To My Brothers/Sisters Saying “I Told You So” After the Giglio Debacle Part 2

It’s impossible to divorce yourself from your context. So this means no one is actually completely objective – this means you, this means me.

So here’s a little of my context: I am a pastor in a larger evangelical church in the Northeast who is trying to encourage his fellow brothers and sisters and inspire those outside our walls to the life-giving message of Jesus with word and deed. I’m tired of the haters within our walls that are preaching doomsday scenarios. And I’m tired of those outside our walls merely identifying us by our failures and blind spots. I’m excited by [Read more…]

Reflecting on Driscoll, The Inauguration & State of Evangelicalism Today

I really wanted to avoid posting about Driscoll and his condescending tweet about President Obama during the Inauguration but when your fingers touch the keys and these words keep coming out – well you got to let them out. Here’s the tweet.

What??  I don’t follow Mark but when I saw this RT pass through my feed, again and again, I was so embarrassed and decided to give up on social media for the day.

First, let me admit my bias – I am not a “Driscoll guy” in any way. Aside from having a post entitled, “Why We Shouldn’t Make Fun of Mark Driscoll By a Guy Who Likes To”  I rarely talk, gossip or hate on him. I may roll my eyes at times but I really try to avoid his name (among a few others) in conversation. My experience is that it brings disunity to some of my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Second, I could never understand why some of my good friends who are intelligent, relational and have access to better minds would [Read more…]

What Do We Do With Fred Phelps & The Westboro Clan?

This is the third post in this mini series of “Reflecting on the Newtown Tragedy at Christmastime.”

As if we couldn’t loathe the behavior of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Clan enough, the news of them planning to protest the Newtown funerals had most of us saying, “Enough already, something must be done.” In fact, it accounted for a new set of headlines and another wave of anger and frustration in already emotionally charged scene. Fortunately, they didn’t show up. Still, we wrestle with the question, what can we do about them?

First a few thoughts on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Clan. Personally, I never apply the terms Baptist or Church to them. While Baptists come in all shapes and sizes, I won’t recognize them as such because I simply do not recognize the as a church in the Christian sense and I never use the term in a non-Christian sense so they won’t get that honor from me. And they are actually located in Topeka. Really, they are a “clan” from  Kansas. Most of them are related to each other and those that are not blood-related seem to share some type of bizarre connection.

Here’s the 101 if you don’t know too much about them. Fred Phelps calls himself a lawyer (though he’s been disbarred) from [Read more…]

Reflecting on the The Peace Candle While Reminded of the Violence in Our World – Second Week of Advent 2012

Yesterday as i was waiting to pick up the boys from preschool, I was in the middle of a post about can the message of Christmas really change anything before the news alerts on my phone started breaking about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

As the painful news was coming to light, I got off my social media. Initially I felt guilty for not contributing my condolences publicly but I know myself, I know I’ll scan the updates of others, I know someone is going to say something I like, someone is going to say something I find trite, and someone is going to say something I find inappropriate. Mourning the tragedy was one thing, getting frustrated with friends (and them with me) was unneeded.

We’ll talk about gun control, we’ll talk about the prevalence of violence in our society’s media consumption, we’ll talk about mental health, family pain, and the innocence of children. We’ll talk about Columbine, the mall attack in Oregon, the Aurora theater attack, Sikh Temple in WI. We’ll talk about violence in the Middle East, US Military, NRA, and various other elements of politics. Someone will point out that on that very same moment that networks were covering the Newtown tragedy, news was streaming on the ticker telling us there was also a knife attack in an elementary school in China. Someone will remind us of the many other injustices like children being trafficked, starved, neglected and abused.  This is all needed.

Some of us will also wonder how does this happen in a world where many of us believe that God exists. Some of us will wonder how do we process this on the same week we lit the Peace Candle. Our saddened hearts and our untamed fears would have us convinced that God does not exist, that there is no divine peace, that we really are alone in this evil, sick and violent world. It’s necessary that we confront these thoughts. It’s also necessary to talk about accessibility of guns, safety in schools and all public places, we do need to confront the violence in our hearts and throughout our culture, we do need to talk about our vision of peace and God’s vision of peace.

It seems to me that even if we could ban and remove all guns, focus more on mental health, destroy all violent video games, withdraw all military forces, stop producing and airing all violent tv shows and movies that the number of these tragic events will likely decrease but the reality of evil will still exist.  Certainly there is no benefit in doing nothing so these issues are legitimately worth pursuing.  In fact, it’s part of our social responsibility to do our best to prevent, limit and try to stop such tragic attacks. But evil cannot be locked up, morality cannot be legislated, sadly it would only be a matter of time before something else happened. We would find ourselves in yet another similar moment, who knows the proximity of it this time.

