31.3.09

The Editor - Just Keep Fighting

I figured this was along the lines of Social Justice, so it more than fits here.

EVEN YOU CAN BE A HERO JUST KEEP FIGHTING

Everyone needs a hero! I’m not talking about Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or any of those marvelous characters that you wish you could be. I’m talking about a average joe who’s out to help the people.

You too can be a Hero; and one way to accomplish this is to go do something simply. Like! Fighting for the rights of the mentally challenged. You can tell there's no easier way to start than people who can’t help themselves. Here are some tips to help aid you on your new voyage of heroism.

First, lets define mentally challenged. According to the dictionary being mentally challenged is a euphemism for mentally retarded or disabled.

So let me break that down for you: basically anyone can be mentally challenged. For example, Mary Ann the housewife down the street who is suffering from depression, Little Timmy who loves to play kick ball but is secretly Bi-polar, and don't forget Ashley & Mary-Kate, the adorable twins who were born with down syndrome. All beautiful people, just misunderstood. So let’s start helping these people.

My favorite Tip: never force yourself upon the mentally challenged (Never try to help unless they ask for it). Tip number two: ask them how can you help and try your best to fulfill your duties. Tip number three: get others involved in your expedition. Yes, one person can help a lot, but if you build your army, you can absolutely win the war. Last but not least, enjoy yourself, because everyone needs a break.

Now, since these helpful tips are here to help aid you. Start your path and become that hero you always wanted to be.

30.3.09

Part of the Solution: School Lunch


Our school district recently had to make a change to their elementary school lunch menu. The bosco sticks, mozzarella stuffed breadsticks dipped in sauce, were replaced by pizza dippers. Apparently, the children had been removing the mozzarella cheese from the bosco sticks, wadding it into a ball, then choking on it. For some reason, the cheese in the pizza dippers does not require the Heimlich, so the stuffed crusts have been deemed an appropriate replacement. But the kids are pretty bummed. The bosco sticks were one of the hottest items on the menu. But, at least the French Toast sticks were reinstated at the start of the semester. That’s a least a small consolation. (That, my dear friends, was sarcasm.)

I have a concern, though, about the lunches served in my daughters’ school, and not just due to airway obstructing cheese, or cheese product, whichever. I’m concerned about the possibility of other ingredients in the meals served: hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, food dyes, and refined starches – all now thought to be related to be current obesity epidemic and even linked to attentional disorders.

My kids occasionally purchase their lunches – about once a semester, to be honest – because they want to eat the cool stuff that everyone else does. But I can’t help but notice their imbalanced behavior after school when they’re doing homework. Their attention spans suffer dramatically on these days, and completing homework is like pulling teeth.

When we’re struggling to get through math sheets, I remember my former middle school students. My pre-lunch students were usually in high spirits and could carry out multi-step tasks and complete longer quizzes. My post-lunch bunch was dazed, confused, and could barely complete five (suspiciously familiar) question quizzes over material we had just reviewed. The contrasts between my two groups of students were stark, and when I observed their lunch choices – French fries, giant cookies, Gatorade - I began to wonder if it might not make sense to put two and two together.

To enhance my kids’ ability to pay attention in school, I have chosen to pack their lunches 178 days of the school year. Not only do I feel that their sugar-free lunches of fresh vegetables and whole grains will support their academic self-esteem, I also feel strongly that this will help their bodies to function as they were intended to.

So, if I have the ability to pack my own kids’ lunches, why am I so concerned about school food?

Because I am concerned about the 30.5 million children who are served these free lunches, compliments of the National School Lunch Program, every day.

And for some, if not many, of these children, it is the only meal they will eat in a day.

While the NSLP is certainly a noble cause, given my own observations (and they are merely observations), I can’t help but wonder how these meals are truly supporting the growth and empowerment of this generation of children. When the program was initiated by President Truman with the 1946 signing of the National School Lunch Act, it was most unlikely that the lunches of the day were as processed and industrialized as today’s chicken nuggets, pizza, and French toast sticks. Are today’s fast food-style lunches really enhancing education and personal health for those who are relying on exactly that to break the cycle of poverty?

As a Part of the Solution to exploring these issues and working towards equal empowerment for this generation of children, and those that follow, I’d like to do two things:
  • Read School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America's Favorite Welfare Program (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) by Susan Levine.
  • Watch the documentary crated by Two Angry Moms, a movie that not only portrays what needs to be changed in our schools’ cafeterias, but also how to create it.

Will you join me?

For additional, interesting reading, please visit The Food Museum

My Personal Digital Conversion Begins Friday


"Never pay for TV." That's been my personal manifesto for the first forty-years of my life. My logic was air tight:

1) There major networks that still give away programming.
2) It would be cheaper for me to rent the one or two movies I watch a month than to purchase cable.
3) I don't watch much TV. There's Lost, 30 Rock, and the NFL.

This all comes to an end this Friday, thank you Al Gore. With the digital conversation looming, my faithful rabbit ears will become defunct. I tried the converter box and digital antenna with no success. Apparently, I'd need to purchase and install some roof-top mounted antenna. Amy and I gave in and ordered cable.

So, what I have I been missing all these years? I look forward to MNF. And when I travel, John Stewart and Colbert have entertained me in the hotel. Other than that, what's out there?

28.3.09

Purpose-Driven Centrist: The Problem with Prayer

One of the things I like about being a centrist is sometimes I can take on provocative topics. In fact, the more I try to find middle ground in controversial issues, the more I like to read form both sides. Sometimes I find that I learn more from those I agree with the least.

Last summer I read a book by an Episcopalian bishop named John Shelby Spong called Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Knowing nothing of the author, specifically the extreme philosophy, theology, and scriptural interpretation he had previously published, I dove into the book because I thought the title fit a theme in my own faith struggles; something clearly had to change for me. The book was certainly a challenge, especially given most of the first half is discussing how to view God not just in a postmodern perspective, but in a post-theistic perspective of the non-theistic manner he considers God “The Ground of All Being” and not as an external and parental-type God in a physical place we call heaven. I don’t have the patience or the understanding to review the book, but that viewpoint was a huge stretch for me to follow. I spent much of the first eight chapters wanting to ask Spong, “How do you keep saying you are a Christian if you say you believe this rather than that?” But when I got to the ninth chapter entitled “The Meaning of Prayer in a World with No External Deity” my eyes and ears and heart perked up. Maybe there was something here I could at least translate to my own situation.

In the first part of the chapter, Spong gave historical examples of prayer from the Old Testament, summing them up as “making their deepest yearnings known” and, sometimes, offering a bargain in order to gain some control over their situation or destiny. Citing a prayer specifically in Micah 6, Spong describes this prayer as a prayer to a God who is an external being to whom sacrifices are offered in order to change the outcome of an event or course of history. A look at prayers recorded over the centuries, the presence of human hopes and fears are very present.

