05 January 2010

"Why white folks focus on dogs and yoga, while people on the low end trying to ball and get over" – Common

This quote has been on my mind ever since I started reading Shane Claibourne’s book The Irresistible Revolution. And last night I saw a picture – that looked something like this:

and the thought came to mind – what in the World is going on with the church of Jesus of Nazareth?

There are a ton of thoughts in my head tied around this one central thought that I just can't get out of my head, so I am going to put a few on the screen.

There are dogs that have health care plans and people who don’t. I thought a lot about dogs and what they have come to represent about America and our self indulgent nature, but I don't want to come across as "anti-dog" because I am not, I love dogs, and I have wanted a dog for a long time. I don't want to get caught up in a dog argument - I want to talk about our isolationist and self serving ways of living and how we avoid any reminder that people in this world are dying of preventable diseases like bad wells and malaria in Africa while we buy sweaters for our dogs.

I was watching the Jay Leno show and they were interviewing people at a Nascar event, and they asked one guy if he would rather have world peace or meet his favorite driver, and he chose meeting his favorite driver. I didn't even crack a smile, because I think he meant it.

There is another fact that haunts me in this situation is from Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change, he states that with just 10% of our US military budget - probably even less now since the book is a few years old - we could end hunger on the planet. This ties in nicely with the Mennonite Church USA's statement on the decision to send more troops into Afghanistan:

There is not a problem of scarcity - as much as our society would tell us there is. We have plenty. Plenty of money, plenty of clothes, plenty of square footage all to ourselves, plenty of food - the problem is that those who have are attempting to protect their possessions from those who don't have them or what them. So then we build bigger walls, and bigger guns to keep those who don't have away from our stuff. In many ways, my attachments to my stuff keep me from fully diving in and following God.

I am still processing all these thoughts, and I am trying to be constructive with all this instead of just being preachy. I am not saying that I shouldn't have a house or the stuff it takes to run a house, but I am saying that as Christians we are all called to die to ourselves and take up our crosses. CROSSES! Not just $26 a month to a struggling child in Zambia. I have trouble some times with the cross of using an old and relatively small tv - much less being crucified so that I may be of use to God.

16 December 2009

Speaking of Faith with Rick Warren and Jim Wallis

So I haven't been listening to Speaking of Faith for a while. I don't know the topic just hadn't been that interesting to me, or maybe I was neglecting spiritual conversation.

Either way, I have just recently been listening to a two part series via pod cast that is just wonderful. Krista Tippett is interviewing "The New Evangelical Leaders" part one is with Jim Wallis, the author of God's Politics and Rick Warren author of Purpose Driven Life.

I need to listen to the one from Jim Wallis again:
The most wonderful part of this one for me was a moment at the end of the story. Jim is talking about the Bible he modified by literally cutting out all of the verses about the poor, and how the Bible people are reading is full of holes - if we ignore the poor in our lives of Christian service. Then he says the most powerful thing: "This is not about liberal or conservative, this is about the integrity of the Word of God." Amen.

I am about half way through the one from Rick Warren and I am very moved:
I think it is easy to think of Rick Warren as a bit of a pompous man. He has sold millions and millions of books - he reverse tithes (gives 90% of his income away and lives off of 10%) and wears funny shirts. But he told another story that was wonderfully self effacing. His wife had become very passionate about the AIDS epidemic in Africa and Rick was supportive but not involved. He went out to Africa with her, and actually led a Purpose Driven church conference. When he went out to see a local church in Africa, he found a church that only had a tent - it was 50 people, and they were caring for 25 orphans. It hit Rick that this church of 50 people was doing more to care for orphans than his Mega church was doing. He said "It was like a knife in the back." Preach it brother.

15 September 2009

Why should Christians celebrate John Calvin's Birthday?

Alternative title: Open Letter to my first year theology professor.

Michael Servetus was an renowned heretic in Calvin's time - who was executed like most out spoken heretics during the 1500's. The Spanish Inquisition was actually seeking Servetus for his writings against the Trinity - and had sentenced him to death by burning. But what makes this pertinent is that it was in Calvin's Geneva that Servetus was executed.

