Reflecting on a Few Takeaways from the Preaching Rocket Conference

The other week a handful of staff members attended the Preaching Rocket Conference. It was to promote their online membership program to help pastors preach better sermons. From what I saw, it was pretty good. I came late, multi-tasked while it was streaming and drank coffee, which was basically my seminary experience as well.

Honestly, I think it was helpful and it was cool to watch it with fellow staff. Being on a larger staff, I am receiving some really helpful encouragement and critiques. I mean that, they’ve been helpful and I hope I can be for them as well. So this came at a great time for us.  There were a couple moments when we paused the stream and debriefed with each other. Hope we have more of these opportunities.

I know some around the Twitterverse were bothered by the commercials in it (Come on pastors, you act like you never took an offering before – it’s a FREE online conference promoting a service). That said, I am not a member and at $99/month, I don’t preach enough for this to be good stewardship. If you are a weekly preacher and even if you’re really good, you should still consider it. There looked to be some great communicators there.

My biggest complaint is that it looked to me that all the presenters were from the South and I suspect that was to keep production costs as low as possible. That’s cool, I respect that but that would probably be another reason or me not to subscribe (As a Northeasterner, it would be helpful to hear from some pastors up here.  Btw, without the last name Keller.  We truly love him, now let’s find some more).  (Oh and I get that we all like Chick-Fil-A but the moment with Dan Cathy came across as odd to me. Either we are obsessed with chicken or the Cathy’s own all the churches in the south but I think it’s safe to say that we’ve jumped the shark, the cow here).

Anyway, great conference, here were a couple takeaways for me:

Andy Stanley. Can I make a confession when it comes to Andy? I never get excited when I see his name on something but I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard him say something and thought to myself, “Yeah that’s really good.” He’s like that band Train, they’ve been around a while, I never get excited about them but I like their songs when I hear them on the radio. I don’t hate on Andy or Northpoint, I know they’re doing good things but I realized I don’t give him any credit either.

I liked what Andy Stanley said about being careful about not just being interesting but having a point (a theme consistent with my blogging and sermonizing). I still like the idea of having one central point and having strong supporting themes running in and out (my last sermon may have allowed a supporting theme to overpower the central point) so when he said that I thought, “That’s helpful Andy – thanks.”

Still not sure about his comment on any time you’re nervous, you’re making it about you. I’ve thought about that for a good bit afterwards. That feels like a comment that you make when you’ve been preaching in front of thousands of people for the last 20 years and you’re considered an expert in your field. Yeah, maybe for that guy, nerves feel a little different than for others. I’m not suggesting that it’s better to live in fear, panic or anxiety, but I have found nervousness to be an excellent reminder for the need of prayer and to respect what it is that we do. But I’ll keep thinking about it.

I also appreciated what Judd Wilhite and Andy said about preaching to the broken and you’ll always have an audience. We would expect the preacher’s words to always offer people hope and encouragement (even conviction, should the Spirit allow). So long as this does not become formulaic and manipulative, we should not lose sight of this. Broken people are entering our sanctuaries each week, broken people are entering the pulpit as well – praise God.

It’s possible that I’ll forget much of this but I think I’ll remember the moment with Charles Stanley when he was moved to tears in talking about the impact that we as preachers have on the church. It was very powerful and sobering. He would go on and talk about the need for prayer which had been mentioned by an earlier speaker but I think many of us viewers didn’t hear it as a redundant and I imagine we all felt the Spirit’s reminder of that. Appreciated how he described the burden a preacher ought to have for the message. I think the most noticeable aspect of preaching for me these last few years is that I really believe in what I’m saying.

I think I’m always going to be homiletically improper (I did well in homiletics but I always got an asterisk with my grades too – I know many can relate ;). In an honest moment, I may admit that I want it that way but in an even more honest moment I may attempt to politely suggest that maybe the experts don’t have it completely right either – and them being people of humility would likely say the same. I was grateful that they shared their words and experience with us and grateful for the calling that we’ve received to serve in the Kingdom. To God be the glory.

Check out their site, check out their 1 month trial for $1 and subscribe if it works for you. Also you can follow the founder of PR Casey Graham on Twitter @CaseyGraham. I have not been contacted by Preaching Rocket, I’m just linking out of appreciation for providing the event.

Appreciating John the Baptist a Bit Differently – Blogging Through Our Sermon Series

Well, I’m behind on my goal of blogging through the Living God’s Story sermon series but it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. And lately, I’ve been thinking about John the Baptist and his prophetic ministry.

Back in February, Bryan preached this sermon on John the Baptist and my favorite part was when he contextualized what John might say to us as present day believers. He said, “Give it up, churchgoers! God’s not interested in your choirs and praise bands, your screens and sermons. You sing your hearts out on Sunday, then swear and slander and gossip all week long. You throw money in the plate to soothe your conscience, then spend the rest on clothes and cars while the world goes hungry. You read your Bible, but don’t do what it says. You call yourself Christ-followers, but your lives are no different than anyone else’s! Turn away from your old way of “doing church” and “being Christian.” Start over! Let God rule! Get with God’s agenda, or get left behind!” You can listen to the sermon here.

