Purpose-Driven Centrist: Yes He Can!

Like many around the country, I took time out of my business day last week to watch the inauguration. In fact, I was one of the hosts of a conference for a research project for which I work. Attendees came from all over the country, and even Australia and Canada, and we stopped our work, had lunch brought in, and watched together. Some of us commented minute-by-minute reactions on Facebooks; others just took it all in. I did a little of both, but neither action could stop the sense of sadness I got from watching the ceremony.

As a centrist, I am often, but not always, planted in the middle of the issues. More importantly, I believe that the best position to have is in the middle and not at either pole. But just like anyone else, I am persuaded from one side of the centrist-line to another from time to time. And during the inauguration telecast, my feelings of support and empathy swung back at forth to and from both Presidents Bush and Obama. President Obama has certainly been able to rally a call of hope and change, and to many it is inspiring. Some of his call has definitely inspired me. Much of his address included things I could support. But much of the audience response made me sad to wonder if people are really listening.

I try to stay abreast with the issues of the day, the problems, the possible solutions, and look at things from the big picture. I read books by controversial authors on controversial topics. I read about faith, politics, and people's opinions. I try to get the big picture. But I wondered if the big picture about the future of our nation was really as evident as the voices of the people in the crowds or even around me.

What I heard louder than the prayer of Rick Warren or the flubbing of the oath of office by both Chief Justice Roberts and President Obama, were chants of boos against President Bush and "thank god" praises of the people around me when he boarding Executive One (that was the codename of the helicopter, right?). I have been just as critical of many of the decisions of the last 8 years, but the polar expressions at the closure of one administration and the beginning of another is still dissonance to the centrist's ears. It reaks of evidence that the unity message that President Obama preached in his campaigns, as well as the realistic "this will be hard work" message of his inauguration fell on deaf ears. I hope that isn't true, but the hopefulness I thought I might have after the inauguration was not to be found.

But inside of all problems is an opportunity, and it belongs to those of us who live in the Kingdom of God. This time now, above all others, is our chance as followers of Jesus to truly be subversive. The culture of polarized politics has reigned for too long now. Its reign has included both major political parties, and through a generation that is beginning to move into the background of life. It seems so clear that it is our chance to show the love of Jesus without the stain of a political party or a single-voter issue. We can cast off the hindering chains of the 700 clubs and the Focus action groups, and begin now, through our actions, to say "Yes He can!" Let's not shout it from the Capitol or Lincoln Memorial; let's shout it with our hands, feet, hearts, and even our wallets. Let's hold the example of the Good Samaritan just as high in our memories as the woman with only two copper coins. Let's show our communities, our churches, our families, our friends, and our world that no world leader will solve any of these problems. No, only the love of Jesus. He can! That is the Center position I have my hope.

The Anti-Ombudsman: Prince B's Pastoral Primer

Hello Darlings!

I fear that I will be unable to distribute Big B or Little B awards this time, my dears. You all seem to be hibernating in the wake of holiday excess. Where’s the winking sarcasm? The scandal? The hip aloofness? The glamour, for Satan’s sake? Poverty and environmental concerns are delightful as part of a cause celebre garnering the attention of major media outlets, but you explore them ad nauseum. Please get back on the job. I have more than a few flatulent cacodemons in my employ that would be delighted to keep you on task. I’d do it myself, but I just got a manicure.

For now, perhaps a lesson is in order. Given the prevalent preoccupation with pastors on the BWC blog, I will provide some instruction regarding this fabulous vocation.

In the 20th century, the denizens of Hell flourished under the auspices of the prosperity gospel, legalism, and the promise of miracles in return for cash. The Obama era, however, calls for a new kind of Christian shepherd. Humans are more cynical and savvy than ever, so a good pastor will have the type of panache that confounds the likes Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, or Chuck Swindoll. Here’s what it takes to be a “Man of G - -“ in 21st Century.

1) Pre-emptive humility. Public confession, self-deprecation, and thoughtful anecdotes about one’s mistakes are the bread and butter of today’s pastoral leadership. It disarms one’s critics and provides carte blanche for firm doctrinal edicts. If you’ve already demonstrated how humble and “broken” (what an entertaining word) you are, your congregation is less likely to decry narcissism and manipulation.

2) Say you put your family first. Though no one who pastors a large church could possibly put family first, you must saturate your followers with charming tales of sacrificial family headship. Not only will they think that you’re priorities are properly aligned, they’ll assume you have boundless energy and stamina.

3) Be smart yet folksy. I don’t care if you have an Ivy League Ph.D., darling, don’t act too educated. Tell stories about farming, changing your oil, and eating fast food. Assume that theological exegesis will be interpreted as unbelief.

4) Be hip and youthful, but don’t piss off the old folks. Identification with the younger generation is best achieved through wardrobe and pop culture references. Do this, and they will not notice you don’t share their values. Those with substantial wealth in your congregation will generally be over fifty-five. They are to be placated at any cost. Even if they are solipsistic dullards, always behave as if they are imparting deep wisdom from a better, simpler time.

5) Say something shocking in order to prove how “authentic” you are.

Those of you in the ministry will do well to abide by these policies if you wish to garner influence and weal-, um, financial security. In truth, darlings, the fastest way involves a written agreement with yours truly. It would be my utmost pleasure to help you "grow" your ministry. I can provide multiple references who will attest to my effectiveness. Of course, I’m only interested in long term relationships, if you take my meaning . . .

Please don’t disappoint me again, my dears. I expect to be flabbergasted with delight upon my return. Until then, my darling beauties, I remain . . .

Your friend until The End,
Prince B

Sex Pastor on Colbert Report

Inspiring Tales of Former Grocery Clerks

Here's a head-scratcher for you. Which evangelical tool does more damage to Christianity's reputation: sandwich board doomsayers or email forwards?

Somehow, I've reached the point where I don't get these forwards anymore, though I still have some of my favorites saved in various spots. I guess the latest one is a rehashing of Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner's rise from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl champion/possible champion. Today, Deadspin mentioned the how the treacly story, made up by who knows who, is actually less-inspiring than the truth.

My suggestion: shame email forwarders into relenting. I don't care if it's your 90 year-old grandmother...mock her until she never does it again.

In other news, I've been trying to pitch a novel about a Warner-esque character who worked in a grocery store for a year when he was down on his luck, only to move to Phoenix and become a powerful Christian media mogul/editor. "Too gory" was the response from Harvest House. Don't they see graphic violence is the future of Christian writing?


A Burnside Writer Scores a Starred Review in PW!