Some how when we were talking about Calvin in my theology class at seminary, Servetus's name was brought up. I stated something like: "Servetus is the guy that Calvin killed for disagreeing with him." my professor was quick to offer some explanation with a very defensive tone: "You have to understand that is just what was done with heretics back then." He also stated "Calvin didn't kill him, Calvin's followers did."

That shut me up as a freshman in my first theology course, but the though lingered in my mind for a very long time - something seemed a little off. Calvin's action, or at best his inaction around the execution of this man and many Christians propensity to ignore or glaze over this action is a perfect example of what kept me away from Christ for so many years.

What finally brought me to Christ when I was 27 years old was reading the stories of Jesus told in the Bible: Jesus lead by example - and did not carry out acts of violence on people. The turning over of the money changers tables was the most violent thing he did [Matthew 21, John 2] (and maybe the withering of the fig tree [Matthew 21]). But he did not work to assure the conviction and execution of those who critiqued his theology. Even when Jesus' "people" (the apostles) carried out violence - he spoke out against it. (See Jesus' arrest in Matthew 26)

Also, the common way to deal with some one who contradicted the powers that be in Jesus' day was also execution - there were "Messiahs" before and after Jesus who had attempted to carry out the same violence that Calvin was party to.

But the actions of Calvin towards heretics are not the paths that Jesus took.

"He didn't make them do it. That's what everyone else was doing." Many reformed Christians and Theologians offer these arguments on behalf of Calvin in unresearched, un-resourced, and self serving documents. Here is a good example:

This article is not just slanted, but completely void of any citations - something I would use if I was defending some one from an accusation of murder. This article has the standard mixed message that most defenses of Calvin offer: 1. Calvin wasn't all that involved in this "matter". 2. And if he was involved what's the big deal? Every one was doing it? The article and these common arguments are written more to assuage fears of people who have devoted their lives to Calvin and his theology then to actually explore the facts of the matter.

If there are better defenses of Calvin's actions - please point them out to me, but this article uses the blanket generalizations that all the other articles/arguments I have seen and heard. I do not wish to set up a straw man - so if there is a better argument out there - please let me see it.

Arguments like this are also what kept me away from Christianity - they are uninformed, unresearched, and unwilling to bend in light of new information. The commitment is to proving the goodness of Calvin at all costs.

Stating that Calvin had very little involvement as my theology professor did completely ignores Calvin's own words in the matter. Calvin's own writing: Defense of the orthodox faith in the sacred Trinity outlines clearly a justification for the execution of heretics.

Additionally "He didn't make them do it. " and "That's what everyone else was doing." are not legitimate excuses for any Christian ever. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and do use these justifications for our less proud moments, but Calvin was clear that the persecution of Servetus was not one of those moments for him.

Many people exclaim the gift that John Calvin's theology is to the world. My question is: If your theology encourages you to actively seek the persecution and death of those who oppose you in thought, then isn't there something fundamentally wrong with your theology? By my estimation, if you believe that you have to protect God's work through executions, then you have missed the mark. You have not read and understood the prophets, and you have not read and understood the accounts of our Savior's life. God is so much bigger than us, and does not need protected.

I hope to make clear that this is really a question, and that I am open to recieving new information about this - I am not committed to feeling that Calvin is a detriment to the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ, but in my experience and from the information I have seen he is. His theology not only approved of the executions, but this same theology seems to encourage his followers to deny or defend his actions - instead of repenting from them. Paul said it best: it is in our weakness that we are strong. [2 Corinthians 12]

We must be honest about our Christian heroes - if our theology does not allow for this, we have missed a very important part of the story of God. My greatest Christian hero is Martin Luther King Jr. He cheated on his wife. I admire MLK deeply, but I will not deny or justify his betrayal of his wife. I don't think that he would justify it either, but rather repent of it. Again I say: it is in our weakness that we are strong.