It resonated with me and I kept hearing the same from others. It also came up a couple times at that evening’s Reading Circle [Read more…]

Why I Hope Blue Like Jazz the Movie Does (Really) Well #bluelikejazz

Last week I got to see an advanced screening of Blue Like Jazz – I liked it and I give it an A- and I hope you go see it as soon as it comes out on April 13th. It’s an indie movie, so its theater run will be directly related to the success of its release in the opening weekend.

For those who are unfamiliar with BLJ (and Don Miller), it was a very popular book that was released back in 2003. The subtitle was “Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” and it especially resonated with countless young adults who were/still are frustrated with the idea of organized religion (and several aspects of the Christian subculture). It became a New York Times bestseller and Don became a bit of an anti-hero for the jaded church brats (like me).

Then he became a regular on the Christian speaking circuit which caused some to burn their BLJ books. This is probably more appropriate for a different post but this reminds me of those who stopped listening to Arcade Fire when they won the Grammy in 2011. What is about rejecting something that we liked so much but now hate it because it’s mainstream? Seems to me that we ought to celebrate the times when the mainstream gets it right. Frankly, it just comes across as snobby and this post may be in reaction to that type of criticism.

Personally, I want more writers like Don and more movies like Blue Like Jazz. Not imitations, just good, honest, “unresolved but trying to resolve” stories and storytellers. For those who have never read anything by Don, he writes in a casual yet blunt memoir style. He’s intelligent, he’s funny and he gets away with a good bit because he’s self-deprecating. Perhaps one of the key pieces to his popularity is that people don’t really want to be Don Miller. They may want his success, his platform, parts of his story but I don’t know anyone that wants to be him. Why? Well, as he will tell you, he’s got issues – he reminds you of that regularly.

Again, that’s why so many resonate with him. Especially in 2003 when it seemed that everyone who was writing had their act together. We like stories and movies about people who don’t have their act together and that’s why Blue Like Jazz the movie works.

The movie is about a graduating senior, you guessed it – named Don Miller – who is a church youth group volunteer, a good son, and has planned to attend a Christian college in Texas. At his last Sunday in church, he finds himself betrayed by his most trusted relationships. He takes his father up on his offer to attend the well-respected, progressive Reed College in Portland, WA. “Baptist boy” comes on campus and his paradigm is radically altered.

The movie is about his resignation of believing in God, a search for his true identity, a girl named Penny, understanding the dynamics of family and friendship, redemption and rediscovering God. There are a number of themes here that most people can relate to.

I liked that Steve Taylor directed it. He’s been around the Christian subculture scene enough to know what’s not going to work with the audience that he wants it to work for. I admire his courage here. They could have decided to play this safe and gone the Courageous-Face the Giants-Fireproof route but they would been Left Behind. Even I would have set fire to my Blue Like Jazz book.

I liked that they didn’t go the Christian movie route. I like that it’s PG-13. Steve Taylor explains the rating on the movie site. “I made it clear to all our potential investors and/or heads of media companies, the vast majority of whom were fellow Christians, that this was not going to be a family movie. The reason was simple: How do you tell the story of a college kid who flees his Southern Baptist upbringing in suburban Houston to attend the ‘most godless campus in America’ without showing what that environment is like? And how can that environment be portrayed realistically in the context of a ‘family’ movie? Doesn’t have to be rated R, but it’s probably going to be PG-13, right?” Admittedly, while this has caused me to think twice about promoting this church-wide, in the long run, this is the right move.

Further, I like that I didn’t hear Switchfoot as the credits rolled … even though I like Switchfoot. And though I wished they had a bigger budget, I really like the way it was shot – it’s a cool looking movie and Ben Pearson did an absolutely fantastic job.

My hope is that the risk is rewarded. My hope is that people who are fed up with church-types and parts of the Christian sub-culture will watch it and say what a number of people said after they read the book, “Yeah that’s what I’m talking about!” I’m not expecting a cultural awakening here nor do I hope that Don Miller becomes a “superstar” religious figure – I just think his voice and this story will connect with people and I’m excited about that.

While there were some things I wasn’t sure about (I’m going to wait until after the movie is released to give my full review), I genuinely liked it. Again, it’s an A- and I hope it does well, really well.

It releases April 13th – Check out the site and watch the preview here.

My Take on #Kony2012 Post 4 – Why Are People So Against This?

