the Advent Conspiracy when I felt compelled to stop and reflect on what I was reading. There was this overwhelming urge for me to process what I was discovering. There is quite literally no one around right now for me to talk to so writing into the void is the next best thing. This post is me getting a chance to "think out loud."

Advent Conspiracy is an attempt from a few pastors (though it has grown much bigger) to get back to the radical roots of the Christmas story. How did the story of God coming down as a helpless baby to a poor and oppressed people to set them and the rest of humanity free from the bondage of sin get turned into a season of mass consumerism?

A great question.

Anyway, in the book they wrote, one of the first things they do is talk about Mary, Jesus' mother. She kind of jumped of the page. She jumped and started going somewhere, so I followed her. Mary made me remember that though there are many aspects to the story of God's redemption, one that we often forget in the wealthy west is the socio-political.

Mary was a young middle-eastern teenager of an oppressed and poor people. She grew up in a religious culture that had deep roots and affected almost every aspect of life. There was a foreign superpower occupying her country trying to bring their version of peace to her people by means of overwhelming military might. In her culture, at the time that Gabriel announced to her what would happen, she was about as powerless as a person could be.

Sometimes I like to think about who certain characters in the Gospels would be if the story were told in our day. Zaccheus becomes the leader of a prostitution ring and the pharisees become, well, me most of the time but that is another story.

But tonight, Mary didn't change. I think it is totally appropriate to think of her as a young, unwed teenager in our culture. Tonight, in 2009, she was a young middle-eastern teenager of an oppressed and poor people. She grew up in a religious culture that had deep roots and affected almost every aspect of life. There was a foreign superpower occupying her country trying to bring their version of peace to her people by means of overwhelming military might.

Maybe the only thing that changed was the location. She moved from Nazareth to a village outside of Baghdad.

Mary is still around today. The similarities of the story are undeniable. If it happened again today, it would not surprise me to learn that it happened in Iraq.

But that puts me in an awkward position if I want to put myself into the Christmas Story.

I am not a Shepherd.

I am not a Magi.

I am not Joseph.

My country is occupying Mary's country. My country is trying to impose (for good or ill. Time will tell) its own version of peace primarily through the use of its military.

That makes me a citizen of Rome.

The people of Rome were totally oblivious to the birth of Christ. How would they have known? They were focused on the emperor. He was the Son of God to them. He was their hope. He was their salvation.

The only way a Roman citizen would begin to understand the significance of the birth of Christ would be to go to Israel. They would have to learn about the history of the Jewish people. They would have to choose into the suffering of those people (a difficult thing to do as they were largely responsible for it; they and people like them through history) to get a sense of the longing for redemption.

A curious sense of dread sets in. We have a god over here in America too. No, I don't think it is the president. He doesn't have the kind of power that Caesar had. I think our god is consumerism. Our consumerism oppresses people all over the world. We have no idea what we are doing. I am sure many of the normal citizens of Rome had no idea of what they were doing either.

If I really want to understand this story I claim to be true, then do I have to intentionally seek out the poor and oppressed? That seems to me to be the place where all the significant parts of the story play out.

That's where Mary is. That's where Jesus was born.

Why do I think that Jesus was born in that manger and then moved into the suburbs to hang out with rich comfortable people?

What story do I really believe? What story I am living? Am I worshiping Caesar or Jesus? Who is Lord?

I could probably go on for a while. This is only the beginning of the conversation and the process. There is so much more to say and so many things I totally didn't even bring up so I am going to stop here.

That is where Mary led me tonight. Thanks Mary. I needed that. What next?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gospel According to Halo

This idea comes after spending WAY too much time playing video games in the last two days. It was birthed in the real world during a conversation over Qdoba burritos with my housemate, Ross.

So Ross and I were briefly thinking about why we play so much video games. We thought about what exactly it is about them that makes us and a lot of other (mostly) guys play them so much. I think there is something about staring at a screen that messes with your brain and gets you addicted but that isn't going to preach very well now is it? But there must be something about the games themselves that makes us so into them.

I think that video games offer us compelling and exciting escapes from our normal, mundane, uninteresting lives. Video games have epic stories of which we are the center, interesting characters that share the story with us (this is multiplied when you factor in online gaming), clear objectives, an empowered existence, and finally, resurrection. There are other things, but those are the first five that I thought of.

Epic Stories

Halo is about saving earth from an evil race of aliens bent on destroying us. Assassin's Creed is about uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy surrounding the foundations of everything it means to be human. Call of Duty is about stopping the outbreak of World War 3. Shoot, Super Mario Brothers is about the rescue of a princess from an evil Dinosaur and restoring peace an prosperity to an entire Kingdom of strange toadstool people.

The things we do in video games are important. Our success means the human race survives. Or it means the toads get to live in peace. Either way, we are part of something big and significant. The world of video games is a world where things matter.

I wonder if we experience a lack of this in our own lives. Do we see ourselves caught up in an epic story where our actions contribute to the redemption and restoration of this world? Do our lives matter?

Scripture would tell us that yes, our lives matter. They matter immensely. And we ARE caught up in the greatest story the world has ever and will ever know. It is THE story upon which every other story is based. And we are living it.

It is the story of God creating the world. Of God and human beings working together to make something beautiful and good out of it.

It is the story of the rebellion. When humans chose to go their own way and not listen to the one who gave them life. And the consequences that followed.

It is the story of God's rescue plan. He called out a people all for himself who would begin to push back on the rebellion but who would ultimately become a part of it. His plan would not be thwarted. God himself came down as one of the humans. he showed us a better way to live. He started a revolution culminating with his death for the sins of the rebellious humans and his Resurrection. God had brought forth a new creation to push back against the rebellion and bring healing, restoration, renewal, and reconciliation.

