Archive for April, 2007

More Random Thoughts (they’re all I’m capable of these days)

April 25, 2007

My hero Bono said in an interview once: having nothing to write about isn’t an excuse for not writing. I’m not really sure what that means. But. I wanted to write something today and really don’t have time to think of much original. Seeing as it’s finals week.

So a couple of random stories with no commentary from me.

1. Grading isn’t as bad when your students are funny. For instance, one turned in an essay with haikus spread throughout it. Just for fun. A couple made me mix-discs to listen to while grading their essays.

2. Did Rush Limbaugh really say / play this? I want to not believe it. I don’t know a thing about the source, other than it’s a liberal blog. But why oh WHY is this considered funny or acceptable?

3. I read an article yesterday about a planet relatively nearby (20 light years, give or take, away) that scientists believe has water on it. And therefore at least has the possibility for sustaining life. Or the posibility of having sustained life. I can’t find a link to it today. But whatever. That’s not really all that important to me. I really just want to know how scientists look at photographs and images and know what is what on a planet. They seem to do this fairly regularly and with some accuracy and I have a Biology degree and have no clue how they do it. A methods lesson from anyone?

4. Al Sturgeon should write a book about Christ. The post below this one is amazing.

5. I love the lyrics to the Radiohead song “How to Disappear Completely,” even though I don’t know what they mean:

That there, That’s not me
I go where I please
I walk through walls
I float down the Liffey
I’m not here
This isn’t happening
I’m not here I’m not here
In a little while I’ll be gone
The moment’s already passed Yeah it’s gone
And I’m not here, This isn’t happening
I’m not here I’m not here
Strobe lights and blown speakers
Fireworks and hurricanes
I’m not here, This isn’t happening
I’m not here I’m not here

Most of the time I like for lyrics to make some sort of sense. But I like that these don’t. Don’t explain them to me if you understand them. I like them the way they are. Peaceful for some reason.

They’re even better if you listen to them with the music.

In His Steps: A Transcript

April 19, 2007

[The following is the transcript from my lecture delivered at Crowley’s Ridge College two nights ago, minus the little introductory remarks and the obligatory altar call at the end. I’ll be interested to read any comments from anyone, from my housefly buddies to those who might link here from my Minutes to Memories blog.]

We have a problem. Churches, that is. We have a big problem. Not liberalism or legalism. It has nothing to do with worship services. It is much bigger than that. And it has been a problem for a very long time. Centuries. But it has to change. It can no longer be tolerated. It may best be explained in a survey once conducted by a young man named Shane Claiborne. Shane drew results from those who identified themselves as “strong followers of Jesus,” and from that group 80% of the respondents said that Jesus spent time with the poor. When asked, 2% of that very same group said they spent time with the poor. Claiborne said, “I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what He did.”

That’s the problem in a nutshell.

In the year 2000, less than a year after I became a preacher, I was involved in a church controversy. A small group, led by one particular couple, wasn’t happy with me. In the big meeting that ensued, one lady (who, to this point had been a close friend to our family) said a couple of interesting things: One, for whatever reason, she claimed that I acted more like Jesus than anyone she knew; Two, she then asked if we could get on with the meeting and talk about my false teaching. Does anyone besides me see a problem here? Of how easily we separate what we believe and how we live into distinct groups?

Shane Claiborne again, in his penetrating book, The Irresistible Revolution, wrote, “If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you… But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.”

Jesus, on the other hand, did show people another way of doing life. In Matthew 19, Jesus challenged the Rich Young Ruler to sell all he had, give to the poor, and then come follow Him. But as rich people today, we aren’t all that interested in following his advice, are we? (To this point, the late musician Rich Mullins once said tongue-in-cheek, “But I guess that’s why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.”) In Luke 14, Jesus taught students how to throw a party, with the specific instruction being to invite the poor and rejected instead of our family and friends. Again, Claiborne wrote, “We must not have highlighted that verse.”

We have a major problem. We admire Jesus, believe in Jesus, even worship Jesus, but doing what He did – the very definition of following Jesus – well, we aren’t so serious about that part of the deal.