Then Spong describes his own struggle of wanting to be a prayerful person, which greatly resonates with my own struggle. He says that prayer addressed to God as an external supreme being in order to change something or event had little to no meaning to him. His first analysis for this was that he lacked something essential in his own spiritual development and he just needed to work harder at prayer. Despite my own differences with Spong’s opinion of God, I have made this same self-analysis over and over. Spong and I share a continued striving to meet this ambition of living in significant awareness of God through more and more discipline and perseverance. But that simply led to more failure, and for Spong, a renewed belief that there had to be another way.

The tipping point for Spong’s conversion of prayer from traditional prayer to living prayer was his wife’s battle with cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, he was already in a public position, and thus many people were praying for her. She lived for 6 ½ years, which was much longer than her doctors had thought possible. What troubled Spong and his wife was not how people embraced them in prayer, but that people took credit that their prayers were working.

So Spong began to suppose a situation where a sanitation worker in Newark, the city he lives and leads as a bishop, had a wife with the same diagnosis. But sanitation worker’s public profile is much smaller than being a bishop, and maybe his community of prayer is much smaller or non-existent. Would this affect the course of his wife’s sickness? Would she die sooner, have more pain, or have a harder battle because they did have these same quality or quantity of prayers on their side? If so, Spong supposes, what would that show us about God? Does that show that God patterns healing and blessing based on human status or number of prayers or pray-ers? Spong concludes his hypothetical scenario by asking if he wants to attribute this pattern of behavior to God? To this final question he answers a thousand times no!

So out of this, Spong began searching for a new perspective on how to pray, and to how he envisions God through this new way of prayer. He describes this process as painful, yet also as a great relief. He goes back in examination of Jesus - not through Jesus' instruction on prayer - but looking for what the aspect of Jesus' life created "his sense of living what is holy." By this point I was hooked despite that he and I are different planes on our view of God, though maybe I am closer to his perspective than I realize.

In summary, the presence of God in human life, which Jesus embodied in his own life, is depicted as wholeness, and that is something that I know I have no sense of in my own life. Out of this Spong lists theses characteristics of a new perspective of prayer:
  • The conscious human interaction to relate to the depths of life and love
  • To be an agent of the creation of wholeness in another
  • Offering of our life and our love through simply our friendship and acceptance to another
  • Our being called to another, giving the other the courage to dare, risk, and be whole in a new way
  • Active opposition to prejudices and stereotypes that diminsh others
  • Active recognition that the sacred core in every person must not be violated
  • Facing life's circumstances with the realization that we are subject to situations where we have no control
  • Embracing the fragility of life and transform it, even as we are victimized or killed by it
  • Shredding the delusion that we are the center of the universe
  • A calling out of childish dependency into spiritual maturity
I find these characteristics beautiful, which is not an adjective I have ever used for my own prayer. More importantly, they describe a new perspective of prayer which motivates me to live into. A theme of living into has been something pervading my thoughts and spiritual explorations. In a recent conversation with some friends about doctrine, I spoke up that I understand why people are tired of talking and hearing about doctrine; they just want to live life. And prayer full of doctrine, per se, is exactly what I’ve failed at over and over.

Spong comes to the conclusion that prayer and living deeply, richly, and fully are indistinguishable, and this may be exactly what Paul means by “pray without ceasing.” We are to live everyday “as if everything we say and do is a prayer, calling others to life, to love, and to being.” I can understand now how this may have been a painful process for Spong because as I sit here and think about just how often things I say are the opposite of calling others to life, or love, or being, I see just how much that needs to change in my life. Yet at the same time there is a huge sense of relief lifted off of my soul that maybe faithfulness in prayer can have life-meaning rather than doctrinal or religious fulfillment. Maybe the simple act of preparing dinner for my wife to give her a night off is a more faithful act of prayer than the repetitious and cloned prayers of grace before we eat. Maybe just being in conversation with people at work, giving them room to live their own lives without subjecting them to my own interpretations of how to live life is a more faithful act of prayer than telling them “I’ll pray for you” or always giving my “Christian opinion”. Then maybe, as time goes on and relationships grow, the freedom shown them to life, love, and being will call them to explore the life of Jesus more closely.

Balancing a faithful life and prayer has never been successful for me. Finding the balance of faithful life as prayer and prayer as faithful living is something I am motivated to center my journey on.

Meditation: Fyodor speaks...

Watch a little 60 minutes, or read a little news these days and there's a good chance you'll become angry at someone, or some political party, or some bank CEO, or maybe someone named Bernie. The anger and fear that are coursing through our culture right now are dangerous at many levels. Give in to these fleeting emotions (and it is remarkably easy to do so these days), and they become the soil for bitterness, greed, and isolation. These emotions, and the actions that stem from them, end up spilling into the world with the result that we become part of the problem rather than part of the solution, losing our saltiness; hiding our lights.

That's why the words of Father Zossima from The Brothers Karamazov, are so timely. I offer them, italicized, with my own prayers after each word.

If the evil doings of men move you to indignation and overwhelming disrress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evildoers, shun above all things that feeling.

Grant, O Lord, that I might see with Your eyes when my heart is moving toward the dark spaces of bitterness, anger, and judgment. And seeing these things that are destructive, bring conviction, that I might be quick to turn away.

Fear not the great nor the mighty, but be wise and serene.

It's easy, O Lord, to feel as if we're victims, tossed about by the whims of those in power. Thank you for the truth that we are, in spite of the stormy seas and whims of men, safest when we are in your arms. May we learn to dwell there with ever increasing steadfastness, and in so dwelling, know your peace and rest.

Love all men. Love everything. Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears.

Yes Lord. Zossima was right. Open my eyes to see your glory, resplendent as always, even in these trying times. The new blossoms arise from the earth, testimony of your sustenance and hints of greater beauty yet to come. The cat is at rest, oblivious to the strivings of humanity. The days grow longer. The sunlight and shadows on the firs testify that you continue to uphold the earth, that beauty still exists, that provision still comes from you, that all shall be well. Give me eyes to see what is so easily seen when I but look - the beauty of the earth. Thank you for tears of joy that come when your beauty, seen in your creation, pierces my heart. Amen

It's all a matter, it seems, of where we choose to fix our gaze. Ah yes, it's wise to read the news, prudent to take action. But we would do well to see the light and shadows, the cat, the blossom, the hints of life bursting forth, for these are the shoutings of our good God intended to bless and fortify our souls.

26.3.09

R.I.P


Chad posted a creepy trailer about a children's book, and I use that as justification to post this.