It is the story of the people who chose to join the revolution. Those who let new creation transform them and the world around them. They keep pushing back against the rebellion in the hope that one day, Jesus will complete the healing work and make this world good again.

That is a compelling story. Living in that makes our lives matter. It makes our choices important. Everything matters now because we are bringing new creation into the world in the power of God.

That is the story he invites us into. The question is, do we want in?

Interesting Characters

There are a couple of places you could go with this one. You could talk about how the characters in video games are, well, interesting. They often have mysterious pasts. They do what needs to be done. They are not always nice and don't always have the best social skills. Master Chief is not known for his wit. He meets the Arbiter, an alien who is a traitor to his own people because he doesn't agree with them or their nefarious ambitions.

They live lives we wish we could have. The story they find themselves in calls them to live an extraordinary life. They accept the challenge.

Maybe when we are able to see ourselves as part of the story, we will see the ways God is calling us to live an extraordinary life. The story will require much of us and it will transform us. There are no boring people in the Kingdom of God. He will use and transform anyone who makes themselves available.

Another place you could go with this is the rise of multiplayer games. We want to be in the story with others. We want to share the quest with friends. Even if it is racing around rainbow road.

Community needs a purpose. And adventure was never meant to be done alone. In single player games, your character meets up with people who will help them along or reveal more information to them. In mulit-player games, there are actually other people there with us.

God is inviting us to do this adventure together and to deeply know the people who are with us. Who knows what the person sitting next to us might end up becoming? What might God do with them? When we all start letting God transform us, what might we be capable of?

Clear Objectives

I may not know exactly where the story in the game I am playing is going, but I know with certainty what my next objective is. I may not know HOW I am going to achieve it, but I know what the goal is. I have to beat that boss. I have to destroy the outpost. I have to slay the dragon. I have to kill everyone else on the other team. I have to rescue the princess.

There are always bad guys we know we can fight. There is rarely any ambiguity in a video game.

We know the objectives in video games. There is rarely any doubt about what we need to to. There is clarity of purpose.

Our lives are not always so simple. How many times have we wondered what our purpose was? How many times have we not known what we were supposed to do next? How many times have we not known what was harmful to us and what was good?

I think we react differently in these situations. Some people, the go-getters, try to make something happen. They try to create adventure and a compelling story. Sometimes they succeed. Other times, they end up causing a lot of trouble and pain for themselves.

Some people, when they don't know what to do, do nothing. This is me. Actually, when I don't know what to do, I often play video games. Why? Well, there I know what I am supposed to do. I have purpose.

What would it be like to trust God each step of the way? What would it look like to keep his objectives in mind and let those guide us. Love God and love people. Help people around me experience and enter into the new creation that God has brought forth into the world.

What would my days be like if I woke up every morning and reminded myself of God's objectives for myself and for others? What if we started doing that together? Oh man. That would be awesome. The rebellion would totally get PWNED!!!!

Empowered Existence.

Let's face it, in video games you get to do cool stuff. You can run faster, jump higher, and generally do things that no human being will ever be able to do. I just played this game called "prototype." I could shape-shift into any person I wanted to. I could turn my hands into giant claws. I could run up the side of skyscrapers. I could cover the entire length of Manhattan in minutes.

Who doesn't want super powers? When I play a video game, I get to vicariously experience a life where I can stretch beyond the limits of my frail humanity.

When we compare ourselves to Master Chief, Samus, or even Mario (the brother can become invincible, shoot fireballs, ride a dinosaur, FLY, and hold his breath indefinitely underwater!) our lives are quite boring. We can't do things that are on par with that stuff.

And that leaves us stuck doesn't it. If this whole epic story thing is true, what the heck can we do about it? I can't push back the rebellion.

Or can I?

God's rescue plan included Jesus. And Jesus empowered people to proclaim and bring the Kingdom. He gave them authority to do the things he did. He even said his followers would do greater things than he. When you stop and think about that, it is pretty rad. That guy did some cool stuff.

I may never walk on water, but I might be able to be a part of someone realizing the truth of the Gospel. I HAVE been a part of that. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I could get involved with the tangible changing of someone's life. I could become an advocate for people who have no voice.

And this is not to mention gifts the Holy Spirit gives us. I have heard from God in prayer and spoken very significant words to people. That seems pretty dang close to super powers to me. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12-14. When we chose to let God help us build up and encourage others, anything is possible.

Jesus empowers us to be new creations and to bring new creation to the world.

And this brings us to the final point:


Remember when you could run out of lives in a video game and actually have to start over?

Game over has gone the way of the dodo. Now when your character dies, you start over at the last checkpoint. Can you imagine having to get though Halo without dying? That would be SO HAAAAAAARD!!!!

Anyway, video games are built on the idea of resurrection and second chances. Imagin a game where your character died and then you couldn't play the game anymore. That's it. You made a misstep or a mistake, you died, and now you cannot play anymore. You had your chance and you blew it.

That would suck.

Thankfully, that does not happen in video games. No one would play them if that was the case.

But here is the really beautiful part: The fact that you know you can come back means you can take risks. You can try things. You can attempt ridiculous moves in a game because you know that if you fail, you will come back and you can try again.

What if we lived our lives this way? If we were free to fail in the attempt to succeed because we knew we could come back more experienced and try again?

Isn't that what Jesus does? Doesn't he give us second chances? Why don't we risk more? If I was totally free of the fear of failure, I would try all kinds of stuff. And I would epic fail at a lot of it but I wouldn't care! I would know that Jesus was cheering me on and helping me get back up. That is beautiful.

And finally, video gamers know that death is not the end. They know that when their character bites the dust, he will come back. The bad guys in the games cannot EVER succeed because your character can beat death. I can try to complete a level 100 times or more. I will eventually get it. They can't stop me!

