Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Idiocracy 3: The Hysteria Known as The Swine Flu

Okay.  I will forewarn you that this is a rant!  I am tired of turning on the news every morning only to be bombarded with so much time spent reporting the latest in Swine Flu craziness.  It is shocking to me to see all of the hysteria being built up around it. It just seems like the whole country has gone nuts when there is a .0001% chance that you might contract it and die from it.  While in the mean time cancer and AIDS are still literally wiping out thousands of people every day!  Let's please get some perspective here. 

First of all, its time for us to read between the lines of our news media and not allow them to tell us what to freak out about! 

Secondly, I have been to Africa and seen first hand what AIDS has done to the country of Namibia.  That is a very real issue related to death.  We have the opportunity to stop the spread of this disease in our country as well as others by reaching out and helping to raise a generation who is well educated and understands the disease and how to prevent it.

Thirdly, I know hundreds of people who got the Swine flu and unbelievably they SURVIVED! Nobody is dropping like flies around us.  Everyone seems to be bouncing back just fine.  I'm the only one in my family who has not gotten it.  There is still room for me to eat my words here!

Fourth, let's declare something a National Emergency that really deserves it!  How about smoking, fast food, obesity, energy drinks, tanning, celebrity news, Junior Highers, televangelists, Baptists, red necks, Kentucky, Nancy Pelosi, Yo Gaba Gaba!  Any of these would be awesome to create a sense of insane, frothing at the mouth, panic where we can spaz out on so many interesting things!

Fifth, I just get the sense that if we look deep into our mirrors, this panic comes from a deep rooted selfishness.  If there is a remote chance (and a very remote one at that) that I might die from this flu then it is all out panic to get myself protected.  But there are people dying every day of diseases that we could help with but we are too busy trying to live up to a certain standard of life that we don't have time to think about those who are suffering unless it is directly related to me.

Sixth, why the swine?  Animal discrimination is what I call it.  It is time we start naming new diseases after cats. 

There. I feel better. Deep breath now. But not to deep unless I have my mask on!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Different Angle of Living Like Jesus for a Year

Let me preface this review by stating first of all that Ed Dobson was my pastor for the 3 years I spent in Grand Rapids pursuing my Seminary degree.  I worked at his church as an intern in the youth ministry for those years.  His church did a lot to help prepare me for ministry as I was able to instantly apply what I was learning in class directly into ministry.  I enjoyed growing under his ministry during those years.  

With that said, I also want to give a nod to A. J. Jacobs who first ran with this idea of trying to live "biblically" for a year.  Reading "The Year of Living Biblically" was a great book from my viewpoint because it was very enjoyable to look at the Bible (and Christian culture) through the eyes of a person whom was investigating all of this for the first time.  Ed, on the other hand, had a very different background than Jacobs.  He grew up fully entrenched in the conservative fundamentalist movement within America, getting his education from Bob Jones University and working several years for Jerry Falwell before taking his own church in Grand Rapids.  So it is with this type of background, growing up within Christianity, that he took on this challenge to live as close as he could to the way Jesus lived.  The journey that Ed takes the reader on is much more contemplative, spiritual, and challenging as many times Ed is having to evaluate long entrenched "conservative values" in light of who Jesus actually was according to Scripture.  In fact, in Scripture it was often the religious conservatives that Jesus tended to anger to the point of murder on a cross. So Ed takes on the challenges that push him to be more like Jesus despite what the conservative establishment might think of him.  I love that kind of courage and thinking! 

One of the main things that really challenged me in this book was Ed's thoughts and practices in the art of prayer.  He describes the physicality of having a prayer guide in your hands (rosary, prayer rope) and how it helps to involve more senses within the act of prayer.  He also talks about specific prayers in the Bible which he prays over and over again.  This challenged me to consider how I might improve my prayer life.  It was also deeply challenging to see how he processed his struggle with ALS through this year.  I was in awe of his ability to continue learning lessons through his disease as he tried to be more like Jesus.  I have grown up in church long enough to see some of those in the older generation who have become rigid and "set in their ways" within the church. But then there are those who have matured in such a Christ-like way that you just want to be around them because they are still growing and learning and open to the Spirit of God to use them to their fullest at every stage of life.  Ed is most certainly one of the later. 

 Apparently the thing that seems to be ruffling the feathers of most of the right-wingers is Ed's journey to try and figure out who to vote for in the past election. I deeply appreciated his journey that he wrestled through to make the decision that he needed to make in the voting booth. And I was equally disturbed by the apparent fall-out Ed took within the conservative evangelical movement for admitting his decision to vote for Obama. This election for me was also one of the most difficult political decisions I have ever wrestled with even while I was walking into the voting area. It was awesome to read Ed's thought process of trying to think which candidate most represented the ideals of Jesus Christ.

