Reflecting on Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, the Iranian Crisis and …

There was a part of me that did not want to mention Michael Jackson in a blog post because, to be honest, so many already were and I didn’t want to be trendy. But as I sit in my vintage GI-Joe shirt, wearing a Phillies hat, listening to the pre-release of Sugar Ray’s comeback album with my bright orange hybrid Hummer outside my window, I think why stop now? There’s no way to truly avoid being a cliché (because you’re a cliché to someone).

As predicted, sales of Michael Jackson’s music is sky-rocketing. If you eavesdrop in any conversation at any restaurant, you’ll hear, “It’s easier to listen to him now that he’s gone.” With the news that he was preparing for a 50 shows in London, years from now, people will say, “He was in the middle of a comeback when it happened”.

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from Emergent Village which appropriately asked, “Did you hear who died? Neda. #iranelection #neverforget #whatreallymatters. It was re-tweeted a couple times and it served as a needed reminder.  I can never forget this video.

Like many, I’m one who tries to avoid the hype (or at least certain types of hype). I’ll admit, I’m inconsistent, most of us are. I didn’t want to get carried away with all the Jackson hysteria and was tired of expressing that I felt bad for Farrah Fawcett because she was forever linked with Michael Jackson. Farrah bears the honor of being the most recent display dying with class and dignity. At the same time, I’ve been praying, watching and talking about the crisis in Iran, but I’ve been reluctant to add my green overlay because many suffer by going without basic needs like where we are going for our mission trip. I have been very consumed by the preparation of our trip to Nassau, Bahamas to help rebuild an AIDS camp. I wondered when I was I going to remove this green overlay, when Iran became free? Would I add another one for AIDS? Is this what happens when we take things like Twitter too seriously or are these good problems to consider? It reminded me of the same problem I had when wearing the LiveStong bracelet. Fortunately, they were in such demand, I was able to give mine away. But lately, I’ve been changing my mind on these types of things.

I mourn the death of Michael Jackson because I am human. Admittedly it’s easier, I also mourn Farrah Fawcett. This ought to go for all suffering in Iran and all parts of the world and all parts of my neighborhood. This is how we’re wired, may I be consistent.

While I may not join every new group that bears a cause on Facebook, nor add every button/badge/etc. created, I think some things are good … for me.  As subjective as it sounds, they remind me to remember the hurting, to pray for the hope of Christ and to be informed, to care, to give, and to think what can I do. I find myself wondering maybe it’s time to change things like overlays and find more ways to express sympathy and comradery. A similar thing can be said by the constant playing of Jackson’s music across FM stations. In fact, if I’m being consistent, I may even consider putting up that infamous Life Magazine Fawcett poster in my church office right now. I know this sounds subjective, maybe that’s why I like it but may we as Christians seek the will of God, follow Jesus and be led by the Spirit.  May those who do not share my Christian convictions do their part to seek a less-selfish and better world.

In honesty, I believe it is healthy to avoid sensationalizing and exaggerating our feelings, but I believe it’s Christ-like to mourn with the mourners.

"Thoughts from the Turnpike" on Everyday Liturgy

This week our friend Thomas Turner invited Evan Curry and I to blog on his widely read site, Everyday Liturgy. Check out our posts:

Answering the Wrong Questions by Evan Curry –  “I’ve had my fair share of encounters with Christians over the years. I have found that Christians are in the business of asking the wrong questions and giving poor answers to wrong questions …”

and mine, Thoughts from the Turnpike Part 1

“… Flashback to the last time I drove through.  The previous billboard was about Islam and how you could learn the truth about it.  It was warm, friendly and implied that you, the driver, have probably been misinformed…”

Thoughts from the Turnpike Part 2

“If you read Tuesday’s post, you’ll remember that I was listening to Radiohead as I drove past that billboard that got me thinking. Shortly after that thought, I remembered the criticism of a well-intentioned friend who was concerned for my appreciation of Radiohead. I remember the conversation well. He thought it was a bad example for a youth pastor to be listening to them and then he almost fell out of his chair when I told him that I burned OK Computer for one of my students. “Do you want to get fired? If you want to relate to the kids, give him Third Day.”