The stable of writers, journalists, published authors, and editors are all proud, and yes, more than a little jealous of our very own Susan Issacs for scoring a starred review in the upcoming February 9 edition of Publisher's Weekly.

Here's a link to the preview.

That's simply a big, hairy deal and we couldn't be more pleased. I've got this book pre-ordered at Amazon.com and I'm eager to get my paws on the book.

Congrats, Susan

Even Ted Haggard

A disclaimer before I start: though I love Ted Haggard as a fellow human and Christian, I’m not a fan. I wasn’t a fan “before” and I’m not a fan of Haggard 2.0: the victim doing the talk-show circuit, fertilizing ground for a book proposal. But as I watched him on Oprah yesterday (just because my wife was, I swear!), I found myself in his corner on one particular issue: sexual orientation. I mean, not in his corner like, you know . . . just agreeing with about a few things.

Sexuality is one of my specialties as a clinical psychologist. I also teach a class at Fuller Seminary’s School of Psychology called “Clinical Issues in Sexual Diversity.” It’s about working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) clients. In my clinical and academic work, something has become clear to me: sexuality is complicated. Very. As I watched Ted Haggard and Oprah spend twenty minutes interrupting each other, something else became clear: Oprah wanted him to admit that he was gay, though Ted refused to do it. Oprah said that a lot of homosexuals would be offended by his description of same-sex attraction as a burden. She wanted him to fling the closet door open and embrace his homosexuality.

Oprah probably wasn’t the only one who was peeved. Haggard wouldn’t admit to being completely heterosexual, either. Two years ago, when he got out of gay rehab after only three weeks, a spokesman for his church said that Haggard was “entirely heterosexual.” Nobody on the right or the left is okay with the guy being confused. They want him to pick a side and lead a parade or shut up.

Almost everyone on both sides of the homosexual “issue” (though this has more to do with people than politics, something I pontificate about here) agrees that homosexual feelings are not a “choice.” Gay affirmative folks take this to the extreme that a person has no choice regarding lifestyle. From this perspective, a person with same-sex attraction cannot choose to pursue a heterosexual relationship. The American Psychological Association (APA) is trying to ban psychotherapy with the goal of changing sexual orientation, even though therapists provide such treatment only at the client’s request and with full informed consent about the long course of therapy and its limited effectiveness. The APA doesn't want anyone “struggling” with sexual orientation.

We need to start warming up to the fact sexuality is complicated. I’m not talking about Kinsey’s ill-supported continuum of sexual orientation; I mean that a lot of things affect our sexuality. Biology, psychology, environment, family, and, yes, spirituality all have an impact. This can have confusing, frustrating results, whether you’re homosexual or not. Sometimes all that’s left is to make a choice that seems pleasing to God and stumble forward. Those confused and frustrated with their sexuality need grace and empathy. Especially from Christians. Even from Oprah. Even for Ted Haggard.


Beer Reviews - Odell Brewing

Fort Collins-based Odell Brewing is new to Arizona, opening up distribution with a packed-house party in Scottsdale some weeks ago. Because Mindy was working a 30-hour shift, and I do love a new beer, I stopped in to the packed-house, catching the national championship game on a TV with folks clamoring around me.

I'm not a fan of crowds, but missing out on Odell would've been a huge mistake.

When it comes to regular IPAs (as opposed to double or imperial), I'm of the opinion that bitter is better. The more "citrusy" and "floral" come to mind when I'm sipping a new brew, the more I'm apt to come back for more. I might always prefer a Maharaja or a Rogue Imperial, but those are special treats. Further, I want something bottled. Nimbus Brewing, for instance, has an excellent IPA, but I'm not driving to Tucson. I want a bottled IPA I can drink on our back patio while the grill is going.

The most citrusy and floral IPAs I've found have been out of Caldera Brewing in Ashland, Oregon and Big Sky Brewing in Missoula. Big Sky is my go-to if it's available since Caldera doesn't distribute down here. Until Odell, that is.

I don't know what it is, but Odell is doing something different. The way I'd describe it, and this may sound awful, is like biting a juicy wedge of ripe grapefruit. That level of citrus isn't rare, but the experience is...while Big Sky and Caldera smack your tonsils with IBUs, Odell is content to leave you with delicate floral tones and lip-smacking layers of hoppy fruit.

Odell's 90 Shilling Scottish and 5 Barrel Pale Ale are good, but the IPA is where it's at to me. Sadly, Odell isn't available any farther west than Arizona...a shame, since hopheads in California and Oregon are missing out. It's nice to know American IPAs, unlike their British counterparts, are still pushing boundaries.


An aside: I'm a big fan of Odell Brewing's graphic design. I couldn't help notice the similarities to McMenamins, and wondered why those visuals haven't taken off more.


The Reminder

Removed by over a thousand miles, I've struggled to keep in the loop regarding the debacle swirling around Portland mayor Sam Adams.

Whether by nature or design, Adams cuts an Obama-esque figure. He's a charismatic young Democrat with a bright political future, and he's the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. He's well-liked. He advocates grass-roots community organizing.

Sam Adams it the sort of politician people, Democrats and Republicans alike, want to believe in.

Still, did anyone bat an eye to learn Adams had lied about his relationship with a seventeen year-old legislative intern named Beau Breedlove? And was anyone shocked by Adams' refusal to leave office in the face of widespread opposition?

No, this is what we expect. We're pleasantly surprised when scandals don't surface, when politicians under fire leave office gracefully.

Watching the inauguration last week, I felt like a fatalist. I was moved by the pageantry and the history of it all, by Barack Obama's powerful speech. But the hope I felt for this Presidency was tempered. I don't want to be a pessimist, but isn't cynicism of humanity truth?

Barack Obama is not Sam Adams, even if Adams fashions himself in the same mold. But there's still this nagging fear that even if President Obama does not fail, how can he possibly live up to the standards we've put on him?

Church Hopping: Chapel of the Holy Cross - Sedona, AZ

Location: Sedona, Arizona
Website: http://www.chapeloftheholycross.com/
Architect: Marguerite Brunswig Staude
Built: April 1956

History: The chapel was finished in 1956, completed in 18 months at a cost of $300k. Architect Marguerite Brunswig Staude was inspired by the Empire State Building, the idea of the skyscraper as a testament to God. Frank Lloyd Wright, one of Staude's teachers, was taken with her sketches and built an archtectural model for the city of Budapest, Hungary. Unfortunately, World War II rendered that option impossible.

At her ranch in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, Staude felt the beautiful red stone canyon cried out for a uniquely contemporary, American shrine. The land where the shrine was built was government property, and required "practically an act of Congress" to permit building. Under a recommendation from Senator Barry Goldwater, ground was broken in April 1955 and finished a year later.

