Wednesday, October 27, 2010

15 Authors in 15 Minutes

I am stealing this from Kathy Khang's blog and thought it would be fun to do.

Here are 15 authors whose work has influenced or impacted me in some significant way. A lot of these I have already talked about on this blog. Here we go!

N.T. Wright: This guy opened up a whole world of possibilities in my faith. Reading his work makes the Bible come alive in ways I didn't think it could. I have found a more compelling faith because of him.

J.R.R. Tolkein
: Lord of the Rings. Do I need to say more? No, but I will. I have read only a few books multiple times. This was one of them. I remember finishing it the first time and feeling like I was saying goodbye to my friends. I missed Frodo and Sam and wanted to start reading it again immediately.

J.K Rowling
: Yes, I love Harry Potter. I fought it for so long and finally gave in. Those stories are a gift.

Orson Scott Card
: Card can be hit or miss but when he writes a good book it is GOOD! Ender's game is one of my all time favorites. I have read it 3 times and the third was the most enjoyable. Each time I see more and more depth and nuance in the story. It is the kind of book that makes you want to write.

Tim Keller:
The Reason For God is one of the best out there. And this guy can PREACH!

Terry Goodkind
: He held my interest for 11 books in a row. The Sword of Truth had its high points and low points but that was a fun 6 months of reading.

Khaled Hosseni
: He has two books and I have loved them both. He helped me understand a culture that is foreign to me in a new way with powerfully moving stories.

Robin Hobb:
Another fantasy writer. I have only read one of her series but it was great. Everyone should go read the Liveship Traders. So creative and such great characters.

Rob Bell:
Gotta give a shout out to Bell. He sees things in such an interesting way and is a really great communicator. Looking forward to whatever is next from him.

William Goldman:
The Princess Bride. I have to be honest and say that I have been more influenced by the movie but he wrote the screenplay as well. The book was hilarious.

Jon Stewart:
Yes, he is an author. He and the rest of The Daily Show writers. America the Book was laugh-out-oud funny on every single page.

4 more! I can do it!

Henri Nouwen
: I have only read one of his books but and it was really short but it was so good. "In the Name of Jesus" was enriching, convicting, and thought provoking all at the same time.

Andy Crouch:
"Culture Making" was like putting on a pair of glasses and then realizing you have never really been able to see before. Yes. I think that describes it. I still think about that book often.

M. Scott Peck:
I have been required to read "The Road Less Traveled" twice. The first time i resented it mostly because I was not ready to receive what it had to say. The next time was much better. His thoughts on love and discipline will shape me for a long time.

Richard Foster:
You can't go wrong with this guy.

So looking at my list I notice that most of the authors I read are white men. So does anyone know some good women of color I should read?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ethics or the Cross?

It is a dangerous thing to cruise the religion section of the Huffington Post and I admire the guts of any Christian who posts something there. The comments section can be brutal. Most of the time I choose not to look at them. But today I did after reading an article by Jim Wallis on bullying.

A lot of the comments basically boiled down to this:
Christians, if they really want to stop the problem, will just need to stop being Christians because their teaching is the cause of the bullying in the first place. Jim Wallis is a hypocrite.

Then they would usually bring up something about the stupidness and impracticality of "love the sinner, hate the sin."

After reading them, I became convinced that most people hadn't even read the article. If they had, they certainly weren't responding to it. They were responding to some other beef they had with people who follow Jesus.

Another thing that happened (and I think Wallis was guilty of this a bit as well) was that the whole "discussion" devolved into ethics. It was all about the teachings of Jesus.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love the teachings of Jesus. I study them with my students. I wrestle with them. I am angered by them. But at the end of the day, I think they are not what it is all about.

If we are going to talk about bullying, we can certainly bring up times when Jesus taught about loving our enemies or serving each other or loving the least of these. And I think those are great things to bring up.

But if Christians stop there (and I think we have given that it seems EVERYONE thinks this is all about ethics) then we miss the whole reason for our faith.

We don't follow and trust and worship Jesus because he was a good teacher. We do those things because he was God in the flesh. We do those things because he took the sins of the world upon himself and died in our place. He suffered unimaginably for our sake.

And he did it for everyone. There is no one that his love does not extend to, even if they don't realize it or want it.

And God raised him from the dead, unleashing a whole new creation right into the middle of this one.

We can't stop at ethics! We always have to go back to the cross!

We stand with the bullied because we know that Jesus loves them and died for them and we cannot stand by while someone tries to take that away from them. We forgive and love the bully because we know that on the cross Jesus forgave the people that bullied him.