Favorite Quotes:

Dobson on Ministry:
. . . when I started in ministry I thought I had all the answers. As I enter more deeply into the lives of real people, however, I realize how few answers I really have.  In life's most difficult circumstances, the best I can do is to be present to represent Jesus and the community that we call the church. I am there to love, pray, and encourage. I'm not there to answer all the questions. (p. 23)

I've been experiencing the same thing at the stage of ministry that I am in.  I thought I had all the answers but the older I get the more I realize I don't have all the answers and what answers I think I have I need to approach with humility and sensitivity when talking with others.  My attitude of love and compassion is greater than the things I think I know. 

Dobson on Matthew 13:47-50:
. . . deciding who is 'in' and who is 'out' is entirely up to God and the angels. Not us. And for that I am deeply grateful. (p. 119-120)

Amen to this. 

Dobson on Our Jewish Roots:
Some Christians divide the Old Testament from the New, as though the word old implies that it's no longer relevant. But Paul reminds us Christians that we are deeply indebted to our Jewish friends. We are simply a wild olive shoot grafter into the tree. (p. 126)

It is amazing what we learn about Jesus when we study the context of Israel's history instead of reading the Bible into our culture. 

Dobson on Exiting a Church:
I asked the congregation for their forgiveness for ways in which I had offended them by what I had said or done. I assured them that as I left, I had forgiven them for ways in which they had offended me in what they had said or done. (p. 131)

What a way to leave with humility and integrity.

Dobson on Impact:
If we could just focus on these two commandments it would profoundly impact our lives. Love God and love your neighbor. That's it.  (p. 134)

Yes, yes, yes!

Dobson on End Times:
Nearly every generation of Christians has believed that they were living in the last days. And so far, all of them have been wrong. I still believe the same thing I've always believed about the coming of the Lord, but I'm more hesitant now than ever before to be emphatic about it.  I like the words of Abraham Heschel, a famous Jewish writer who passed away a few years ago: 'I will not trouble myself with things too difficult for me to understand'. (p. 139)

Eliminating the apocalyptic hysteria within evangelical Christianity would wipe out so much amusement.  Jesus will return. Enough said. Say good bye to the goofy charts. For a great book on this read "A Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse" by Jason Boyett.

Dobson on Alcohol:
Some of my best experiences in living like Jesus have come because of alcohol! Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and you can't be accused of that unless you eat food and drink wine. . . . Jesus often attended parties with people who were offensive to the religious establishment. So if I am to follow Jesus, I have to do the same! (p. 163)

Dobson on Alcohol: 
I discovered that most people at the bar were interested in Jesus, but they were not interested in the church or religion. Even though I'm a pastor, that didn't seem to matter. What mattered was my personal journey in trying to follow Jesus' teachings. . . I've discovered that having a beer in my hand disarms people. They're much more likely to listen to what I have to say about the Bible if I'm sipping beer while I'm talking. (p. 166)

This is so true.  Of course let me preface this by stating that I am only talking about drinking with my adult friends! 

Dobson on Reaching Out:
What God wants more than anything else is that we show mercy to those who desperately need it. Throughout this year, as I've tried to eat and drink with those who were outside the church, something interesting has happened. I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with those who don't know the Lord than I am with those who do know the Lord. Those who don't know the Lord are much less judgmental. They are open to new ideas. I'm also learning that I don't need to be the spokesperson for God. Truth is truth. God is truth. And he really doesn't need me to defend his reputation. (p. 174)

The truth behind this is so sad.  Christians should be the most loving and accepting people.  There are so many who think they represent Jesus but are so far from the mark.  Instead they have become more like the Pharisees. 

Dobson on Pro-Life:
But here's an important point: being pro-life not only means I'm interested in protecting the unborn. It also means I'm interested in protecting those who have already been born.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who are dying of HIV/AIDS.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who are living in poverty.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who lack adequate health care - especially children.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those in our communities who are into gangs and drugs and will ultimately end up in prison.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those innocent civilians who are being killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Israel, and places all over the world.

Being pro-life means being concerned about those who are experiencing genocide in countries around the world.

Being pro-life means being concerned about these and a whole lot more. I am concerned about those within the conservative movement whose only concern is with the unborn. I agree with them. I stand with them. I support them. But I want to know why in the world they seem not to care about those who are already born. (p. 243-244)

There is a wealth of truth here.  Let me add that pro-life would also need to be anti-war. 

