Thursday, August 31, 2006

Facing our frailty

John Jensen commented on my Krakatoan output (I'm mainly impressed that anyone could use the word krakatoan in a sentence -- a vocab prize goes to John). But for today, just a short post.

The ailments of children are these -- they get sick all the time. A week and a half ago, Sarah Grace had a throat infection. She then passed it along to Annalise. Yesterday, I woke up and it hurt to swallow and I felt like my body was weighted down with lead -- couldn't sleep last night because my throat hurt so.

Yes, I've succumbed to parenthood -- the little infections of our children get passed on to us in spades. So I took today off and stayed in bed most of the day, drinking green tea (flavored with orange juice). I'm feeling a lot better as of 5:15 -- but I still won't be putting up a major post today. After all -- all men are like grass....

Soli Deo Gloria


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Food

This chapter of Crunchy Cons has directly changed my behavior. Dreher quite graphically describes the process that some industrialized meat processing plants use in “advanced meat recovery systems”: “taking a beef carcass that’s had most of the cuts taken off of it, and using a blast of high-pressure steam to remove ligaments, tendons, cartilage, spinal cord, every bit of tissue left on the bones – people wouldn’t want to eat it. That goes into hot dogs, luncheon meat, all kinds of processed meats.” (71) Because of that very paragraph, I can no longer eat hotdogs, bologna, chicken nuggets in odd shapes – if I don’t have a pretty good idea that this is an intact cut of meat, I just can’t bring myself to eat it anymore.

Once again, Dreher shouts, begs, wheedles, cajoles, and otherwise provokes us to ask questions about things we take for granted. We eat our fast food, take what the grocery store offers – no questions asked. We act as though we trust them completely to supply inexpensive, healthful, delicious food. I wonder if we gave our food suppliers the kind of scrutiny that we gave to our investment portfolio, how might our decisions be different.

Much of this chapter is taken up with telling the stories of a few organic ranchers – and hearing their voices on why they believe that their product is healthier, tastier, and better than industrial processed meat.

Dreher introduces us to Robert Hutchins, a Rush Limbaugh listening texas rancher who says “…we raise our cattle the natural way, and feed them only what they were designed to eat. They were created only to eat certain things, with their ruminant stomachs: that’s grass and forage They weren’t created to eat grain, so we let them eat what they’re supposed to eat.” (67) But what grabbed me about the story was when Hutchins followed up with this quote: “The real philosophical issue behind why we do what we do, is because we’re Christians…We would be called evangelical Christians, and probably fundamentalists also. We try to align our lives with what we understand from Scripture would be a God-honoring lifestyle.” (67) Here is a man who is working hard to bring his vocation in line with what he sees as scriptural teaching. That really got my attention.

Dreher talks about the Slow Food Movement – begun in Italy to celebrate, encourage, and preserve local traditions of cooking in the face of incursions by McDonald’s and other fast food chains. As the Slow Food Movement grew beyond the bounds of Italy, its proponents realized that they could never succeed by trying to stop McDonald’s and its ilk. Rather, they had to show people why the Slow attitude toward life – esteeming tradition, celebrating particularity in the face of mass culture, and taking time to enjoy life – is more sensible, more fun, and more human.” (63)

He talks about Weston A. Price, a dentist who in the 1930’s began to be concerned about the poor health of his patients – he began to travel to societies that had different eating habits from ours. He traveled the world to explore the connection between diet and dental health. He found that in cultures where there was good dental health, there was an avoidance of highly processed grain and sugars. There was a preference for animal proteins and fats and a preference for homecooked over processed foods. He set up a foundation to promote and further advance the insights found.