Exterior Design: Here's where, if I knew anything about architecture like Stephanie, I would regale you with actual facts.

Instead, I'll explain the building like an idiot. It looks like a three ring binder, splayed open just a bit and standing on two boulders. Plus, there's a cross in the middle.

Interior Design: The towering concrete walls and windows on the north and south ends direct your eyes skyward. The floor, meanwhile, is packed from back to front with typical Catholic accoutrements. Without the spacious and rising ceiling, it would feel cluttered. The south-facing windows are structured with an enormous cross, and constant Arizona sun casts a cross shadow across the chapel during the day. The altar is all right angles, punctuated by wrought-iron branches in the crucifix, altar table and candelabras.

Thoughts: What's most striking about the Chapel is how it symbolizes how far man falls short of God. Almost every aspect of the chapel, from the front exterior views to the contemplative and spacious interior, is awe-inspiring in its simplicity and beauty. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a testament to God through modern architecture, especially in the face of how ugly modern churches can be.

And yet, outside, the chapel is dwarfed by red stone cliffs painted by sun, the green valley winding its way through. As good an attempt as the Chapel may be, it's immediately clear how feeble its beauty in the face of God's creation.

Nitpicks: Remember how I italicized "Almost" a couple paragraphs above?

There are tapestries hanging on the Chapel's massive east and west walls. Two of the tapestries, of Biblical characters (I'm fairly sure one was Moses), are awesome. The others, and there are four of them, look like tacky Baptist posters, with pastel purple and yellow smears. Say what you will about Catholics...they have taste when it comes to decorating churches. How these tapestries found their way in among ancient statues of Michael the Archangel, I'll never know. (Click photo for a better view.)


New Burnside Writers Collective Logo

In case you forgot, we're still moving forward with that whole site rebuild thing. Jose Reyes at Metaleap Design has finished our new logo. We thought we'd give you a peek. I'm fairly ecstatic about it, to be honest. Jose does amazing work. He and his wife Nikolle are awful to work with though...like the Chef Gordon Ramseys of graphic design. I'm hoping they'll take my counseling fees out of the bill.

Above is the black and white version, but we're likely have a color version on our site. We're not sure which color it will be yet, but I like this orange.

Thoughts, anyone?

And, by the way, we're still accepting donations for the site rebuild. We could still use your help. Thank you to everyone who's given so far!

Meditations: "Perhaps" - Embracing the Risk Factor

There's a little word, which I find unnerving, that shows up regularly in the Bible. It's the word "perhaps" and its presence, if we ponder if for a moment or two, offers a critique of some values we hold dear in our western culture. The word shows up when Caleb seeks to conquer the hill country of the promised land as an old man. He asks Joshua for permission to enter Bible, noting that "perhaps" God will grant him victory. Jonathan, the son of Saul, took on twenty of the enemy because he sensed God was in it, and that "perhaps" the Lord would work victory of them.

In both cases, these men had a clear sense from God regarding both the next step they were take and the desired outcome. What they didn't know, however, was whether they would succeed. In both cases, failure would have meant death. In both cases success would have been a clear testimony of the power of God because strength would be manifest in the midst of situations where weakness was so clearly evident. But weakness means we're outnumbered. Weakness means we might fail. Weakness means that, unless God comes through, we're stuffed.

We don't like being in that kind of space. We don't like the word "perhaps". We don't like risks nearly as much as we like safety and control. Maybe that's OK, the preference for safety and control over risk. What's not OK is to choose safety as the predominant paradigm for our decision making, because the reality is that God is always pushing us out of our safety zone, into a zone of dependency. He's pushing us out of our safety zone financially, as he challenges us to live generously and trust him with our provision. He's pushing us out relationally, whether that means calling us to reach out to strangers, break down social barriers, or risk entering an unfamiliar culture where we're vulnerable and not in control. Like a mother eagle, he's pushing us out of our nests so that we'll learn the ways of faith. Soon we come to understand that the ways of faith can't be learned without the word "perhaps".

In a world where much in which we've trusted is presently collapsing (things like banks, the auto industry, the global economy, vocational assurance) it's tempting for us to make safety and assurance an even larger value than before, pushing faith and risk to the periphery. Such a posture reveals that we've misunderstood our real source of security all along, for the global economy, banks, vocations, and home equity were never our real sources of security. We might have thought they were. They weren't. God is the only rock, Jehovah Jirah is the only provider. He'll either sustain us, or He won't. But the prerogative, protection, and provision, come from Him. And if that's true, we've little to fear, even if the mirages collapse. This, of course, is easier to say than to actually live.

I hope to live 2009 on the basis of obedience to God's vision and calling, rather than on the assumption that God wants me to be safe. A little poem that helps me remember this comes from a WWII soldier named Studdard Kennedy, who fought often on the front lines. Writing home to his 10 year old son he said:

"The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, "God, keep my Daddy safe", but "God, make Daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them". Son, life and death don't matter, but right and wrong do. Daddy dead is Daddy still. But Daddy dishonored before God is something to awful for words. I suppose you'd like to put in something about safety too and Mother would like it too. Well, put it in afterwards, always afterwards. For it really doesn't matter as much as doing what is right."


Savior on Capitol Hill

The basic message of the first video below is okay - pledging oneself to acts of service that benefit our local and extended communities. But every time a video like this gets made I have to spend an extra half hour explaining to die-hard Republican relatives that I voted for Obama because I thought he was the best candidate for the job of president, and not because I think he is the American messiah.

The worst line comes right at the end: "I pledge to be a servant to our president and all mankind..." The essence of representative government is that the representative becomes the servant of the people, not the other way around, and we can't hold our elected officials accountable until we recognize that. (Unless by "servant to our president" Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore meant that we should all put on Christ Jesus, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Which is possible, I guess.)

So watch this video...

...and then disinfect with this video:


Focus on the Family: Invocation Trepidation Part II

I have played and replayed the inaugural prayers of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, conservative evangelical Reverend Rick Warren, and Civil Rights icon Reverend Joseph Lawery.

I appreciated parts of each man’s words. Robinson spoke beautifully of inclusion and brought to mind those otherwise marginalized in societies across the world and in our own. Warren’s was uplifting and seemed sincere (though he spoke so loudly I wondered if he didn’t realize he had a microphone on). Lowery's mere presence was stirring, and his rhyming conclusion was hilarious for those of us "mellow" enough to take it as a joke.

Though I think the words of each were earnest, I did not feel that any prayer was, in it’s strictest sense, much of a prayer at all, but more of a speech to the crowd sometimes redirected at God.