This weekend, I was away speaking at at a retreat in the Poconos and on my long drive back, I was reflecting over a few things. I had the thought that if I was in Uganda trying to rebuild my life and my community and I had become aware that many in America had been talking about me, my country, my region, my future and the problems I face for the last two weeks, I’d be even angrier if the consensus was, “That video was misguided so I guess I’m not going to help …”

Now I know there may be sound concerns to not help, however, the unfair criticism, the constructive critiques, the missteps of the “Kony 2012″ campaign don’t seem like legitimate reasons. Though I was still very much enjoying the afterglow of the weekend, I found myself in that angry/frustration/passion/wrestlingwithGod moment. I was a bit stuck on this because I think it’s an important conversation. My bigger concern is that we would go through all of this and not take advantage of the opportunity to help those in need.

As you likely know and as I mentioned in the previous post, Jason Russell, one of the founders and the narrator of “Kony 2012″ suffered an emotional breakdown over the weekend. Initially it was reported that he was intoxicated but that has been clarified. You can watch this video that was made in follow up and read part of Invisible Children’s Statement below:

To the Invisible Children Family from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo:

“Thank you to everyone concerned with Jason and his health. Jason has dedicated his adult life to this cause, leading up to KONY 2012. We thought a few thousand people would see the film, but in less than a week, millions of people around the world saw it. While that attention was great for raising awareness about Joseph Kony, it also brought a lot of attention to Jason—and, because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard.

Let us say up front- that Jason has never had a substance abuse or drinking problem, and this episode wasn’t caused by either of those things. But yes, he did some irrational things brought on by extreme exhaustion. On our end- the focus remains only on his health, and protecting our family. We’ll take care of Jason, you take care of the work.

The message of the film remains the same: stop at nothing.”

-Jason’s wife on behalf of the Russell Family”

Don Miller had a brief and appropriate response. And I appreciated this post entitled “Jason Russell is My Friend.”by Jaime Tworkowski. I hope I am that type of friend and it reminds me that we need to have more conversations between enabling and loyalty. Though a terrible situation, we are indeed reminded of our humanity and the toll this issue takes on so many.

One of the most powerful and convicting scenes for me was in the movie Hotel Rwanda when Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) tells Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) that the was glad that he shot this footage so the world could see and intervene against such atrocities. Jack says, “I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.”

More than 100 Million views. Almost a third of our country, about the number that voted in the 2008 Presidential election. I am concerned that a moment is being squandered here. Everyone agrees that Kony and the LRA are evil, everyone agrees that Uganda and Central Africa are in need of support for rebuilding and everyone agrees that this has been an atrocity. What we do between eating our dinners, watching our movies, preaching our sermons and living our lives will be telling.

On the drive, I keep asking myself what am I missing here? Why are people so against this?

Some answers I keep hearing are like, “Well, because IC implied that Kony was still in Uganda.” i can’t argue with anyone’s first impressions and it could be that I’m very familiar with their films and keep up with their blog and read their emails and try to keep up with a host of other anti-trafficking blogs, but “Kony 2012″ seemed clear to me that not only was he no longer in Uganda, but that Jason was telling the story to his son in the past tense. Still, between that and other aspects of the film, perhaps there is concern that it came across that way and I’ll consider these types of comments a contributing factor.

The other critique I hear is regarding their spending, I read one article complaining about how much IC spent on their filmmaking and stated that had it gone to malaria instead, Central Africa would have been malaria-free. I find that hard to believe. But her case would have been devastating had Invisible Children’s mission was to rid Central of Africa of malaria. I don’t find that to be a fair criticism. Fighting malaria is a very noble, essential cause and threatens thousands a year and there are great organizations that are dedicated to solving it. If the writer hasn’t already, I think it would be wise to examine the spending of the organizations committed to fighting malaria under the same scrutiny. Further, it seems her criticism would be better served to compare what we the public spend on alcohol, soft drinks, fast food, cable television, etc. and the costs to eliminate a killer like malaria. But I don’t find this to be a helpful critique in this context.

Another critique is the call for military intervention. I find this to be a very legitimate concern and a lengthy discourse because we need to unpack what type of intervention is sought after, what to do about the rest of the LRA and so forth. While I am never of the “kill ’em all” mindset, I am not for the doing nothing mindset either. I’ll get flack for this, but with all the peace treaties that Kony has been invited to, “participated in” and avoided in order to continue his violence and pain, the answer will not be found in a true pacifist approach – unless it’s the pacifist approach like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If I may, I encourage pacifists to truly find other ways/organizations to support those in the region. (I included a list of other organizations at the bottom of my previous post.)

There are countless articles and posts critiquing – some very helpful to the conversation, some not. I believe some of the “not helpful” types are creating intelligent sounding excuses rooted in feeling jaded from the complexities surrounding Africa. I believe others to be rooted in apathy. That said, I do believe many in the “helpful critique” category to be rooted in wisdom, proper stewardship and solid experience. May God be our judge.

Here’s where I am landing.