American Girl announced the retirement of their most popular doll, Samantha Parkington. Though the company released a statement October 13, the media has not covered it properly.
Fans were sent an email last October explaining that although Samantha was vastly popular since her birth (if you will) in 1986, American Girl Co. decided that it was time "to preserve her place in American Girl's history making it possible to introduce new characters and time periods for our customers to enjoy."

I never had an American Girl doll, but I always wanted one. I started numerous "Samantha funds" to buy my own. She was $98 worthy of my affection, but I never saved beyond $23. I suppose I grew tired of waiting and wanted to spend my money on the latest Amy Grant tape.

American Girl was founded in 1986 by Pleasant Company with the goal of reaching young girls with historically-inspired characters. They first marketed character dolls with their own set of books, encouraging girls not only to continue playing with dolls, but to increase their love for reading. Over the years, American Girl added on a literary magazine for girls. Most recently Warner Bros. has produced movie versions of the books for network television.

I can't count how many girls I knew that had American Girl dolls, but I do remember how significant they were to "girl culture" in the past 20 years.
Grieve Samantha if you must, and pass the word along to a girl in college if you have the opportunity. Chances are the news might feel a bit like a childhood friend's death.

25.3.09

I thought this might make some of you smile...

More on Raising Kids Behind Fortress Evangelicalism




www.ChristianPost.com picked up my remarks made at Conspire ‘09 and the post below about Children’s Ministry Inoculates Christians to the Great Commission. Some of the comments made in response to the article made me realize that I need to be more clear. Here we go:

Home Schooling

I wasn’t think of home schooling as a movement or particular home schoolers I know when I wrote that. I wasn’t really thinking about home schooling at all. Home schooling as a viable option for some parents. Home schooling is not necessarily evidence that you are wrapped up in a theology of disengagement. I don’t know you, your kids, or your school system. I’m not going to make some blanket judgment as to whether you should or shouldn’t be home schooling.

I do know that we all love our children and are trying to do right by them. If you believe that you are called to home school, then go for it. I would suggest that since Christianity is a social religion (love God and love your neighbor) that you find alternate means for your child to develop friendships with those outside of the church.

I would say that any rhetoric that equates the public schools with a prison system is fear based, and as such, sub-Christian. I suspect that the person who coined that analogy is cynically trying to sell his brand of home school curriculum.

Should We Shelter Our Children Until They Are Mature Enough to Resist Temptation on Their Own?

The part of the human brain that manages risk finishes developing when a person is about 21-year-old. If we hide our children from peer pressure until they are finishing college there’s a significant problem. Said sheltered child has spent nearly a quarter of his or her life doing something other than being a Christ-follower. That’s 21 years of bad modeling from parents and the church. 21 years that a person has been protected from building the Kingdom of Heaven.

I don't understand how love found itself pitted against apologetics.

This isn't an either/or proposition. We need to teach our children truth and to love God and neighbor.

I think it comes down to this…

If we are teaching children to do something other than following Jesus, then we are not building Jesus-followers. We need to own what this other thing is, and decide if we can and should live with it.

24.3.09

Just you try and get this song out of your head!

The New Calvinism... be careful

Time magazine has informed us of ten trends to watch in the coming year, and one of them is the resurgence of Calvinism, embodied in the works of author's like John Piper, and numerous young pastors in America. One friend ponders the reasons for it's resurgence here. While I agree with his assessment of why the movement is strong and growing, I'm not at all certain it's a good thing.

Brett says in his post that "Calvinism is about certainty" In a world of post-modern cynicism, and the despair that comes with feeling ideological rootlessness, it's not surprising that the pendulum would swing, and that there would be a rise in the popularity of 'solid answers'. But what does the fact that a movement is growing really prove? (I'll point out that Islam is also growing rapidly in America). Perhaps it only proves that we like certitude, and the light speed cultural changes of the 21st century only serve to increase our hunger for answers we can believe in; live for; die for.

There's a great deal that's commendable in this because I do believe that we're made for a life of acting on convictions, a life where there are truths in which we believe utterly, truths to which we're willing to commit our very lives. Lacking such truths, we'll forever run around in a field of inquiry, never landing solidly enough to jump into God's calling for us. Suddenly, at the beginning of a new millennium, along comes a movement that tells us exactly how things are, and we find ourselves ripe for solid answers. "You had me at hello..." we say, realizing that we're finally home.

It's dangerous though, to offer people MORE certainty than the Bible itself offers, and this is one of the problems I have with the new Calvinism. Go ahead and declare the apostles creed as those truths agreed upon by the early church after much debate, prayer, and finally, declaration. Tell me it's true. Show me it's true. Invite me to believe it's true. I'll stand with you, knowing that I'm standing on solid footing because each of those declarations are easily defensible for anyone who believes the Bible to be our final authority source.

But Neo-Calvinism doesn't end with declaring high certitude about the core beliefs found in the Apostle's creed. It goes on to tell me, systematically, about my depravity, the depth of it, how it means that I'm dead, and how, because I'm dead, I can't choose God, and that because I can't choose God, God needs to choose me, and isn't it cool that God chose me! Me! ME!! (and implied... 'so sorry about you', but don't question God's love or justice because the fact that He chooses any of us shows what a cool God He is...etc. etc.)

I won't debate those declarations because there are many places in the Bible where God does, in fact, declare that He chooses us. But I will suggest that this is only half the story. While Jesus offered some words that clearly indicated the Father's choosing and calling and sovereignty, He also said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink". If not anyone (but only the elect) can come and drink, this seems like a bogus offer. Why would John the Baptist even make an offer like this if change wasn't a real possibility? Or consider the examples of Moses' and Joshua's invitations in the Old Testament to "choose life". What? And then there's the case of Elijah: "How long will you waiver between two opinions? If Baal is god, serve him...but if Jehovah is God, serve Him? What's going on here? Is this just a stage show, but the reality is that Elijah's words have no meaning, because the choices are already set in stone. When Jesus weeps at the gates of Jerusalem because of their refusal to reject him, were they the tears of a good actor, or the outpouring of one who genuinely wanted all people to respond. Was there some fine print somewhere that I missed which read, "offer not available to the non-elect"? Check it out friends. You won't find it. That's because it appears that, not only are we chosen, but we also have real choices to make.