Then I fell off my chair…”

Happy reading.

Week in Review – 6/14-6/21

This past week was one of the best ones I have had in a while.

What I Enjoyed – 1. As mentioned last Monday, we’re having a boy and we’ve been enjoying that realization (and that made Father’s Day even sweeter).  I was disappointed that I didn’t get a tie that I will never wear. Instead I got this cool iHome clock/phone/player/charger thing.  2. Grateful that Tim Nye got a job. 3. Grateful that Evan Curry found God’s leading and his next church (which is his current church that is planting another one. Get it?) 4. indie artist and good friend, Andy Zipf gave us a good show for our last youth gathering of the year. 5. I enjoyed my evening at the Templeton Foundation with Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God. (I hope to blog about this but you know how that goes ;-) 6. Later that night caught up with some friends and discussed evangelicals and politics.  Good conversation with great people.  7. Girl’s Senior Sneak was fantastic. I mean it should have been, after all, I planned it: MOMA, Koren BBQ, fondue, the new Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame Annex, and the Fray in concert. Am I the coolest sr. high youth pastor at MEFC named Tim? They thought so and today, I think so too. 7. Oh and my fantasy baseball team is in first place (that’s right Frosty).

What I’ve Been Listening to – Radiohead (like it was new again), Andy Zipf (because he just may be the most talented musician that I know personally), The Fray (because I wanted to sing the words in my head during the concert.  I’m not afraid to admit that I like them).

What I’ve Been Reading – though I had to scan over a lot of books for my last project like Simple Church, Church for the Unchurched, the book I’m reading is still Barth’s Dogmatics 1.1

Seminary Update – Second year is complete. Now it’s an independent study about Karl Barth’s theology John Franke and some friends.

Youth Ministry Update – We’re done. But I keep talking about next year. Maybe I do love what I’m doing. In the meantime, I have a mission trip to keep me busy.

Looking forward to – Thank you dinner for our youth leaders tonight, VBS next week (While I have concerns over the mentality of VBS, I always like being around those kids once we’re there), going with Susan to Rob Bell’s Poets, Prophets and Priests Conference and my sisters’ baby shower. I’m not kidding, seeing my wife and my sister pregnant together has been one of the joys of my life.

"Carrie Prejean" Types of Moments versus "Susan Boyle" Types of Moments

Neither Carrie Prejean or Susan Boyle have really left the news since they appeared on our screens a few months ago. In my mind they are linked together because of a recent youth group lesson.  A few weeks ago we discussed relationships, dating, sex, purity, etc. in youth group. Early on, we stressed the incredible importance of identity. This led us to society’s expectations. When you talk about expectations, it’s helpful if you describe values, principles and if possible … examples. Most of us know that all our role models are flawed. My dilemma became what kind of a role model do I use when to discuss “beauty”. This line of thought eventually led me to offer a comparison between Carrie Prejean and Susan Boyle.

The world tells us that you would rather look like Carrie Prejean. Having grown in the church and having served in youth ministry for almost ten years, I think I understand the idea of the Christian celebrity quite well.  (In fact, prior to pastoral ministry, I pursued a career in Christian male modeling.  It turned out that I wasn’t “Christian” enough).  Whether it be male or female, there is always some “Carrie Prejean” type being propped before us as a positive Christian role model. My concern is what is the Church’s message to those who don’t look like Carrie Prejean (and what is the message to those who do)?

