Life Update – 8.26.10

Our family just got back from Arizona a few days ago. My parents and brother flew out as well to celebrate my niece’s first birthday and to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law and his family. It was the first time that our entire families had been together since their wedding – only this time with all of our kids. These moments are so special to us and while they might not be cool in the Arcade Fire concert sense, we absolutely love them.

Spending time with the family, visiting relatives, meeting the new babies’ of our older friends and hearing the great news of new ones being pregnant has really made it a great summer. And while we realize this joyful season can’t last forever, it’s great to enjoy and the summer is not over – We are looking forward to a couple other reunions soon.

Looking forward to a number of other things as well like:

Evan Curry’s ordination at Redemption Church. Proud of this guy, grateful for his growing family, relieved that his newborn is healthy (after a viral bug that put him in the hospital), and honored to be sharing at his ordination service.

Getting ready for the ministry year and I am excited about the changes we are making. Among them, we are dropping our name – Fusion. It was a fine name that we inherited from the previous youth pastor’s ministry (who is a good guy). We had a decent logo but it doesn’t really reflect what we are about. Other changes include our format, interns, and different leaders. After coming off a busy summer, we were able to rest in August and I find myself excited for the new year.

We are also taking advantage of Andrew Root’s Zondervan offer and reading Relationships Unfiltered. (Yep, that blog campaign worked for me. 40% off a great book – no brainer).  You can read the first chapter here.

Our Second Mile (a ministry geared for 20’s & 30’s) dvd study on Q’s The Whole Gospel from their Society Room Series, has been very solid as well. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a deeper discussion on the what is the greater scope of the Gospel. It’s a 5 sessions study intermixed with presentations from Q and an essay. Since August had 5 Mondays, it worked out. Along with the presentations, we have had great discussions. Which was cool because this group hadn’t spent a lot of time in serious dilagoue before this time. In fact, there were some I didn’t know at all. We are planning on taking September off and getting together in October and discussing The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns (president of World Vision). Really looking forward to that and anyone local is welcome to join us.
Our next Second Mile worship service is September 11th and the message will be a reflection on the events of 9/11 and our Christian response to it. Discussion afterwards – again, if you are around, all are welcome.

Re-Read The Teaching of the Twelve by Tony Jones. Brilliant. My first reading was a bit of a skim in between other seminary reading and I felt that I couldn’t read Doug’s new book without giving Tony’s introductory work on the Didache its due attention. I’m looking forward to the release of its accompanying dvd study.

Just Read Pagitt’s Church in the Inventive Age. Fabulous. Looking forward to blogging about it.
Reading those two together was a cool experience too. It was interesting to read a book about the ancient church and its relevance to today’s church and reading another about the future of the church and its essential connection to the ancient church. it’s not a new concept for myself and others but it was a great reminder. But be sure that neither of these books are rehashing or for the nerdy seminarians. Both are short, easy reads written to be read for everyone interested in the Church.

Starting to Read …
Radical by David Platt. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really into this book but my friend from seminary, Jeremiah Stephens (who just started blogging again and even better, just moved to the great land of New Jersey) loved it.
Reimagining Church by Frank Viola – It’s been on the To-Read Shelf for a while.

Listening to …
Mumford & Sons – wow, wow, wow.
Just got the new Sufjan Stevens All Delighted People. It’s not only the best $5 you ever spent but its fantastic. It’s beautiful, poetic, and fun. Looking forward to seeing him in concert. Along with the Arcade Fire’s Suburbs, this has been one of the best summers of new music.

Just posted my seminary graduation “testimony”. They asked me to speak for 5 minutes and I took my 20 minute speech and crammed it in 10. I think it was a fair compromise.
If you are into the missional conversation, have a connection with Biblical, and can get through all my shout-outs in the first-half (there are so many good people to thank) …

Reflecting on Those That Do Not Seek Our Forgivness

Primary Audience – Fellow Christians.
Secondary Audience – Anyone That Can Relate.