Resurrection is built into the fabric of video games and it should be built into the fabric of our faith and our lives. Jesus refuses the game over. It has no power over him. The Covenant and the Koopa Troopas cannot stop him. He came back from the dead and conquered them. He robbed death, our ultimate bad guy, of all its power.

That is the Gospel people!!!

God is inviting us to take part in his epic story together. He is redeeming, restoring, and renewing his creation. He has cut off the rebellion at its source and brought the revolution of new creation. He empowers us to live it out and bring it forth with him. He will be with us no matter what and stick with us to see it through.

The question remains: Do we want in?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Couple of Conversations

There have been a few experiences in my life that I would like to write about dealing with cross-cultural relationships, but I can't seem to find the time to write about them.

"But wait," you say. "What are you doing now?"

Good question. I am going to write about something that happened just a few hours ago because it is fresh. Mmmmmmm. Fresh.

If you follow this blog at all, then you know that I work for a campus ministry called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I love it and when it is good, it is GOOD. Know what I mean?

So tonight I was in the dorm that I hang out in and was with the people I usually hang out with there. There is this crowd that always hangs out in the lounge. I love that too. I have never seen the lounge of a dorm be used as frequently as this one is by as many people as this one is.

Anyway, I ran into a student that I had been meaning to talk to for a long time. He mentioned to me that he used to be a part of a church but left. One day the pastor there made an apology to the congregation (I think) about how he and other Christians had been hypocritical. The guy I was talking to got really offended and left and I guess that was the end of his involvement with the church.

I was a bit confused by this because I have found that when people fess up to their mistakes and apologize and begin to make it right, others generally respond well and are thankful for it. I have done that before and I think it was received positively.

I explained that to him and it seemed like he had never thought of that before. I thought that was a bit strange but it was fun to watch him mull over this new perspective.

We kept talking and he just kind of blurted out that he hates reading the Bible. It just makes him angry.

I understand.

From our perspective, a lot of the things in the Bible seem at best, outdated. At worst they are oppressive and harmful.

I shared with him something that has been helpful for me. Realizing that the Bible was actually revolutionary for its time and pulled its culture forward has tremendously helped my understanding of what it is saying. It is not trying to keep culture from growing. It is forcing it to grow.

I explained how some of the laws concerning women seem a bit off. But if we think about how women were treated before the laws in Leviticus, we become very grateful for the Bible. Women are treated like people with rights. If you rape a woman, you had better be prepared to provide and care for her for the rest of your life. That is a CRAZY idea for the ancient world.

Then when you factor in Jesus, all bets are off.

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." - Galatians 3:28

I am not sure exactly what that passage means, but it is certainly difficult to justify the oppression and dehumanization of anyone after reading it.

This was his response after I said that. I am not even kidding.

"Wow, you just totally made me love Christianity."

WHAT?!?! That . . . just . . . happened.

Oh, we will be having some more conversations. Mark my words.

The next conversation I had happened literally minutes later.

I sat down with some other students and pulled out my computer. I wanted to show them what I talked about last night at our large group meeting because they hadn't been there. I was going over an overview of the story of the Bible using James Choung's True Story method. I created this cool Keynote presentation for it with all kinds of fun graphics. The kids love graphics these days.

I knew a guy who was not a Christian was watching so I was kind of secretly doing it for him. Sneaky.

But when I got done, I turned to him and said "What do you think? As an outsider, what is your opinion?"

"I like it. That is kind of cool. I might have to come back to Bible Study."


Sometimes you don't believe something could ever work and then something like that happens and you realize how little faith you have.

He came to Bible Study tonight. We'll see what happens.

That all happened in like a half hour. How much time am I wasting?

Those were fantastic conversations. I was not pushy. I was not nervous. I was just talking about stuff I care about with people I care about. And I can't wait to have some more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What did you do last friday?

Largest collegiate group ever doing the thriller dance. Go Beavs! I cross the screen at about 14 seconds in and then when they show the whole group shot, look for the guy in the very back on the 50 yard line who looks like he has no idea what he is doing. That is me! Hooray!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Matters More?

This is a new song by Derek Webb. It is nice when people put into words things you have been thinking for a while. This song is challenging to me, not to mention quite catchy. Enjoy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Die Little Jesus

There is a disturbing little statistic floating around these days. It says that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of students who identify themselves as Christians pretty much lose their faith when they get to college and stop being involved in the Christian community. (If anyone knows the precise origin of this number, feel free to let me know.)

That is a number that hits close to home. I work with college students. I have seen this number wear flesh and blood. I have watched students get less and less involved until Jesus is just a distant fading memory of a time when they were wasting their lives.

I am wondering why this happens and I know I have a lot to learn. I recently (today) started reading "unChristian" by David Kinnaman. I have heard good things about it and look forward to sharing with you what I learn from it.

But in the meantime, may I offer a little theory of my own? I think that somewhere while we are growing up in church, we latch on to a Jesus who is similar to the real thing, but is lacking in some key areas. When we get to college, we encounter an onslaught of new ideas, experiences, and arguments. The Jesus we have latched on to often (80% of the time) can't take the heat. Suddenly we have all these questions and he can't answer them. Suddenly the New Testament isn't as neat and tidy as we would like it to be. Read the end of Mark for a great example.

We show up at our sociology class or comparative religion class and walk out feeling like they just killed Jesus.

Suddenly the people who drink a lot and sleep with their boyfriends and girlfriends aren't all evil like we were taught. They end up looking and acting just like us. They are just having more fun. And they are getting away with it!

And Jesus dies a little more.

And it sucks when Jesus dies doesn't it? We were taught that he was alive but now someone is saying that they just made that part up. When Jesus dies he is supposed to get better. But when we encounter these things, he just seems to stay dead.