Which leads me to my assigned text: 1st Peter 2: 21-25. Peter wrote these verses to slaves, people in very different life circumstances than you and I. In the verses preceding our text, he told them to take their abuse on the chin when doing what is right. Like Jesus did, you know.

Then, Peter wrote: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1st Peter 2: 21-25, RSV)

I would like to make three points from these verses tonight: (1) Christianity is much more than believing in Jesus: it’s about following Him step by step; (2) Following the steps of Jesus doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen; (3) Following in the steps of Jesus costs us everything we’ve got.

First, Christianity is much more than believing in Jesus: it’s about following Him step by step.

1st Peter 2: 21 was the sermon text in the classic novel by Charles Sheldon, In His Steps. In it, a congregation was challenged to live for one year asking the question “What would Jesus do?” before doing anything. And it changed everything. Yet today, the WWJD movement mostly resulted in a slew of Christian products for sale.

Part of the problem may be the definition of “disciple.” In our world, when we think of a student, we think of a person sitting at a desk learning a set of facts or propositions. Instead, we need to become reacquainted with the idea of an “apprentice” (no, not Donald Trump). As Darryl Tippens writes in Pilgrim Heart, “’Learning Jesus’ (Luke Timothy Johnson’s fine phrase) is very different from learning algebra or physics. Learning Jesus is more akin to being apprenticed to a ship captain, a painter, a musician, or a stone mason.” An apprentice learns to do things like his teacher, not just sets of facts. Tippens suggests outfitting Bibles with green words for the things Jesus did (green for GO!), in addition to the red words for things He said. According to Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy, this is what “in the name of the Lord Jesus” means, doing things on his behalf or in his place, as if he himself were doing it.

So how would slaves live with unjust abuse? Just like Jesus taught them to live. Take it. And so how would we, as His apprentices, deal with owning more than we need while others go without? That should keep us up at night, you know?

There is a quiet revolution underway in Christianity, and I might as well be the one to tell you about it. There is a movement emerging (Scot McKnight calls it a “giant elephant in the middle of the Church’s living room”), and at the heart of this movement lies the recognition that how a person lives is of utmost importance. This movement is fond of noticing that every judgment scene in the Bible is based on a person’s “actions,” and that the only time Jesus explains what will matter when all is said and done, He describes it as caring for “the least of these.” I am a part of this emerging movement. This revolution. You are hearing its theme song tonight.

Second, following the steps of Jesus doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen.

In our text, verses 22 and 23 specifically, we learn that part of what made Jesus perfect was His refusal to retaliate in suffering, choosing rather to trust God for justice. This cannot be popular in a nation at war.

The title of this lectureship is “Becoming God’s Special People.” I love the title. Christians are called to be different (or, special), but I wonder what pictures the title brings to mind. It sounds a little warm and fuzzy to me (You’re so special!), but I’m afraid that becoming God’s special people might feel a bit more cold and prickly in reality.

If Jesus were living in the United States of America today, what would He look like? Who would He spend time with? What kind of house would he own, and what kind of car would he drive? These are important questions to apprentices of Jesus, aren’t they? These are the very questions on which we are to base our lives!

I don’t think Jesus would be boring. And I don’t think Jesus would be “normal.” I don’t even think Jesus would be “cool.” As Shane Claiborne wrote, “You don’t get crucified for being cool; you get crucified for living radically different from the norms of all that is cool in the world. And it’s usually the cool people who get the most ticked off, since you are disturbing their order.”

The call to be different is the narrow way described by Jesus.

If we are truly interested in whether or not we are following in the steps of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi may have given the best advice on how to know when he said, “Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.” Is anyone brave enough to ask?

Third, following in the steps of Jesus costs us everything we’ve got.

In our text, verses 24 and 25 in particular, Peter explains to us a purpose of the Cross: it was so that we might die, and then live. This heals us, he claims. Death, followed by life. Our problem is with the dying part. I wonder if we have ever truly died to ourselves, or, to put it Jesus’s way, given up everything to follow Him.

In Thomas a Kempis’s 15th century masterpiece, The Imitation of Christ (appropriately titled for tonight’s message by the way), he writes, “Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.” It seems we need to be reminded of the “whole life” commitment.

