I am a Christian pastor and I am angry with Pat Robertson …

Initially I was not going to post on this but I changed my mind right after this conversation with the barista at Borders, “Hey you’re a pastor, what did you think of what Pat Robertson said?”.  I said it was terrible, spoke on the distraction that it’s causing the suffering in Haiti and said a couple of things, including it was not Christ-llike.  He responded with, “Yeah, but all those guys are like that …maybe not you personally but …” and preceded to tell me why Christians suck.

“It may be a blessing in disguise. … Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. Haitians were originally under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal. Ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other.” –Pat Robertson, on the earthquake in Haiti that destroyed the capital and killed tens of thousands of people, Jan. 13, 2010

I am a Christian pastor and I am angry with Pat Robertson … but it’s what I do next that matters.

Can I love Pat Robertson?
Words cannot express my frustration with this man.  If the word “optimism” comes to mind when hearing of the death of thousands of people, then it is more likely that he is actually delusional then a Spirit-filled Christian.  Watching this video is painful and I will not be convinced that we are watching and hearing the words of a healthy Christian mind.  It isn’t just bad theology, it’s a complete lack of compassion being broadcast to millions of people. Allowing this man to appear on television today was a sin for the Church.

Frankly, I find his continued actions to be absolutely deplorable. He’s on a short list of people (Osama, Ahmadinejad, Fred Phelps …). That said, I find the words of Jesus to be even more powerful than this terrible informed man who has diarrhea of the mouth. I can find forgiveness and with God’s grace, I can love the corrupt, the terrorist, all evildoers, even myself. I know that I must pray for this man.  I must pray for my treatment of him.  I must pray for those around him, for those who regard him as a hero and for those that see him as a delusional, crazy, idiot.  As you can see, there’s a lot to pray for but many of us have prayed these prayers before.  And if we cannot find it within in our souls to pray for this man, then the gospel is not in us.  For more see Evan Curry’s post, “Pat You Are Wrong But I Forgive You”.

However, as a Christian community, we are overdue in trying to find a way to remove this man from this position. This is not the first time he has said such things.  We must lovingly remove this man from his microphone. I am not suggesting that we assassinate him like how he suggested that someone assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Nor am I saying that he is/was not a Christian. While I am tempted to trade him to a different religion (“Someone get Phil Jackson’s agent on the line!”), I think it’s time that he step down or be removed from his position.

I know he’s only a televangelist and the people who watch him and support him are the same who purchase exercise products and “get rich quick” videos from noon til 2am but it’s time to pull the plug on the 700 Club and quite possible the network he founded.  How does one stop a network? Does anyone have any actual experience in this? This might become a post-seminary goal right after starting a pub church. I’m thinking the way not to go is creating another Facebook group that begins with “1 Million Christians Who …”. While I applaud their efforts in somehow keeping email free (thereby demonstrating that God is clearly on their side), these groups usually only manage to annoy Christians and non-Christians. Chances are the network will die when Pat passes on (biting my digital tongue) or when the Golden and Boomer generations run out of money but I think as a Church, we need to remove this man as soon as possible and I think it’s time for his network to put on a farewell special for him.

“Can’t we just ignore him?”
I read a tweet of someone I respect and he mentioned that we ought not to call attention to Robertson comparing him to a crazy uncle of some sort.  (It reminded of that scene in Charlie Wilson’s War when Tom Hanks yells, “This is the Cold War – everybody knows about it!”.  Well, for starters, I’ve never had the proverbial crazy uncle. So I’m not sure how that goes. But in the same way that I expect moderate, peace-keeping Muslims to renounce extremists, I am among the many who are renouncing Pat Robertson. He’s like a suicide bomber minus the high commitment level. Seriously, we cannot keep dismissing this man as a senile old man, the old man needs to step down – it’s what a loving Church should do for the encouragement to itself, for the witness of those outside the faith and for the sake of the Kingdom.

For further reading, these are the posts that helped temper me.  One last thought though, please do not channel your grief of the crisis in Haiti  towards this man and not to do something redemptive with that energy (like pray, give, find opportunities to help, etc.).

A Response to Pat Robertson’s Comments about Haiti by Don Miller

“God, Jesus Announce Boycott of 700 Club” by the Desperate Blogger’s Salon page – this one made me laugh.

Why It Matters How We Respond to Bad Theology by Ed Cyzewski

Into the Wild From My Warm Suburban Living Room

The other night I finally watched Into the Wild (Stop reading if you don’t want to know how this movie ends. Just about every possible spoiler is mentioned here). I remember this story when it was a popular news feature in the 90’s. I remember the first impressions the story gave you was that the young man was crazy. I remember the discussion of a bag of rice, the Magic Bus, and the Alaskan cold. And I’m pretty sure Rolling Stone magazine did an article on this years before there was ever a movie.  (And of course RS loved the movie.)