The tired old argument between Calvinists and Arminiests about the nature of free-will and God's sovereignty is a classic example of how dangerous, in some settings, certitude is. The reality is that we're treading on the ground of mystery when we try to ascertain the interplay of man's choice and God's activity. Both are true, in ways that can't be harmonized adequately this side of eternity. There's some MYSTERY here, and when we fail to leave the mystery as mystery, offering instead a systematized answer, we do damage to the scriptures, and the systems we create run the grave of risk of distorting the character of God, as is evidenced by the doctrine of a limited atonement, which is a logical consequence of Calvinism, yet not in keeping with God's character in the Bible. (Mystery is nothing new by the way. We accept the mystery of the trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus, without trying to disect it. We tried, early on in church history, and decided it couldn't be done.)

But now, suddenly, at the beginning of the 21st century, after 2000 years of failing to dissect the argument well enough to settle it, a few men have come along and figured it out for us. The answers, missing for literally millenia, are now here. "Thank you! Thank you! I can sleep now at night knowing the mystery is solved."

Nope. Not really. It's the wrong way to go, not because Calvinism is popular or unpopular, but because it's presumptuous. Our neo-Calvinist friends may think they have found, in John Calvin and his system, the perfect interpretation of all the mysteries of scripture, but many good people don't agree, and among those good people there are plenty with the good fruit of Christ's life present. Calvin's system, while offering allegedly solid ground, implies a degree of certitude that, when the cat's out of the bag and people begin to have questions of their own, will leave them feeling a little misled. Far better to say this, because there are, in truth, many areas where we're all still learning.

Like, One Time...

Wordle: Like One Time
Rachel's post with the Focus on the Family word cloud on Saturday turned me on to the fun little toy that is Wordle.net, where you can build word clouds simply by pasting text.

I'm one of those self-conscious writers scared to death of cliche, so I figured I'd waste an afternoon copying and pasting the majority of my blog posts in the last year to see what I've been doing wrong, or saying too much. Here are the results.

My dad won't be happy, since he long raged against the overuse of "like". Apparently, I use that word more than any other...by a wide margin. I particularly cringed over the prominence of "just" and "even", both of which fly in the face of my quest for word economy.

Commonly used words I was not surprised by: Oregon, beer, Christian, television

People who feature prominently in my writing: Dan Gibson, Mindy Green, Chad Gibbs and "John" (probably Pattison, but I do have multiple friends named John).

Surprising words which hopefully don't reveal some subconscious tendencies: American, time, men.

Hmm.

21.3.09

Focus on the Family: Dr. D's (sort of) Goodbye



The word cloud above is a tribute to James Dobson, made from the text of one of his articles on homosexuality. Props to wordle.net, where you can paste in text from anywhere and it makes the words big or small depending on their frequency.

As you may know, Dr. Dobson has stepped down from his executive duties at Focus on the Family, but as many have pointed out, you can expect to still hear his voice and the controversy that erupts when he lays down the Dobson hammer on controversial issues like the one above.

I've tried to get an interview with the Doctor for many moons. For a little while, it looked as though my persistence (I averaged an email and a call per day) was going to pay off. One of his assistants told me she thought she could make it happen. Friends began to load me with important questions I could ask him like: "If you were one of the characters in the Chronicles of Narnia, who would you be and why?"

This assistant asked for some of my material, and I gave her some relatively tame articles. Even so, I think she could smell my liberal, snarky self, and she then said that Dr. Dobson's schedule was booked for a few months, and asked if I wanted a tour of the Focus on the Family compound. Foiled!

I wish him well, and echo Larry Schallenberger's more gracious words from a few weeks back: I appreciate his heart and some aspects of his ministry, and hope that he finds more openhanded ways to deal with those issues that tend to drive people away from the church.

Raising Children Behind Fortress Evangelicalism




I had an interesting experience presenting at Willowcreek's Conspire Conference yesterday. I presented Lyon and Kinnaman’s research regarding how the unchurched and de-churched perceive the church. (They view the church as 1) hypocritical, 2) judgmental, 3) anti-homosexual, 4) intellectually and culturally sheltered, 5) too focused on conversions, and 6) too political.)

This matters to children’s ministries because young families are less likely to return to the church once they have children then they would have been 20 years ago. In the eighties, young parents would return to church to give their children “values” or a “moral compass.” They wanted their children to have religion. They might not have understood what it meant to be a Christ follower, but they viewed the church to be like a spiritual scouting program that would help mold their children to be model citizens.

However, today’s dechurched and unchurched families are more likely to view the church as petri dishes of intolerance and bigotry. They don’t want to raise rigid children who are unable to love and respect others. So they keep their children away from our ministries.

This is a problem, and it’s not merely an image problem. Those six themes are points of repentance for the church. I challenged the participants to imagine a children ministry that challenged those points. What lessons could they teach that would help children understand that God loves people regardless of their rebellion to him? How could we emphasize heroes like MLK Jr who stood up to unjustice? How could we teach children to serve others simply because they are Divine image bearers?

I was surprised by the resistance I got. The concern was that if we teach our children to have concern for “bad kids” and to befriend them that their character would suffer. We talked about the risks of raising children who were serious about bringing Jesus to all the children in their classrooms. Proverbs does say that bad company corrupts good character. But on the other hand, the savior of our children dined with famous sinners. If our children are to imitate Jesus they are going to need to learn how to enjoy the rough kids in their class without being changed by them.

I realized that those six perceptions of outsiders are evidence that we Evangelicals operate under a fortress mentality. We build our wall so we can feel good about ourselves by creating an Us-Them game. But we also build these walls in a sincere but misguided effort to protect our children.

I’m mulling this tension between protecting our children and raising Christ-followers. Some initial thoughts:

* There are no guarantees in parenting. There are no formulas.
* God loves our children. He is not asking us to discard our own children to reach the lost.
* If we raise children to hide behind our “fortress” they will grow up living behind the fortress.
* If our children watch us repairing our walls by being judgmental and hypocritical, they will grow up to do the same thing.
* There is no way to eliminate risk in the parenting process. (I’m the father of three sons).
* We need to challenge our children at age appropriate levels. I’m NOT advocating tossing our kids to the wolves.
* We still don’t believe that the two Great Loves are among the “Fundementals.”

I’m convinced that children’s pastors need to cast a vision to families to raise children willing to serve and love lost people. One workshop participant ask me if we could teach children to love their classmates without being friends with them. The answer, in a word is “no.” Jesus ENJOYED the moral misfits. We need to teach our children do the same. The only prophylactic we can offer our children to guard again sin is love. If our children are passionate about loving God and loving their neighbor (all of them) they will less likely to contaminate themselves. Life inside the fortress builds boredom, cynicism, and legalism in our kids.

During the workshop God prompted me to share the parable of the talents. I didn’t. I whimped out. Here’s what I should have said: “God has given us children to develop. We are to multiply their talents and passions. We are to give them a passion for lost people. If we bury these young “talents” in an effort to not lose them, even for the most noble of reasons, we become the evil and lazy servant."