But I have hope.

I have hope because I came to college with a big picture of Jesus in theory, but a tiny one in practice. My Jesus was not able to handle the drunk people running through my hall all the time. Following my Jesus led me into my room with the door closed. As a consequence of following this Jesus, I got really good at minesweeper and finding porn on the internet.

My little Jesus couldn't lead me out into my hall to engage with and love the guys who also lived there.

So why does this give me hope, well take a little trip with my won't you? All the way back to a couple of guys on a road a few days after Jesus was killed for real. They are walking together to a village called Emmaus. They used to follow Jesus, but some people killed him. They thought he was going to restore the Kingdom of Israel and usher in the Kingdom of God, but he was killed. And everyone knows you can't bring the Kingdom when you are dead. They don't know what to do with this information so they are heading home. Back to the lives they had before they met Jesus. They are depressed and confused and the best thing they can come up with is to go home. They are going to throw in the towel.

And I can't blame them. Who would do anything different in their place?

They just came out of the most brutal college class in history. And they are beginning to lose their faith.

I have hope because they meet a stranger who begins to tell them a different story and offers them a bigger Jesus. This Jesus was supposed to die and his death showed the Glory of God.

He walks them through scripture again and shows them that this has been spoken about the whole time. Yes, Jesus has died, but maybe more importantly, their little Jesus has died.

It is somewhat comforting and somewhat disturbing to know that you can be immersed in the Scriptures your whole life and still miss the point right? hmmmmmmmm . . .

As the two men hear what the stranger is saying, their hearts burn. This teaching is connecting with them in a way they have never experienced and they like it, a lot.

So they invite the stranger in for dinner and as he breaks the bread, something crazy happens. Their eyes are opened and they recognize him. The stranger who has been walking with them, talking with them, and eating with them, is Jesus himself.

Risen from the dead.

Little Jesus stays dead.

Real Jesus, he comes back to life.

Not even the Roman empire could stop him. What the heck can a college professor do? How about an insecure overconfident college freshman?

My little Jesus began to die as I took a fresh look at the Scriptures. I discovered a Jesus who was bringing a Kingdom that was bigger, more powerful, and more revolutionary than I ever thought.

I have hope that as people encounter the real Jesus through good scripture study and being a part of people committed to following the real Jesus, the little Jesus will die and the real one will come to life.

May we have a fresh encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. And may it transform us and the world forever.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Power of Invitation

I had something that really defined my experience in High School. Some people played sports. Some people took AP classes.

I sang in choir.

I spent every free moment I could in the choir room singing with my friends. I loved making music with other people. I loved creating something beautiful every day.

But I almost never did it.

When I was in junior high, I thought that singing in choir was only for people who had no idea how uncool they were. I heckled my friends who were in it. But I did like to sing and play guitar oddly enough. The High School choir teacher got word of that and sent me a letter inviting me to be a par of the choir. I said no. He sent me another letter. I again said no.

Then he called me to talk about it. I told him I was interested in other things and was probably not going to do choir. This was his reply: "ok, I am going on vacation for two weeks. When I come back, you can let me know your final answer." I thought I already had but whatever. Two weeks later he called me back and asked what if I wanted to join choir.

And for some crazy reason, I said, "Yes."

I really don't know why. Maybe it was just to get him to stop bothering me. So to stop someone from bothering me, I joined his class. Great Idea Ben!

But as it turned out, I loved it. I fell in love with music and learning to sing and the people I met and the places I was able to go because of it. It changed my life. It set my life in a totally different direction. I went to college to study music because of that. I am on IV staff because I responded to that invitation.

I am so thankful that he kept inviting me. He invited me four times. I said "no" three times. But the fourth time, I said "yes." And it changed my life.

If responding to an invitation from a choir teacher can do that, what can responding to an invitation from Jesus do?

May I always say "yes" to Jesus.

May you always say "yes" to Jesus.

May we always say "yes" to Jesus.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Dismantle the Ku Klux Klan.

This is simultaneously hilarious and really powerful. The guy being interviewed is a repentant former Klan leader. This is how it happened.

I would really like to meet Reverend Wade. Sounds like someone was taking Jesus seriously. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer Reading

I love summers. I also love that there are so many good books to read. And sometimes, when I am lucky, the stars align and I am able to enjoy both at the same time. Hooray!

I have a few thoughts on some books I have been reading but before I get to that, I would like to share a few thoughts on reading:

I have two friends who in the span of two days, or maybe it was on the same day, said to me the following things: "Ben, you read too much!" and, "I don't understand how people read!" (Disclaimer: I have large amounts of care and respect for both of these people. I admire them and am inspired by them in many ways. Just not when it comes to reading.)

I think a little piece of me died when they said those things. But good thing Jesus is in the resurrection business! It really isn't as dramatic as I made it sound just there.

I have now started five paragraphs in a row with "I." Self-important much?

If I kept a list of things that were vital to my growth as a human being, reading would be in the top five because I wouldn't count necessities and there have to be at least four other things that are more important than reading, I just can't think of them right now. Reading helps me learn what I didn't know I didn't know. It opens me up to entirely new worlds of possibilities and ideas.

Sometimes it borders on obsession. Like I have some compulsive need to constantly fill my brain with words that other people wrote. Sometimes one isn't enough. I will read like 4 or 5 books at a time. They will all be in various stages of completion based on how important I feel they are to finish. I will be reading one and really enjoying it and see another book that looks interesting and then put the first one down, start and finish the new one, and then finish the first one (see the post below with Culture Making and The Reason for God).

But how can you think that reading is weird or that people who do it are weird? Come on!

Ok, on to the books.