In an age where we still divide life into the sacred and secular (where “church” is an adjective to mark the difference – a “church” event versus the rest of life), and when we still talk of a difference between “full-time” Christian service and “part-time” Christian service, we need to be reminded that following Jesus involves every part of our lives. Period. Until everything we do – in word or deed – is done “in the name of Jesus,” then we haven’t died completely, and we cannot be living for righteousness.

Anne Tyler’s wonderful novel, Saint Maybe, introduces us to Ian and the mess that was his life. Unknown to anyone else, a statement he made in anger led his inebriated brother to suicide. His brother’s suicide led to his sister-in-law’s drug-induced death, leaving an orphaned child to be cared for by Ian’s aging parents. One night he happened upon a church service in a strip mall called, The Church of the Second Chance. During prayer time, out of nowhere, he asked for forgiveness for the mess of his life, and much to his surprise after the service, Reverend Emmett asked him what he needed forgiveness for! Ian decided to share his secret, and after his confession, he asked Reverend Emmett if he thought he had been forgiven. The preacher shockingly replied, “Goodness, no!” An argument ensued between the two on the nature of God, and Reverend Emmett explained his answer by saying that anyone could just say the words, but the question was whether or not he would do anything about it. For starters, would he care for the orphaned child his sins left behind? This changed the complete direction of his life.

Later in the novel, Ian’s parents grew concerned that this church he had stumbled on was some sort of a cult. Ian’s father exclaimed, “Our church never asked us to abandon our entire way of life.” Ian’s response summarizes my message tonight: “Well, maybe it should have.”

Yes, maybe we should have. And maybe we should now. Maybe we should ask everyone claiming to be Christian to take seriously the call to live our lives following in the steps of Jesus. Maybe we should consider abandoning our wealth and privilege and move our lives to those living in the margins of our society. As the early Christians did. As Jesus did. Maybe we have a lot to consider.

My assigned title comes from 1st Peter 2: 21. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, does his best to offer this verse in our contemporary language. Listen closely: “This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.”

Yes, I’m convinced that we have a major problem on our hands that can no longer be tolerated. We are satisfied admiring, believing in, and worshiping Jesus, but we aren’t called to that. We are called to follow him step by step. I wonder how many of us are truly interested.

Recommended Reading:
* The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
* Pilgrim Heart by Darryl Tippens
* The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
* The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
* Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
* The Hauerwas Reader by Stanley Hauerwas
* Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

* In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
* The Message by Eugene Peterson
* The Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version)
* “What is the Emerging Church?” by Scot McKnight

Random Tuesday Morning Thoughts

April 17, 2007

It’s still morning out here, so deal with it you all of you East Coast losers.

1. More people need to know about The Teaching Company. For a decent price you can listen to some very good lectures on just about anything you want. Check ’em out.

2. First Lady Laura Bush is speaking at Pepperdine’s Graduation and I’m not going. Not out of protest or anything (I’d actually like to hear her), but because I forgot to RSVP reserving my seat at graduation. I’m not all that upset. Because I’m not a good American.

3. Yesterday’s LA Times had a cover story on families living on Skid Row and holy cow was it depressing. Anyone ever seen Skid Row? Imagine hell with prostitutes and that’ll give you a good idea. And there are kids who live there. There’s a controversial new plan to remove the kids from Skid Row, even if that means taking them away from the parents — who aren’t necessarily bad people — they just can’t provide for their families.

4. Men’s Volleyball may be the most exciting sport you never seen. It helps that Pepperdine is #1 in the nation, but it was exciting last year when we weren’t #1.

5. My roommate from my days in Syracuse, Phil Lamarche, called last night. He’s doing a book tour right now. His first book, American Youth, came out last week. The guy is a great writer. Buy his book. I’ll try to do a review of it, you know, whenever I do my next review (sometime in August, I suspect). He used to get up at 4 in the a.m. and write until 10 or 11 in the a.m. And then he’d go kayaking or hiking or skiing. He couldn’t stand being inside all day. But he loved to write. So he sacrificed sleep. So I’m pulling for his book to do well. And it really is good, even if I am biased and would say that regardless of it’s readability.

6. Not to get all political and whatnot — but a his speach yesterday, President Bush once again linked Iraq to the September 11th attacks. How many commissions do we need to say there was no connection before he’ll quit making the connection?