Dobson on Dying:
Given the disease I have, I'm not afraid of being dead. But I am afraid of getting dead. The process leading up to death is filled with fear. I am afraid of letting go of my own life. But as I stood before this cross and realized all that Jesus had done for me, it gave me great hope that the Jesus who suffered on the cross identifies with my own suffering. And the Jesus who identifies with my suffering is with me every step of the way - even leading up to death! (p. 261-262)

I hate that a guy like Ed who has dedicated his life to God is dying with ALS going out this way.  I just doesn't seem right.  We will all suffer in some form or other in our lifetime.  May our sufferings bring us closer to Christ in identifying with his suffering. 

Dobson on Voting for Obama:
I created a huge controversy. And that controversy was with "religious" people, not secular people. Not those outside the Church. Not those who deny the Bible. But "Christian" people. My oldest son reminded me, "Remember that the people who were most disturbed by Jesus' teaching were the religious leaders. The religious establishment opposed him. If you're going to follow Jesus, can you expect anything less?" What concerns me most was that these religious people completely ignored everything else I had to say. They were upset that I'd voted for Obama . . .(p. 278)

In one way this is odd to me because I know a lot of Christians who voted for Obama (and a lot who voted for McCain).  I guess it all depends on what part of the country you live in.  On the other hand, I did go to Liberty for 2 years so I got to live within the conservative (at times bordering on militant) evangelical movement that dove head in to the conservative Republican Party.  Newt Gingrich spoke at my graduation who replaced George Bush Sr. since he got involved with the first Gulf War.  Politicians! Go figure.  I scratched my head often, recognizing how strangely different Christianity was down in Virginia in contrast to my North East Ohio roots.

Dobson on Truth:
I also realize that no church, no denomination, and no theological system has the inside track on truth. I grew up in a fundamentalist environment where we believed we were right and everybody else was wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. . . . But none of the above groups . . . has the inside track on truth. We can all learn from each other. (p. 281)  

If every Christian, church and denomination were honest with themselves, we all pick and choose what we want to hear from the Bible and what we don't want to hear.  It is time for the church to stop dividing based on trying to define itself by what it is NOT and begin the process of learning from each other.

Dobson on Heaven:
The idea that Jesus is "the way" doesn't mean "the way to heaven" so much as it means "how we live in the here and now." Heaven is only a side benefit. (p. 284)

Amen! We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God's work in the present!  We are kingdom builders NOW!  There is so much to live for (and die for). It would be a crime for Christians just to sit around waiting for Christ to return and "rescue" us from this world.  We have been entrusted with God's creation.  We have been commissioned.  Time to get our hands and feet dirty for Christ.


This was a great book.  It was simply amazing to get inside the mind of a ministry legend who is now suffering with ALS and NOW decides to try and live like Jesus for a year.  I don't know that I could be in the right state of mind to take on a project like this while suffer with a unforgiving disease. 

I also loved, loved, loved to see how Dobson transformed in his thinking from growing up in a rigid fundamentalist evangelical environment, which often defines itself by stating what it is NOT while pointing the finger at those they do not agree with, to a mind that was more open to look for God in other expressions of Christianity.  Through this journey Dobson became aware of so many other pockets of Christianity that he could learn from.

Dobson continues to be a man marked by grace and wisdom as he explored what it meant to try and live as close as you possibly can to the life of Jesus.  It was an amazing journey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wonders how a man who has dedicated his whole life to ministry, now in his later stages of life comes down with ALS, can continue to seek out God will for his life. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movie Review: Where The Wild Things Are

I managed to take my boys to go see "Where the Wild Things Are" on opening weekend.  I have been excited to see this movie ever since I have seen the previews for it.  The children's book was a favorite of mine as a young boy.  So I was especially excited to see this live adaptation of the book. 

Now if you have not seen it yet, do not read on!  I do not want to spoil anything for you.  But for those of you who have seen it I would love to hear from you and see if your interpretation of the film was different from mine. 

Spike Jonze has created a great film that brings the book to life in a magical way.  But being that the actual book material was very short, he had to flesh out the story more to make it into a full length film. 

So let me start with the book by Maurice Sendak and what that book meant to me growing up.  In the book, I always identified with Max.  In the real world he would get in trouble with his parents and get sent to his room.  But once in his room, he could escape into an imaginary world where he didn't have to fit into someone else's world, but instead in this world he was king!  As he visited his monster friends, they would have fun and do crazy things together.  Eventually Max comes back into his real world and all is well.  His imaginary world was his way to escape from the real world and having to follow someone else's rules.  When he was with the Wild Things he could have fun and step out of the boundaries.  In fact the "boundaries" of his room fade away as it transforms into the land of the Wild Things.  It was a fun book that left a lot to the imagination for boys filled with the reckless abandon of youth.

Spike Jonze has all of this in his film.  But instead of leaving it wide open for interpretation between fantasy and reality, he decides to blur the lines between these two worlds.  The primary struggle within this film is how Max is processing the divorce of his parents and the absence of his father. 