One of my goals this summer is to read books by minority authors. These books have typically been about the topic of multi-ethnicity. Having said that, the first book I want to talk about is by two really white guys.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians
by Rob Bell and Don Golden

Remember that preaching conference I went to back in July? No? Read this post and then come back to this one. Done? Ok. Well, at said conference, the Zondervan publishing table was giving away free ebooks and audio books of this book. I gladly accepted the free offer (who wouldn't?) and proceeded to download the audio and burn it on to 3 CD's. So I guess if we want to get super technical about it, I haven't actually READ this book. I have listened to it twice.

This book (And the next one I will talk about) most certainly falls into the category of books that are re-shaping my theology and views on my faith and the role of the church and stuff like that. And all in a good way. I feel like my understanding is getting bigger and more compelling.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians is essentially a "New Exodus Theology for Dummies" book. The authors walk the reader . . . er . . . listener in my case, through the Bible viewing it through the lens of this perspective. New Exodus theology, as I understand it, mostly from this book, states that the main narrative of Scripture is that of God bringing all of his creation out of slavery and bondage. This is a very interesting reading of the Bible and I like it. I had heard whisperings of it in different places but this was the most developed I have seen it. The Exodus found in the book of Exodus serves as a precursor to the big exodus that is happening right now. Jesus was the passover lamb for all creation and following him allows us to "escape from Egypt" so to speak. Wow, that doesn't make any sense when I explain it here but it does in the book. Probably because they use the whole book to develop it.

One of the things I liked most about this book was how they called out America and the American church on a lot of things. America is an empire. Make no mistake. The Bible was written by people who were oppressed by a foreign empire. This perspective is crucial to understanding Scripture but often gets lost to those of us who are children of the empire. Here is one of my favorite quotes.

"Jesus was a middle eastern man who lived in an occupied country and was killed by the superpower of his day." There is something to think about . . .

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah

I was first introduced to Soong-Chan Rah (Prof Rah) at a conference called "Shalom." It was an InterVarsity conference dealing with the topics of race, ethnicity, and reconciliation. Prof Rah brought the thunder that weekend. He said some really challenging things and I have had an enormous amount of respect and admiration for him ever since. So I was very excited to see that he had written a book. I bought it with a sweet IV Staff discount. BOOYAH!

Rah's basic premise is that the church in America has been held captive by western culture. Because of this, American Christianity resembles Biblical Christianity less and less. This is becoming a problem because the demographics of the USA are changing dramatically, as are the demographics of global Christianity. Multi-ethnic, minority, and immigrant churches are thriving while predominantly white churches are declining. How will the white church respond to this?

This book was super challenging and super important. Each chapter brought up new things that I had never really thought about but know that I need to now. What has been the impact of globalization when the Christianity that is exported to the world is dominated by western culture? That one was troublesome.

Prof Rah claims that the church in America is captive to western culture in three main ways: Individualism, consumerism and materialism, and racism. It is tough to argue with his points as he has done a ton of research and has personal experience with all of them. These things have a broad effect on the church and eh spends much of the book filling those out.

A section I found particularly interesting and engaging was his take on the "emerging church." Why is it that the only people who are seen as leaders in the emerging church are white men? Why is that church noticed but the Korean immigrant church (which has been very successful and is growing very quickly) is totally overlooked?

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has had a feeling lately that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Be prepared to wrestle your way through it but to come out on the other side with a much wider perspective.

Invitation to Lead by Paul Tokunaga

This book topped my list of ones I wanted to read this summer. I help to lead a college fellowship and there have been a number of gifted young Asian-American students who have become leaders in our group. I see this as a huge gift with a lot of potential and I wanted to do everything I could to learn how to lead them well and train them to be the best leaders they can be. This book seemed perfect because that is what it is about: Asian-American leadership.

Paul Tokunaga (Tok, as people call him) has been a pioneer in Asian-American leadership in InterVarsity. He has blazed a trail that many have been able to follow. I have little doubt that he will go down in IV history as one of the most significant leaders of the movement. The book is basically a simultaneous journey through his own development as a leader and what he has learned about AA leadership over the years. I found it to be very enlightening, fun, and powerful. He is a very accessible writer who connects with his audience well. Even though the book was primarily written TO potential AA leaders, a white guy like me can still enjoy it thoroughly and learn a lot. I have recommended it to my AA students and I look forward to discussing it with them when they finish.

Too bad they are the ones who don't like to read. Ugh.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Word Became Flesh

I have been thinking about that phrase a lot lately. I have been thinking about it in a way that I honestly believe will change everything if I am not careful. But first, let's play with an idea for a second:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' but nothing happened and it was still dark."

"know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and memorize his commands . . . Therefore, take care to memorize the commands, decrees and laws I give you today."

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Boil it down into propositions that can be easily learned and repeated."

"This is love for God: To remember his commands."

"The Word became text and dwelt in our books and in our statements of faith."

You are correct in noticing that something is not right. Something is VERY not right. Because in Genesis, God speaks into darkness there is light. In Deuteronomy, God keeps his covenant with those who love him and obey his commandments. In James we are deceived when we listen to it but fail to do what it says.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

It gets me thinking. Is it possible that all along, God's words and the Word were always supposed to become flesh? Were they always supposed to be lived out in blood and bones and skin people?

Am I going too far to say that the ideas and truths that Christianity tells are worthless if they never become flesh? Think about this for a second: (this is not my idea, but it really got me thinking so I am just passing it along) If a biologist or a physicist or an engineer or a computer scientist has a significant moral failure, does it discredit their work? If Isaac Newton was shown to be a drunken womanizer, would you think that his second law was a silly outdated rule? If Stephen Hawking, through his awesome and kind of creepy electronic voice emulator said a racial slur, would it take away from his theories on the universe? Well, no, it wouldn't.