The world also tell us that even if you could sing like Susan Boyle, you would still rather look like Carrie Prejean. In fact it’s probably better that you look beautiful and sing like Kermit the Frog than have an amazing voice and be considered, “not stunning”. I know there are exceptions to this, male, Italian tenors mostly and those whose talents compensate enough for their looks but I think it’s fair to say they comprise a small minority. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the world tells us in some way that if you sing like Susan Boyle and look like Susan Boyle than you are better off staying at home and taking care of your aging parents and if you must get a job, it will most likely be an ordinary one. If you still want to sing, consider your church, your shower and maybe even your car but a career in professional music is very unlikely. I told our students that if you wanted a role model from pop culture, consider the moment that Boyle gave us as opposed to Prejean’s. Some students really connected with that. Some didn’t.

Let me explain where I am coming from. I am not necessarily interested in using the actual lives of Susan Boyle or Carrie Prejean, I’m using them more as a caricature. Part of it is an attempt limit objectifying them (which is another story). Also understand that I do not like shows like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent. Even more, it’s difficult for me to understand the popularity of beauty pageants in general. I’m obviously not alone, otherwise we all wouldn’t have loved Little Miss Sunshine. It blows my mind that there are so many that want to be a part of them. Even more baffling to me are the many women watch these events along side their daughters. You can almost hear the conversations, “Oh, she’s so beautiful.” “Those aren’t real”, “Oh I hate girls that have that look. Reminds me of a girl from high school …” “She has a great smile – she should smile more!”, “OMG, she’s adorable. She should definitely win! Let’s text in our vote.”

To clear up any confusion, I don’t know any men who watch these events. (Feel free to comment if you do, I’ll try not to judge you ;-)  When men want to see scantily-clad beautiful women, they unfortunately have other options that cater to their lusts. So, for the life of me, I do not understand why so many women allow themselves to be objectified by these pageants. While I will admit it was helpful for me to read this article in Chrisitanity Today, it was this idea that finally got me to write this post. To me this Carrie Prejean moment helps support this unhealthy expectation to our identity-seeking teenage girls that this is what they should look like. And if they are Christian, this is how she should respond.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t like any thing about Prejean. These are probably the exact same reasons that James Dobson and hosts of my conservative brothers and sisters like her so much. I know that sounds judgmental and I admit the wrong in my part but perhaps I should clarify. Maybe it’s better to say that I do not like the public persona that I perceive from my television. It seems to me that she wants the attention of whoever will reward her the most. If she were my sister, I’d sit her down and we would have a talk about all this.  To me her plan looked like this:  (1). Be a beauty pageant winner that will (2) lead to a few years of “the good life” that may lead to a career in  (3) modeling or (4) acting or (5) who knows – Sign me up! Insert controversial television moment regarding homosexual marriage here.  (Insert the sound of the metaphorical grinding of gears). “Wait, what? You want me to prop me up front with my blonde hair and Christian upbringing and be an advocate for traditional marriage, uhh sure but, @$%#%, I hope those pictures don’t re-surface … Doh!”

For a moment, let’s pretend she never posed for any inappropriate pictures and let’s forget about implants. What frustrated me was as soon as she defended traditional marriage, she became the spokeswoman for Christian conservatives everywhere. She appeared on Larry King and various talk-shows. Immediately she was flown out to Liberty University to speak in their convocation where she was hailed as a hero. (So help me if Christianity Today puts her on the cover. I will unsubscribe from all their email lists. Not only will I not pay for their print subscription but I won’t even read their free quality stuff. That’ll show’em). Many Christians probably think of her as a Daniel amidst the lions of Perez Hilton and the mean liberal media. It seems (to me) that Prejean didn’t want to be a Daniel (or a Danielle) but probably a movie actress or a model instead for why else would you enter into Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant? It appears that these girls use the success of these titles to parade around casinos, be guest judges of useless events, model for make-up and hope to break through into the celebrity world. And I suppose that’s ok if that’s where you find the God-given calling of your life to be but as this discussion applies to the girls in our student ministry, I wanted to encourage them to pursue something better.  I want that for Prejean too.

All of us run the risk of portraying our selves in the best possible way that will lead to good rewards. The problem with Prejean is that it led to burn every bridge that she thought she created. Eventually Trump predictably fired her. Why is that each year we have a scandal of the crown of some sort? Uhh, that would be for the sake of Trump’s publicity. The poor billionaire, how hard can it be to find an appropriate Miss USA?