20.3.09

Church Hopping: St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

In light of St. Patrick's Day having been this week, let's take a hop, skip, and a jump across the pond to Ireland to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Location: Dublin, Ireland
Website: www.stpatrickscathedral.ie
Architect: Various, due to reconstruction
Built: 1191

[photo of me outside St. Patrick's in 2001]

History: While traveling through Ireland, St. Patrick baptized Christian converts at a well, and so a small church was built there. On March 17, 1192, this church was dedicated to "God, our Blessed Lady Mary and St. Patrick." Sometime between 1200 and 1270, the building that currently stands was erected, and St. Patrick's Cathedral remains the largest church in the country.

The church became Anglican Church of Ireland Cathedral after the Reformation. Because of political and religious upheaval, St. Patrick's status often shifted from collegiate church to cathedral to parish church. Since 1870, St. Patrick's has been the National Cathedral of Ireland.

Exterior Design: Built during the Medieval period, the church is early Gothic in architectural style, with its heavy buttressing and pointed windows. However, because the cathedral had to be reconstructed during the Victorian era, and the architectural records were lost, it is unknown how much of the current structure is true to its original Gothic design.

St. Patrick's Steeple, erected in 1560, hosts one of Dublin's first public clocks.

Minot's Tower, which had to be rebuilt from 1362 to 1370 due to damage from a fire, is 120 feet. The spire, which is 101 feet, was added in 1769 and has gone on to be one of the most distinguishable features of the church.

[image of the exterior that shows the tower and spires.]

Butresses were added to support a new roof that was put up in 1671 to prevent the church from collapsing.

Interior Design: A fire caused the west nave to have to be rebuilt from 1362 to 1370. The nave had to be rebuilt again in 1544, after destruction from the Reformation. When Cromwell reigned, he'd stationed his horses in the nave to show his defiance against Anglicanism. By 1805 the nave once again was in major need of repair, with its roof held up only by scaffolding.

[image of the nave]

Also due to the Reformation, images were defaced by Cromwell's soldiers. The walls were repainted and Bible verses added to them around this time, in 1549.

[Image of the interior that shows the vaulted ceiling.]

The Lady Chapel was not added until 1270 but by the 1600s it was in shambles. In 1665, the Huguenots, French Calvinists who had escaped to Ireland, signed a lease to use it and, after being repaired, it became known as L'Eglise Fran├žaise de St. Patrick.

[Image of floor plan shows the cross-shaped interior and points out the different sections of the cathedral.]

There is no crypt here because of the church's close proximity to the River Poddle, which often floods the area.

Interesting Fact: The expression "chance your arm," which means to take a risk, comes from an incident which took place here in 1492 when Gerald Fitzgerald, eighth Earl of Kildare, cut a hole in the door of the chapter house to offer his hand in peace to Black James during a feud. Today the Door of Reconciliation still stands.

Drink to This: Benjamin Guinness, part of the Guinness Brewery legacy (yes, the brewery in Dublin offers tours of its facilities so you can go after you visit the Cathedral), funded the urgent reconstruction that was needed in 1860-65. One of his more tongue-in-cheek contributions was the stained-glass window he donated, which depicts Rebecca at the well with the motto, "I was thirsty and ye gave me drink."

[image of statue of Guinness outside the Cathedral]

Get Lit: Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels) was a dean at St. Patrick's Cathedral and is buried here. He wrote his own epitaph, which W. B. Yeats translated from the Latin as:

    Swift has sailed into his rest.
    Savage indignation there
    cannot lacerate his breast.
    Imitate him if you dare,
    world-besotted traveller.
    He served human liberty.

[image of bust of Swift in the Cathedral]

Music to Your Ears: The cathedral choir took part in the premiere performance of Handle's Messiah at the New Music Hall in Fish-amble Street on April 13, 1742.

19.3.09

Reminder: Burnside Brackets

If you haven't signed up yet, make sure to join our annual Burnside Bracket Pick 'Em. There's only about an hour and a half left to register! Follow the directions on this post.

Phil Vischer on Why Christians Struggle to Produce Good Media

I'm at a conference at Willowcreek this week. Yesterday, Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales presented on how culture disciples our children. He quoted the 2006 Kaiser Report that notes the average child between the ages of 8 and 18 consumes six hours of media (tv, computer, DVD, video games, music, etc) a day. If you account for media-multi tasking, the number goes up to 8 hours a day.

The only thing the average child does more than entertain himself is to sleep.

Phil went on to discuss various strategies to engage our children. One strategy would be to create media that advanced a Christian world view. Phil noted an interesting problem: "Christians just aren't funny. We're genetically bred to boring but productive people." Phil noted that our religious heritage can be traced to the Swedes and the Germans, who were wonderfully productive people, but not known for their stand up comedy at the pot lucks. So here's the dilemma: Protestants genetically bred to be productive and we live in an age of entertainment.

Christians also tend to use TV and radio as amplification units for their pulpits. We don't tend to tell stories or entertain well. When we try, we tend to produce schlock like Left Behind (okay, that one is on me, not Phil).

I left the talk with some questions. Obviously, since we are immersed in our entertainment culture and Christians watch as much media, and often the same media, as our unchurched counter parts, we will eventually "get it." We will start producing more and more witty story tellers. We'll become capable of injecting the Christian story back into the canon of media. This is a good thing. But I wonder if we'll lose our prophetic voice. Will we lose our ability to tell people to unplug and live?

18.3.09

Messages from Aaron

Aaron Donley, the esteemed creator of these awesome things, and a contributor to this site, is also a good friend. One time, he came up and stayed with me in Portland. We talked about the Enneagram, and tried to write a book, only he's far funnier than me.

He also calls from time to time, and I ignore the calls sometimes just to hear the messages. He knows this is part of our relationship. I hope you'll enjoy.

video

17.3.09

Bow to Me; I'm English!

Wandering the wastelands of Facebook today, I stumbled across the status update of Michael Radcliffe, a contributor to Burnside on occasion:
"Kiss me; I'm British-German and lack the scrappy, drunken and witty insecurity that comes from living in fear of the imperial tyrants instead of being one."
Which caused me to chuckle for a number of reasons. The main one being, to be honest, I'm sick of the Irish.

Not the people themselves, but their incessant need to remind you that they're Irish, and how everyone mentions how they're part Irish. At this point in American history, if you're any more than one generation removed from the Old Country (any of them, frankly), you're probably part Irish. It's not that big a deal anymore.

And why is being Irish so awesome anyway? My ancestry is primarily English and German. That means that while the Irish couldn't even grow potatoes in their own land, my people had an empire that the sun never set on. They ran India, Canada, Australia, South Africa...they even owned the US before it existed! And they ran the world from a tiny, cold, rainy island! But do you see me getting a Union Jack tattoo and eating meat pies all the time?

