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.