A few Sundays ago our church heard a sermon on forgiveness and while I like all of our pastor’s sermons, this one was particularly powerful for me (and for many). I have found myself talking frequently about it since then and it’s a topic that I don’t really tire of because in life there’s always conflict, disunity and disagreement – even for those who have embraced the many aspects of plurality.  Case and point would be the “Ground Zero Mosque” (I’m working on a post but I’m still processing it too).

Most of us regard forgiveness as a good and noble thing. Christianity teaches that it is the only truth that truly liberates. Being forgiven by God liberates us from the consequences of death and forgiving one another releases us from the control and anger that our hurt places on the other (and ourselves). And as difficult as it is to seek forgiveness from God and offer forgiveness to others, it is also difficult to restore relationships with those that are likely not to seek our forgiveness.

I thought of various episodes in my life and the condition of certain relationships that I no longer have. Some are probably for the better, some probably aren’t. One that came to mind was one that I feel I can not do anything about. As awkward/ridiculous as it is to write in a blog post, I’m the offended party. There’s really nothing that I can change on my part. Eventually, I walked away from I what I felt was an emotionally abusive relationship. And I don’t expect my phone to ring any time soon.

It is something that I have moved on from and isn’t anything that keeps me up at night.  However, the experience has provided points of clarity and maybe through God’s grace, some wisdom. Surprisingly, it has also helped me in counseling situations. I think about it every so often because it lacks a closure that Christians should offer one another. That may sound too idealistic but my faith is founded upon the dead living again so I’d say nothing is improbable.

Among the lessons that my wife and I have learned from this is to not place others in this situation. To seek reconciliation, because when we don’t, we claim a higher standard of forgiveness than God. What we have also learned is to move on without the other seeking your forgiveness. By doing so, we truly are able to forgive and be unshackled from the pain they may have caused. To do so means to extends a type of grace similar to what was extended to us. I don’t recall reading Pilate coming to Jesus’ tomb repenting for what he had done. Nor did I see the Pharisees or the scribes or the chanting crowds who hated Jesus seeking forgiveness. Didn’t read about Pilate or Caiaphas offering any profound remorse. Jesus did not wait in the tomb until they did. He moved on. He lived again. May we do the same and not be held captive by the pain that others have caused. May we forgive, be liberated, live again and may the God of love, justice and forgiveness have mercy on their soul and ours.

Reflecting on Brett McCracken’s “Uncool” WSJ Online Article

Over the weekend, I read Brett McCracken’s article, “The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity” in the online Wall Street Journal opinion page and had a few thoughts. First, it was a well-written and informed article. I nodded my ahead in agreement several times. I read Brett regularly in Relevant, he has an insightful blog (and brilliant quotes on the right sidebar), and I follow him on Twitter. He seems to have a sincere heart, a good head on his shoulders (he’s a Wheaton grad), and as a brother in the Lord, all in all I respect him and what’s he’s doing.

Sharing a similar suspicion and criticism of the evangelical consumer church mentality, I also see a great deal of catering, treating worshippers as customers, a fair amount of shallowness and the list goes on. Having been in pastoral ministry for the last ten years, I am among the countless who have seen the underbelly of the church and I can testify that sometimes, the “Church” is the one of the ugliest places to be. Bottom-line is that we all have enough reasons to have given up the faith at some point.

I’m all for self-awareness, constructive criticism, and engaging in conversations that will serve the Kingdom. I’m also fine with creating a buzz for your book (really, I hope Hipster Christianity sells countless copies particularly to the “70%” who are leaving our churches). But a few things bothered me. One is Brett’s starting point.  As one who has presumably spent his entire life in the Church, I imagine he’s grown extremely tired of Hawaiian shirts, Madonna mics, and various other artifacts from the Christian sub-culture. We all have, including Rick Warren (he even stopped wearing them). Still, I wished Brett would have identified a little more of his context, aside from, “as a 27-year old evangelical myself …”

Second is his finishing point – “He wants real”. We all do but what is real? Who judges that? Is it the same people who determine what is cool and hip? These are all pretty relative terms. How else can Brad Pitt and Michael Cera both being considered cool? Someone could probably write a very similar piece and cut through all the evangelical headlines of the past couple years and criticize “real” Christianity. Then in the end write, “As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want real as much as we want some thing loving, life-giving, humble, transforming, insert your preference _______.”