Enter Susan Boyle. The American public has been conditioned to immediately scoff at the mere sight of a person who looks and dresses like this. Especially, if this person enters into the same room as Simon Cowell.

You know the story (and it’s worth watching again). She amazes everyone. We are crying, we are confronted by our guilt of stereotyping and at the same time, we are thrilled about her. It’s unbelievable moment with the perfect song and a great back story.

From the “industry’s” perspective, she doesn’t belong there. But we are so happy she is. I believe she was self-aware enough to realize that and I believe that motivation served her. She refused to be controlled by the stereotypes and the images that surrounded her and for that, all of us were reminded of that.

What I love about it, is that it’s inspiring to all people. Especially teen-agers. And when it comes to our society’s expectations of women, identity seeking teen-age girls, we need more examples like this. I want to be careful that I do not prop up Susan Boyle on too high of a pedestal. News reporting emotional breakdowns indicate that her new found celebrity has been difficult for her. Perhaps it’s best to compare and find inspiration in the moments, as opposed to the people themselves. Perhaps it’s better to say that we need more of these Susan Boyle-type moments versus Carrie Prejean-type moments.

Monday Morning Brief – Wednesday Style -6/17/09

What I Enjoyed This Week –On Monday, Susan, Nathan & I went to the doctor’s office and found out that we are having a boy!  (We sort of knew from a previous sonogram but they told us that technically, it was sill too early to tell). Picking out names as shifted to family priority number one.  Susan is consulting baby books and friends while I am seeking corporate sponsorship for naming rights.  So in exchange for a full tuition to his school of choice, we will name him, “Wachovia Boy” or “City Child” or “TD Bankman”.  Nathan’s position is calling him “Ball”.  I didn’t want to be discouraging so I gently told him we would consider it but I don’t want anyone to tease our new baby about his name.

What I Though of the NBA Finals – I liked seeing Kobe and the Lakers win.  Yeah, I know it’s not cool to like Kobe but whatever, he’s the best player in the NBA. I like LeBron too but it’s just too much hype for an incredible athlete that hasn’t been in the league long enough to be proclaimed “The Savior of the NBA”. Glad that he was the MVP, glad that he has all these endorsements (except for that terrible commercial with him and Kobe as muppets), but we are ruining him by propping him so high up. Again, Kobe on the other hand is the best player in the league despite the fact that so many people can’t stand him. Certainly his adulterous affair was wrong but I think that we as Christians and as a society hold people’s mistakes and faults against them their entire lives.  His wife forgave him but we can’t?  Anyway regarding the finals, I knew Kobe could win again and I’m glad he did without Shaq.  Next year, I want to see if a team like the Jazz or the Hornets can do better and would love to see if Kobe and LeBron (and Shaq?) can square off against each other.

What I thought of the Stanley Cup Finals – Yeah, I hear the Penguins and Red Wings will be playing against each other –  when will that come on?   Kidding, kidding.  It feels like the Playoffs and the Finals are the only games that make it to television.  Excellent, excellent Stanley Cup Finals, didn’t watch all of it but happy for the Penguin fans.

What I am Listening to – It’s been all about Radiohead and catching up on a few podcasts like Relevant and Home-brewed Christianity and I re-listened to a NT Wright recording from Christian Audio.

What I am reading – Karl Barth Church Dogmatics 1/1 for our independent study with John Franke.

Student Ministry Update – It all wraps up tonight with a weather permitting outdoor concert with indie artist Andy Zipf.

Seminary Update – Final project and final exam is due next Tuesday.  I have a lot of work to do for that class and I really want to spend quality time reading Barth before our class next week but it looks like the completion of our second year is within sight.

Feeling – like I am running behind on some non-essential matter like blogging, reading particular posts and reading books that I’ve been wanting to read, etc.   Aside from that, things are going alright.