How many students at OSU would want to hear the Gospel if they found out that I got another student pregnant? If I spent all my money "pimping my ride?" If I was addicted to alcohol? Nobody would! In fact, even when I find my life is normal with no huge failures, the Gospel STILL doesn't seem that powerful. I think that is because the Gospel isn't normal, it is revolutionary.

I can yell from the mountain tops until I am blue in the face, "GOD LOVES YOU!" I can whisper to every single person I cross paths with that there is a God who sent his son to die for them. And if I lose my voice, I can hold up a sign for all to see. But none of those will ever be as powerful as someone living like it is true.

Mother Theresa picking a sick man off the road in Calcutta and allowing him to die with dignity.

Spending the day in a orphanage simply holding babies because no one else will.

Taking a few afternoons a week to mentor and befriend an at-risk youth.

Submitting to the leadership of someone who most of the time has no power.

Inviting the new kid over to play.

Giving that guy a ride to the social security office.

Who are you going to believe? The guy with the sign, or the couple who cooked you dinner when you were sick?

The Word must ALWAYS become flesh.

I think we have put a little too much faith in propositional truths. "Jesus my Lord and Savior." "The Bible is the inspired word of God." And if I may be so bold, "Homosexuality is wrong."

There is a time and a place for propositions. They can be good things to hold on to when we begin to lose our way. But I think that a truth about God or Jesus or Scripture or spirituality is only as good (and as true?) as the amount that it is made flesh in you, in us.

So we say that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. That proposition is nothing unless it becomes flesh. Do we submit to him the way that the Romans submitted to Caesar? That is what it means to call someone "Lord." You do what they say. Do we look to him to save us from the things that are destroying us or do we run to those very things? Do we look to our money, our success, our girlfriend or boyfriend, ourselves, our possessions? Why should anyone believe us if we don't? if they can't see it in us?

The Bible is the inspired word of God? Really? Do we study it? Do we mine the depths of Scripture to find the invaluable treasures contained therein? Do we tenaciously search them? Shoot, have we read the whole thing? (I haven't)Or are we content to cling to a few passages and verses that give us comfort? Are we satisfied with what we know and feel no need to put things in their immediate and big picture context?

Do we do what it says?

Do we forgive like our own forgiveness depends on it? (it does) Do we actually love the poor and let justice roll down like waters? How hard do we try to be the light of the world?

If homosexuality is so bad, and if allowing gay people to get married is such a huge threat to the sanctity of marriage, then why aren't our relationships and marriages the greatest thing the world has ever seen? Wouldn't the best case for "traditional marriage" (whatever we mean by that. Arranged? Polygamy?) be to have an amazing marriage?

Because the Word must always become flesh.

It is easy to hide behind a proposition. It is harder to live it out. Especially if the word becoming flesh takes you where you are uncomfortable, where your preconceived ideas don't hold up to the reality of what you are seeing and experiencing. If humility and service does not come easily to us. If we don't like how homeless people smell. If loud black men make us uncomfortable and intimidated. If we don't understand the language or the culture. If it is not the way we were brought up. If your dad was an evil man. If I am addicted to this thing.

If propositions are enough, then why did God not just send us a list? A 12-point propositional treatise explaining what humanity should believe in order to be saved. He didn't. He sent Jesus. A human being. A person.

Jesus was not and is not a proposition. And neither are we. We are people. We are flesh and blood. How could we possibly think that the world will be changed with words? They are powerful. But they are only powerful if we do something with them.

Because the Word must always become flesh.

I am putting on a retreat for college students before this new school year starts. I am hoping to do it in town so that I can be near to the campus. This is good for a number of reasons. I also don't have a lot of money to fork over to pay for a retreat so I decide to send an email to about 10 churches in town asking if they will let us use their building for the retreat. 3 respond. 1 says they can't and I appreciate them letting me know. Another has space, but they are going to charge us what could end up being quite a bit of money to do it, and they guy who knows how much never gets back to me. But then the third church says they are interested. I go over to said church (Crossroads Christian Fellowship in Corvallis) and talk with the pastor. He tells me that the Church has a heart for being beneficial to the larger community and not just the people in the church. So they would love to partner with a campus ministry. He tells me that we will basically have the whole church to ourselves for the retreat. He will give us a key. He will give us access to the office so we can make and print fliers. He will let us be in the sanctuary and we can move the chairs around to play games in there. He says that we are welcome to use the church anytime we want.

And you know what that does to me? It makes me feel like there is hope. The Church (universal) can be the light of the world. Churches (local) are not always consumed with their own programs and too busy to be a blessing to their community. Maybe this Gospel I preach is real. Maybe Jesus can transform people. Our ministry is valuable and worth investing in. As are the students at Oregon State.

A church doing what the Church is supposed to do? Woah. That is something.

Because the Word must always become flesh.

And that time, it did.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Case for Early Marriage

So I stumbled upon this article in Christianity Today . . . today. I would talk about it but why don't you just read it for yourself and then post some of your thoughts.

Do you agree with the author?

What should we do in response?

Where are all the single Christian men? (Writing blogs in their living rooms!)

Let me know what you think. Let's have a conversation.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Choose Your Own Title

I have 5 working titles for this blog and they are all so good that I can't choose. Yay for humility!

1) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
2) My Hilarious Life Part Deux
3) A Face-Melting Good Time at the Epicenter of Progressive Culture
4) In the Land of Thick-Rimmed Glasses and iPhones
5) Peter Rollins is a little Irish Fireball

Actually, looking at them, 3 is the best. On with the story!

Flashback: Early June. Location: Qdoba, Corvallis, OR.