Further, it bothered me that he came across as dismissive to some of the better ministries, pastors, writers and practitioners on such a public forum. Now here’s where I risk being hypocritical, because I enjoy making fun of Christian t-shirts, televangelists, and lame attempts of imitating the culture. (I kick myself every morning for not thinking of or being talented enough or disciplined enough, and not creating Stuff Christians Like. It’s a great blog and Prodigal John is perfect for it.) But yeah, there are a number of wanna-be’s out there BUT there’s a lot of people out there who are simply speaking out of the context and calling that God has placed on their lives. Again, I just found it to be too dismissive.

There is an entire other avenue we could pursue when it comes to “church marketing” in general. I won’t spend too much time here except to remind everyone that everything is marketed. Among the questions are to whom, to what extent, to what cost, the motives, mediums, devices, objectives and subtleties, but everything is “marketed” to some extent.

Of course I didn’t not my head in agreement with this line, “…something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly …” Sorry brother, among other things, I believe the Lord used the emerging church discussion to save my faith and ministry. And it hasn’t fizzled, it’s evolving as conversations do.

If the twenty-somethings (and supposedly 70%) are leaving, than why are we criticizing churches who are on the cutting edge of technology? And is there an irony that this piece was published online and shared via Facebook, Twitter and the almost old-school way, email? Are churches like Liquid Church (whom I truly respect) online because that’s where part of the 70% are? The idea of online church does not appeal to me in my current context, but if there was a reason I could not attend a physical church and not experience the joy of community (whether be overseas serving say, in the military or in a “closed” country), the online church would be a beautiful use of technology. Further, some people are so repulsed by walking in through the doors of a traditional looking church that there only way of connecting is a pub or coffee-shop church. Regardless of the abuses, there are healthy, doctrinally-sound, disciple-making, community-serving, all welcoming churches that have a “hip” pastor and great music – it’s just who they are. To imitate it for your own success may be wrong, but to be who you are isn’t.

If the twenty-somethings (and so do we thirty-somethings) want something real, than why are we complaining about Rob Bell writing a book on sex? And how dare we complain about Lauren Winner writing from the female perspective. Is this not a real topic in our lives? Granted, this is an area where the Church has made some questionable/terrible decisions (and will continue) but I also see it as an area where the Church is criticized for talking about sex and criticized for not talking about it. Let the Church talk wisely, openly and truthfully about sex.

And don’t get me started on 70%. McKracken was careful to phrase it a particular way but the Lifeway study’s had a particular context and its primary point was 70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22. (That’s still not good but not as bad as assuming that 70% drop off completely as implied. Statistics and studies are helpful but they easily manipulated just like creating caricatures of “cool”, “hip”, “indie”, and attaching the adjective “wann-be” to them. Throwing statements around like, “They drink Guinness, wear Toms Shoes and sport cool eye glasses.” Yeah, they probably all sleep a little at night, eat a few times a day and breathe in oxygen too – how cliche.

As a brother in the Lord, Brett has be careful that he does not fall into his own trap that he has set and become the judge of “cool” and all things “hipster”, (which I don’t think he is intentionally trying to do). Between expressing his appreciation for hymns (I know everyone is tired of being reminded but many of the hymns we cherish are old bar tunes) and quoting David Wells (whom I respect), and criticizing churches that meet in third places, he quite frankly sounds like a guy who is hard to impress.