Max begins to really act up when his mom is entertaining a male guest for dinner.  When his mom wants him to cool it he takes it up several notches, eventually running out of the house and ending up escaping to the land of the Wild Things.  Once there, he breaks the ice with the monsters and the wild rumpus most certainly begins.  The initial beginning of the visit to where the wild things are was definitely a place of escape for Max to cut loose and go wild without anyone getting mad at him. 

But as time goes on and he gets to know his monster friends, he notices a lot of tension between Carol and Judith (I may not have the right names of the two monsters).  Carol takes on the father-figure image to Max.  Judith is definitely the mother-figure.  Eventually things build up to where Max is frightened by the outbursts of Carol  who is trying to make everything right but gets angry when things start to not go the way he wants them.  Judith becomes the one that Max eventually runs to for safety and she literally swallows him whole to save him from Carol.  Max is consumed by her presence and surrounded by her protection.  He begins to understand the pain that is between these two monsters and how it has separated them from each other.  But he also has a deeper appreciation of his mothers protection and love for him.

When it is time for Max to leave the island all of the monsters are there to see him off but Carol.  Max longs to see him one more time and is reluctant to leave without saying goodbye.  Eventually Carol realizes his pain has pushed him away from everyone and he rushes down to the shore to see Max off.  As Max sails off, all the monsters howl out to Max as their expression of their love for him.  When Max arrives back home he is warmly greeted by his mother as it appears that he has a better understanding and appreciation for her as his mom.

The imaginary world of Max became the place where he could wrap his mind around what was going on in the real world.  He may not have had a front row seat to the fall out of his parents marriage but somehow he needed to come to terms with it so that he did not resent his mother.  As the monsters took on the personalities of specific people in Max's life, he was able to slowly process the issues he has had to deal with in his real world.  And when it was time to leave the island, all of the Wild Things came down to howl out to him.  This gave Max assurance that regardless of the issues between the adults in his life, they are all cheering on his launch into life and want to see him sail off to do great things.  Once Max was able to wrap his mind around all of this, he was then ready to go back to his real life and embrace his mom with a better understanding of his relationship to her. 

Overall the movie had a lot of emotions.  It was fun at parts, but it also was sad, melancholy and frightening at parts.  I'm not so sure this is a "kid's" movie.  It could be in the sense that a lot of the symbolism and imagery will go over their heads.  But this could be a profound film to help older kids and teens process pain that they take on themselves which come from their family life.  Overall, this was a great movie and I would recommend that everyone see it at least once.  But just be prepared that there are some heavy issues that are fleshed out in this film. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reflections on The Million Miles Tour

Tonight I stole away by myself for my own book junkie fix.  In fact my oldest son came home and announced to me that he did not do well on a literature test today.  As a "punishment" of sorts I thought I would take him out to dinner and then make him come with me!  I, as a good father, would give him some exposure to understanding what goes on behind the scenes in creating a book.  He would meet some real-life authors and be exposed to their passion and their craft.    I got the typical moans and groans from my son whenever I make him do the father/son thing but the end result is always good.  He was glad he came! So enough about Zach!  Plus I felt my grandma smiling down on me who was hugely responsible for exposing me to art, classical music and a passion for reading at an age where I really wasn't feeling it yet, but it made a difference later on.

I wanted to journal some of my thoughts about what I learned at this book tour.  Donald Miller talked about story and the significance of how the elements of a good story fit into our faith journey. The things that stuck with me are:

1.  Conflict existed even before the Fall.  Adam could not find a suitable partner in all of God's creation.  God gave Adam a job to do: name all the animals.  This had to be a job that lasted a very long time as the anxiety of not having a relational connection to anything in God's creation built up over time.  In the climax of this conflict, God put Adam to sleep and created Eve.  When Adam saw Eve for the first time he was in awe.  Had God given him what he wanted without the tension of conflict and time, Adam may not have fully appreciated the beauty of what God created for him. 

2.  Conflict is a given in this lifetime.  The cross was not the climax for Christians.  The cross is a massively significant event, but conflict still exists.  In fact when we present this type of worldview, believe in Jesus and He will make everything better, many people walk away from the faith disappointed when they run into problems and conflict after their conversion.  The "Final Act" of Christian history is in the New Heaven and the New Earth.  It is that which we put our hope in when Christ makes all things right and restores the creation back to what it was like in the beginning. 

3.  A good film or book has a final climactic event that resolves all of the previous issues.  Unfortunately, this is not real life.  Or should I say, this is not the present life.  Our lives will always be filled with conflict.  It is how we respond to that conflict that will determine who we are.  Viktor Frankl suffered in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.  He dealt with many Jews who just wanted to commit suicide to escape the horror of the camp.  But he realized that there was significant meaning in persevering through the conflict that they were in so that others would be moved into action by their stories and never let something like this happen again.  