In short it’s about Christopher McCandless who upon graduating from Emory University, disengages from society and lives in the Alaskan wild where he eventually dies of either poison or starvation. The movie is adapted from Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book (with the same title).

What makes the story compelling is that Chris was an extremely interesting and intelligent young man. He isn’t crazy but rather he has no care for money (in fact, he donates his $24,000 life savings to Oxfam) recites literature (especially Thoreau, Tolstoy and Emerson) and has no regard for virtually anything society values. Think Neo divorcing himself from the matrix but in real life and without Morpheus or sunglasses. He even changes his name  – to Alex.

Emile Hirsh does a fantastic job in offering the movie watcher a glimpse of what this may have looked like. It’s fun watching a character who is not bogged down by schedules, bills, but rather in love with the nature and care free abandon. Yep, nothing like unwinding from a busy week of work, deadlines, various pressures by watching a movie about a guy who seemingly chooses to not have stress. The irony is that I am watching a movie about it on my LCD.  I imagine for most of the audience, there is an infatuation by the freedom of Alex’s life.

On my drive to school, I was really thinking about this story. For me, the carefree spirit is the only thing that I really valued about “Alex”. I’d like to visit Alaska but only if it were with my family/friends. It looked cool to scream from on top of the abandoned bus but I would have felt ridiculous after I realized there was no camera recording my primal yell for crowded theaters and netflix subscribers. I have never had any serious desire of unplugging from life – especially these days. While there are several things that frustrate me about suburban life and grind, I usually just need a change of scenery, a workout, a conversation over a thai lunch and some time in quiet meditation to feel renewed. That’s my unplugging from “the matrix”.

I enjoy my loving marriage, I live for the sporadic affection of a 19 month old son and the random smiles and spit-ups of a 9 week old. Wonderful family, a lot of good friends, and most days I find fulfillment from my vocation/ministry. Emile Hirsch should make a movie about me.

Yep, sitting in my church office reading emails while listening to Eddie Vedder’s accompanying soundtrack, sipping my Rwandan coffee. I can already feel the envy of the cubicle people. In fact sometimes the office is so warm, I have to crack the window. This is what Chris finds reprehensible – wasting one’s life in an office.

I may comfort myself by the reassurance that I am not selling insurance. The insurance salesman comforts himself by the reassurance he is not selling cars. While the car salesman comforts himself by the reassurance that he is not selling religion.

So why I am here? For me, divorcing myself from the ways of the world is modeled by Jesus and not the wilderness wanderer. I know this sounds preachy but this is one of my favorite parts of the Christian faith – because of Jesus, the ways of the world does not need to control us. One may have to pay taxes but the government doesn’t control your soul (only a third of your salary). One may have to abide my other laws and principles but above them all stands the hope and love found in Christ.

Watching Into the Wild, I felt sorry for Alex that he found his community exclusively in nature with the soundtrack of dead white writers. I couldn’t help but think that he didn’t need his dad’s NASA job, he could have been a literature professor and taken his sons hiking and camping on weekends. He could have brought them into a different sanctuary on a Sunday morning had worshipped the God of creation. Now, I know this is not close to the point of the movie (nor would one have been made) and that Alex’s character may have been further driven to suffocation by my Sunday morning experience. That said, I’d prefer my life not end in an abandoned school bus on a desolate mountain in Alaska. From his diary, it seemed that he was not ready to die like that either. By the time the credits rolled up, your heart is broken and the infatuation you have of leaving it all behind quickly evaporates.

What’s worse is that we as a society and smaller, we in the Church failed to offer Alex something better. Indeed many of our lives resemble his parents’ home, consumed by success and money, hurting and being hurt by each other, anger, neglect, dirty secrets; it is not inconceivable that one would rather live in a tent, wake up to the sun rise and read Jack London instead.

At the same time, watching Into the Wild reminded me not to waste my life in my office or in my car or on my couch or in my shopping mall. My “wild”, the place(s) where I find true life roaming is in the communion of the triune God and because of that, also in the space of family, friends, and others. The movie, though wonderfully shot and with a great soundtrack is a welcomed exercise in taking inventory of the trajectory of life.

Reflecting on 10 Years of Marriage

I am usually hesitant about out writing posts about love and marriage and revealing this part of my life but our little martial milestone has been occupying my mind as of late.  While I won’t be sharing thoughts that belong inside of anniversary cards nor will I get into some matters of intimacy here, I thought I’d share a few lessons learned along the long, sometimes difficult, but many times, beautiful road of marriage.