For me, Invisible Children was and still is a great starting point for many. I personally went from being interested about human trafficking to finding ways to get involved against this atrocity. Also, at the time, I was a youth pastor, and our students connecting with these films was a great encouragement to me. I now support several organizations and am committed to bringing awareness to this important issue.

Awareness is the first step, and now that we are aware, we have the opportunity to do something. There are only so many causes, organizations and missionaries one can support so know that I am not implying that now that you are aware you need to do something. Not at all, I am among those that are saying, if you can, please support.

 Second, if you are getting involved, let’s commit to being involved responsibly. I highly   recommend reading books like, When Helping Hurts and these two from David Livermore:  Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World and Serving With Eyes Wide Open. There are countless sites and blogs dedicated to eradicating trafficking like IJM, Polaris Project, Not For Sale. Check out the blog of friends I know, Jesse and Andrea serving in Uganda.  I trust and appreciate their take.  Further, papers like the NY Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe are always featuring articles on this important issue.    There are many takes on the issue, but not a scarcity of info, let’s read, think and discuss.  And let’s act at the same time.

And to keep it simple, the third step is prayerful action.  I’m way over my intended word count but in short, pray, give, create awareness, let’s keep our hearts broken and be diligent.

For those who have decided to not get involved in this issue for one reason or another,  know that your convictions are respected, but please, serve in a area where you see a need, can create awareness for, offer different types of support.  May we all serve God’s world in various and effective ways.

I believe the one thing we can all agree on is that we cannot witness terrible atrocities and go back to eating our dinner, drinking our frappucinos and watching our reality tv shows.

Thanks for reading friends.

My Take on #Kony2012 @Invisible Children’s and the Legitimate Concerns From Uganda #StopKony Post 3

These posts have been exploring Invisible Children and the Kony2012 film. Though I am a supporter of IC, I too have certain concerns. However, my concerns are overwhelmed by the incredible pushback and criticism. There will be even more now since one of the founders, Jason Russell (and narrator the film) was taken into custody for public intoxication, public nudity and public masturbation, among other reports. He has been hospitalized and you can read more here. In the meantime, we should be in prayer for Jason, his family, the organization among other things.  It would do us good to remember our humanity and the urgent needs that exist near and far.

Regarding the criticisms, if you have been reading along you’ll know that I feel some are off-base while some are certainly legitimate and in need of dialogue. I hope these posts add perspective and further conversation because at the end of all of this, help is needed in Central Africa (here and throughout out world).

I am grateful that I live in an age where I can read what someone on the other side of the world thinks about a video. I have been reading articles and watching videos as much as I appropriately can. I too believe that it is absolutely essential to listen to the perspectives of those in Uganda and throughout Central Africa.

And what I’m hearing are multiple things but I’ll try to compartmentalize them into two, simply for and simply against. I of course was moved when one young man, who lost four brothers and one of his arms was quoted in saying, “How can anybody expect me to wear a T-shirt with Kony’s name on it?’.

I couldn’t imagine losing my brother. Further for this man in such a tragic circumstance, it’s not appropriate to explain the campaign to him. It’s necessary for us to see that brothers and sisters are being taken away in our backyards and throughout our world. It’s necessary, not just to appreciate them and to be faithful with the relationships we’ve been blessed with; it’s also necessary that we serve the many needs near and far, and that includes helping others keep their brothers and sisters.

The other voice I hear is someone thankful that this issue is getting the attention that it deserves. We can’t ignore that voice either (or a different take on the same scene reported by this NY Daily News article). Further, we can’t ignore voices like Col. Felix Kulayigye, the spokesman for Uganda’s military who said, “The most exciting thing about this film is that I’m so grateful that the world has been able to pay attention to an issue that has long been neglected, I think it is an eye-opener and I think this will push for Joseph Kony to be apprehended, and I think justice will get to him.” More here.

So what does one do? Is the film good or bad? Is wanting to help good or bad? These are all complicated questions, they’re not yes or no but offering to appropriately help seems the ilke the “righter” to do. Should we be told to get out, we should honor that too.

My sense is a lot of the pushback is an expression of the hurt. What I’m hearing is “Where were you years ago?” Though I can no longer find the link amidst all the digital chaos, I heard an interview when someone said Invisible Children should have been doing this 10-15 years ago. Unfortunately, the founders were still in high school. I don’t expect her to know that but it reveals a bit of how America is perceived, people who can help and of course, it would have been ideal if they could have helped at the desired time. I think this is the next best thing. Certainly earlier would have been much better, but now will be better than later.

Some have said Kony is no longer in Uganda. That’s true but two things. First, he’s somewhere, he’s still alive and needs to be brought to justice. And second, worse, he is still terrorizing (in the Congo). I’ve heard some in Uganda say it’s not their problem any more and my heart breaks for what that soul must have been through. I’ve also heard some say we need to stop him so others don’t go through what they went through. I believe we need to honor the latter and pray for the hurt of the former.