4.  Mentoring young boys who do not have a father is a hugely important issue.  The odds are stacked against those who do not have a father.  But if the church takes action to mentor boys within their community who do not have a father, they will do a lot to change those odds.  Donald Miller started an organization called The Mentoring Project.  We as a youth group are now sponsors for $10 a month.  This will go towards paying for a boy to have a mentor.  Awesome stuff.  

5.  Donald Miller's reflections on the art of story and analysing its different parts and then relating it to our faith is just extraordinary.  I love it.  He understanding of faith brings so much significance to my life and the areas of conflict that I have encountered.  

6.  I also met Susan Issacs who wrote "Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir".  She was very funny.  She talked about her faith journey as she wrestled with God throughout her life.  She has some very genuine struggles throughout various stages of her faith journey that she is able to reflect on with a smirk, a little irreverence, and a whole lot of wisdom.  I am very fascinated in reading her memoir. 

If you get a chance to make it out to "The Million Miles Tour" do it!  The authors really open up their hearts and minds in a personal way that makes the evening very enjoyable and thought provoking. 

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kelly Clarkson - Walk Away - HD

Okay I said a lot about Justin, but I also need to give a shout-out to his twin brothers Seth and Jordan. They have actually done something I only dreamed about in high school by driving out to Hollywood and getting involved in acting. So far, to my knowledge, they have appeared in CSI, Sweat Live of Zach and Cody and this Kelly Clarkson video! They are the twin boys in the kitchen. You guys rock!

Listening to God's Word

Over the past year I attempted to try a new way of reading through the Bible.  I picked up "The Bible Experience" which is an audio Bible.  I have never "listened" to the Bible.  But I have to admit is was a very cool way to go through God's Word.  This wasn't your typical audio Bible.  You can purchase it as a set of CD's or you can get the mp3 version.  The production value of this Bible is outstanding.  It features a huge African-American cast including Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, Kirk Franklin, and T. D. Jakes along with many, many others.  This is not just your average "here is a person reading through the Bible" audio Bible.  This is acted out with passion before the microphones.  Complementary sound effects and music are added which make the text come alive with imagination.  This was definitely a project that was done in love, care and passion.  And I loved listening to the Bible especially while driving my car to work or traveling to meetings.  This is also a great resource to use within the church to help make the Bible come alive with imagination. 

     The only time I had a hard time with this audio Bible was when the voice of Samuel L. Jackson came on as the voice of God.  I have no problem with him personally.  It's just that every time I heard him speaking like God I could not get his "Pulp Fiction" character Jules Winnfield quoting Ezekiel 25:17 with such rage out of my mind!  So imagining God sporting the Jules Winnfield look always put a smirk on my face.  I just had a hard time not associating certain voices of famous people with some of the characters they have played in films that I so easily identify them with when I hear them.  With that in mind, I highly recommend this audio Bible.  I can't imagine that there are any other Audio Bibles out there of this caliber and quality.  

And also, let this production be a reminder for any of us who claim to be Christians never, never, never to stereotype "Hollywood" negatively.  We have a lot of brothers and sisters in Christ who are involved in the entertainment business and they deserve our support and prayers.   

Paper Route's Release of Absence

Here is the link to their new CD release called "Absence".  Here is my advice if you like their music.  Do not get it through and mp3 or I-Tunes download!  Buy the CD.  Justin is not only artistic in his music but I am sure he had a lot to do with the artistry of the CD material.  He is just as much a visual artist as well as musical artist.  Don't miss out on the full experience.  You can get their CD as well as other things at this website.

Paper Route Review #2

Here is another great review about Paper Route from  And on the left is a picture of Justin Daly doing his thing.  A long way from the ska band days!  Check out their music.  You'll love it.

Check out Paper Route

Hey gang!  I wanted to give a shout-out to the band Paper Route.  They are currently touring with Paramore.  JT Daly is in the band.  He was one of my teens in my first youth group.  It is awesome to see him using his artistic creativity and musical giftedness in such an amazing way.   The music is so unique and original, but I also love the artistry of the videos that they have crafted.  It is so cool to see students I once had the privilege of knowing, and the honor of serving them as a youth pastor, grow into their adult years impacting their world in the ways that God has gifted them.   I was so bummed the last time they came through Cincinnati a huge ice storm hit us and I was unable to make it downtown to see Paper Route.  But with the buzz that they are getting from their latest release, I know people in the music business here in the Queen City that have their eye on this band and what them to come here!  So it is a matter of time.  I can't wait!  Good luck guys!  The link is to their review on

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Michael Moore: For Those of You on Your Way to Church This Morning...