I was getting some delicious burritos with my housemates when my friend from Idaho, Jeremiah, calls me up. He asks me if I would like to accompany him to a preaching conference put on by Rob Bell in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was already going to be in Madison, WI for an InterVarsity Staff conference. The preaching thing would start the day after the staff thing ended. Of course I said no. That would be too much. But I told him I would think about it. 10 minutes later I changed my plane ticket and called him back saying I would go. That is how I make decisions. So if I tell you no, just give me ten minutes. I'll come around.

Flashback: Last Wednesday. Location: Inn on the Park, Madison, WI

Upon my arrival in Madison, I meet up with Jeremiah only to discover that I have no way to actually get to Grand Rapids. This would seem like a big deal to some people. But for me, it falls in the category of, "It may be happening in 3 days but something will work out. Don't worry about it." The staff conference was great. I ate at my favorite noodles place in Madison. Yummy!

It was the night before I was supposed to leave and I still hadn't figured out how to get to grand rapids. I tried to buy a train ticket from Madison to GR, but there wasn't one. So I bought one from Chicago to GR. I had solved 1/3 of my problem. I now needed to get to Chicago AND get to a place to stay once I got to GR. The next morning at breakfast, I asked some other staff if any of them were going to be driving through Chicago. The first person I asked referred me to his room mate who was driving by himself to Indiana and had a spot in his car. BOOYAH!!! 2/3 done. Right before I left, Jeremiah called me to let me know that some other staff in GR were going to pick me up from the train station and let us stay at their brand new house that they hadn't even moved into yet. To quote Hannibal from the A-Team, "I love it when I plan comes together."

Great car trip, great train trip, awesome hosts in GR.

And this conference . . . Daaaaaaaaang. It was called "Poets, Prophets, and Preachers: Reclaiming the Art of the Sermon." Jeremiah and I very liberally used the term "face-melting." It was great. So many great ideas. There was seriously so much that blew my mind that I can't even begin to describe it.

One thing I noticed very quickly, Rob Bell kind of draws a certain crowd. Namely, the thick rimmed glasses crowd. I think only 1 in 4 people there DIDN'T have them. There was a moment when Rob was using a chair as a prop illustrating the throne of God and he put his glasses on them and then forgot about them. I didn't notice but then a few minutes he remembered them and said, "Oh, this won't do." I almost died. Thick Rimmed glasses are at the center of the universe. Awesome. Also, every time there was a break, I would look forward and notice a whole bunch of people all take out iPhones. It was also hilarious.

A quick word about Rob Bell. Lot's of people have different opinions of him but there is something I noticed: Homeboy talked about the Resurrection of Jesus and its Earth-shattering implications more than any other pastor I have ever heard. So do with that what you will. I was encouraged and challenged by it. Do I do that?

Also: Peter Rollins is a little Irish fireball.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Hey everybody!

Why do I feel the need to write on this thing so late at night? I have no idea. Well, actually, I do have some ideas but they aren't that important.

Tonight's entry will be some book recommendations. I was going to say "reviews" but honestly, I liked all of them so I will just tell you a little about them and then you can go read.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Ok, I heard about this book a little while ago and actually watched a seminar the author did at Google headquarters last year. I wanted to read it but never wanted to drop 20 bucks on it. So imagine my joy when I went home for winter break and my mom just comes up to me and says, "oh, I just bought this book. It looks interesting." And there it was. So naturally, I read it in two days.

Keller spends the first half of the book dealing with common doubts about God and Christianity and spirituality that people have and does it with a lot of respect for the doubters. He knows his stuff, people. If you are at all familiar with the arguments he mentions, which I am, it makes the book that much more readable. the next half of the book is his reasons for why he thinks Christianity is true. I thought the best chapter in this section was "The Knowledge of God." In this chapter he proposes that everyone "knows" there is a God but they just don't acknowledge it. We all know what is right and wrong, but why? what is our moral standard? There is a lot more to his argument than that but I will let you read the book for it. If you want some good brain food, pick this one up. Speaking of brain food . . .

Culture Making by Andy Crouch

Hot diggity dog this was a fun book. I am on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and every so often they send me a chunk of new book that IV Press is releasing. This one just came in the mail. I read it about a month later. It was probably the most interesting book I have read in the last two or three years. I was glued to every page.

Crouch's thesis is that Christians have typically taken four postures towards the larger culture (never mind the four chapters he spends defining culture!): condemning it, critiquing it, copying it, and consuming it. None of these are inherently bad, but they fall short of what God intended for us. He argues that we are called to cultivate culture, that is, to develop that which is good and make it better, and create culture. This is a book I will almost certainly be reading again. I HIGHLY recommend it.

I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug

Another book that was just sent to me. I know both of the guys who wrote this book and have an enormous amount of respect for them and the work they do and who they are as people and Jesus followers. This is a book about what it looks like for "postmodern" people to come to faith in Jesus. They have, through interviewing over 2,000 college age people who have become Christians in the last decade, discovered five thresholds that people go through on their journey to faith. The first is simply learning to trust a Christian. Anyone who interacts with non-believers these days knows who big that is. The second is becoming curious about Jesus. The third is being open to letting Jesus change and challenge them. The fourth is seeking hard after answers to their questions. The fifth is actually becoming a committed Jesus follower.

For each stage they offer stories and practical advice for people coming alongside their friends. This book is SOOOOO helpful in learning about where different people are and what might be helpful to them. Again, I HIGHLY recommend this one. I recommend it even higher if you work in ministry with young people.

And now for some fun reading. Once or twice a year I dive into wonderful escapist fiction. This last year, I took a stab at some authors who were new to me. These are both fantasy books that deal with magic and wizards and dragons and such. I will review the trilogies as sets and not the individual books.