We are horrified on at least two levels. One is the obvious shock of the current moment. And the other is that we fear that there is no end in sight. We often hear others and sometimes ourselves saying, “That could have been us …”

We all wonder where is God in the midst of all of this? And how are we to celebrate Christmas now? Well, certainly the superficial elements of Christmas are irrelevant and exposed as such. But during my prayers this morning I did wonder if the pain and evil of yesterday will help myself and others see a little deeper into the meaning of Jesus coming near. Days like these demand that we acknowledge our frailty and the arbitrary nature of tragedy. Today I see very clearly how the problems of others are also mine. Today I feel the need to search for solutions and answers. It feels very fluid and natural to ask God to comfort and be near those who are finding an unimaginable reality today. It’s actually in these moments the meaning of Christmas not only seems extremely relevant but very poignant.

The Christmas story is about God seeing the death and evil of this world and offering a better way. When Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are not only seeking a tragedy-free world, we are being taught to seek a world where there is no need for weapons, or a police force, or locks on our doors, or forensics or funeral homes. Jesus is God’s answer to a better humanity, one that is whole, one that is at peace, one that is redeemed.  It’s what Jesus offers – hope, meaning, redemption and life. Perhaps the meaning of the Advent Peace Candle is the reminder we all need right now.

“You Are the Replacement Ref” – When Others Wrong You (& When We Get It Wrong)

If you watched the Monday Night Football’s Seahawks and Packers game this week, you still cannot believe the debaclewe witnessed. How in the world did these replacement refs miss this? How did the instant reply official uphold it and how does the NFL release a statement saying the ruling of simultaneous catch was correct? Aaron Rodgers is right, “That’s garbage, obviously…. They are still covering their butt there.” It feels like conspiracy – A conspiracy to ruin the game!

But it’s just a game. And there is no conspiracy. It’s a business and the refs, the players, the fans are all part of this game. Further, this game is played mostly by millionaires so billionaires can make more and on another level, so the rest of us can [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Fourth: Nationalism vs Patriotism, Thankfulness, America & Egypt Part 2

Being an Egyptian-American, Egypt has been on my mind for quite a while now and certainly this past week of the 4th was no exception. Though I was born in New Jersey and most of my family lives in the States, and although my Arabic is pretty bad, and although I still don’t like foul (it’s just boiled and mashed fava beans but they smell absolutely wretched. I think it’s the spices that are added), Egypt is an important place to me. And if even if we knew no one in Egypt, it would still be – it’s part of our family’s story and just that is enough for me.

Now given you don’t know what you don’t know but as you would imagine, I have always been extremely grateful that my parents immigrated here. And I’ve never wished to be anything but Egyptian. If I am completely honest, I think the [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Fourth: Nationalism, Patriotism, Thankfulness, America & Egypt Part 1

I hope you had a great 4th of July.  For us, it was a great weak, enjoyed the 4th with some new friends, got to spend a lot of time with Susan and the kids, went down to the Cape with some friends, (Jersey friends, it’s like saying we’re going to the Shore :), listened/watched the Yanks win 3 out of 4 in Boston and all went well in our worship services on Sunday. Found Tom’s sermon on A Song for the Season of Good to be a very appropriate ending to the weekend.

So like with everything, I try to reflect on these days – I find this discipline to be extremely helpful. Similar to just about every year I find myself in the same tension when thinking/celebrating/reading about American freedom, nationalism [Read more…]

A Bit About Our Reading Circles

I’ve received a few DM’s and emails about our Reading Circles so here’s a bit of the what and why.
At first glance, one might mistake this for a book club. But it isn’t. For one, I dislike the term “book club.”
And two, our time is not about the book necessarily, the focus is intended to be more on those that have gathered.

The Reading Circle is about conversation to create community for our GC@Night service. Of course anyone can attend, as we have regulars who come from the morning services but because the evening service does not have ministries like Adult Discipleship (and doing these classes in the evening generally do not work), the idea of facilitating discussions in our cafe after the service made sense.

It’s also helpful for those that are not able (or not ready) to be part of a small group. Obviously those who like to read will be drawn but it’s also for people who like to converse and connect and that’ s been the real strength of this time. When people share from their minds and hearts, it goes from being a book club to a moment of community.