As often before, Dreher sometimes gets preachy: “We are told that small scale farming is inefficient – this is true – and that because our factory farms feed the masses, and do so cheaply, we should be satisfied. And that’s a deal that makes sense to nearly all of us: just keep the stuff showing up in produce bins and under cellophane in the supermarket cooler, and keep it relatively cheap, and we’ll ask no questions. But in striking that devil’s bargain, we sign away our responsibility to what’s in that food, how it got there, and what was done to human communities to close the deal. To participate in a system and a way of thinking in which the act of eating is merely a commercial transaction is to sell out our spiritual and cultural patrimony. I understand the free-market reasons why Americans do this. But I don’t understand why it’s called conservative.” (62)

The main point, however, is to get us to ask questions. The industrial food industry does produce lots of cheap and filling food – but they make very few reliable promises about personal health. For years, we accepted partially hydrogenated oils in almost all our processed crackers, breads, and foods. We didn’t know what it was, didn’t bother to ask. Now, doctors are telling us that this artificial preservative is even worse than saturated fat for heart health – but this is after decades of simply trusting the food industry. Now high fructose corn syrup has come into the crosshairs of health researchers – but again, it’s been used for decades without anyone batting an eye.

Dreher posits a very conservative idea – we have to take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing. We need to be stewards of our bodies and what we consume. We cannot abdicate to the food industry the responsibility for selecting the range of foods that we eat. It’s tough to do – it takes us putting ourselves out and doing some research and putting effort into cooking. But, he’s convinced that in the end, it will prove a superior set of choices than mindlessly receiving what is offered us.

Looking forward to your thoughts on food.

Soli Deo Gloria

Index of interesting Links:
Other reviews
* Jonah Goldberg from National Review -- a withering attack (while admitting there's lots of good in the book)
* Kevin Holtsberry from RedState online
* Maxwell Goss of Right Reason gives one of the more balanced critiques I've read.
* The Wall Street Journal's review
* Michael Dougherty giving a reasoned and balanced critique.

Crunchy Con resources
* Atheists, Agnostics, and Conservatives by Amy Welborn – a good view of the difference between faithbased crunchy cons and uberlibertarian agnostic cons
* Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost on materialism and Jesus Junk
* Russell Kirk Center
* Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con blog
* The Immaculate Direction a blog that is very crunchy connish
* Cerulean Sanctum’s series relating the book to 21st century Christian life. Very thoughtful and thought provoking.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Joe Carter on Materialism

A quick link to Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost. Joe does a regular feature called the CPR (culture politics religion). This week's report features a comment on one blogger's intent to fast from unnecessary purchases for a month -- and Joe's corresponding intent to invest in Kiva (see my previous post on Kiva). The closing comment of this post points us right back to the concept of Jesus Junk that we talked about a couple of days ago here on the Eagle and Child.

Thanks Joe
Soli Deo Gloria

Responsible Stewardship with lightbulbs

A quick break from the Crunchy Cons series to take a side tangent on a somewhat related topic. This month's Fast Company Magazine (Note the link is to the subscriber only section for now -- when the next issue comes out, nonsubscribers can access the article) features an article by Charles Fishman on compact flourescent lightbulbs. These bulbs are the expensive twisty bulbs that look something like a soft serve ice cream cone. They've been available for a couple of decades, but haven't been widely embraced by the market. Environmentalists buy them because they use a lot less energy, but the broad market still has not caught on to the idea. In Fishman's words:

For two decades, CFLs lacked precisely what we expect from lightbulbs: strong, unwavering light; quiet; not to mention shapes that actually fit in the places we use bulbs. Now every one of those problems has been conquered. The bulbs come on quickly; their light is bright, white, steady, and silent; and the old U-shaped tubes--they looked like bulbs from a World War II submarine--have mostly been replaced by the swirl. Since 1985, CFLs have changed as much as cell phones and portable music players.

One thing hasn't changed: the energy savings. Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity.

What that means is that if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

That's the law of large numbers--a small action, multiplied by 110 million.

The single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States is power plants--half our electricity comes from coal plants. One bulb swapped out: enough electricity saved to turn off two entire power plants--or skip building the next two.

Here's the bottom line for consumers -- each compact flourescent bulb uses 75% less energy than a regular lightbulb and it lasts 10 times longer than a regular incandescent lightbulb. There's an immediate bottom line dollar savings that consumers will be able to see in their wallet. Now here's the interesting thing - magnify the energy and cost savings across a couple of million consumers: what we find are even greater savings that get passed along -- lower energy costs, not as many bulbs going to landfills (reducing the potential tax burden of waste removal), lower environmental costs of energy production. It's a win win for everyone.