The other side, the Germans...well, they've got their dark moments. But they do make great automobiles, beer and sausage.

As Stuff White People Like pointed out, colonialism might be one of the reasons people like identifying with the Irish, and that's understandable to some extent. But imperialism was the game back then...that's how things worked. If, in the future, basketball becomes barbaric and evil, would we blame the Chicago Bulls of the early '90s for kicking ass? Of course not! And when it comes down to it, Great Britain is the Michael Jordan of nationalities.

Let's do a side-by-side comparison for a moment. Oh, you have Guinness? Well, we invented stouts, along with IPAs and pale ales. And Guinness is overrated, anyway. I'll see your James Joyce and raise you William Shakespeare.

Oh, you have U2? We have The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Oh, and Radiohead. Oh, and THE FRIGGING BEATLES.

Now, my wife is Irish (half), so I'm having a little fun here. But I know all you o'bastards are getting a bit riled right now reading this, what with your raging tempers. I can understand that...it's irritating hearing someone brag about how awesome their nationality is, isn't it?

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Even I'll admit, he was a pretty awesome dude.

16.3.09

My Dreams Have Come True.

Mosquito. Laser. Weapon.

Finally, technology is doing something.

Money quote:
"There is no such thing as a good mosquito, there's nothing that feeds exclusively on them. No one would miss mosquitoes. In any case, the laser is able to distinguish between mosquitoes that go after people and those that aren't dangerous."

Part of the Solution: Education Part 2


I apologize in advance for this article. It’s just been thrown together at the midnight hour to meet the deadline. Normally, I’d take the time to properly research a Part of the Solution to share with you. But, at the moment, I’m tired and overwhelmed after a weekend of family illness and an evening of last minute homework assignments, all done hastily because I neglected to read my kids’ weekly newsletter last Friday evening like I should have. Or like their teachers probably expected me to. I used to be a teacher, I should know.

I have an excuse, though. I have a health issue that rears its ugly head about once a year, knocking me out physically, then overwhelming me mentally and emotionally. I’m not explaining this for pity – it’s a part of my life that a two to three week round of doxycycline will help control – but I’m mentioning it because of the effect my ailment has on my children’s education when my body won’t let me do what I normally would in my everyday life. During these brief episodes, simple tasks look and feel like mountain climbing to me. I do them anyway, of course. But then the kids come home with spelling or math assignments labeled “complete with a parent at home” and, by that time of day, all I want to do is crawl under a rock. And I also inevitably oversee something important – a field trip permission slip, a review sheet for the big test, you name it.

The guilt is enormous. I love my kids. When I’m healthy, which is eleven months out of the year, everything runs smoothly and I’m Super Former Teacher Mom, aiding the girls while they study for social studies and math tests, and completing spelling activities with them. I sign their assignment notebooks and make them healthy snacks to fuel their brains. I rock, if you want to know the truth. But for a few weeks, these simple tasks actually feel quite complicated.

It’s not like I don’t have help. It’s not like there aren’t two of us. There are. My husband comes home and helps the girls with their homework regularly. But there are only so many hours in an evening, and he has his own lists of stressors, particularly in this economic climate. Downsizing, paycuts, having to wear multiple hats due to said downsizing – all of it takes its toll. And then, I think, he feels the way I do – grateful for the time with the kids, but also overwhelmed at one more task to do when it might be more fun just to play Connect Four and forget about the day while the kids laugh. Children’s laughter is a huge destressor, but kids don’t necessarily laugh much when they have no desire to write an outline for their research paper.

I’m really sorry for dumping on all of you like this, but I just wanted to say that I, more than once, have thought of the other fellow parents of schoolchildren who are overwhelmed by life on an even greater scale than me. You know, I’ll gain my health back in a couple of weeks. But for many other moms and dads, the various stressors of life remain for months or years. It’s a regular part of their lives. And then their kids come home with “complete with a parent” assignments, too.

It’s all the rage in teacher education to include the family in their children’s education. Parental involvement ensures confidence and success and builds a bridge that stretches from classroom to home. Parental involvement screams Your Education is Important to Me! and supports the teachers’ work on a deep and meaningful level. I know how important it is. I had to prove it in my portfolio for licensure, after all.

But, while parental involvement is certainly conducive to learning, I’m left to wonder how supporting children outside the classroom can be simplified for overextended, overburdened parents. Here are a couple of ideas, just off the top of my head:
  1. Support parents by donating your time as an after-school tutor. In Indianapolis, Shepherd Community Center needs volunteers for their after school program to help kids with homework and keep up with their studies. This is a huge support to the parents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
  2. Start a neighborhood homework help group in your home. (I just made this up and thought it sounded like a good idea.) The rationale being this: Many areas are not the focus of organizations’ outreach due to income demographics and location. There is no Shepherd Community Center where I live, right here in my suburban neighborhood. Not a free one, at least. But as the economy begins to tax parents with unemployment and other economic related stressors, a homework help group in neighborhoods like mine would ease the burden of parents who find themselves a sudden recession casualty. It takes a village…
  3. Become a mentor. Or support one. Becoming an additional go to person for a child can make a huge difference in their educational experience. When they know there is another adult who cares about their schoolwork (among other things, of course), they are likely to care, too.

Now I shall print out my daughter’s typed outline, sign a reading log, and go to bed. Good night.

15.3.09

March Madness 2009!!!

We've been doing this for a while now. It's the official Burnside Tournament Pick 'Em. Last year, I finished 37th out of 39. It was awful.

Anyway, the pool is open for any and all Burnsiders. I hope you'll deign to join us in the MADNESS!!!

First, go here. Then click "Join Group". Our Group ID# is 96743, and the password is "burnside". If you win, you can make the Scheyer face!

14.3.09

Meditation: The Holy Arsonist

Readers, it's my turn to offer the mediation. I'm between trips to South Carolina and Chicago. I hope you'll forgive me for posting a rough experience that I went though a little over nine years ago instead of offering a new post...



Shortly after 5 AM on Martin Luther King Day, 2000 a desperate phone call shattered my sleep. “The church is on fire. It’s burning down.” By the time I arrived, the flames claimed the children’s wing. The staff watched from our cars in the sub-zero temperature as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. Unable to do anything, we each returned to our homes and waited for Al’s instructions.

The instructions came, instead, from ATF agents. In 1999, there were as rash of church arsons in the south resulting in federal agents leading the response. I was summoned to meet a brawny ATF agent in the early afternoon in the ash filled remains of the cinder block children’s church room. Firefighter had ripped the roof open. I breathed in artic air and surveyed the scene. Plastic seats melted and drooped around their steel chair frames.