Reflecting on Articles Discussing the Slowing of the Christian Media Industry

You probably heard by now – we are in tough economic times. This is affecting virtually everyone, including those that represent the prosperity gospel. Last week I read two articles about the terrible condition of Christian publishing and Christian music sales. There was this Newsweek article called Preacher Don’t Publish by Lisa Miller (love the title) and Music In Recession by Mark Geil on the Christian Music Today site. Who would have thought that those who peddle the idea of profitable materialistic gains for “spiritual investments” would also be affected? Jesus can give joy to the suffering, heal the sick, shine light into darkness but apparently He’s not recession-proof. If ever there was a time to use the supposed “prosperity gospel” as a form of evangelism, it would be now.

Am I glad that some Christian bookstores are closing and that several Christian magazines are out of print? Let me consult my Prayer of Jabez bobblehead.  Hmmm, I know I am supposed to say, “No it’s a terrible shame and it’s giving the devil more ground” but this is my blog and this month, I’d like to refrain from lying about trivial matters (yes, I know how that reads).  Yes, I am glad that the recession is affecting Christian media.  While I do not want all the Christian publishing houses and various businesses to close, I hope this causes a re-shaping of the industry.  To me, the idea of the Christian bookstore is a dinosaur.

Do I hope that these once sanctified from the ways of the world real-estate gets converted into, say, an Adult bookstore? Aside from the countless laughs I would enjoy from seeing the expressions of faces on Ladies Bible-study thumpers hopping out of church vans, my real answer is no, I’d rather see regular bookstores. I can hear one of those ladies saying, “There is no such thing as a regular bookstore. The merchandise will be set by the store owner and you won’t have as many Christian books as say, New Age books.” Well that will be true if  New Age readers frequent more than Christian readers.

Don’t get me wrong, I buy Christian stuff all the time. Like many, I listen to David Crowder Band and read Brian McLaren books. Like many, I do not listen to Casting Crowns (not that there’s anything weird about them) nor read Joel Osteen books (because there is something weird about him). I own all the Nooma videos and every time some sincere soul urges me to see Fireproof, it reminds that I have yet to see academy award nominated, Rachel Getting Married.

I like that I was able to buy Tony Jones’ New Christians from Barnes & Noble two days before Christmas (I’m sitting in a B&N right now and there’s one copy of New Christians currently on the shelf). It’s great that people buy Third Day albums at Target and I await the day when you can rent the in-production, Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz movie from Blockbuster. Christians should shop where everyone else shops – this is normal. One of the few bullets we’ve dodged as a Church is that we did not see the advent of the Christian grocery store. Though I have an imagination cultivated by years of watching the Simpsons, I’ll spare you what the inside of such a place might look like.

Sensitivity is not one of my gifts so take that as a warning but I was a little encouraged after I reading those articles.  The decline of the Christian publishing and music industries implies that the Christian bubble is leaking. My prayer is that Jesus would drive a spear through it so more in the Church will find themselves engaging throughout society.

Monday Morning Brief – 6.8.09

What I Enjoyed This Week – 1. Went to go see my cousin’s new baby Sophia Nazeera.  The middle name is in honor of our beloved grandmother who lived a beautiful life and passed away last year.  2. Yesterday, we gathered at my aunt & uncle’s house (where our grandmother lived) to spend time together.  My family is cool, no big speeches, no sad moments, just spending time together on a day we all know that gives us sadness and a bit of joy.  Was great having all the kids running around and fortunately the satellite dish was damaged so we didn’t have to watch soccer.  3.  Speaking of kids, Susan had another pregnancy check up and all is good, 19 weeks now.  We should find out next week the sex of the child but we already know it’s a boy. We are coming to grips with how huge of an adjustment this will be for Nathan.  We’ve baby-proofed the house but now we are trying to figure out how to baby-proof the new baby.  Should be interesting.  4. One of my students from my last church came up to visit.  He’s 23 now, doing pretty well and I’ve always been grateful for his heart.  5. Fantasy baseball team moved up to second place, while the Yankees moved back to first place.  They are doing a lot better than I expected prior to the All Star Break.  