We know that God has shown that he loves the whole world, no exceptions.

It doesn't matter if we like the way someone lives. It doesn't matter if we disagree with them. It doesn't matter if someone is gay and you aren't sure that is a good way to live.

Jesus died for them.

That changes the whole conversation. I think that gives Christians a more compelling reason to stand up to injustice than anyone else can offer. Let's not settle for an ethics debate.

Let us remember the full story. Let us remember the cross. Let us remember the empty tomb. And may we and the world be forever changed by it.

The Mirror and the Open Window

I smashed a mirror tonight.

I set it up, grabbed a baseball bat and swung it right into the middle.

And it shattered into a million pieces (And it was Awesome!)

Mirrors are interesting things. Their whole purpose is to let us stare at ourselves. When I stare at a mirror, the one thing that becomes the focus of my vision is me. I am all that I see.

One thing I notice when I look in a mirror is my imperfections. I see the gut. I see the teeth that aren't quite straight. I see the zit that has no business being on a 28 year-old's face. Ear hair? WTF?

Other times I see the good things. Yes, I am a handsome man. My hair looks pretty good when it is short. If I was a girl I would be attracted to me.

And I want to know if it is possible that for most of us, myself included, the mirror has become the lens through which we view the world?

When I enter a new situation, am I looking at my imperfections? Do I see the ways that I am inadequate? Because I often find myself saying and doing things that are an attempt to make me look good. Like I need to prove myself to the people I am with. I will put someone else down (even someone who I know works their butt off to do what they do) because it makes me feel better.

In some sick way the people I am with have become tools to get me what I want. They have something I want and I will do what it takes to get it. It could be praise. It could be respect. It could be a job. It could be sex. But they have it and I want it.

Because I am looking into a mirror.

I also will enter a new situation and find all the ways I am better than the people there. I have managed to convince myself that I am smarter or better looking or more talented and that these people have nothing to offer me.

In some sick way the people I am with have become obstacles or threats. I can't associate with them because they are beneath me. Why would I waste my time there?

Because I am looking into a mirror.

All I can see is me. My wants. My needs. My goals. My desires. My hopes. My fears. My insecurities. My pain. Me, me, me.

I am starting to see the ways that this general posture towards the world is death. How much evil has been done in the world because people decided that their own needs were more important than the needs of others?

And I think that the worst way we do this is when we do it with God.

This is called religion.

Religion is viewing God through our mirror. We see our imperfections so we have to prove ourselves to God. So we do good. We go to church. We read our Bible. But it is all based out of guilt and shame. We are trying to manipulate God to like us more.

Or we think we are better than him. We think he owes us something. Or our good deeds and good works are already good enough and we don't need him at all. He can't offer us anything because we already have what we need. Submitting to him would be to lose all we have worked for.

That is what happens when God becomes all about us. Guilt, shame, fear, and arrogance.

So what is the cure? This feels like a big problem.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4

Humility. Humility is the cure.

Not thinking less of ourselves. But thinking of ourselves less. A humble person is able to care about the people around them. A humble person does not see the world through a mirror.

A humble person uses an open window.

There is only what is on the other side. They can see the people and the world outside. There is nothing getting in the way of them seeing, knowing, and responding to the needs of others around them.

An open window has no reflection.

But if there is no reflection, how will we know what we look like? How will we see the imperfections? How will we know when we look good?

We are going to have to trust someone else's opinion of us.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
-Romans 5:8

It would seem that this is God's opinion of us: We are sinners. We have rejected God by focusing on ourselves. We have brought sin, division, destruction, and death into the world.

And yet Christ dies for us because of his great love.

What would happen if we started trusting his opinion of us?

What if every day I reminded myself that I was a sinner saved by the amazing grace and love of God? And what if I began to see that everyone else was exactly the same?

What if I let Jesus smash my mirror? What if I stopped filling my vision with myself and began looking out the window to where Jesus was leading?

Well now that would change everything wouldn't it?

I would be free to love people because I knew I was loved.
I could be someone's friend not because I needed a friend (I already have the best one possible with Jesus) but because THEY needed a friend.
I could lay my life down for someone else's sake because someone laid down their life for me.

I pray that you will let Jesus smash your mirror.
I pray that you will trust his opinion of you.
I pray that you will follow him out the open window into his beautiful world where he is inviting you into life and life abundant.

So tonight I literally took a mirror and smashed it with a bat. I don't believe in seven years of bad luck.

I believe I just took a step into grace.