Michael Moore: For Those of You on Your Way to Church This Morning...

Now, let me just say right of the bat, I have not seen Michael Moore's latest movie "Capitalism: A Love Story" yet.  When I see it I will post my thoughts.  But he has posted an article on the Huffington Post posing the question what would Jesus think of current day capitalism.  It is a fair question to ask.  The issue that I struggle with is that it has taken a guy like Micheal Moore to ask this question.

     In defense of the church, throughout history many schools, colleges, hospitals, shelters, and food pantries have been initiated in response to cultural issues where people needed help.  There are many churches today who are doing amazing things to help the poor, feed the hungry and provide help and assistance to low income families. 

     In defense of Jesus I don't think he came to blast capitalism, socialism or imperial Rome. Regardless of that, Jesus was a threat to the political structures of his day.  He came announcing that the kingdom of God is here.  He came to reconcile people to God. 

    But the fact is that we as Christians NEED to be asking more critical questions of our culture, society, economy and dare I say Capitalism.   I am not saying that socialism would be better.  History has shown us that that system has also produced an economy where those in power grow wealthier while the others live in poverty.  When I head off to my local Christian bookstore, what really bothers me is that I don't see much of anything that critiques or calls into question the institutions or structures that oppress people and enslave the poor.  I don't see anything that advocates for illegal immigrants in our country that are used pretty much like slaves to keep our economy going but when it comes to the care and responsibility of looking out for these people I hear harsh statements leveled at a whole group of people as if it is all their fault that they are in our country and we bear no responsibility to them at all.  Instead what I see on the bookshelves is a bunch of propaganda literature for politicians that cater to the mainstream Christian base.  (How much do you want to bet that Sarah Palin's new book will be front and center at your local Christian bookstore).  I see a bunch of Christian self-help books that inspire me to be a better me.  I see a lot of wishy-washy, warm fussy, feel-good type books that seem to make the best sellers list again and again.  (Thank God that at least Dave Ramsey is trying to help us gain a better view of stewardship when it comes to our finances.  Also, Tony Campolo is one of those rare voices that do ask the tough questions.) 

In fact, the most disturbing thing that I just saw, displayed as I walked right into a Beacon bookstore the other day was a new Bible called the "American Patriot's Bible".  This is a Bible that tries to knit together the Word of God with American history.  Might I add that there are many, many "God Bless America" paraphernalia displayed all throughout the bookstore also.  Now I will admit that I do not know anyone who owns this Bible nor would I recommend it to anyone.  I love to read the Bible and I love to read American history.  But to knit the two together just reeks of nationalism.  Instead of Christianity being a voice that stands above the modern day structures that make up America we seem to have fallen into the sin of nationalism.  In fact the very title of this Bible seems so prideful and arrogant when you consider that Jesus died for the whole world, and he went out of his way many times to explain to the Jewish establishment that God's kingdom was for everybody. 

     It is bothersome to me that it takes rockstars like Bono (whom I absolutely love) to advocate for apartheid in the 80's, debt forgiveness at the turn of the century, and now currently AIDS.  These are all issues that the church should have lead the way in calling out the social structures of our society to uphold justice, practice forgiveness and institute compassion.  The church needs to be more vocal in social justice issues.  It is good that we help the poor but at what point do we start asking questions as to why are there so many poor and can something within our social establishments be changed to help the least of these so that they don't have to stay at the bottom.  Current day capitalism needs to be questioned, evaluated, critiqued and judged according to the ways in which Christ has called us to live.

So the question remains, "What would Jesus think of Capitalism?"  I think Jesus would have established that we are not of this world (social structures of our day) but instead we are kingdom people.  I know Jesus would have spoken out against greed, corruption, and enslavement.  I believe that Jesus would teach us not to wait upon the government to help us but to live in community with other believers and look out and care for each other.  I believe that Jesus would help us carry out His mission all around our world.  Micheal Moore identified himself as a Catholic.  I have to wonder if he has explored his denominations involvement in serving the poor, helping the needy and reaching out to those who need help.  Does he know of what the Catholic church has been doing in order to live into being kingdom people here on earth?  What kind of impact is his church having in the surrounding neighborhoods where they serve?  Micheal Moore is good at uncovering the dark side of humanity but I wonder if he could possibly go in a different direction and explore the good thinks that have come out of the church in response to evil in the economic/social system in order to launch a movement of good or at least fan the flames so that the sparks the church is currently making would burn even stronger.  Could Moore inspire us to live within community out of the goodness of our heart?  That might not make for a controversial documentary which he likes to be known for. 