To his credit, he’s doing something. He’s writing, researching, and stirring conversation worth having. And like I said, I too, am among the many who are frustrated with certain elements of the evangelical tradition, the bait-and-switch tactics, the apathy, the self-indulgence, the entitled attitudes , etc, so please know, I am not defending all things evangelical but let’s just not be dismissive of the noble efforts of some who are being faithfully led by the Spirit.. And when given the opportunity to write for the Wall Street Journal online opinion page as an evangelical, perhaps considering not offering a cynical world another reason not to believe in Christianity but instead something that might offer the hope of Jesus to a world that is hurting and in need of redemption. That would be counter-cultural, maybe even creative, or relevant, and dare I say, that, may be considered cool.

For more, check out, Thomas Turner’s review of Hipster Christianity and his interview with Brett on Everyday Liturgy.  I think the interview is more true to what he’s really trying to say.

Review of The Search For God & Guinness by Stephen Mansfield

The Search For God & Guinness is an easy book to enjoy, especially for those that love both and so I had some real expectations for this book. Fortunately for me, it was a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it to my friends.

What stood out was the excellent research that Mansfield provided. He not only did a fantastic job with the facts but he did a phenomenal job of creating the context of the Guinness attitude. In short, it’s a great story. He also has a very easy writing style that moves the chapters along. As a seminarian accustomed to some laborious reading, I found Mansfield’s style to be very refreshing like a nice cold … never mind.

It would be helpful for readers to know that this not a spiritual memoir of Mansfield and not really one of Arthur Guinness either. Instead, it tells the beautiful history of Guinness beer, the company, and their community in Dublin, Ireland. If you are interested in what Google does for its employees, you will be amazed on what Guinness did for their workers. Not only were they generations ahead in benefits and such but also in shaping a culture and an attitude that served the community. If you know a wine-drinking CEO, I’d give them a copy.

I have also found that it was an easy book to talk about. Being about the Guinness company creates a lot of interest among Christian believers and non-believers. Further, because it is not about alcohol, non-beer drinkers could find it of interest as well. Again, there is a lot of social justice and corporate responsibility packed in here.

Evangelicals may look for an overt gospel message but one is not needed. For me, this book is not a gospel tract but rather an excellent conversation starter.   For the simple reason of being such an interesting premise.   My hope is to host book discussions (in an Irish pub of course) that will lead to conversations that will revolve around God, social justice and good beer.  If you are interested, let me know!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Reflecting on Rick Warren’s Poorly Worded Tweet – We Need to Give Grace to These Men and Women When They Fail

So I’m a little late to this party but I figure so are some of you as well so here you go.
On Wednesday, Rick Warren made this tweet:


Now, i actually respect a great deal about Rick Warren. I admire him, his wife Kay, and the Saddleback ministry on a number of levels. Like most, I already knew he was not perfect so I’m ok with a lot of what he says because really, I don’t really care enough to figure out what he’s trying to really say and I figure he’s a smart enough and godly enough guy – I’m sure between him and the Lord, they’ll figure it out.

To his credit, the man tweets a lot. Supposedly it’s really him, he has said so on several occasions and I believe it.

When I saw this, my reaction was … ughh. Now who am I to question Rick Warren’s motives? Maybe the criticisms and pressures are catching up with him and something was on his mind and this was the reaction. Aside from a few thoughts and a joke or two that will not make it online, I have no idea.

But here’s the thing – the Church has to start responding in better ways to these moments, including when our higher profile leaders/pastors/personalities make a mistake. On the blogosphere and twitterverse, many were merciless, absolute merciless. Others responded with gentle push-back fitting for Christians, particularly younger brothers in the Lord (as they make up quite a bit of the Twitter population, you know). Frankly I was blessed by that.

We need to give grace to these men and women when they fail. We can’t stand there and say things like, “I knew he was an arrogant tv preacher guy only interested in selling book and creating his own kingdom”. I didn’t actually quote any comment exactly, but that’s the gist of it. We also need to remember that we fail regularly. The difference is very few people notice and fewer actually care.