7. I’m on the final leg of Pynchon’s Against the Day. I hit a wall somewhere around page 600, but it’s picked back up.

The Houseflies Have Fallen Off the Wagon

April 12, 2007

I’ve listened to Don Imus exactly once in my life. I was on a trip to New Jersey from Arkansas with a couple of friends, one of whom was a big Imus fan. I was tired and don’t recall the first thing about the show other than hearing the phrase “Imus in the Morning” over and over.

I didn’t know he was still on the radio until the controversy we’ve all grown weary of blew up however many days ago.

I’m not really sure if there’s too much to say about the story that hasn’t been said already. I’ll point you to a great article by Marcus Mabry, which is more thoughtful and thought-provoking than anything else I’ve read about the Imus incident.

I especially like Mabry’s comments about how African-American politicians and journalists have tolerated Imus’s racism for a long, long time because he is so powerful: “That African-African Congressman Harold Ford, former U.S. senator Bill Bradley and female journalists like The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell appear on Imus shows, in part, shows that his racist behavior has been tolerable, if distasteful, to politicians and our industry.” They tolerate it because, as one of the women on the Rutgers team noted: they have to get their voice heard, and if it means going on the Imus show, then that’s what they have to do. That should be troubling to a lot of us — just think of having to go on the show of someone you find offensive just to have your voice heard. Hopefully this whole incident will help change this. But.

Imus’s response, I’m not so sure about. He’s said that he’ll have a black guest on his show everyday, which I don’t really think that’s the best approach to “diversity.” That’s the kind of nod to diversity that doesn’t truly get at the heart of the matter. It’s a legalistic approach, and it doesn’t necessarily change much — because it doesn’t really change a person’s heart and attitude and worldview. However, there is a great quote by Imus on the second page of the linked article, which if he follows through on, is a great approach to diversity: “And me and the rest of white America ought to understand what’s going on in the black community and I’ll make an effort to do that…I will do that.” Trying to understand what’s going on in the lives of people who have been left out of the circle of power in this country for centuries, asking questions about why it might be important to have a black guest on his show everyday, asking questions about why offensive jokes are allowed on the airwaves that are regulated by our government — that’s the best response to the whole incident. Hopefully Imus will follow through on that last promise, and hopefully his influence will help the rest of us as well.

Yeah, That’s the Ticket

April 3, 2007

Even though I’m not around as much lately, I’m always looking for cool stuff to share with you all. This article by Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick actually caused me to tear up a little (probably just a hormone thing, but I do agree with the sentiment). She’s talking about how a collaborative writing project with someone with whom she disagreed politically was a healing experience that compared very favorably to the screeching “performance art” that passes for political discourse these days — and she includes her own work in this assessment. She touches on some themes that I have mentioned before, such as the deleterious effects of political balkanization. Now everyone join hands and sing a chorus of “Abraham, Martin and John” …

Candidates on Executive Power

April 2, 2007

So I’ve been going on about the Bush administration’s extraordinary claims (and actions) regarding the power of the Executive Branch for quite some time. A while back, I said every candidate for president in 2008 should be forced to publicly state their position on the power of the executive; anyone who isn’t willing to totally repudiate the Bush view is unfit to hold any position in government, much less the presidency.

Here are 2 of the front-running Republicans, going on the record at a conservative get together over the weekend. Rudy Giuliani: I agree with Bush, but, golly gee, I hope not to have to use my superpowers too often. Mitt Romney: Hmmmm, maybe Bush is right; I need to consult my lawyer before answering.

I honestly cannot comprehend how anybody could think it’s appropriate for the president — any president — to have the power “to arrest U.S. citizens with no review.” To me, it’s like saying black is white, the Revolutionary War never happened, and the Constitution doesn’t exist. What was the point of all that if a single official can deprive any (which is the same thing as every) citizen of his/her liberty without having to bring any charges or otherwise justify that action in any way to anybody?

Can somebody here explain to me what the argument for this is that so many in the GOP seem to find convincing? Seriously. I mean, they don’t even seem to think there’s anything remarkable about it. To me, it’s quite possibly the silliest thing any post-colonial American politican has ever said.

What am I missing?