Furthermore, in parsing through the prayers, it was difficult for me to untangle each man’s words from his religious/political platform.

Evangelist Tony Campolo once warned that mixing the church and the state is dangerous, not because it ruins the state, but rather because it compromises the church. Perhaps this was Jesus’ thinking when he taught his disciples to pray in private, going into their rooms and closing the door (Matthew 6).

History shows that the church is its strongest and most vibrant not when it is the dominant way of life but rather the underground movement. It thrives and spreads in singular acts, done by one person for another. It is represented best when one person’s actions speak Jesus’ all-encompassing love, not when one makes grand political gestures or when trite phrases are printed on bills en masse.

This gets a little touchy-feely, even for me. But frankly, I think we need to reconsider: how (or maybe more importantly: if) we want to be represented on such a stage. Are our beliefs about projection? being right? strong-arming? grand gestures?

Or are they about loving people well, individually, for no other reason than to mimic the love of their Creator?


Obligatory U2 Post

10 years ago, the mere mention of a new U2 album would've sent me into a flurry of ecstatic, Bono-esque gyrations. And if you're reading this site, there's a 97% chance you responded in kind. For 20 and 30-something Christians, U2 are the most important artists in the history of the world. For instance, which song are you more likely to know the words to: Psalm 117 or "Mysterious Ways"?

Knowing Psalm 40 by heart doesn't count.

Which is why I'm sad to report a general apathy at hearing about the release of U2's upcoming album, No Line On the Horizon. Not even a stir of excitement.

Maybe it's the sample track, "Get On Your Boots", which sounds suspiciously similar to "Vertigo". Mostly, it's because How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was so boring.

Then there was Bono's new column in The New York Times, which was so ridiculous I couldn't tell if it was parody or not. Consider this line:
Glasses clinking clicking, clashing crashing in Gaelic revelry: swinging doors, sweethearts falling in and out of the season’s blessings, family feuds subsumed or resumed.
Yikes. Who knew Bono was the forefather of Pitchfork reviews?

I feel bad jumping on the anti-Bono bandwagon, especially since the guy has become a post-modern Mother Theresa. I understand all the good he's doing, and I'm a million times thankful for it. But, sweet fancy Moses, man, give us a break. I'm content with War, Joshua Tree, Zooropa and Pop. Maybe No Line On the Horizon will be pleasantly surprising.

I mean, there's a stark difference between the legacies of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Partly, that's due to music. But there's something to be said for The Beatles bowing out gracefully.

Is this just me? Am I a lone, contrarian voice bitching in the wilderness? I know plenty of folks who loved Atomic Bomb, but why? Please...if I'm being a snooty, Andy Rooney-ish crank here, let me know.


Classic Onion

THE ONION - Nov. 5, 2008

WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation's broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, "It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can't catch a break."


Burnside Sells Out: David A. Zimmerman

(Editor's Note: For this edition of Burnside Sells Out, Larry Shallenberger offered to interview David Zimmerman, author of Deliver Us from Me-Ville and Comic Book Character: Unleashing the Hero in Us All.)
BWC: David, you wrote a book about your narcissism, how you managed to escape it, and how you can help others along the way? Do I have that right?

David Zimmerman: (Laughs) Yes, I’m a master of narcissism. I dole out insights to others from my lofty position.

BWC: So just how overqualified does your wife find you to write a book on narcissism?

DZ: Overqualified. My wife keeps me from embellishing. It’s interesting to write books about yourself–to share personal experiences. There’s a fine line between adding color and embellishing. She’s a good sounding board, and she keeps me from crossing the line.

[INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: Deliver Us From Me-Ville is a witty book. Its filled with spiritual insight. But it’s also cheeky. I tried to match that humor with my opening questions. But I fear that I came off as a jerk. I’ve just badgered the author. Nice. Everyone has to make a first impression…]

BWC: In your book, you use the word supurbia. How is superbia different from pride?

DZ: In its purest form supurbia is not that different from pride. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonheoffer didn’t translate the word into German. He left it in the Latin, which can be defined either as pride or excellence. So in of itself, the word is value-neutral.

But throughout the history of the church, supurbia has been listed among the seven deadly sins. Supurbia goes beyond a healthy sense of worth and becomes self-obsession. Where’s the line? I think you can only see the line when in retrospect. Humor and confession are two effective ways to deal with supurbia. By looking back you discern the difference.

BWC: You noted the apostle Paul as someone who had “prideful” moments without succumbing to supurbia.

[AUTHOR’S ANGST: Oh, nuts. Here’s where I lose the audience. “He hates the apostle Paul!?!? He hates the Bible!!!” How can I get out of this?]

[INTERVIEWERS NOTE: Oh, nuts. This guy hates the Apostle Paul. How do I get out of this interview?]

DZ: I used to avoid reading Paul’s writings because I saw him as cocky and arrogant. I’ve come to see that as a superficial reading of Paul. Those times when Paul seems to get especially arrogant are mitigated by his concern for his churches. He was contending with the supurbia that was threatening several of the communities he was developing.

BWC: His writing gets more big and forceful the more he forgets himself and tends to the needs of his churched?

DZ: Exactly. Of course, he’s human, so pride is part of his struggle, his experience, as well. And I think that peeks through the scriptures here and there.

[AUTHOR’S ANGST: OK, did that get me out of it? Or did that get me deeper into it? I should really go to seminary . . .]

BWC: Is it possible to completely escape from Me-Ville?

DZ: Not on our own juice. Discipleship is directional. When we start reflecting on the distance that we’ve placed between ourselves and Me-Ville, we reveal the extent to which we are still in it. Me-Ville is a construct that we build; the Kingdom of God is already present to us. So God doesn’t deliver us from Me-Ville–he delivers us through it. The way out of Me-Ville is drawing close to Christ.

BWC: I don’t know if you’ve watched this new season of American Idol. We’ve got another crop of would-be singers who grew up with Barney telling them “You can be anything that you want to be.” And now they encounter Simon Cowell, who counters with “You’re horrible!”

[INTEVIEWER’S NOTE: Shut. Up. I made an American Idol reference. I need to rent Babette’s Feast this weekend to cleanse the palette.]

DZ: You see two things in action in American Idol. You see people who declare themselves “Idol Worthy” and a lot of people—the judges and the viewers–making fun of them. What you don’t see is a consistent kind of love. Simon tells the truth with very little acknowledgment of the personhood of the candidate. Paula tells people they’re great and offers them encouragement, but she does so cavalierly, even dismissively. We see the failed contestants walk away. But we don’t know where they walk to. We remember them as a moment, but their story goes on.