I am all for accountability but we need to be really careful what and who we condemn and dismiss. It’s very antithetical to being the loving followers that Jesus has called us to be.

The Arcade Fire Just Released a Brand New Album and I’m Already Wondering What Their Next Will Be About

It could be the premature LOST withdrawal and I know the Arcade Fire just released The Suburbs last week but I have really immersed myself in it, I need to know what’s next.  I feel Suburbs ends with a lot of questions and perhaps a bit of a cliffhanger.  Now I know they won’t actually answer questions, that would be bad art, but I am really interested in knowing what type of album they will work on next.  For me, that’s a huge part of the answer. (Which kinda sucks because they tend to take their time between album releases). But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Arcade Fire’s new album has me thinking about a number of things.

One, I hear this album has more autobiographical. I think Butler and friends are trying to figure out where they fit in. Does the label “indie band” really even define them in the sense of what “indie band” used to? Some define it as simply owning the rights to your own music, while for others, it’s a culture divorced from the mainstream. Playing Madison Square Garden makes them have more in common with Lady Gaga than Conor Oberst at this point (and that’s not all bad by the way). Like many other bands, I think they are in going to need to spend a great deal of time finding their identity again. That’s going to be interesting for them. And I don’t say that with this ominous prophetic tone expecting them to fail nor am I saying that they have the wrong one now but they’re no longer an “indie band”. As a big fan, I have full faith in them but they’re going to be different.

Second, I’ve also noticed that this album had more backlash than their sophomore release of Neon Bible. How will they respond? Especially now that they are the new band “on top of the world”. From how I see it, they are in a different position from other excellent bands like the Muse and the Kings of Leon. I am still not really sure what the Muse sing about, although I love’em and no offense to the Kings but I don’t listen to them and think, “Wow they really get me”, instead I think “Wow, roll down the windows, turn it up, I love rock & roll!”

Further I have the even more intrusive curiosity of what their music will be like if they welcome a child between now and their next release. Especially if this album was partially inspired from a picture of a childhood friend holding his young daughter outside a familiar strip mall near where Win grew up in the Houston suburbs. Win is 30, his wife is 32 – this is a blog and I’m just saying. But it reminds of a writer in Spin magazine asking what will Chris Martin complain about in his next album now that he married Gwyneth Paltrow and welcomed a beautiful little girl they named Apple. Martin and company answered with ‘free-trade”.

IF there’s a suggestion box, I’d like to submit the following: an album about what would make the world better. (Like U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. According to Bono, you dismantle it “with love, love.” You can only be angry, jaded and bored for so long before you discover hope, love, and justice. Hmmm … Well, I hope they enjoy this tour, sell out all their venues, get richer ;-), then do something that inspires their listeners. They have plenty of time to figure it out and we as music lovers have plenty to enjoy until they release their next work.  If you are in Arcade Fire fan, I’d be interested in your thoughts on what you think will happen next.

The Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden (8.5.10)

It seemed a bit odd to be in the heart of New York City, listening to an indie band raised in the suburbs singing about the suburbs while thousands gathered (likely from the suburbs) and many more thousands watched online (many presumably also from the suburbs). But I had to keep reminding myself that I live in a world where mothers and daughters line up at midnight to watch movies with beautiful people about love … and vampires.

Indeed, it was a night of unexpected moments – an “indie” band selling out the fabled Madison Square Garden, being watched on YouTube sponsored by American Express be directed by Terry Gilliam who Win knows from the film Brazil (but most recognize him from more popular movies like 12 Monkeys and The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus). In between the opening acts of Owen Pallett (who was fantastic) and Spoon (who are amazing but the Garden was a bit too big for their acoustic sound), a radio dj declared to the 19,000 in attendance that this was a historic night in music. How could the Arcade Fire sell out two straight nights in the fabled Garden? And why would people come to see it when they could sit at home and watch for free?