But perhaps my biggest critique is using this rhetoric against the film to excuse us out of helping at all.  I’m not saying that all who are critiquing are guilty of this, I’m saying some are using the rhetoric to excuse themselves and continue on as if it has no relevance to them.  Critique is needed.  The film/organization/supporters have its flaws but if we are waiting for the “perfect campaign” not only will more people get hurt, it’s never going to happen. Let’s do better work, let’s listen better, serve alongside, let’s fund (this and other organizations), let’s pray.  Certainly let’s not give up and do nothing.

So where does that leave us? I offer this to my small, limited yet powerful audience.  Stay involved in some way.  It’s a legitimate need. Let’s help until/unless we’re asked not to.   Perhaps in this moment, it would do us well to take a step back, wait until the cause is no longer fashionable and seek to get involved again. It seems to me that if we take  too far a step back for too long of a time, those in Central Africa will only feel even further hurt and abandonment. Let us be patient, persistent and passionately for at the very least, offering to help those in need.

Whether through this video or in spite of it, word has got out that there are many needs. In addition to finding Kony, Central Africa needs help in the forms of education, rebuilding its infrastructure, rehabilitation for former child soldiers, even help with this mysterious phenomenon called “nodding disease”. There’s plenty to do and many ways to help.

Here are some Christian and charitable organizations that work with the victims of the LRA conflict in northern Uganda & Central Africa.  (thanks Christianity Today)
Far Reaching Ministries

World Vision

Save the Children


Jesuit Refugee Service

Write your congressman:

My Take on #Kony2012 and Responding to the Criticisms Like “Neocolonialism” and “Propaganda” #StopKony

In the next couple of posts, I want to turn our attention towards responding to the criticism of Invisible Children and the #Kony2012 video. I appreciate critique but I am surprised by just how severe the criticism is and I find myself wondering what is the motivation behind that.

I’ll get to that another time but here’s my motivation for my support, the defense of this organization and the promotion of the cause of fighting human trafficking. No one is doing a better job on this issue in creating awareness among those that are in a demographic who may be among the hardest to reach. That’s right, an identity-searching teenager, an overwhelmed college student, an anxious twenty-something, even those in the 30’s who are juggling minivan payments and diapers are connecting with an issue that doesn’t directly affect them and one that is taking place on the other side of the world.  That’s impressive.

This isn’t to say that people haven’t cared about causes before 2005 – of course they have. I’m saying that IC is reaching a number of difficult demographics and among the reasons is that they are using good strategy with good technology telling a good story. That’s a trifecta in the information overload suffering from compassion fatigue in the social media age.

That said, #Kony2012 and Invisible Children are not for everyone. Though I doubt IC would admit this, they know it isn’t either. If they wanted it for everyone, they would have made a different set of decisions (like branding) to include an even broader audience. They are clearly after a younger demographic and no one does a better job at this.

Even further, fighting human trafficking is not everyone. I don’t mean to treat this as a preference thing like in the way some people prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to Starbucks, but rather certain people gravitate to certain issues for different reasons and no one can fight every issue. So it’s not for everyone.

As mentioned prior, I too have concerns about Invisible Children but the number of people that are out to dismiss them is staggering. The first criticism I saw was from this Tumbler account called Visible Children. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy even though initially he said he was a professor but turns out he’s actually a student. I like his casual demeanor, even if it is the classic example of being passive-aggressive. I do think it’s odd that he asks everyone to link to his Tumbler post every time they see a Kony 2012 link and then keeps insisting that “It’s not about him.” I imagine his photography side business is going to get a nice little boost.

But let’s take a look and address the charges of  IC’s “neocolonialism” and “propaganda”. I’m sensitive to the term neocolonialism especially since seminary but here’s a bit of what I’ve learned in reading the Times, Utne and Huffington Post. These words are like when Captain Kirk says to his crew, “Set your phasers to stun.” Flippantly stating that something is “propaganda” is the equivalent as saying, “I don’t have time to refute your entire case, so with one big condescending wave of my hand, I’m dismissing it as propaganda.”

These words are intended to intimidate and create space to levy criticism from a different angle. What exactly about it is neocolonialism? Likely the answer will be that it’s a larger, stronger government or elite set of influential people trying to “seize” financial or political or cultural control on a smaller, perhaps compromised, population. In this case, they will likely point to these rich kids from San Diego using their cultural elitism in such a way that they were able to secure a military invention signed by the President. Inevitably, they will also point out there’s oil in Uganda.

This is flawed for several reasons. One it’s extremely naive, even if you are a conspiracy theorist.  Are you really suggesting that the US Government launched Invisible Children so they could get legislation passed through them so they could send over 100 officials to assist the Ugandan army to find Joseph Kony in the jungles of Central Africa and that all in the region would say, “Thanks so much guys, here’s all of our oil!”? That’s so diabolical … if you live inside an Austin Powers movie and you think the devil is Dr. Evil but not so much in the real sense.