I found the hideously ugly canvas painting of Jesus and the children, painted in bright rust and oranges, that I had hidden back stage. The painting had been commissioned in the seventies by a generous patron. As such, I’d been denied permission to throw it away. I joked with the agent about my poor luck about the painting surviving the fire only to be met by a grim stare. When the agent finally spoke he asked me questions about the contents of the supply closet and about my whereabouts Sunday afternoon. It was only then that I realized the fire was being considered suspicious and that everyone on staff was a potential suspect.

The staff met in the private room of a nearby all-you-can-eat buffet and mapped out the next several months of activity from how we’d communicate the fire and suspected arson to the church and community, how we’d meet to worship, how we’d rebuild, and how we’d clean up the fine soot that had settled all over the worship center. My responsibilities were to move the children’s ministry in the adult education space and to train the volunteers on how to talk to the children about the potentially traumatic events. Naturally, my family vacation scheduled for the following week would need to be cancelled.

The crisis temporary diverted everyone attention away from the conflict that had been smoldering in the church over worship styles and leadership. Elders, staff, and congregation rallied around the immediate need to restore the campus. Yet when the children’s wing reopened and the urgency of the moment subsided, discord returned. The elder board began to split over the issue of leadership the church spiraled deeper into chaos. Fall came with its tree top Pentecost and with it new revelation: One of the arsonists was the teenage child of a senior staff person. The new information fueled more speculation and gossip in the church. The church’s descent continued for another full year and only reserved itself with the help of a Christian conflict mediator, one that qualified to do mediation for the United States Postal Service.

The experience forced me to rethink the nature of suffering in the Christian life. The scriptures are full of references to God using fire to refine and purify his people, to burn away impurities, and to free them from their impurities so they look more like Jesus. I mistakenly had assumed the outcome was inevitable; the flames of suffering would subside and, viola, Jesus’ character would shine.

My own experiences during this time forced me to shed this myth. I was changing, but not in a way that looked anything like Jesus. I was more familiar with anxiety than I was God’s “peace that surpasses understanding.” Insomnia was a regular occurrence. I had little appetite for food and lost weight. I found myself wrestling with feelings of resent with my coworkers. I infected my home with a surly disposition. Outbursts of impatience and anger occurred far too often.

Over time I came to understand that both God and Satan use fire for their purposes. God refines and strengthens while Satan scars and disfigures. Why do both God and Satan value fiery experiences? In the physical realm, fire agitates molecules and speeds up chemical reactions. The same is true spiritually. The fire of suffering is a spiritual accelerant. Suffering speeds up the stuff of our characters and makes us susceptible to change. Our decisions made during a week of suffering yield their consequences more quickly than those made during a year of tranquility.

So was the fire "of God" or "of Satan"?

I hope that by my actions I can say the fire was from God.

Ayn Rand and Christianity

My senior year in high school, our English teacher had us read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, a sturdy and wordy book that this particular teacher was, to say the least, a big fan of.

I loved the book, and so did most of my class. On the surface, our love for Rand was odd, since The Fountainhead is 752 pages long, not particularly action-packed, and a narrative argument for Rand's philosophy of objectivism.

But here's how Rand summed up her philosophy in the 35th anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged:
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged 35th anniversary edition
Read that quote again, and it should be clear why objectivism would appeal to high school students. When a famous author of a classic book tells a 17 year-old it is his moral imperative to be as selfish and as uncompromising as possible...well, that's going to be like telling a fat kid Coco Puffs are part of a balanced breakfast.

But then read that quote through the lens of what we believe as Christians, and it becomes almost the exact antithesis of Christ's ministry. It espouses the belief that human beings are heroic (completely disregarding The Fall), reason is the only absolute, and one's happiness is one's most important pursuit. The only overlap that could be argued is the concept of "productive achievement", or hard work.

In a segment the other day, Stephen Colbert discussed the growing popularity behind Rand's Atlas Shrugged in light of the Obama administration's bailouts.



Ayn Rand has always been popular with secular conservatives. Essentially, American conservatism has two opposed philosophical hearts: Christianity and Randian Objectivism. The problem is, Christian conservatives seem to either ignore this discrepancy, or, worse, merge the two.

And this is my biggest problem with present-day conservatism: that it has somehow married Biblical truth with a philosophy that not only rejects God, but also claims man can be perfect.

I am not saying Christian conservatives are wrong, and I'm certainly not saying Christian liberals are right, only that we need to understand the dangers of aligning ourselves with principles outside our faith.

For me, Ayn Rand's ideas strike a chord because I was so impacted by The Fountainhead. It was my favorite book at the time, and I still recommend reading it...it's superbly written. But Howard Roark is not a hero, and objectivism is a dangerous and disgusting lie.

12.3.09

Angry Conversations with God

It's a big day, as Susan Isaacs' book, Angry Conversations with God, finally hits shelves. Click on that link and buy it! Or go to a local bookstore and demand it in your most powerful voice! You'll laugh. I promise.

Personally, I'd like to see Susan Isaacs overtake her evil writer nemesis, Susan Isaacs. Perhaps they could get into a war of words! Because they're both writers!

11.3.09

Questions Kids Ask

“Mommy, why are we alive if we’re just going to die anyway?” Ella was deep in thought after church on Sunday.

Um…

“I mean, really. Why do we even go to school to learn all this stuff if we're just going to die one day? It’s really all just meaningless!” Ella, by the way, is ten years old.

Ah…

“And why do we try to change the world when we’re all just going to die?”

It was like she was reciting straight from Ecclesiastes. Only one decade old, and she already thinks like King Solomon. We’ve always known she was an old soul, but seriously. This was almost too old.

What do you tell a kid like that?

10.3.09

The T.K.O.

The pastor in the next office over is pretty sure the UFC is evidence that our violent and decadent culture is on the same path as the Roman Empire. My wife calls it human cock fighting.

Maybe. I have to admit that there are times I get conflicted about the sport, when I'm not enjoying it. I practice martial arts to stay in shape and to blow off stress. I'm currently learning mixed martial arts. A few years back, I practiced taekwondo. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’d occasionally participate in a tournament. I'd drop forty hard-earned American dollars for the privilege of sparring with others in my age and weight class (Old and fat). I’m not sure if Amy was more bothered by my spending the money or the fact that I was risking injury. For the sake of this story, let’s assume that her concerns were with me.

One Saturday afternoon, I found myself matched up with an amateur boxer who was learning the sport. The guy’s arms were thick. I guessed he had about twenty pounds of muscle on me. A wave of fear swept over me. I made a hasty plan. I had a longer reach. I decided to keep my distance, skip in, land my kicks, and the skip back out of danger. I’d stay alive and win on points.