BWC: So, in part, we need community to be delivered from Me-Ville?

DZ: We need a community that recognizes God as a deliverer. God didn’t discover Israel as a kingdom and then anoint that kingdom as his people; he heard their cries of slavery and delivered them to a promised land. The contrast would be if Simon took people with horrible voices and made them into great singers. That’s the message of scripture. Isaiah said, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” And God purified him. God is not an endorser of our every instinct. God is a deliverer. We need reminders that God delivers all of us from narcissism to a community organized around and under him.

BWC: You write that Jesus is pro-me. Isn’t that just more of the same religion turned on its head for consumerism?

DZ: Pro-me is another Latin phrase that Bonhoeffer appropriated from Luther. It means that Jesus is invested in us. We are meant to be in relationship with God. And Jesus exerts himself toward that end. Romans says God is for us. And that if God is for us who can be against us. Jesus visits us, trains us, advocates for us, dies for us, prepares a place for us.
The way that we organize the universe around ourselves is a defensive measure. We are insecure in this world. Remembering God’s covenantal love, his pro-me stance, give us the ability to drop our narcissistic defenses.

This is so different than “Buddy Jesus.” God is not offering a blanket endorsement for our instincts. God wants what he wants for us. But he gives us the love and security to accept it.

BWC: What’s agere contra and how does it differ from mere personal ambition?

[AUTHOR’S ANGST: Boy, I sure like Latin. I must sound awfully pretentious.]

[INTERVIEWER’s NOTE: Carpe hoc, Latin-boy.]

DZ: Agere contra is a spiritual discipline that emerged from the Jesuit movement. A spiritual director would assign a task that pushed his mentee out of his comfort zone. The mentor would identify something that inhibited spiritual growth or worse, something that cultivated decay. The assignment would press against it. Together, the pair would see how God used that assignment to guide the disciple through it. In the book I compare agere contra to that anxious moment when an actor goes off script; until you do that, the play is just a reading; once you press against your reliance on the script, the play takes on new life and frees you to bring new insight to the scene.

Ambition, by contract, is the willingness to enduring difficulty to get what you want but a corresponding absence of circumspection. There’s an element of idolatry. You lose sight of the why behind the prize. You don’t pay attention to who gets hurt.
Deliver Us From Me-Ville (David C.Cook) is available at fine online retailers everywhere. David Zimmeman’s musings can be read right here at Burnside and at his loud-time.com blog.

Luminous Insight

Prayers for Blowouts, our athletic cousin blog, has interviewed such notable celebrities as Will Leitch, Brian McLaren and Ernie Johnson.

And now, in what may be Bryan Allain's finest and most insightful interview to date, I can be counted among those great men. Greater? Well, that's not for me to say. But did Brian McLaren offer a simple solution to making the NHL great again? I think not.

All kidding aside, Bryan has a great blog over there discussing the intersection of sports and faith, we're proud to be associated with him.


Questions Kids Ask and the Lame-O Answers We Give Them

“Mommy, I’ve prayed to God a million times to heal me of this flu. I’m tired of throwing up and I’m hungry and thirsty and I just want to be normal again and I’m tired of watching Spongebob. I don’t understand why I’m still sick, and I’ve prayed so much. I mean, Jesus healed all those people in the Bible. So why hasn’t he healed me yet?”



“…Well… God pretty much made our bodies to heal themselves of viruses, I think. And those people Jesus healed in the Bible, well, they had problems with massive bleeding and leprosy and stuff. Their bodies couldn’t really heal themselves of that. So, um, maybe God hasn’t healed you of the flu because your body can do it? After all, it is a self-limiting condition, just like the homeopathic remedy bottle says…”


I just love the way children blindside unsuspecting adults with sincere questions that completely expose our sheer vulnerability and utter cluelessness.

Let’s be honest, I don’t know why God heals or doesn’t heal, when he chooses to, or when not. And when I’m sick (and I’ve been sick) I feel the same desperation, maybe even abandonment, as Ella. But instead of just telling her that I don’t know, or at least deferring the question to another unsuspecting adult (possibly even combining the two - “I don’t know, Ella, why don’t we ask your father?” is always a great option), I gave her some jumbled answer to try to comfort her soul, and mine. And I’m never really sure if my answers, as earnest as they are, do more harm than good. We’ll probably know in twenty years or so, or at least when we get smacked with a therapist’s invoice. (Come to think of it, we’re getting smacked with my own therapy costs – the white straps were released just so I could type this.) Whatever, the responsibility of nurturing her soul feels huge and daunting, particularly when I’m trying to simultaneously comfort my own.

Though, and I’m just thinking out loud here, maybe that’s the point.

Maybe our vulnerability and cluelessness is supposed to be exposed, so we can share our journey with our children. Maybe our kids don’t expect us to have answers to their questions, but the openness and honesty to think them through. Maybe they just need to know how we seek comfort and answers to give them the courage to go their own way, figuring this all out for themselves in a manner that goes deeper than any of my pat answers ever could.

Anyway, Ella is totally amazed at the healing powers of homeopathy. Her new wonder drug of choice, those little white pellets erased her nausea, allowing her to consume entire cups of all natural sports drink without spewing. Quite the miracle. But when I asked Ella what really healed her of the stomach flu, she responded with, “Oh, the Lord, I guess.”

“How do you mean?”

“Oh, you know, I prayed a bunch, and after a few days I got my wish.”

And there you have it.

Let Us Pray

Finally, Everything Is Going To Be Good Again

Since all the world's problems are going to be solved within a couple hours, I think it's okay if we all go back to wasting time on the internet.

The devilish goons over at Paste Magazine have come up with a fantastic site where you can turn your own photos into Obama-style posters. As if they didn't have enough great ideas already.

Posted above, our own Chad Gibbs, sheepish in front of Michelangelo's David.

But, yeah, it's a big day today. A lot of hope resting on Mr. Obama's shoulders. From all the pomp and approval ratings, it's weird to think Barack Obama hasn't really done anything yet.

Here's a toast to the incoming President!


All Aboard the Bandwagon!

Until 7 months ago, I'd never lived in a city with an NFL team. In fact, as far as I can remember, I'd never even been in a city on the same day an NFL game was taking place.

Yesterday, with Mindy out of town and not much to do, I figured I'd head over to a sports bar and watch the Cardinals in the NFC Championship. It's not every day the NFC Championship takes place in the city where you live, I figured. And it's certainly not every day it takes place in Arizona.