Further, where is the line between helping with the resources you have and the accusation of neocolonialism? We need to be careful that our charity does not come with strings attached that strip others from their cultural identity but cultures that are sharing and helping one another is a beautiful thing. After watching IC movies, I remember students in my previous youth ministry constantly expressing things like, “I just can’t imagine what that’s like. We need to do something.”  What this innocent sentiment describes is not an activism strategy, what it demonstrates is compassion and the desire to help someone in need. Watching a fifteen year old discover this is powerful and it reminds you of many things. That was the point of Katie Curic tweeting about her teenager informing her.  Katie probably knows a thing or two regarding current events (she likely already knew what her teen was telling her ) but it’s a telling thing when she tweets:

What about all the American influence?? Umm, well, we should have thought long ago. We see in the Rough Cut (IC’s first film) that 14 year old boys even in Uganda know about Tupac and JaRule long before these three dudes from California got there which makes sense for me. Had they been singing the OC theme song California, I would have been more concerned.

Some of this is caution. We should always be aware of the effects of even unintended consequences. Some of this is a case of semantics lobbed over by people who have their own motivations. But I caution them, you can make the case that everything is neocolonial from the World Cup to pop-music to McDonalds (to a photography side business). We should be aware of the difference between globalization and neocolonialism and tone down the white-man burden hero complex rhetoric a bit. While racism still exists in our country, the multiculturalism that we enjoy in our country today is quite beautiful. You can even see that in the White House.

I’ll admit it threw me off at first to see Jason, Laren and Bobby in their sunglasses, cool guy clothes and California accents hanging out in Uganda and asking questions that made me think, “I know you’re in the moment but you can edit, right?” Part of it was my Northeastern bias (we have cooler sunglasses, clothes, accents and ask better questions), the other part was understanding more of “the moment” and what they were doing with it. But I tell you, it made a pretty big difference to me that they didn’t say, “We’re just three cool guys from California …” and did nothing.  Further, I am humbled by their activism and grateful for what it has influenced me to do.

Part of this is a collective backlash against California culture. Part of it is how guys like Jason come off on screen. I realize some of this is comes across a little back-handed but many in our culture only expect them to be trendy and hit on girls. And instead we see a married guy showing his four year old pictures of Joseph Kony and standing in the White House calling for the arrest and capture of a notoriously evil man. We’re surprised not because we don’t think they are competent to actually do something, we’re surprised that they chose to pursue their ideals amidst the tough realties of the world.

Not everyone can do what they are doing. Not everyone is called to do that. But what Invisible Children (and countless other non-profits) is doing is charity and good work. They are actually leveraging their strengths, their resources and their influence in hopes that  those in Central Africa can have a better future. And they’re doing what any organization tries to do – inviting others to help.  So how about it?

The next post will respond to a few other criticisms, including the financial concerns and what those in Uganda are saying. Later, I will post my concerns and hopes and likely wrap this thing up. Feel free to comment, pushback or ask something.  Thanks for reading.

5 Things I Like About Invisible Children and #KONY2012

Over the weekend, I watched “Kony 2012″ and here are some of my thoughts.

First, I thought the quality was fantastic. Some have said that it’s “too slick” – it’s not and please, let’s encourage good work and discourage mediocrity. We don’t need non-profits, NGO’s, ministries, etc. saying, “We don’t want to make it too good.” Well done Invisible Children.

Second, I am glad they chose to feature Joseph Kony on this one. When I heard they were doing that, I thought two things. First, “Yeah it’s time to change it up” and then two, “Wow, this is going to get even more political and messy.” Still, I had no clue that it would become this controversial and this is “good controversy” which I will unpack another time.

Third, clearly they have succeeded in making “Kony famous”. According to a post on Mashable “With more than 100 million views in six days, Kony 2012, a 30-minute documentary about Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, has become the most viral video in history”. Further, it speaks well for our culture. Do we share Rebecca Black videos because we have nothing better to share?

Four, Invisible Children does a good job in understanding who they are, who they are not and being true to that. Yes, I’ll admit being a thirty-something American-MiddleEastern Northeasterner, there’s a lot of things that sound odd to me when I’m listening to a 20-something from California interview a boy in Uganda trying to speak his heart in broken English. Interviews in general are awkward and that’s part of why many of us prefer memoirs and first hand testimonies but when you don’t have a “microphone”, it’s a good thing when someone gives you one.

I’m glad Jason Russell and his friends decided to go to Uganda instead of vacation some where. Further, I’m glad they didn’t just go to Uganda and decide to only share what they found with their closest family and friends. Issues like human trafficking and forced child soldiers are difficult for many of us in the West to understand. The stories in these films are needed to bring these issues to light.

