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!