I usually go to Hazelwoods because it's close by and has NBA TV, trivia, and Big Sky IPA on tap. It was packed. I headed to Half Moon Bar and Grill, which isn't quite so cool as Hazelwoods, but the parking lot was full there, too. So I drove all the way out to Scottsdale, to Papago Brewing, which has an excellent selection of beers on tap, good food and plenty of space.

And there, I watched the Cardinals stun the football world. After a flurry of touchdowns in the first half, I made friends with a lovely couple next to me. It didn't surprise me at all to learn they were from Colorado Springs, and not Cardinals fans, either. This is the nature of Arizona Cardinal fandom, though Deadspin pointed out an even more appropriate (and disgusting) example this morning.

I'm adamantly opposed to bandwagon-jumping, but if ever there was a bandwagon to jump on it's this one. Not many people believed the 9-7 Cardinals should even make the playoffs. Less believed they would make it past the Atlanta Falcons in the wild-card game. And no one thought they could beat Carolina and Philly to make the freaking Super Bowl. Not even the radio announcers I listened to during the postgame celebration, driving home. They were flabbergasted.

The most amazing story here, though, might be the ongoing saga of Kurt Warner. It was nine years ago Warner went from grocery clerk to Super Bowl Champion with the St. Louis Rams. And now he's back again. In a post-game interview yesterday, Warner said, and I'm paraphrasing from memory, "I know you guys are tired of hearing it, but I don't get tired of saying it...I'm here because of my Lord Jesus Christ."

And I know there are horrible things happening in the world, and it's difficult to understand why God would bless this man with such success while injustice rages everywhere else, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a man who's done more with what God has given him. Kurt Warner, when given the opportunity, gives glory to God. And his quote yesterday made me a bit teary.

Part of the Solution: Food Waste

My husband ordered a value meal at our favorite restaurant recently, a special offer that comes with a freshly baked cookie for dessert. And when they say freshly baked, they aren’t kidding. They bake their yummy snickerdoodles every two hours in order to provide soft, gooey treats. I wondered how in the world the restaurant could even go through so many cookies each day. It turns out they don’t. All the cookies that have matured to the ripe old age of 120 minutes are discarded. Wow. Now, if I wasn’t grain-dairy-sugar-anything-that-tastes-good-free, you’d know where to find me every night at approximately 9:00pm. Because I’d have to take up dumpster diving, which I hear people do, like as a hobby, or a sport even.

Bjoern and I were actually shocked to hear about so much intentional food waste, even more so because this restaurant is actually pretty eco-conscious, what with their paper straws and what not. Though, it’s not like we didn’t already know something in the back of our heads about the amount of food that gets thrown out daily at all sorts of food establishments – restaurants, schools, grocery stores. We always did. We just didn’t realize it could be so intentional. When I throw food out at home, and I do (so technically I can’t be pointing fingers), it’s because I planned poorly or, um, got lazy. It feels like an accident, not that that’s an excuse. But this discovery to me felt like a blatant disregard for resources just to provide customers with an experience that lasts all of one minute (how long does it take to eat a cookie?). Really, what else could have been done with all that flour? Or with those dozens of eggs? Or butter? Milk?

While there’s technically no use crying over spilt moo juice, it could behoove us to think about the amount of food that gets wasted and what this means. According to a New York Times article by Andrew Martin, entitled “One Country’sTable Scraps, Another Country’s Meal,” a whopping 27% of food available for consumption at restaurants, schools, grocery stores, or our own homes, is wasted.

There are a few implications to this staggering statistic, just off the top of my head (okay, okay, after reading said article). For one thing, all that food ends up in landfills. So, those rolling hills with the little white pipes sticking out are composed of a lot of wasted food (and diapers!) that could have been eaten (not the diapers), or composted at the very least. Also, that decomposing food produces methane, which contributes to global warming. And the production of all that food alone wastes time, money, natural resources, and energy (perpetuating global warming). But the most hurtful and frustrating implication of all is the fact that those valuable resources were wasted in vain, as the very purpose for which they were created or harvested was not realized. That food should have been eaten. Particularly as there are so many mouths in this world to be fed. Millions of them.

There are, however, a couple of things you and I can do to be a part of the solution to food waste.

For one thing, I can do a better job of planning my meals and writing grocery lists. This is technically a housewife no-brainer. Though I could just put on my associate editor’s hat and pretend I didn’t know…I’m not really a housewife…

I could also eat the brussel sprouts that came in my weekly delivered vegetable bin of which I forgot to adjust the contents. Same for the butternut squash that has been sitting in my fridge for weeks because I don’t want to be wasteful. Anyone have any recipes?

And I should probably just suck it up when I don’t want to cook and actually prepare the food that sits in my fridge.

(Though, in my defense, I am already part of the Clean Plate Club. So there’s that.)

However, in addition to being responsible for the food in my own home, I could also volunteer for Food Rescue, an organization founded by a member of my church and 2008 Hamilton County (Indiana) Person of the Year, John Williamson. Food Rescue got its start when John was disturbed by the amount of bread thrown away at a local Panera. Together with his family, he began picking up their leftovers to deliver to food pantries. This was just a little over a year ago, in November 2007. Unbelievably, he now has 600 local volunteers to help move food from twenty restaurants to various pantries, where the edibles can find their way into mouths that need it. And because of the organization’s success, with 40 chapters in 18 states, you can volunteer, too. The organization only asks for 90 minutes of your time, one night a month, to help redistribute restaurant food that would have been wasted.

It sounds so easy, and so practical, with very direct, tangible results. That’s certainly a part of the solution, if you ever asked me!

P.S. Interstingly enough, a NYC restaurant is being a part of the solution by creating a surcharge for food not eaten! Read about it here.

Faithful Burnside readers, please, please, send us your facts and ideas for being a part of the Solution! I am running out of ideas and want to learn from you! Send your article, 800 words or less, to reviews@burnsidewriterscollective.com.


Meditations: Hope and Despair

I give my apologies to Moses’ parents from the very outset if I’ve gotten this mediation wrong. Slander was never my intention.

We all know the story. Pharaoh is distressed by the Hebrew’s capacity to “Be fruitful and multiply. In no time they’d outnumber the Egyptians and challenge the Dynasty. Pharaoh responds by enslaving the Hebrews and forcing them to build store cities, Pithom and Ramses. Ironically, it was the Hebrew Joseph who instilled the value of stockpiling resources in the Egyptian culture. Joseph was the right hand man of the old Pharaoh. But times changed, and Joseph wasn’t remembered as hero but as the Trojan Horse who ushered in the current national security situation.