Fifth, I am grateful for just about any thing that gets people talking about something that’s not American Idol or Kim Kardashian. Even more so when it comes to global issues that awaken us from our apathy and and self-centeredness. This is true for those in the Church and for those outside of it. The world is messed up, over there and right here, we are allmessed up, we can virtually all agree on this. Therefore, we should do our part to bring goodness to it. We’ll all have different ideas about that, so let’s talk.

These are important conversations, we certainly need to do more than watch and converse and for many of us who have decided (and will decide) to go further with this cause or one similar, we should be grateful and supportive. Read more, learn more, give more, share more, pray more …

Soon, I will be posting my take on some of the criticism Invisible Children receives. Some may be legit, some I find to be a bit unfair. Feel free to offer your take.

You can watch the 30 minute documentary here or below.
And learn more
and then after that, Google Joseph Kony.

My Initial Take and Some Friendly Advice on the #KONY2012 #StopKony Controversy Post 1

For the sake of honesty and context, I am biased towards Invisible Children. While serving as a youth pastor in my previous church, my youth group and I hosted numerous screenings and a couple benefit concerts. We’ve hosted and conversed with numerous IC Roadies, met Nate Henn a couple of times and mourned his tragic murder in Uganda. Many in my youth group started their own “Schools for Schools” campaign (American schools helping Ugandan ones) and my wife and I are monthly supporters of their Legacy Scholarship Program which helps provide private schooling for kids in Uganda. In my dresser drawers are numerous IC shirts, I have worn out more IC bracelets than I can remember, own their films and every now and then, I correspond with a future president of Uganda, Opwonya Innocent (which reminds me, it’s time to check in on him again).

So as a proud supporter, you would think that I have nothing negative to say about Invisible Children. But I do. If you don’t know me (or don’t know me well yet) I’m a bit critical, cynical and perhaps slightly paranoid. I’m also hopeful, optimistic and on good days trusting. So paradox, nuance and gray thinking are part of my life.

Yes, while watching some of the IC Films, I too have thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a bit dramatic.” I too have wondered about how they spend their money and if they are being good stewards of their “roadies”. And like most people, I confess, I too have asked myself, “Is any of this going to make a difference?”

In fairness, I ask this about everything from the Christian missionary work I support, to the Easter Services I participate in. I think these are valid questions for those who desire to serve in God’s Kingdom on any level.

I have not yet watched the Kony film. I hope to later this weekend. I have been keeping an eye out for all the information that is coming out, favoriting tweets, saving articles, and checking out Facebook posts.

Here’s what I’m doing and I offer this as friendly advice as we gather data and perspective:

1. I’m not in a rush to make up my mind. Let’s not get so lost in the hype or the rhetoric that we neglect the bigger picture. Let’s breathe, think and process.
2. I’m ok if the Kony movie sucks. I hope it doesn’t but it’s ok if it does. Joseph Kony is still an evil man even if the film disappoints you. Let’s not miss that.
3. Regarding, Invisible Children, they’re doing good work. It’s likely that they could be doing a better job in some areas. Let the critiques help them. Offer them support/advice/prayer.

Next week I plan on blogging about the good of IC, my concern, and process out loud about the complexities of this very important issue. Would love your input – feel free to comment, pushback in the spirit of conversation and healthy dialogue.

Reflections on Brokenness Post 6 – Time to Change Your Mind?

I’ve been expressing throughout this series that Lent is an appropriate time to do some soul-searching. We ought to connect with our pain and the pain of others, seek forgiveness and reconciliation and examine the things that perhaps God has been trying to show us.

Among the questions that I have scribbled in my notebook is “What do I need to change my mind about?”
Like most of these questions, these are a bit scary in some way.

Changing our minds implies that we’ve been living either inappropriately or erroneously. There is this mode of thinking that says “I’m in too deep to change my mind on this.” or “If I change my mind, or show weakness in my position, “So and So” will say, ‘I told you so’ or ‘This is what I’ve been telling your for years!'”

Those are terrible reasons not to reconsider positions, opinions, beliefs and postures that are either hurting others (not to mention ourselves) or not helping others (not to mention ourselves). As one who appreciates nuance and complexity, I’ll be the first to say that it’s not a switch you flip.

I wish every time I changed my mind it was because it was based on “new information that changed everything” and so I “realized” and I felt “released” to believe in something even greater and this was something the we all celebrated. But many times, changing our mind has more to do with looking at the same arguments not only with different eyes, but with a different heart and this requires a good deal of humility.

Changing our mind requires that we not only reexamine the data but confront our motivations and maybe our pride.

For instance, I found encouragement in Franklin Graham’s apology to President Obama last week.
Is it possible that he will make the same mistake again?
Is it possible that all of this was a ploy for attention (making the mistake so he could apologize so he could gain favor with those that differ and with those in the middle)
Is it possible that Franklin and his team chalked this up as a learning experience in dealing with the President and not much has changed at all?
Or is it possible that this learning experience has caused them to hear from God and this has changed many things?