Unfortunately, I got too close to my opponent. He threw an upper cut into my diaphragm and knocked the wind out of me. I immediately doubled over and tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t. My rib cage had to be cracked. The referee counted me out. Just seconds later, my breathing returned to normal. I realized that I really wasn’t injured. My ribs were fine. I felt fine. I wanted to finish the fight but I had already lost. If I had only stayed in the game, my breath would have returned, and I might have won. I looked around at the people in the room and secretly wished that I was actually injured and had a reason to not finish the fight.

That T.K.O. reminded me of all the times that life threatens to knock the wind out of me. Maybe it's a rejection letter from a publisher, a curve ball at work, or a challenge on the home front that I wasn't expecting. I'm learning to stay in the ring no matter how I feel. I will catch my breath.

Paul said it this say, "Be strong, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your work is not in vain."

9.3.09

Women's Ministry Speaker

Yesterday, after church, I had a conversation with Diane, our Director of Women's Ministries. She told me that she was looking for a conference speaker, but ugh... she was having a hard time with the "Women's Ministry" mold.

Diane told me that she was recently at a conference and the speaker-- God love her-- opened her talk with a product give away. She gave a book out to the first woman who made her bed before coming to the workshop. Another book was given to a woman who got all her domestic chores done before leaving her family for the day.

Diane was not amused. "Seriously, could you see that occurring the beginning of a men's conference?"

I explained that if prizes were given out that it would most likely be awarded for the man who left the toilet seat down.

Diane reacted, I think, because what so often passes for "women's ministry" is actually programs that gently perpetuate Victorian ideals regarding women. That proper God-fearing women would create their own universe, paralleled to the manly universe, but set apart. There, women could foster their creativity and ideals in a forum that didn't bother the men. This geography of this universe mostly consists of the home and a few women's gatherings.

Diane wondered if I knew of any speakers that happened to be women that wouldn't fall into that trap. I had an idea. I just finished reading Angry Conversations with God and knew that Susan was just the kind of speaker that would ignore those silly lines. She'd just tell her story and do her thing. Prizes would not be be awarded to the woman who got up at 5 AM baked home made muffins for the children before leaving for the day. Susan would appeal to creative people, whether they were stay-home or 9-5-ers.

I thought about sharing the book with Diane when the thought hit me, This whole Fundegelical Stepford Wives Boot Camp thing is warped, but darn it, you're a man and this pastel system of oppression could work to your advantage. Leave well enough alone.

But Jesus wouldn't have approved. And if my wife, Amy, found out that I asked Diane to brew me a pot of coffee instead of sharing the name, well... I bruise easily.

8.3.09

meditations: lighting up the night

The hits just keep on coming! Where are you going to turn to find good news? 10 trillion dollars in wealth (or 'paper wealth' if you prefer, but let's not argue about it) have evaporated from the markets, injecting fear, isolation, job loss, and pessimism into cultures around the globe. Unemployment, over-leveraged banks, over leveraged-households: as the statistics keep pouring out, the sense of foreboding increases, and there's a collective weight in our global psyche as we wonder what will happen next. Economists can't agree on solutions, and CEO's who are supposed to be competent are, along with both Democratic and Republican politicians, revealing themselves to be both hopelessly incompetent and ignorant. These realities of course, fuel not only fear, but anger and cynicism. So when the insurance giant declared that it lost over 61 BILLION dollars in the 4th quarter, you could feel the collective, global moan on Monday (for some perspective, realize that the total revenue from all movie theaters in America in 2008 totalled 1.7 billion!). People are weary, confused, afraid.

Christ warned us there would, no doubt, be difficult days along the way. He warned us that, for some, these difficulties would be so overwhelming that fear would displace hope, and isolation/violence, would trump servanthood/community. Slipping into these destructive postures is easy - all we need to do is let the culture shape us. Of course, this is the very thing we're told, time and again in the Bible to avoid.

Jesus called those who follow Him, "the light of the world" and it is true that the single candle is increasingly visible in proportion to the presence of darkness. This is why now, more than ever, we who are the church (and even more so we who lead) must commit to "letting the light shine", because these days are as much days of opportunity as they are days of challenge. The bottom is dropping out; the institutions in which we've put our trust are collapsing. For many, it is only the reality of the storm that causes a search for shelter and God knows that the storm is here.

What kind of people light up the night?

1. Those who are rooted in God's revelation - We're told that God's Word is a lamp. That's why I'm grateful for the over 150 people who made their way through snow and rain, in business hours and the middle of the night, to read through the Bible, aloud in our church building, this past week. This is part of how we declare that we don't live by bread alone (or the market index) but by God's Word. The powerful imagery of the Light being declared in the middle of the darkness of 3AM is very powerful - this isn't just symbolism: this is our calling - to light up the darkness of our time by embodying the light of Christ's love and hope. If you stop by our church, take a look at the prayer journal where people wrote of their experiences reading the Bible. It's powerful.

2. Those who believe their identity. Jesus doesn't tell his followers to become light. He tells them that they are light, and because they are, they'd better start living as if they are. God knows there are plenty of reasons in each of our stories that might lead us to doubt that we're light - our failures, fears, prejudices, pride, and so much more, rise up to accuse us. But God sees us differently - sees our truest and deepest selves as complete, and is committed to working with us so that the light that is our life in Christ might shine. May we have the strength to believe we're complete and learn to say "thank you". This is why I was heartened to find 120 men from our church gathering in the mountains this past weekend to consider what role spiritual disciplines like prayer, serving, living out God's kingdom ethics, and resting might play in daily living. Habits formed around these categories ground is, giving us the faith and courage to believe that Christ is in us, with us, expressing life through us. Developing these habits is what this is all about.

3. Those who resist fear - Searching through the scriptures, we come to realize that those who missed fulfilling their destinies always had, behind their failures, a spirit of fear which caused them to disengage from naked trust and faith in God. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being different, fear of loss. Look through the Bible and you'll see fear displacing trust and faith over and over again. Into this we're told, numerous times, to 'fear not', precisely because we believe that God is in control and that, whether living our dying, our destiny of being light in the midst of darkness will be fulfilled.

Where fear is resisted, we'll be able to live honestly in the midst of deception, generously in the midst of hoarding and greed, and joyfully in the midst of anxiety. This is the calling to which we aspire in these remarkable days, so that wherever there is darkness, there will be light, "and the light will shine in the darkness and..." well, perhaps you know the rest.

Let's Get It On - III

Pastors Aaron and Tim discuss the role and importance of children.

PART 3 - Children
video