The first Circle we did this year at Grace Chapel was Don Miller’s A MIllion Miles in a Thousand Years (We actually did it twice, once in the morning, then in the evening – both went very well). Then we took a month off and Andrew Sullivan’s article “Christianity in Crisis” which was featured on the cover of Newsweek back in April. And today to be consistent with our summer series on the Psalms, we are are starting Reflections of the Psalms by C.S. Lewis.

We’re trying to create community and conversation so the idea is to pick books that will allow for dialogue. Not all books do that easily. If you are in a group of people you don’t know very well, it can be hard to be interesting because most people wish to avoid awkward moments potentially brought on by critique. My idea is to select books/readings that let you disagree. Don Miller is one. Sometimes he’s flippant, sarcastic, irreverent, too honest, and at moments he can come across as self-centered (which he acknowledges when he makes the comment Million Miles is about me writing a book about me making a movie about me which is based on a book about me ….

“Christianity in Crisis” was another example. It was brief, easily accessible and relevant. Honestly, I liked a good bit of the article, and here was my initial review when it first came out  “Wishing Andrew Sullivan a beautiful Easter …”  I think what I liked least was the title – it was so dramatic. But a more appropriate title like, “Issues the Christian Church Should Look Into Resolving So It Can Move Forward” isn’t going to move a lot of Newsweek’s or generate a lot of clicks.

And here we are with Lewis’ Reflections of the Psalms. What I like about the book is that it’s not a scholarly commentary and lives up to its title of being reflective. My hope is that those gathered will feel free to push back against a figure and a mind like Lewis because I think he allows for that in this book. I also hope that his take opens the door for our take on some of what naturally comes out from reading the Psalms.

In all honesty, I’m excited. So, if you around Lexington, come on out, we’ll likely start a little after 7.30p, we’ll have fair trade coffee and tea, some light foods and will be meeting again on the July 8th, 22nd, and August 5th.

We’ll be starting another one in the fall and will most likely be A Faith Of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt. If you are in a book club/reading circle or been a part of one, feel free to add your thoughts. Also, if you are interested in starting one and need some help, know that I’d love to connect – send me an email if it’s easier than posting below.

My Review of Surprised By Laughter by Terry Lindvall

I was sent this book by Book Sneeze, as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Almost a year ago, I attended a lecture given by Terry Lindvall at the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City. I found the lecture to be pretty interesting, was excited about the book until I saw that it was more than 450 pages. Umm … I’ll wait for the movie. Then it became available through BookSneeze and thought I’d sign up.

Surprised by Laughter is a legit read.  For me it wasn’t an everyday book but a one I enjoyed picking up every so often.

A couple things. This book is written with a dude with a PhD. Just a head’s up – PhD humor is different than regular people humor. This is not to say that people with such degrees aren’t funny – some of them really are. But I think it’s safe to say that Terry’s idea of humor is different then the writers of SNL. So who is Terry Lindvall? He is the CS Lewis Professor of Communication and Christian Thought at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is clearly more than qualified and I found his personality to be relatable, it’s no surprise that he would write a book like this.

Two, this book is not for the casual CS Lewis fan. It’s more than 450 pages! It’s not the next step after reading Mere Christianity. Further, if you are not familiar with Lewis’ personality, sarcasm and wit, this might not be that interesting to you.

What I Liked:
– Because I heard the lecture first, I had an appropriate expectation. So it was easy for me to appreciate (this is why some authors are eager to do book tours right?).
– The writing is fantastic. You would expect that but it better be good if you expect people to make it to the end.
– The research is impressive. But it’s not just library research, so much of Terry’s content is found in the stories that are being told by people who knew Lewis and now the children of people who loved him.
– My favorite aspect of the book is that it gives you such a personal perspective of Jack (Lewis’ nickname). It’s not just analyzing how he uses humor, nor is it strictly about comedic episodes of his life, it’s a much broader take on Lewis’ personality and how he saw the world – this included much humor.
– The inclusion of Jack’s friends. Laughter is best experienced with others and it was great to get that.

What I Wasn’t Sure About:
– More than 450 pages! Though well-written, though well-researched, it was hard to be motivated to read it for what it was. But to be fair, just about everything written about Lewis is too long, so I guess this fits the genre :)

Who I Think the Book Is For
This book is really for CS Lewis fans who have to buy every book with his name on it. But the real benefit of the book is that you really get an incredible look in Lewis’ life and so even if you don’t read all the way to the end, you’ll enjoy what you have read. You probably won’t be funnier but you’ll get to see more of Lewis’ personal life (and you may have a a couple more interesting things to say should you stop by the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City).