The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb

I had never read anything by Robin Hobb but some good friends of mine were pretty keen on these books so I thought I would give them a try. The three books in the Liveship Traders series are Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny. The basic story revolves around a family of traders who work on ships made of a special wood that actually comes to life after three generations have lived aboard the ship. It is a pretty interesting concept. Think "Pirates of the Caribbean" only way less confusing and with better characters. Of course, no story about ships and sailing would be complete without pirates. And oh, are there pirates in this one. The villain, Kennit, is a wonderfully complex character. I never knew whether to root for him or hate his guts. There is a side story involving a group of sea serpents that I didn't really like until I figured out where it was going. These books were pretty stinking good. I loved the characters. That was probably the best thing about them. I can read just about any story about anything as long as the characters are real and believable. All that to say, these are a good summer read. Enjoy!

The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind

I am saving the best for last here. I have only read the first three of a twelve book series, but wow, these were so much fun to read. It was the beginning of winter break and I wanted some good fiction. I went to Borders and almost picked up another Robin Hobb book, but then the Terry Goodkind shelf caught my eye. I will admit, I was drawn to the books not only because of their sleek cover art, but also because the books were thick. I thought I would get more for my money with a thicker book. I was not disappointed. The books I read were Wizard's First Rule, Stone of Tears, and Blood of the Fold.

The story, like most fantasy stories, begins with a guy from a middle of nowhere place who lives a normal life. Unbeknownst (that is a great word to write!) to him, he is a man of great destiny and importance. He is the Seeker. A true seeker. One who seeks the truth in all circumstances. He is called upon to fight against a man named Darken Rahl. How's that for a scary name? I won't get too much into the story here because it was just so much fun to discover it all as I went. There are so many twists and turns here. The characters are so alive! The bad guys are REALLY bad and the good ones all have serious flaws. These stories are very adult. What I mean is, they don't sugar coat anything. There are some really disturbing scenes here. Not for the faint of heart. For me, they just upped the realism, which is helpful in a story where people use magic and talk to dragons. The books also touch on themes that are very common to us all: friendship, loyalty, love, good vs. evil, and a lot of others. There are also great political questions raised. One of the most compelling parts of the story is where the heroine, Kahlan, must lead a group of 5,000 young men into battle against an army of 50,000 who are hell-bent on killing anyone in their path. I pretty much sat in my room all day and never stopped reading these. If you like fantsy, you will LOVE these books.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Have a Hilarious Life

She came in at 4:45am.

She said calmly but firmly, "Ok, it's time to wake up."

Then she held up an alarm clock that began playing a very pleasant (but loud) wake-up song.

I lifted my head from my sweatshirt pillow and smiled.

Scattered amongst the pews and all over the floor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Long Beach, California, roughly 40 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff workers began to stir.

And I remember clearly thinking to myself, this is hilarious!

Cue the Lost flashback woosh.

I had flown to Long Beach with a few other staff from the northwest to do a Bible Study "dig-in" through the first four chapters of The Gospel of John at Campus By The Sea on Catalina Island. We were getting prepared for our big student missions conference, Urbana, coming up this winter. Oh, this is an important detail: It was raining.

In order to get to Catalina, you have to take a boat. I would say ferry, but then you might be tempted to picture a large boat filled with cars, like in Seattle. This was a boat. It was much closer to the type of thing that takes you from Pier 39 to Alcatraz than the thing that takes you from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. Although, come to think of it, those are called ferries too. how about a picture. Yes? Our boat was supposed to leave around noon.

We showed up at 11am and waited. Gradually, more and more staff trickled in. I can always spot InterVarsity staff at a terminal. Yes, this time I was specifcally waiting for them, but it reminded me of all the times I have been at airports and seen people I KNEW were IV staff. There is just something about us. I don't know if I can put my finger on it.

The weather had not changed but I did not expect that to be a problem because I was used to the Seattle ferries and they had never seemed to rocky. But we soon received an announcement that our boat had been canceled. I heard something about "gale-force winds." I am no sailor, but that sounds bad. We waited around for a little while and ate lunch. I led some of my friends through "The Cube" and talked politics. Aren't stimulus packages fun? That's what she said. Moving on!

The next ferry was supposed to leave at 2. aaaaaaaaaand it got canceled. So our leader, Bruce, said we would be moving to a church where we would be for the rest of the day. We had work to do and couldn't let something petty like gale-force winds stop us. IV4Life! So we packed up and migrated to the church. Along the way I learned the difference between GPS and triangulating your position. That is a nice way of saying we got a little lost and the iPhone was not much help, but it was still so cool!

After a few hours of digging in to John, and taking a wonderful little cheap shot at the staff from USC (Go BEAVS!!!) it was time to turn in for the night . . . BUT we had to get on the first ferry out and that sucker was leaving at 6:15 in the a.m. And the really fun thing was that the only place for all of us to sleep was on the floor in the sanctuary. So that was where we slept.

So why was this hilarious?

Come on! How many companies can expect something like that from their employees and receive virtually NO complaining? How many could do that and have everyone feel like it was a normal thing to happen? I can't really think of any. And that is why InterVarsity Staff are awesome.

What's even better is that was just the beginning. I learned a little something about "residual swells" on that boat ride. Apparently when the gale-force winds stop, the waves think it is fun to still be huge and make you want to throw up. Then we went to this crazy island that had wild bison running around. Yes, BISON. We stayed in cabins with no electricity. The camp looked like New Otherton (for all those Lost fans out there). There was even a patch of ground that looked like a hatch had blown up in it. Oh, and my friend got eaten by a monster made of black smoke. Ok, that last one isn't true but wouldn't that have been SO COOL!!??!?!

And then we studied the Bible for two days. Who does that?

That is why I have a hilarious life. And I love it.

We have to go back Kate!!! We have to go BACK!!!!