Hard labor doesn’t dampen the slave nation’s birthrate so Pharaoh does the unthinkable and declares it illegal to be born a Hebrew male. All illegal infants are to be disposed of in the Nile River. The Hebrew midwives defy the edict and refuse to surrender the baby boys. Instead, they send the mothers and sons back to their ghetto, uncertain how their story would end.

So Moses is just one of hundreds of illegal babies. His parents immediately bond with Moses and attempt to hide him. However, the young couple found it impossible to silence the baby’s cries for food and diapering. They were certain their baby would be detected. Perhaps they had witnessed an Egyptian soldier raiding a neighbor’s house and confiscating the illicit package of life. Perhaps they had watched a soldiers abuse parents who wouldn’t comply the edict.

Moses’ mother decides to waterproof a basket. Calvin wrote in his commentary that she was crafting a casket for her son. Moses’ parents had succumbed to the inevitable. Their beautiful child was doomed to die. Moses’ mom chose to expose her son to the elements in the most dignified manner possible.

Hope was exiled from the imaginations of the parents.

Baby Moses was set afloat to die.

Miriam was Moses older sister. Perhaps she didn’t appreciate the futility of the moment. There was no escape. Moses could not be hidden. The couple didn’t the resources to flee the country. Miriam’s parents were in a no win situation. So a broken-hearted mother did the unthinkable, abandoned her child to the River, and returned home with bitter tears.

Miriam had enough expectation left in her to remain at the river bank. She hid among the papyrus fronds and dared to hope against hope that her brother would not die. The rest, they say, is history.

I don’t fault Moses’ parents. They were gored on the horns of dilemma.

But I am in awe of Miriam’s capacity for hope. She grew up a slave but heard rumors of a God who protected her ancestors generations ago. She dared hope that God could provide a way out in her current distress.



Basic Training is not pleasant. You go to bed at 10pm if you're lucky, wake up at 4:30. Every third night, we had fire guard, which meant crawling from bed for two hours in the middle of night and sitting at a desk, waiting for a fire to happen.

There was endless berating from drill sergeants. There's the physical toll. There was the host of viruses which stuffed our noses and lungs and the wealth of bacteria. There was athlete's foot, which became jock itch. There was bickering and politics between soldiers: kids from inner-city Atlanta or rural Kansas mixed in with older guys who'd graduated college.

You can't wait to get out. Anywhere is better than here, you think.

But then, when it's all over...the drill sergeants tone down their act and maybe even laugh with you...you're given loose hours of free time to shop at the PX...you start to think, this isn't so bad. By the time you're flying out in your Class As to your next duty station, you miss it. You're not used to freedom and regular life anymore. You're used to Basic Training. Every day in, you wanted to be out. Once you're out, you miss the expected.

Reading President Bush's farewell address last night, I felt that same wistful institutionalization.

It was an ugly eight years. But this man took office when I was twenty years-old, and has presided over the major events of my life. He was my Commander-in-Chief. I remember where I was when he was elected (the first time), and I was glad.

President Bush was not the right person, but he did his job the best he could. He's been faced with threats and information you and I would be shocked to learn, the sort of news to erupt sudden ulcers.

I wish George W. Bush the best.

Throughout, President Bush has emphasized how seriously he takes the task of protecting the American people. Barack Obama has said the same, and the President-Elect's introduction into the threats America faces has been rumored jaw-dropping.

But I believe the most important role the President of the United States should play is not protecting us, but upholding the Constitution. And these two roles do not always work in harmony. Sometimes eroding our rights will keep us safer.

It's much easier to say in times like this (than, say, September 12th, 2001), but I'll take my freedom over my safety any day. Some would point to the invasion of Iraq, or economic policies, but I point to this as the reason, in the end, I'm glad to see these eight years end.


Slumdog Paradox

The book Acts (which I'm presently teaching at our church) is filled with moments where the tables are turned. It's best to understand a little background regarding Jewish conceptions of Messiah, and how their religious establishment thought. However, lacking that kind of background, simply reading through the book will reveal numerous times when the people are supposed to 'get it' don't, and those who aren't, do. The Holy Spirit is poured out, not in the temple, but in some obscure upper room. It's poured out, not on the religious establishment, but on some obscure devotees of a recently crucified, so called "messiah". Wisdom and power are poured out through the uneducated and impoverished. The weak are strong, and the strong are revealed to actually be, not only weak, but withered and fearful souls who have become such by virtue of their resistance to the good news.

It was in the midst of my studies that I took a break last week to see "Slumdog Millionaire", and discovered a beautiful illustration of this book called Acts. It's a film about a young man who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. Playing on India's version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire", as his correct answers and winnings mount, he's suspected of cheating. The presupposition is that, of course, people from his caste, people from poverty, people from the slums, are...

It's right here, when you answer that question, the movie becomes a commentary about the many "isms" that divide us, right here in the "enlightened" west: racism, classism, sexism come to mind, though there are many more. The caste system has certainly created it's own waves of poverty in India, but it would be wrong to, with a wave of our educated hands, caste judgement on the Indian culture and so free ourselves from the much needed look in the mirror. The reality is that all of us have expectations of others, based on gender, education, clothing, color of skin, and more. We pre-emptively close ourselves off from learning and friendship with some; we pre-emptively judge and categorize others as hopeless. In short, we build walls and function with all the wisdom of this world, and in so doing make choices by completely different criteria than God's, building relationsal walls instead of tearing them down.

Slumdog reminds me of the way God does things. The whole army is shaking in their military issue boots, while the shepherd, whose mission is to deliver some bread to them, takes down the giant enemy with a slingshot. The impoverished teen becomes pregnant with the life of God. When Jacob marries two women, it's not the "hot" girl who is fertile; it's the other one, the one who (the story implies) rarely shares her bed with her husband because, yes, he's that shallow. She gives him, in the end, six sons!

Not many wise. Not many rich, etc. etc. I need to think about this, not only from the perspective of how I view others, but also how I view myself. I've taken myself, pre-emptively, out of relationships and contexts at various times because, frankly, I felt, "out of my league". People richer than me. Better looking than me. People with more letters after their name - Not wanting to feel small, I'd withdraw. This movie reminds me of the same thing that God says: Don't withdraw! You have gifts. Use them. Your life experiences have created a context for you to make a different. Live with integrity and let me carve a path for you.

You've heard of the French paradox. That makes for interesting dinner conversation (especially over escargot, a good merlot, and some fine dark chocolate). But the Slumdog paradox is more than interesting conversation - it's an illustration of the heart of the gospel, offering a life changing challenge to our isms and our withdrawal from God's story due to our own feelings of inadequacy. Don't miss it.


lol Pastors BLOG

Don’t act as if you weren’t warned. Not today. Not like this. Not after all we’ve been through.