What I’ve Been Listening to – I’m back on my Kings of Leon kick – Only By the Night is fantastic.   Like everyone, I get tired of the hype which hasn’t stopped me from loving U2, Coldplay, certain blockbuster movies, etc. but when the Kings were on the covers of Rolling Stone and Relevant (click on the pic to read their digital edition), I was bugged for some reason.  In reality, they couldn’t have had a better band on there.  2.  Loved the Homebrewed Christianity podcast on Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Religionless Christianity” with author/professor Jeffrey Pugh which you can listen to here.

What I’ve Been Reading – For this new seminary class called Organizational Assessment and Change, wehave a number of required texts.  The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (my favorite of the group), The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal (solid book and a great reminder of why I love Biblical Seminary), The Heart of Change: Real Life Stories How People Change Their Organization – an easy, enjoyable read that though I can not put my finger on it, somethings bugs me about it. The good, grateful angel on my shoulder says, “Wow, this is great because it finds the pattern to organizational change and helps answer the big vague questions in other books that leave you saying, “Ok, I get that change is necessary, but how do we that?”. The good, critical angel on my other shoulder says, “It’s a bit formulaic and am not sure if these principles are really transferable everywhere, or more importantly, in my church ;-).  Maybe that will be answered in Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey by Herrington, Bonem, & Furr. Haven’t started that one but hope to finish it by tonight.  I suppose it should be mentioned that the first two books on this list are from the Leadership Network.  I expect to use some of these texts and principles in my leadership contexts whether youth leader meetings and who knows where else in the future.  I am also still trying get through the Karl Barth readings from last week.  I am loving it, but I am going to have read most of the required texts multiple times.  

Student Ministry Update – We are ending our series called “Spring Fling” on relationships, dating, sex, purity, etc. with this Wednesday’s lesson called, “How to Break Up and Be Broken Up With”.  Not really the title I wanted to use, but I wanted to me sensitive.  Though I have been married for almost 10 years, I still remember some of the acute pain that I went through when I was dumped for a cooler guy.  Further I remember how much more it hurt when I was dumped for a less cooler guy, “Wow, she’d rather be with that dork then me.  I must really, really suck at this.”  What surprised me was for some reason, it also hurt a little when you did the breaking up with.  And that was something that I never got good at.  It’s been said that John F. Kennedy Jr. used to send a dozen roses and a kind written note when he broke up with someone. I do not expect to do ever need to do that in terms of personal romance but I’m exploring this option when it comes to certain church members.  “Listen brother so and so.  It’s just not working out, as a congregation, we are not feeling it anymore, it’s not you, it’s all of us, Enjoy the flowers … With Jesus’ love, …”   Well, maybe that won’t work either, budgets are tight, and my handwriting is deplorable … 

What I am Looking Forward to – One day, Susan said to me, “I’d like to go to one of these conferences with you” and I said “That sounds great but I’m not sure if any of the ones right now would work out”.  Then Rob Bell sent out an email saying, “Register and pay your registration but bring your spouse or someone for FREE to our Poets, Prophets and Preachers in Grand Rapids from July 5-7.”   and we said yes.  Shane Hipps and Pete Rollins will be there too.   Anyone want to join us? Anyone going that wants to meet up there?  Let me know.


Book Review of Who Goes There: A Cultural History of Heaven & Hell

 Book Review of Who Goes There: A Cultural History of Heaven & Hell by Rebecca Price Janney.

 The summary given by

  Princess Diana, John Ritter, Saddam Hussein, Mother Teresa, Chris Farley… Does it seem  reasonable to guess where each of these people ended up after they died? While it is  comforting to suppose that everyone who’s “good” goes to a better place when they die, and  everyone who’s “bad” doesn’t, on what is that hope based?