Last updated 9/17
(FYI - I came up with the idea for this post a few month's ago when people were celebrating John Calvin's 500th birthday also, I have made some revisions to this post and will continue refine this post with the help of any one who wants to answer my initial question - that is my revised title. So you may find that issues in the comments are now addressed, and the comments don't make as much sense anymore, that is because I am changing the article ;)

10 September 2009

Sharing/Borrowing as a Spiritual Discipine

I have been participating a loosely connected intentional community with several other Christians. One of the practices that we talked about using was sharing resources. With my anti-consumerist leanings, the idea of using products people owned instead of buying additional products sounded very practical and beneficial, and I didn’t see it as a spiritual discipine at all. My wife and I have many of those little things that people only occasionally need: sewing machine, an extra 100 feet of hose (got it out of the trash), some camping gear, etc. We love being able to share our things. It just made sense, but didn’t look like a spiritual practice to me.

That was until some one else had something I wanted. I have just recently taken to bike camping – where you get to the campsite on a bike, and strap everything you need right on the bike. So one family in our intentional community has a wonderful, light, and tiny tent. I used it for my first trip this year and it worked great! The consumer/independent person in me says that I should get one of my own. But they tell me that I am welcome to use it any time (and I am positive that they mean that). The chances that we would both be camping the same weekend is relatively low, but for some reason I can’t help but look at similar tents in my spare time and then look for deals on Craig’s List.

Now that I have wanted to use it for a third time, I realized that I really hate having to ask to borrow things. It is not like they give me a guilt trip, or that I don’t like loaning our things out to other people. There is something oddly humbling about borrowing other peoples’ things. Through this experience, I can see sharing very clearly as a spiritual practice/discipline.

There is a huge difference between loaning out my stuff, and asking some one else for theirs. When you are the loaner, you are the one in some way with the power. We also get to be the “generous” person and not the needy one. When we loan other people our stuff we can kid ourselves and tell ourselves that we are not an obligation, but that is not the case. Children are an obligation to their parents, parents become an obligation to their children, husbands to wives and the body of the church to God.

There are two specific thoughts I have around this whole thing:

1. There are some monastic communities who obtain their food by begging.
2. When we visited Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston Illinois (a Mennonite Intentional Community) we learned a lot about sharing. This community has many members who share a common purse. Their paychecks go directly to the community and they are given stipends. The individuals don’t technically own anything – the community does. As we were talking about the challenging nature of this with members of the community David Janzen said something like “It is easier to let Jesus be Lord over the things that you hold in common.” I don’t want Jesus to be Lord over the tent. I want to be Lord over the tent.

28 December 2008


So I was in Memphis Tennessee at the beginning of December for the "Great Emergence Conference" with Phyllis Tickle.  This was my first time there.  Great city - didn't make it to Grace Land, but I did make it to the Civil Rights Museum.

The Museum is based around the hotel where Martin Luther King Junior was shot, and the apartment across the alley where it is believed that the fatal bullet came from.  Walking up to the hotel those photographs were taken of the slain civil rights leader got me thinking about a bunch of things.  

The first is Dr. King's Mountain Top speech - he made it the night before.  It is clear that he knew he was going to die - at least in retrospect.  It is amazing to hear this - amazing.  Shivers up and down my spine as a sense the conscious knowledge of God.  King did this out of God's calling, and not out of any desire of his own.

The second thing that comes up for me is that he was an adulterer.  It is clear to most Christians that King was a prophet sent from God to bring Good News to the United States - good news that many weren't ready or willing to hear.  He did God's work.  But he was not perfect - clay feet if you will.  He was not the most perfect example of morality.  We cannot discount his words, or God's activity through him, just because of his indiscretion.  But in our present time, we feel that we can do that.  If some falls short of moral standards, many times we can shut out their voice because they aren't living up to what we feel is necessary to be a messenger of God.

The third thing is Martyrdom.
King was martyred - I remember when I was at seminary seeing that he was recognized by the Lutheran church as a martyr, and being very moved by that.  Then being in the presence of the site of his death, and thinking about the Mountain Top speech - I wondered it was appropriate to shed tears or to celebrate the work of God through King both alive and dead.  
It made me think of the story of Perpetua - one of the early Christian martyrs.  She was given to wild beasts - and when the ribbon was nocked out of her hair - she put it back in - because her martyrdom was cause for celebration, not mourning.  How do we celebrate the giving of one's life as testimony to the Good News?