Ha! You’ve known all along haven’t you? And yet here you are. Still.

So can you hear it? It. The gnashing. The weeping and gnashing of teeth. Molars, incisors, k-9’s. Oh… they gnash.

Like a demonic gnashing machine built to precise specifications working at optimum capacity… with the dial turned to ‘gnash.’

Like a giant super-robot created for only ONE purpose.

(The purpose of gnashing.)

Like a big… gnashing mouth… just really gnashing. Not messing around.

The Lol Pastors blog is here.

Updated daily by your Burnside Comedy Department.

Now accepting and posting yours and your best friend’s submissions on a regular basis.

Create your own lol Pastors and email to: lolpastors@live.com

Check it out daily and show us what you’ve got.

For purely comedic purposes, nothing too sacreligious or mean. Silly with a touch of the random is best.

Like some kind of automatic handheld gnasher installed in every American kitchen, all turned on at the same time...

Your lol’s,

Aaron Donley

Chad Gibbs

Nate Sadler

Susan Isaacs



Big, big thanks to my friend Jonah, who alerted me to The New York Times' article on Mark Driscoll.

I've never attended a service at Mars Hill, and I've never met Mark Driscoll. But I've met plenty of people who have. When asked for their opinion of Mark, the invariable response is along the lines of, "He's brilliant. He has issues."

That latter part is the problem. Everyone has issues, but Mark Driscoll's problem is he doesn't want to hear about his. The article mentions:
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
This is hardly the first time I've heard about Driscoll's resistance to criticism. How this can be imagined as Biblical pastorship, I have no idea.

I'm not sure what it is about Reform theology that draws loud-mouthed jerks, but it's a shame such thoughtful theology is so frequently obscured by the actions of men (including Calvin and Luther themselves).

On the other hand, dogpiling Mark Driscoll's antics isn't productive, either. As a friend put it, his detractors would do well to take a cue from Paul in Phillipians 1:

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
But, my friend went on, Mark and his supporters at Mars Hill might do well to take these cues, as well.

Spirituality not Religion Makes Tweens Happy

MSNBC.COM cites two recent studies that confirms the link between spirituality and happiness in pre-teens. Interestingly, the researches made strong lines of deliniation between religion and spirituality. Religion, they write, is an institutionalized expression of spirituality. Spirituality gets defined as (meaning and value in one’s own life) and communal aspects (quality and depth of inter-personal relationships.

Research shows that a child’s concept of God or religious practices do little to add to a sense of fulfillment.

A Christian might intially take exception to the research definitons. “Perhaps the language and definitions are slanted to point to relativism.”

Or a Christian might remember that Christianity is a relational religion, its only when one embraces the two Great Loves that one will experience the satisfaction of being human well.


Some Kind of Wonderful

With the exception of the Pyramids of Giza, all the old Seven Wonders of the World have been destroyed, either by earthquakes or plunderers or Crusaders (man, what a bunch of a-holes). So some Swiss-Canadian guy decided we should make a new list of the Seven Wonders of the World and everyone should vote for it online.

That list was unveiled in Lisbon, Portugal on July 7, 2007. Chichen Itza over the Pyramids? The Colosseum over the Sydney Opera House? I beg to differ.

Now, you can vote on a new list, the New Seven Wonders of Nature. I recommend you head over and check it out, if only to learn about interesting places in far-off lands. It's my impression countries only get one nominee (exceptions are made for landmarks bordering multiple countries, like the Danube River and Niagara Falls), because I'd rank quite a few places in the United States over some stupid lake in St. Kitts. But if that's they way they're gonna play it, fine.

Here's my final seven:

Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Mount Everest (China/Nepal)
Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe)
Amazon, River/Forest (A large portion of South America)
Grand Canyon (GO AMERICA!)
Mesopotamian Marshes, Wetlands (Iraq)
Lake Baikal (Russia)


Whose Name is on the Cup?

There are times when people who are in vocational ministry get weary of Jesus. Maybe I'm the only one, but I doubt it. He seems, at times, so hard to pin down, as everything from libertarianism to communism is carried out in His name. He seems to be the source of divisions in the world as people carrying His name have often carried a sword as well, leaving carnage in their wake. And He's a bit mystical, speaking in parables, paradox, and even contradiction, as he tells his disciples to carry no sword here, and here to arm themselves. What's up?

It's tempting at times to skip Jesus altogether and simply focus on being about the things Jesus was about. He loved enemies - let's love enemies. He hugged lepers - let's hug lepers. He fed hungry people - let's feed hungry people. If we go this route, not only will we have more tangible goals (after all, how do you measure, "being filled with all the fullness of God"?). Yes, let's be His hands and feet and skip all the doctrinal ambiguity, division, pondering and messiness that comes from talking about the actual life of Jesus and what it means to be in relationship with Him.

But then, along comes an article like this one, where a confirmed atheist declares that Africa needs Christianity. Here's part of what he says:

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But In the city (where we lived) we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

There you have it. We can tell ourselves that we don't need all the messiness of Christ, or even begin to believe that if we simply feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we're doing the work of God. But Jesus tells us that ministry is more than just giving a cup of cold water; it's giving a cup of cold water in Jesus name.

The article has two profound implications:

1 - The author speaks of how spacious, engaging, and enlivening followers of Christ are in Africa. I often ponder why I meet so many Christians in these North American parts for whom the opposite is true - they've become anxious, guilt-ridden, closed minded - so much so that I know people who are walking away from the faith because of neuroses of the faithful, afraid that it's contagious.

I can only conclude that a gospel (good news) that fails to change our persona, fails to open us up to the world, fails to impart joy, is not the gospel of Christ. We who lead had better make sure we're not inviting people to rituals, clubs, and systems, because the real deal entails an invitation to transformation by virtue of a person indwelling a person. I know it sounds mystical, but it's true - and it works, as evidenced by the article above. Put simply, if our lives are filled with fear, hate, and whining, we're probably following a different Jesus.

2 - I know many people who are open, spacious, and enlivening, but who are afraid to mention the name of Jesus. They're mantra is a destructive mutation of St. Francis' words: "Preach always - use words when necessary." This is tragically interpreted to mean that words aren't necessary at all, that the cup of cold water needn't have a name attached to it, or that the name doesn't matter - Humanitarian NGO is just as good is Risen Christ.

Kudos to Matthew Parris for having the courage to say what too many faithful are afraid to say: Christ makes the difference. Do we believe that? Let's begin living it then, and making sure that Jesus' name is on the next cup of cold water.