To adequately understand how these thoughts impact us today, Rebecca Price Janney goes back to the colonization and founding of the United States. From the Great Awakening to the American Revolution, through the tumultuous 19th century, all the way past two world wars, and a technological revolution, Who Goes There? pieces together a thoughtful narrative of American beliefs about the afterlife.

Who Will Like This Book – If you have an appreciation for history, specifically American, then you’ll probably like it.   For those who enjoy a decent popular read, the author gives solid summaries of significant cultural and spiritual moments and how they reflected people’s understanding of heaven and hell.  I found the historical parts to be a great review and it leads me to recommend this also for those who do not understand the summary of the last 100 years of Protestantism in the North American Church; it’s a nice book to read a few chapters of before headed to bed.

Most Beneficial Setting – This would make an EXCELLENT young adult Bible study/Sunday School-type for busy Relevant magazine reader types who read a handful of books a year.  The history would be very beneficial to those who have a fuzzy understanding of evangelical history and crave a better one.  It’s a religious history book written on a popular level.   However, I do no think that it will lead to provocative discussions after the second week or so.  Perhaps best used with a teacher with a solid grasp of history and theology.  

Who Won’t (or might not) – I just don’t think it’s for those who are really into the spiritual memoir books (Blue Like Jazz, Girl Meets God, etc.), I am not sure I see that person connecting with it.  I’m not saying that if you liked Blue that you won’t like Who Goes There? but I’m just saying it’s a different genre of book.  I guess I say that because it’s classic, “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  The cover is well-marketed and the book looks “fun”.  While it’s easy to read, short chapters, and a nice big font, it’s not a memoir.  Also, it’s not going to appeal to seminary students, academic types and anyone who likes to read Hauerwas, Wright, and Willard.  It’s just not written to appeal in that regard.

What I Found Difficult –  I didn’t find the concepts to be difficult and I don’t think anyone will be annoyed by the writing style.  My glitch was as the book continued, I found myself wanting more.   At first, it was hard to put my finger on it but I wanted a deeper analysis of the cultural mindset of heaven and hell.  I wanted to see more of the academic climate, the perspective of the pew-sitter, the debate, the tension, and the solutions that helped and failed.

What I Loved – Rebecca received her doctorate from Biblical Seminary and did graduate work at Princeton.  She knows history and was wise enough to focus on selective moments to build short chapters around.  I can only imagine the text before editing was 30 times the final edit.  Really enjoyed Chapter 12 that outlined the tension between liberalism and conservatism, the rise of fundamentalism that led to the genesis of evangelicalism.  As a frustrated post-evangelical, seeing a bit of the pre-evangelical mindset was helpful.  

Reflecting on President Obama's Speech From Cairo University

This blog is not intended to be political but politics have certainly captured my attention lately.  Nor did I think I’d be talking about Obama as much as I am but you cannot ignore what he’s saying and doing. So when President Obama addresses the world from the University of Cairo, people take notice, especially a first-generation Egyptian born in the States whose parents graduated from the university.  I am proud of my Egyptian heritage, extremely grateful that my parents immigrated here, and I love the fact that I’m in NJ (we tell everyone that it sucks here and jack up the housing prices to keep the southerners out ;-) but truth be told, it’s a great part of the country to live in).

America has an image problem.  It’s almost as bad as the Western Church’s.  Some had the idea that by combining the two, we could help the world and whether the world was truly helped or not is another discussion; many throughout the world have a terrible perception of America. As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my friends’ blogs, through countless great theological works of theology and most importantly, the New Testament, we as Christians are called to serve a different Kingdom first.  That said, I believe the problems in and out of American are of great importance.  

It’s in this light that Obama’s speech is extremely important.  Taking on topics such as Islam, fanaticism, terrorism, Israel, Palestine, and others is a bold task when you are perceived as the representative of a nation of hateful manipulators and greedy instigators of these topics.  While I have profound differences with that perception, I do understand how and why many believe it to be. 