Now, after all the buildup, here's the story: Wal-Mart and GE are teaming up to promote compact flourescent bulbs as a wise consumer choice, not just for individuals, but for society as a whole. Let me say that again: Wal-Mart and GE. This isn't some big government program nor is it a fringe idea from the environmental movement. These are two really big businesses who see future concerns about energy prices and availability, and they've found a way to address those concerns in a way that benefits both consumers and the companies. I applaud them on their forward thinking.

Of course, I believe that as Christians, we're called to wise stewardship, even without the promotion of large corporations. I've been using compact flourescents for about 10 years now -- I had the first one burn out on me just last year. We see an appreciable difference in our electric bill. It's just plain good sense.

And that's how this relates to Crunchy Cons -- it's about a mindset and a lifestyle that is grounded in wisdom and good sense. More to come on that tomorrow.


Other wise-stewardship posts:
Earth Day, or Stewardship Day, you pick
Environmental Stewardship -- up close and personal

Monday, August 28, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Consumerism

It’s probably been 20 years since I read the biography of pioneering Christian musician Keith Green, but one thing I remember vividly was his abhorrence of “jesus junk”. Some producers stamp an icthys on a pencil sharpener in either a misguided or a cynical attempt to appeal to a Christian market. He was mad at the Christians who consumed such stuff because he felt that it was dishonoring to Jesus to use his name and his symbols so cavalierly – like a fashion accessory or decorative option. He felt as though it violated the spirit of the commandment about not taking God’s name in vain. (Cerulean Sanctum has a post on this topic – featuring an absurd real life example of this kind of jesus junk).

Ghosts of Green’s complaint revived in my brain as I read the chapter on Consumerism in Crunchy Cons. Dreher defines what he means by consumerism: “It’s an uncodified materialist philosophy that considers the acquisition of goods and services at the least expensive price to be a fundamental social value. Consumerism fetishizes individual choice, and sees its expansion as unambiguous progress. A culture guided by consumerist values is one that welcomes technology without question, and prizes efficiency. A consumerist culture also tends to cede authority to the secular priesthood of scientists and other professional experts. Its idea of liberty involves the steady increase of the individual’s sovereignty ….A consumerist society encourages its members both to find and express their personal identity through the consumption of products. Its ultimate goal is the spread of happiness and well being through the improvement of material conditions, and the creation and general increase of wealth.” (29)

And then to prove that he’s not some kind of radical Marxist, Dreher qualifies “This is not to demonize wealth, at least not wealth gained through hard work and fair play. There is nothing objectively wrong with material progress, and a great deal right with it.” (29)

His point is a simple one – the love of money (and material things) is the root of all evil. Dreher doesn’t advocate withdrawing completely from the world, but he does ask questions about the affect of technology and endless consumption upon our lives. He suggests that those who opt out of the techno-consumerist carnival are often considered strange. We experienced this up close and personal – our first months of marriage we didn’t have a TV and didn’t plan to get one, and people thought we were nuts. For Christmas, we received a TV/VCR combo, so that little avenue of resistance was foiled, but in 10 years of marriage, we’ve never subscribed to cable or satellite TV. (for this reason – I didn’t want the bombardment of advertisements, the temptation to waste tons of time on triviality, and the flood of sexual imagery that comes with cable TV). But people still react as though we were some kind of lunatics to not have cable.

And that’s but one example. Consider the relentless pressure toward conformity that our teenagers face in the social hothouse that is high school. Think of the push toward bigger houses (McMansions, they’re called), bigger vehicles (who really needs a HumVee as a personal vehicle), and more elaborate amenities. Sadly, our president’s advice after 9/11 wasn’t to conserve and prepare for a long struggle. His advice was to go shopping (though I understand the logic – we shouldn’t let the terrorists think they had crippled our economy – even so, it was pretty indicative of the state of our nation). The thoughtless push to consume, buy, and acquire goes almost unrestrained in our lives. Isn’t this what Ray Bradbury warned us about in Farenheit 451? Isn’t this Brave New World? Even the recent teen sci-fi novel Uglies hits on these issues of shallow consumerism. Sometimes it takes a jolt to make us ask “what are we doing?”