On a different note, I find it so ironic that the great Billy Graham was a trusted advisor to several Presidents from Truman to Obama and until last week, it may have been likely that Franklin was not welcomed in the White House. Conservatives should perhaps changing their minds in how they choose to fight the culture war but that’s another story for another day.

What is that we as Christ-followers need to change our mind on? There are many reasons to stay the course, there are many rational consolations to remain set on our ways, but there may be a God-given reason to change.

The Apostle Paul talks about the “renewing of our minds” in Romans 12 and Colossians 3 talks about the ongoing transformation from the “old self” to the “new self”. It’s unlikely that any of us have already arrived. So this Lent, let’s ask the Lord what we need to change our minds about?

“You Give Exile a Good Name” – Reflections on Brokenness – Post 5 (& Blogging Through Our Sermons Series)

I’ve fallen very behind on blogging through our sermon series. It’s not that they have become boring to me, it’s that they have become even more important and I am hesitating on puling the trigger on some of these posts.

Back in January I got to preach at our Sunday night service and my portion to cover was the Israeli exile. I entitled it, “You Give Exile a Good Name.” Like most people, when I think of the exile of Israel, I think of Bon Jovi. I opened the message with the first 90 seconds of this infamous video from my childhood. You can listen to the rest of my message here.

How do you explain the idea of exile to a present day Westerners? In short, the closest I could come was that the exile from the Israelite perspective, it could have felt like the ultimate break-up by God. He promised to be there for them, to love them, to take care of them, but here they were, under siege, overcome and the best of their population was marched into the Babylonian captivity. Hard to convince yourself that you are among God’s chosen when you are hands and feet are bound by iron shackles.

Now for the sake of responsibility, God wasn’t the one who actually dishonored the covenant. Israel did …. repeatedly. Collectively, they chose to worship other gods, pursue their interests and forfeit the promise God had invited them to. God sent them prophets, rescued them from numerous previous invasions and reemphasized His hope for them. They left him standing at the altar, at some point, the groom needs to leave the chapel.

Only God doesn’t do that. In this case, He takes the chapel with Him and meets them in captivity. And we see God’s presence throughout the story of Daniel.

There are so many sad parts in the story of Daniel that we tend to gloss over. The first chapter of Daniel describes him as a talented, intelligent, handsome young man. I tried to contextualize Daniel to those gathered that night that if we were making a movie about him, we tried to cast a young Jake Gyllenhaal, we’d show young Daniel with his happy family, answering tough questions in class, and leading his lacrosse team to the All of Judah Finals. He’d go to his synagogue and he’d hold eye contact with his love interest who was his perfect counterpart, and afterwards they’d sneak off to share their dreams of the future and then they would … pray.

But then he turned 17 and Nebuchadnezzar’s forces sacked Jerusalem and took the noble in captivity. In addition they took a significant number of the younger population into captivity. The idea was not to kill all the Israelites, but to create a bigger Babylonian empire and these people were currency for them – more people + less rivals = bigger empire.

I wondered how Daniel processed all of this. Though he had “success” in the test that eventually allowed him and his friends to eat the food of his choice, it was a small consolation to what he had lost. He had lost not just his home and his nobility but he had also lost his future. Literally. Not only does he lose the position he would have enjoyed in Israel but most likely he had become a eunuch. Safe to say he lost his future in a profound sense.

But to add to it, not only does he lose his future in this sense but he loses so much of his past. His Hebrew story was being replaced by the Babylonian narrative. I mentioned that a little more in my message but for Daniel, his entire identity was being threatened. That’s the story of Daniel in the exile – keeping his identity and God’s presence being there for Him, even in the exile.

This is why he prays as consistently as he does. It’s his access to God that informs who he is and allows him not only to retain his identity but to continue to grow in it. It’s very beautiful and it tells us many things, that even in exile and abandonment, God’s presence can still be found. Hence the title, “You Give Exile a Good Name.”

I find myself thinking about this for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m preaching again this week and I try to look at what I’ve said to avoid repetition but to retain certain themes (it’s a balancing act … we’ll see what happens with that). Second, I appreciate what Peter Rollins says about the crucifixion of Jesus. To paraphrase – he experiences God’s abandonment. Now this is nothing new in some sense but Pete has a dramatic way of saying these things and it’s stuck with me like gum on the bottom of my soul. Pete’s not for everyone but I encourage you to read him if you could (and I go to see him lecture this past weekend – great stuff – stay tuned).

Lastly, Lent is the time to consider such things. What are the dreams that have been taken from us, what have we given up on, what should we seek to reclaim and what should we hope to pursue. It’s in this soul-searching in the presence of God that we may (re)discover the beauty and meaning that we may be in need of.