Selling out MSG in a down economy is pretty amazing.  This is in light of Rolling Stone magazine reporting that summer ticket sales are down for the top 100 concert tours by 12 percent for the first half of this year which is the first time that’s happened in 15 years.   So a band signed with Merge Records should have plenty to feel good about. However, as you listen to the Arcade Fire’s latest offering, The Suburbs, you will learn that this isn’t really true.

As the story goes, inspiration hit Win Butler when he saw a picture of an old friend holding his little daughter in front of Houston strip mall near their old neighborhood. The album is charged with varied raw emotions from angst to boredom to a lamenting off the loss of innocence and returns for another Funeral-esque look into childhood. But just like Neon Bible explored new sounds, most notably the organ, Suburbs mixes a little Springsteen Americana with an epic splash of U2 to fill the stadium in “Suburban War” and catchy bits of new wave in tracks like “We Used to Wait”. What’s different from Neon is that Butler seems to be less angry with the government, the church, and all authority, but more with his own soul as he wrestles not only with suburban life but with getting older. An acute sense of his self-awareness weaves through the album like in the title track, “The Suburbs”, “Modern Man” and “Sprawl 1 (Flatland)”.

There may even be a subtle swipe at the fans who have broken up with Arcade Fire “for not being indie enough” in the lines of Rococo:
“Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids, They will eat right out of your hand, Using great big words that they don’t understand. They say Rococo … They build it up just to burn it back down, The wind is blowing all the ashes around, Oh my dear god what is that horrible song they’re singing Rococo! They seem wild but they are so tame …”

One could not help but think of this while surrounded by the Brooklyn hipsters and the Urban Outfitters. While I am not really sure what qualifies as an “indie band” or an “indie fan” anymore because I know I smelled a lot of Abercrombie cologne and I saw a Jersey Shore wanna-be cast member (I think he called himself the “Imitation” and he may have been Greek but as a citizen of the Banana Republic, I ought to not judge).

It is true, there are many ironies but what about all the other bands that write their songs from their McMansions with the Mercedes E-Class in the driveway yet pretend they can still relate to the general culture? My greatest fears is that one day, it will be revealed that Green Day’s American Idiot was partially inspired by Billy Joe Armstrong’s poor landscaper and a tragic venti White Chocolate Mocha experience at Starbucks.

The truth is we need more albums that confront suburban living from people who will admit they were raised in the suburbs and have remained. Albert Hsu’s The Suburban Christian reports that this the first time in American history that more people live in the suburbs than in the cities and rural towns combined. To those who regard themselves as Christians, the reality is not all of us are called to live the urban monastic lifestyle like Shane Claiborne, some of us are called to be here. But just like my dad handed me Mere Christianity and I will one day hand my sons Irresistible Revolution, we need to begin to follow Jesus right where we are.

Among the reasons of why I think many Christians have embraced the music of the Arcade Fire is that they choose to confront their problems, angst, and anxiety in ways that are not only not trite but divorced from the Christian subculture though they use a fair amount of religious imagery and language. This nine-piece miniature choir who exchange instruments and preach to their masses from a stage that is designed to appear as though they are playing from under an overpass highway system creates so much cathartic energy that even with the “kids (that) are all standin’ with their arms folded tight” in “Month of May” let loose and dance a little. In addition, there was an awkwardly placed billboard stand emerging from behind the drums that played videos of suburban experiences like kids riding bicycles in culde-sacs, giving “noogies” in the front yard, and glimpses of young love. Whether you were raised downtown, in a small town, or “in the valley” It seemed to me that almost everyone could connect.

If they could not, there was Win’s wife Regine Chassagne singing a song called “Haiti” which was released back in 2004. She wrote it more as a eulogy but carries an obvious prophetic fulfillment today: Haïti, never free, n’aie pas peur de sonner l’alarme (never fear to sound the alarm), Tes enfants sont partis (Your children fled), In those days their blood was still warm. We were further haunted when she sang Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), “They heard me singing and they told me to stop. Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock. Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small. Can we ever get away from the sprawl? Living in the sprawl dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains. And there’s no end in sight, I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights.