I know some read that sentence and say, “Difficult? How dare he say that?” That reaction usually means you are in for a tough time in the marriage department. I’ll be praying for your spouse ;-)

The truth is that ten years has gone real fast and real slow and sometimes it’s felt like 10 years. In a few years, I will have known Susan majority of my living years. I’ve always been intrigued by crossing that threshold. In the beginning of marriage, some have the inclination of feeling that you are still your parent’s kid even though you are married to someone else. After you have known someone for 18-20 years, you become someone’s spouse who may still have parents living. I find these dynamics striking in light of celebrating life-long vows.

They key is to not lose hope together.
I suppose one of the most important aspects of marriage is to continue hoping and striving for a beautiful future. In ten years, you have some tough days, especially for Susan since she has to put him with me. For me, it hasn’t been that bad because I am a heartless, insensitive soul so she has had to carry both our burdens ;-) So I tell her, “Honey, we can’t lose hope.”

Truth is, we regularly revisit the changes we need to work on. We pray about them ask God to strengthen for us, and try to take on the sacrificial nature of love.  Along the years, some of these changes have been easier, some have proven to be more difficult than anticipated, and some are beyond our control.

Don’t always make a big deal out of important matters.
Important matters are important. And while pretending something didn’t happen or enabling unhealthy patterns is obviously not helpful, neither is dwelling on certain matters. A lot of prayer, space, discernment is needed here. Sometimes the problem is not as insurmountable as we think it to be and sometimes the reaction to the problem is bigger than the problem.

Don’t always downplay non-important things.
This one is probably more directed to husbands (but probably depends on personality types as well). If it’s important to your wife, it’s important to you. While you may not be able to respond in the same way, because you are a heartless, insensitive stump (or at least I’m told ;-), try real hard. It has helped me to try to reenact the feeling of watching Chien Ming Wang pitch this season, “You’ve got to be kidding me! She said that to you!?! Oh that’s worse than a 22.48 ERA!” (Phillies fans will have an easier time understanding this but please don’t go too far and throw snowballs and batteries.)

It helps if you marry someone great.

And love conquers all.
The moment we fail to realize this, the solutions to our problems become something that books, professional counseling, and beautiful memories cannot fix.

First Impressions of Our New Indie Coffee House

This is a repost, hope you enjoy. Originally posted this summer:
This post was born out of an email I just received regarding a local coffee house that opened up in our area earlier this year:
I will never be able to repress the moment when I walked in soon after they opened and said, “Congratulations, the place looks great” (it does, fireplace in the corner, some leather chairs, nice tables) and I asked, “So what are we brewing today?”
The answer was “Regular, Decaf and French Vanilla”.
What??  The answers I was looking for were “Guatemala, Costa Rican or French Roast.  For decaf, we have Ethiopian. And of course, we would never insult our patrons by brewing flavored coffee.”
But I figured, he’s probably a guy that the owner hired to help him out and that he would learn along the way.
So then I said, “Oh, do you know where the “Regular” is from?”
Literally he looked at the bag and said, “It’s from Arabica”  (He actually included the ‘c” – I am not making this up!).
It’s cool, I’ll stop asking questions to this poor employee who doesn’t know coffee and just order a “Medium Regular” for $2.  As we made small talk, he then revealed this bombshell – HE WAS THE OWNER!!!  I kid you not, he should have told me he was my father and cut my hand off with a light sabre and I would have had an easier time dealing with it.
I know I’m a bit snobby when it comes to this but you can’t open a coffee houses, charge Starbucks prices and talk like this.  I’m even aware that I do not know enough about coffee to open a coffee house (but I also don’t know enough about small businesses either).  And while we’re talking about this place, don’t put up a big screen tv over the cool fireplace and show Headline News, Fox & Friends and CNN all day.  It kills me to go in there and when I do, I take on the same attitude of entering a port-a-potty.  Take a deep breath, get in, don’t look around, do what you got to do, and leave.
My prayer now is that I win the lottery, buy the place, remove the big screen, brew One Village Coffee and get people like Tim Nye to run it.

For those moviewatchers who have ruled out seeing Avatar …

… change your mind. At this posting it’s made a billion dollars. (Imagine how much it would have made if we weren’t in a recession).

I was among the many that dismissed seeing it after seeing the previews. It looked nice but so do many other wannabe epic movies. Then I would hear Michelle Rodriguez’s voice while flying that weird helicopter and say, “You should see your faces.” When she betrayed us on Lost, she betrayed us forever. (After watching this movie, I am working my way towards forgiveness but if she somehow appears in another Fast and Furious movie, it’s off again.)

Anyway, the previews didn’t appeal to me. Even knowing that James Cameron was at the helm didn’t convince me. What changed my mind was my twitter friends. Granted, there were some who didn’t like it, but majority did and their tweets changed my mind.