I do love the fact that I grew up in America.  I love this country.  But this is not God's country. It is just another form of Babylon that will disappear from history when God establishes His eternal kingdom.  It is up to us to live as kingdom people right now standing up for what is right, and exposing what is wrong within our country.  We are stewards of God's creation.  We need to bear that responsibility with integrity.  If we do this correctly, we are going to have to ask some really difficult questions that critique capitalism, environmental issues, health care, and war.  We can not accept the spoon-fed answers from the left or the right.  But we must be open to the fact that God's ways do not fit into such easy categories.  Instead of listening to those who demonize those who oppose their views we must be open to the fact that we might have something to learn by listening to others we may not normally listen to.  Micheal Moore is one of those people. 
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Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Reality of Evil and God's Justice in Our Postmodern Times

     I love reading N. T. Wright because he reminds me of a modern-day C.S. Lewis. In his book Evil and The Justice of God Wright brings a fresh and contemporary analysis to both of these issues. 

     Wright begins by exploring the problem of evil and offering some new insights to this old issue.  I love when he actually takes the old debate of "if there is a God, and if He is good and all-powerful, then why is there evil in the world?" and turns it upside down by stating that "you could of course refer to this as the problem of good rather than the problem of evil: if the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, why is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love and laughter?" (p. 19). 

     But then Wright goes on to reopen the "Problem of Evil" debate by examining some of the contemporary influences that impact this epic philosophical conversation.  He points out the influence that postmodern thought has had on this by claiming that: "Postmodernism, in recognizing that we are all deeply flawed, avoids any return to a classic doctrine of original sin by claiming that humans have no fixed 'identity' and hence no fixed responsibility. You can't escape evil within postmodernity, but you can't find anybody to take the blame either. . . Postmodernity encourages a cynical approach: nothing will get better and there's nothing you can do about it. . . . the analysis of evil offered by postmodernity allows for no redemption. There is no way out, no chance of repentance and restoration, no way back to the solid ground of truth from the quicksands of deconstruction." (p. 32-33). Postmodernism is a knee-jerk reaction to the failed belief in progressivism but goes to the opposite extreme of falling into despair, cynicism, and hopelessness without offering anyway out. 

    At the conclusion of this section Wright brings to light the importance for Christians living in postmodern times to believe that " . . . the God who made the world remains passionately and compassionately involved with it. . . . for the Christian, the problem is how to understand and celebrate the goodness and God-givenness of creation and, at the same time, understand and face up to the reality and seriousness of evil. . . . Evil may still be a four-letter word. But so, thank God, is love." (p. 40-41).  In this statement Wright points to a God of hope, love and compassion who pursues us.  And while recognizing evil for what it is, God never intends for it to stay that way. 

     Wright then moves on to tackle the question of "What can God do about evil?"  Acknowledging that God is deeply involved in His creation, Wright points out that "The overarching picture is of the sovereign Creator God who will continue to work within his world until blessing replaces curse, homecoming replaces exile, olive branches appear after the flood and a new family is created in which the scattered languages can be reunited." (p. 53).  God is actively involved in restoring His creation.

     But as active as God is in His creation, it seems at times that the outcome and circumstances can be messy.  Wright suggests that we look at God's promises and our current day problems with the assurance that "God remains sovereign over the paradox. . . . the only thing to do is to hold the spectacular promises in one hand and the messy reality in the other and praise YHWH anyway." (p. 60). 

     The reality is that God could scrap the "project" and start over if He chose to but instead what we see is that: This project is a matter of setting the existing creation to rights rather than scrapping it and doing something else instead." (p. 73).  In fact Wright goes on to observe in the narrative of Scripture " . . . a pattern of divine action, to judge and punish evil and to set bounds to it without destroying the responsibility and agency of human beings themselves; and also both to promise and to bring about new moments of grace, events which constitute new creation. (p. 73).  God is active and involved in restoring his creation back to how it was meant to be from the beginning. 

     One of those "new moments of grace" come through the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the ultimate expression of God against evil which is "the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God's good world of space, time and matter, and above all, God's image-bearing human creatures." (p. 89)  Wright explains that the Gospel writers are trying to tell us that " . . . evil at all levels and of all sorts had done its worst and that Jesus throughout his public career and supremely on the cross had dealt with it, taken its full force, exhausted it - why then, of course, death itself had no more power." (p. 89).   It is through Jesus that the power of evil is absorbed and exhausted.  Wright goes on to emphasize that "Jesus suffers the full consequences of evil: evil from the political, social, cultural, personal, moral, religious and spiritual angles all rolled into one; evil in the downward spiral hurtling toward the pit of destruction and despair. And he does so precisely as the act of redemption, of taking that downward fall and exhausting it, so that there may be new creation, new covenant, forgiveness, freedom and hope." (p. 92).