He proclaimed that he was a Christian, spoke of his Muslim father and quoted various holy books.  From the Koran he said, “Whoever kills an innocent person kills all mankind.  Whoever saves a person saves all mankind.”  He spoke against hate and terrorism.  He promoted safety for all, American and those throughout the Middle East.  He spoke about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.  He called for nuclear disarmament, spoke on the greatness and limits of democracy, women’s rights and all basic human rights, including religious freedom. Everyone was called out for we are all part of the problem and responsibility calls us all to resolve and peace. 

To my conservative brother and sisters who are convinced that he played to the Muslim crowd, you must not have heard the speech.  Please listen to it first (you can watch it here or read the full transcript here). Had George W gave it (and he could have), I suspect that it would have been praised by conservatives.  I’m sure W has said similar things, but he said so many other things that I doubt many heard it and frankly he wasn’t eloquent enough to remember.  Still, there’s a probably a posting by National Review or Human Events or somewhere outlining the similarities that W had said with today’s speech. To me, that discussion is a waste of time and I only mention it to head it off. If we as Christians truly believe that we are of a greater Kingdom, one concerned with the other, one that loves, one that preaches Christ, then I’m not sure how we cannot champion the words of today.

But as we all know, you can say all the right things but the key is in the follow up.  My hope is that Obama can put these noble words into action in the capacity afforded to him.  My hope is also that the Muslim world will do the same.  And this goes the same for the Christian world, the non-Christian, you and me. I say it again -everyone has been called out.  We are all part of the problem, may we also be a part of the solution – for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

For more reading, here are some worthy links:

Arab Students Respond to Obama 

Commentary: Amen, Mr. President – Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of, and contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington.

Obama Calls for Fresh Start With Muslims 

Video reaction – Muslims Wants Deeds, Not Just Words from Obama

Drawing on Islam, Speech in Cairo Electrifies Many In Arab Mideast 

Muslims Seem Won Over by President; U.S. Adversaries Unmoved

Full Video Here 

Full Text Here 


Monday Morning Brief – June 1, 2009

Highlights of the Week – 1. Vacationing in Aruba.  It’s been a few years since Susan and I went on a real vacation that didn’t have to do with adoption or a family obligation like a wedding or something.  Each year, we turn down

joining my family in their time share in Aruba for one reason or another.  This year, the stars aligned and it all worked out.  My most anticipated moment was seeing my pregnant wife with my pregnant sister and it didn’t disappoint.  I loved seeing Nathan fall asleep in my mother’s arms at the beach while my dad and I discussed theology, church-life, and how the blue water was.  There was a lot to enjoy – conversations with my brother, catching up withmy brother-in-law, great food, and I loved not getting out of bed til 10AM even with our one year old.  I pretty much took him out of the crib at 6AM and held him in our bed til we got up. That’s how parents vacation.  I feel rejuvenated for the next 2 days and then I’ll wish to go back on vacation ;-) 2. Also, my cousin and his wife just welcomed their first child on Saturday.  Can’t wait to meet Sophie.  3. Came home to an awesome worship service at our church.  Great music set the tone for a great time of worship.

What I’ve Been Reading – Finished up John Franke’s Barth for Armchair Theologians, halfway through The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth’s Theology by Eberhard Busch, and Will Samson’s Enough: Contentment in Age of Excess. And am a little behind on other seminary reading.

What I’ve Been Listening to – not much.  Didn’t turn my ipod or iphone all week.  In fact, I couldn’t find my phone til last night.  How do you like me now Shane Hipps?

What I’ve Been Watching – The NBA Playoffs.  Really.  With Lost and 24 done, it’s either that or read without the tv on and really, who reads without the tv?  Like everyone, I was hoping for Kobe vs. LeBron but Kobe vs. Dwight isn’t bad.  Should be a good series.  For the same of the story of the NBA, I’d like to see Kobe win one without Shaq.  What I don’t want to see is a boring finals and another mention of how LeBron exited the court.  Seriously, it’s not a big deal that he didn’t shake hands.