While I like some sci-fi movies (like Star Wars, Matrix, etc.), I’m not a real sci-fi person. I just don’t have the energy and lack the proper skills of remembering how to pronounce the names of all the foreign races, planets and characters. Undoubtedly this is why my Arabic suffers as well and probably why Greek was my poorest performance in undergrad. Anyway, I really liked this movie. Typically, this would be the type of movie that I would make fun of but what can I say, I’m a fanboy on this one.

As simply as I can put it:
It’s beautiful and visually stunning.
Like most epic fantasy movies, it is not the “most amazing plot ever” but I found it to be a much better than expected story line.
I was pretty intrigued about the avatar concept.
While there are some intense serious parts, a lot of it is pretty fun.

We saw it in 3-D because the theater needed to make a few extra bucks off the holiday crowd. When we looked, there were only two showtimes available that were not in 3-D. Cameron insists that 3-D is the only way to see this movie but the skeptic in me says, “You’re just trying to make us come to the movie theater.” Whatever, while it was fun and there are some cool things about the 3-D experience, me and my movie-watching friends left wishing we’d been able to watch a the regular showing.

For those considering taking children, know that the movie contains mild profanity and some sensuality. Remember the blue Na’vi characters are cute but the movie is PG-13. I have heard some call it borderline pornographic but frankly, I found that to be ridiculous. In fact, I think the moviemakers showed a lot of restraint. Should one finds themselves lusting over these blue creatures, they got some real problems.

The value for Avatar for me was that it allows the viewer to see important themes in life from a safe outside perspective. That’s not to say that you will agree with them and it’s not to say that the movie gives a fair or completely accurate analysis, but I think you will feel more than what you did before you entered in. And that’s always a good thing.

Lastly, for those that like to be culturally relevant and speak the language of the day, I think this is an obvious moment to be a part of. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve been in now where this movie has come up.

There are some solid themes and it takes a solid 2.5 hours to give them. I happen to like long movies if they are good.  Remember, i walked into the theater with pretty low expectations (I wouldn’t have had any unless I was on Twitter.) If you do the same, I think you may like it.

Monday Morning Brief

My favorite moments of the past few weeks.
1. I loved celebrating Christmas with my family.
2. Watching Nathan play with the Hess race cars with my cousins’ kids on my parents’ kitchen floor was great. I literally remember playing with similar cars on the same floor.
3. Loved seeing my brother hold our son Dylan. Two weeks ago our baby had an iv drip going through his hand.
4. My niece Lina is adorable! She’s a miniature version of my sister. Same face, same hair, same smile. I’m told she has my brother-in-laws elbows.
5. The days are short and almost everyone was in the same house. Susan, my parents, siblings, in-laws. cousins, aunts, uncles, it was great.
6. The next day my sister’s family and ours gathered at my cousin’s. They too had a baby born this past May. She’s beautiful and she fits right in.
7. Susan and I trekked into Manhattan the other day and had some time for ourselves.

The sermon I preached Sunday …
went well. I feared it may offend some (and that may be) but the feedback I received was very positive. Which is kind of rare, I usually don’t get a lot of immediate feedback. Maybe I spoke clearer but good sermons (the ones that have moved me sitting in the pew) are the ones that allow the Spirit to work and it’s nice to be a part of that. It seemed to connect with what many of us have been feeling.  I find myself encouraged by the MEFC community this morning.
Basically the message was that we as individuals and as a community are in constant evolution and while many like to say that they don’t like making New Year’s resolutions, the fact of the matter is that we are always resolving towards something. The American Evangelical church is in decline, a steep one and we are evolving towards irrelevance. The text was from Joshua 24, (you know the one, “Choose who you will serve … as for me and my house we will choose OURSELVES!”. Sorry that’s not what it says, but that seems to be more of what I/we practice). I may blog more about this later but if you are inclined, you can listen to it here.

Loved …
seeing Avatar with some current/former students. Highly recommend it.

Reading …
John Franke’s Manifold Witness. I’m almost finished with it but I really love it and trying to soak in as much as I can.

Listening to …
my Christmas playlist and the same Christmas albums.
Manchester Orchestra
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
Mars Hill Bible Church podcast – Love Your Enemies 11/29/09. In it Rob introduces a pastor from Rwanda telling the story of the genocide, his escape and his return home. All the parts are intense (even returning home). It’s a beautiful story of demonstrating love towards those that have hurt you.”. Link here.
Relevant Magazine podcast – They have been featuring their favorite interviews from 2009: Shane Claiborne, Don Miller, Jon Foreman ….  Click here.

Looking forward to …
The return of youth group. I’ve missed those crazy kids.
returning to seminary for the last half of the year. It’s been a great experience and I’m hoping we all finish strong.
a new year, decade of life, joy, hoping in spite of the pain.
Susan and my ten year wedding anniversary.
a whole lot more that this medium cannot contain.