     Then as we come to understand all that Christ has done for us through the cross and his resurrection, " . . . we are summoned by the most powerful love in the world to live by the pattern of death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness, in daily Christian living, in sure hope of eventual victory. The "problem of evil" is not simply or purely a 'cosmic' thing; it is also a problem about me. And God has dealt with that problem on the cross of his Son, the Messiah. . . The cross is the place where, and the means by which, God loved us to the uttermost." (p. 97).  So instead of looking at this as a philosophical equation to be solved, it becomes a very personal issue as I look deep into my own soul and see the problem of evil is a very, very personal problem for me in which I need help.  Thanks be to Christ for being the visible expression of solving the issue of evil and offering hope and restoration to all. 

     Wright then goes into how we ought to live into the reality of what the cross and Christ's resurrection has done for us right now.  He points out that: "According to the early Christians, what was accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection is the foundation, the model and the guarantee for God's ultimate purpose, which is to rid the world of evil altogether and to establish his new creation of justice, beauty and peace. And it's clear from the start that this was not intended simply as a distant goal for which one was compelled to wait in passive expectation. God's future had already broken into the present in Jesus, and the church's task consists not least of implementing that achievement and thus anticipating that future. (p. 102).

     With this in mind, Wright recognizes that there is a force bent on the destruction of these aims: The biblical picture of the satan is thus of a nonhuman and nondivine quasi-personal force which seems bent on attacking and destroying creation in general and humankind in particular, and above all on thwarting God's project of remaking the world and human beings in and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. (p. 109)

     Taking all of this into consideration there are many ways that we can live out the life that God has empowered us to enact.  The two streams of thought that have been popular over the centuries has been dualism and progressivism.  In fact these two are still very present in the modern day church whether intentionally or not.  Wright tries to establish a new way of thinking for Christians that helps us better understand our role in the present as well as the future.  Wright explains this in our call to holiness.  Wright is clear to define what this means. He declares that: "The Christian calling to radical holiness of the life is likewise a matter of inaugurated eschatology, that is, of beginning to live in the present by the rule of what will be the case in the ultimate future.  Christian ethics does not consist of a list of 'what we're allowed to do' and 'what we're not allowed to do.' It consists rather in the summons to live in God's new world, on the basis that idolatry and sin have been defeated at the cross and new creation has begun at Easter - and that the entire new world, based on this achievement, is guaranteed by the power of the Spirit." (p. 120).  This has significant implications in how we approach not only our own personal lives but how we express ourselves as a church through spiritual practices and forgiveness, how we interact with the law and how we judge art.

     Wright concludes that ". . . we are called not just to understand the problem of evil and the justice of God, but also to be part of the solution to it.  We are called to live between the cross and resurrection on the one hand and the new world on the other, and in believing in the achievements of the cross and resurrection, and in learning how to imagine the new world, we are called to bring the two together in prayer, holiness and action within this wider world." (p. 128-129). 

This is such an inspiring way, as well as a more Biblical way, of looking at ourselves and the role that we play within this present world.  I grew up under the view that the world is getting more and more evil while we as the church are just waiting for Jesus to return and rescue us.  It was a very dark view that encouraged an "us vs. them" mentality towards the world.  But I also struggled with seeing what appeared to be the only other option of progressivist thinking looking too much like Enlightenment philosophy infiltrating the church.  But Wright sets us on a course of understanding our role in the present which empowers the church to live into the fullness of the Holy Spirit, impacting ourselves as well as our culture.

     Another key way that we live into the fullness in defeating evil and upholding the justice of God is through the act of forgiveness. Wright goes on to emphasis that " . . . when we forgive someone we not only release them from the burden of our anger and its possible consequences; we release ourselves from the burden of whatever it was they had done to us, and from the crippling emotional start in which we shall go on living if we don't forgive them and instead cling to our anger and bitterness. Forgiveness, then - including God's forgiveness of us, our forgiveness of one another and our forgiveness of ourselves - is a central part of deliverance from evil." (p. 135).  This was the great act that was achieved at the cross: God's forgiveness of us.  Our sin was not excused or ignored.  It was dealt with and we were forgiven.  In the same way we need to be people of forgiveness. 

     As Wright wraps up his book, he concludes with the reminder that "with all Christian eschatology, the best news of all is that we don't have to wait for the future to start experiencing our deliverance from evil. We are invited, summoned, bidden to start living this way in the present." (p. 165).

     This was an excellent book that critiqued many of the past theological views of evil and the justice of God.  Wright also critiqued some of the current day responses to evil within the church and within society.  He presented an excellent response to how we must view evil and the justice of God, not just understanding it though, but living into it right now as a reality that we have a responsibility to enact as the body of Christ.  This has personal, ecclesiastical, and social implications that we must live into as followers of Christ.  Any one who wrestles with "the problem of evil" must read this book.