The Joy of Shaving

For a very long time, I had hated shaving... that was one of the reasons that I wore a beard.  But I have to make it clear that there is a better way.  I have switched over to what is called "wet shaving" - it is probably because you end up getting water everywhere.

But any ways - I have started using a shaving brush (Crabtree & Evelyn Best Badger Brush), an old fashioned safety razor (1960's Gillette Slim Adjustable) and some wonderful shaving soaps, and creams.  Gone is the blue goo, and the 3 razor blades tugging at my hairs.  Now I have Almond, and Violet and other delicious scents in the morning, and I actually look forward to my shave, I even miss it on days when I don't get a chance.  I originally started down this road because I figured that shaving soap would be more environmentally friendly.  Then I found out that I got a better shave in the process.

This is just a note to all the men out there who dread shaving: "It doesn't have to be that way."

17 October 2008

McCain and Obama Share Some Laughs

This is video from the Alfred E. Smith Dinner in NYC last night. It is a benefit dinner for Catholic Charities - where many famous politicians show up. The wonderful thing about it, is the light heartedness about it.

It is so great to have some laughs through this rough and tumble election. It is great to see the humanity of these two driven men. Very funny - totally worth the 25 minutes.

05 October 2008

Are Free Market Capitalism and Total Depravity Compatible?

So this might go off the theological/political/financial deepend a little bit, but ever since this whole financial meltdown popped up, I have been thinking about it.  

It seems that there may be some who would inclined to believe in both Free Market Capitalism and the theological concept of Total Depravity.  Let me explain them both briefly:
1. Free Market Capitalism:  The idea that there is no need for government intervention in the market - buyers and sellers will set the price of goods and services.
2. Total Depravity:  Humans are inherently sinful, and unless acting through God's grace will demonstrate their consuming sinful intentions.

So if humans are going to do bad things, how can we trust our economy to unbridled human greed?  I know that overregulation is not good for anyone, but it is also clear for me that the rampant consumerism of our culture is in the process of imploding on itself.  We want larger houses, bigger tvs, nicer cars -  the banks, and stores want to sell and borrow more and more- put those two selfish desires together and we will drag each other over the cliff...

I am not seeking to knock down a straw man - because I could be totally wrong.  Maybe no one holds these two beliefs in their conceptual perfection.  I am just wanting to explore how our faith/theology/understanding of God's role in our lives impacts our day to day lives.   For me this Financial Crisis is a clear example (just like watching Jerry Springer) that is some malfunction in our society at a pretty basic level.

Christians have good news for those who idolize materials, and good news for those who seek money and glory over the care of the widow and the orphan - we just have to figure out how to tell the story for them.

Kabuki Sue

Here are some pictures of my completed bike.

It is a fixed gear (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_gear) bicycle. Basically you can't ever stop pedaling.  It took a bit of adjustment at first, but there is a certain level of connect that you feel with the bike since you can't coast.

Building my own bike was an even bigger adventure.  Figuring out which parts fit, and which didn't.  Making all kinds of decisions about handle bars, gear ratios, tires was fun and confronting.  I have only ever just bought a whole bike - and all those decisions were made for me. 

There was a pretty large sense of accomplishment when I rode this bike with my friend on a mini-camping trip.  And every time I get on the bike, I feel pretty good about it all.

I am still making adjustments - switching between the rear rack and a pannier - and using a messenger bag, and still figuring out the best place for the brake lever, etc.  It is not normal for me, but with this project, I have learned about making the journey enjoyable - instead of worrying so much about the destination.  (As long as the wheels don't fall off ;)

18 September 2008

I just don't get Sarah Palin


Check out this story from ABC. I just don't get her, her rhetoric, or where the McCain/Palin ticket is headed.

I know all politicians flip/flop and bend the truth - but this seems like it is getting a bit out of hand.