Some of us will never move out the suburbs but may we find it in God’s will to create a better suburban culture. One that confronts the pain and restlessness and pursues redemption, forgiveness and hope. If you need an anthem, I can think of no better closing line than in their popular encore “Wake Up”, “With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’, I can see where I am, go-go, where I am, You’d better look out below!”

Life Update – Monday August 9, 2010

What I Have Been Enjoying –

Family walks. I am completely aware that writing makes me look good but I think I write and act in certain ways that don’t always make me look good so I’m evening it up here. What’s great is that I really do enjoy our walks.

Date Nights with Susan – We made a few post-seminary resolutions, among them were to bring back date nights. So far, we’ve gone to see Inception, Countdown to Zero and the Arcade Fire in concert. There was quite a while to make up but we’ve had a lot of fun. Susan picks the next date.

My Pastor’s Sermons. This week was on one of my favorite topics – forgiveness. It’s not favorite as in my favorite flavor of ice-cream but more like in the sense of my favorite natural disaster. Meaning it’s a topic that I don’t always like to think about but need to. Btw, my favorite natural disaster is the comet/astroid headed towards earth. Ironically, it occurs as often as some Christians practice forgiveness – BOOOOM!!!

Was fortunate enough to speak to a youth group in Jersey City about my time in Vietnam and Cambodia. Honestly, I thought it was a bit odd when they called me to ask for that but I was told that they prayed for me while I was away. I was really flattered and thrilled to share about our experiences there.

Got to Go Flying – Seeing NYC and North Jersey at 1500 feet is pretty cool.  We went over the Newark Airport, around the Statue of Liberty, (we buzzed the crown Top Gun style :-), saw Manhattan, Yankee Stadium, the George Washington Bridge, and headed back to Caldwell.  It was very cool – thanks John.

Grateful for what’s going on in the lives of many of my friends and hopeful for others who are in challenging times.  Really grateful that Evan’s son, Evan IV has recovered from a high fever that sent him to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.  We have some friends enjoying pregnancies and others who are in transition – may God be with us!  It’s in these moments that I find prayer an essential element in real friendships, I covet theirs and may they remember us as well.

We also said goodbye to one of our “favorite” youth leaders, Josie.  She’s headed to Honduras to teach for two years. While she will be missed greatly here in our youth ministry , our church and community, we are really excited for her.

I plan on blogging about –

The Arcade Fire concert and the topic of the suburbs.
A little bit about from our “Whole Gospel” Monday DVD study. Last week we had an excellent conversation from Tim Keel’s presentation at the Q Conference in Austin.
Lady Gaga’s interview in Rolling Stone magazine. I have to admit, whether her it’s her or her music, she finds a way to stick with you. It reminds of the Seinfeld episode of George’s trying to get stuck in this woman’s head by saying “Costanza” (in the tv commercial tone of ‘By Mennen’) every time he left the room.
and maybe posting my seminary graduation speech. My sister was kind enough to video tape it for me.

Don’t Hate Mel Gibson … And Buy Your Gas From BP – Part2

Similar to yesterday’s point of society giving us permission to “hate” someone like Mel Gibson, we are also given license to hate companies and positions. The obvious would be BP. During our mission trip to New Orleans, we filled up several times at a BP station. One instance, the students booed and suggested we fill up at the one across the street. In full youth pastor mode, I explained that of course we are to be grieved by the oil spill, it did not make sense to boycott the entire company, especially the local gas station workers who are trying to make an honest living. At a couple of stops, I talked to one of the owners who expressed that he was completely stressed out.

This led to some excellent group discussion in the vans for some of us that expanded from the gas station worker to the corporate workers of places like BP. It very easily could be one of their/my parents who was fortunate enough to have a decent job and now with public backlash, be at risk of being laid off. Even further, many have agreed that it may be in our collective best interest to keep BP in business so they can afford to clean up the mess and pay for all the damages.

Last year’s BP were companies like Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, AIG (this link is literally entitled Cavuto: Go Ahead, Hate AIG), Wall Streeters, Bernie Madoff and maybe even all capitalists in general. Again my point is not to defend subprime loan lenders, bailouts, convicted and/or alleged thieves, or even capitalists in general, but to maintain the position that we can not justify this blind loathing towards others, even if they are companies.

Living in North Jersey, we have people in our church and local community who work for some of the aforementioned companies. Some are mid-level accountants, tech specialists and administrative assistants and such. Though I have been wrong before, I cannot imagine they are the conspirators and swindlers that have left thousands in ruin. One person expressed his personal frustration with the public backlash but expressed that he has made similar judgments upon others too. And that’s what makes this so complicated.

When we blindly punish companies with boycotts and criticism, we also hurt many sincere, hard-working people as well. Our disgust may be directed to people like Tony Hayward, his golfing pals and to those that failed to provide a safe working environment for their employees and took liberties with our waters but we need to make sure we channel our frustration in appropriate and even merciful ways.

Don’t hate BP, buy your gas from there. Maybe even speak to the attendants and try to encourage the local owner – It’s a rough time for many.

Don’t Hate Mel Gibson & … Part 1

Context – I don’t watch TMZ or E!. I don’t actively follow celebrity culture. I make it a point to not read the tabloids in the grocery store line because one of the best parts of my day is when we someone asks, “Can you believe that Angelina and Brad have broken up???” and I say, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I read Rolling Stone and Paste magazine, click through Huffington Post, Christianity Today, a host of blogs and most of my news comes from Google.  Oh and I listen to the Relevant Magazine podcast (that’s how I heard that Ice-T got arrested and has a frog that’s getting knee surgery. Yep you read that right. We’ve come a long way since Cop-Killer. And frankly, that’s good for society.)

The thing is, I am aware that “Brangelina” are still together. It’s actually difficult to remain oblivious to a lot of celebrity culture – it finds you. For instance, on our mission trip we listened to a bit of the radio on our 20 hour van ride (thanks in part to our failing Belkin iPod FM Transmitter – lame!). In between the constant rotation between Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Train, there was a DJ talking about Mel Gibson’s latest recorded rant. We opted not to listen which got me thinking – Why are FM radio stations playing Mel Gibson’s temper tantrums to begin with?

I’ll be the first to admit that I am losing touch with certain aspects of culture. For some of it, it’s a shame, but for another aspect of it, it’s a welcomed relief. But back to the point, Why is Mel Gibson’s latest angry recording being played over public airwaves? The most common answer is the vague, “It’s entertainment.”  But why is that it?  I submit that it’s because every so often, “society” gives us license to hate someone.  The last few months it was Tiger Woods and now it’s Mel Gibson.

Believe me when I tell you that I am not interested in defending Mel Gibson. Of course I loved Braveheart, enjoyed Lethal Weapon movies and even thought Payback was pretty entertaining.   And though the Passion of the Christ was a pretty important moment in the last decade, there were a couple of things that bothered me (like a barely there, pretty anti-climatic resurrection scene. Seemed more like Caviezel rolled out of bed after a night partying with the Romans or something. I mean if you are going through the trouble of conquering death and coming back to life, let’s make it more convincing but that’s just me … and I Corinthians 15).

Regardless of who you are, you don’t have the right to hate Mel Gibson the person. Like all people (myself very much included), he has issues.  Thus, Christians should be praying for him. And not just for him, but for his girlfriend (Oksana), his children, and his family.

These scenes should remind us of the many homes throughout our world that are filled with verbal, emotional and even physical abuse. Recordings of Gibson ranting for the radio listener’s enjoyment is a mockery of their pain and also the countless homes that I have just described as abusive. So I urge, every time someone in media or in person brings up Gibson’s rage, resist the urge to pour on the disdain but instead pray for him and for the many who are controlled by the hurt and anger that is ruining lives.