Such a jolt may very well be a crisis of national proportion (see my earlier series on the Fourth Turning for further thoughts on this topic). If such a crisis does indeed strike, then it behooves us to wean ourselves from consumerist ways – but even if it doesn’t, it will be well for our spirits, our health, and our ongoing economic security if we pull back from relentless consumerism. This is where faith comes in handy:

* The discipline of Sabbath keeping – one day in seven for refraining from labor. Such a discipline reminds us that we are not entirely economic creatures. It prompts us to breathe and enjoy relationships. It leads us to find fulfillment in something other than laying waste our powers by getting and spending. It teaches us to look beyond ourselves to our Provider of all good gifts.

* The discipline of tithing – a sure way to break money’s hold over our hearts is to give it away (so I heard Richard Swensen say in a lecture from his book Margin). The more we’re able to give it away, the more we’re able to appreciate what we do have. If we give 10% to the Lord’s work (way above what most folks give), then God develops within us a healthy appreciation of money and material things.

* The discipline of fasting – taking time to refrain from food helps free us from gluttony. It leads us to appreciate what we have all the more. It leads us to identify with the hungry. It reminds us that God’s good gift comes in its own time. Sometimes It’s good to go hungry.

I could write much more, but I’m running out of my allotted time this morning for blogging. Let me know your thoughts about consumerism and resisting it.

Soli Deo Gloria


Index of interesting Links:
Other reviews
* Jonah Goldberg from National Review -- a withering attack (while admitting there's lots of good in the book)
* Kevin Holtsberry from RedState online
* Maxwell Goss of Right Reason gives one of the more balanced critiques I've read.
* The Wall Street Journal's review
* Michael Dougherty giving a reasoned and balanced critique.

Crunchy Con resources
* Russell Kirk Center
* Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con blog
* The Immaculate Direction a blog that is very crunchy connish
* Cerulean Sanctum’s series relating the book to 21st century Christian life. Very thoughtful and thought provoking.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Crunchy Cons: What is a Crunchy Conservative

Given the vitriol that Rod Dreher received from his fellow conservatives, you'd think he pronounced Karl Marx as a patron saint. Jonah Goldberg from National Review delivers a withering attack followed by Kevin Holtsberry giving duck and jive punches. Meanwhile Radley Balko writes what appears to me to be a shallow and kneejerk critique (and I don't say these things lightly). After you've dipped into those critiques -- read what Dreher actually says about his concept:

“Crunchy conservatism is not, as you’ll read here, a political program; it’s a sensibility, an attitude, a fundamental stance toward reality, and a pretty good road map to a rich, responsible, fulfilling, charitable, and above all joyful life.” (13)

This is probably the most important, and least heeded, sentence in the book. Dreher’s work is all about asking the right questions -- questions about the sacramental nature of life. For instance – a few years back, a Christian environmental group encouraged Christians to ask the question “What would Jesus Drive”. They were immediately lampooned and ridiculed in conservative circles (and among Conservative Christians I might add). However it is a perfectly reasonable question (though I’d rather phrase it “What would Jesus Have you drive?”). Critics may assume that the person asking the question has a pre-determined answer – a little 4 cylander tinfoil piece of trash. And they may be right. However that doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of asking the question of ourselves.

Consider this – if Jesus is the sovereign over all our lives. If we truly believe our theology when we call Jesus Lord. If we truly believe that we’ve been crucified with Christ then in fact we must ask the question of everything – what would Jesus have me drive; where would Jesus have me live; what would Jesus have me do with my life. We are not our own and we must spend time wrestling with such issues (caveat – not to the point of paralysis – some issues can wait. We can after all only wrestle with so much in a given day, the rest we simply offer up to the Lord in prayer and trust in His guidance through the Spirit).

Just because we don’t like the answers that some people arrive at, it doesn’t absolve us from asking the questions – the big questions of “how are my daily actions and my big decisions congruent with the values I profess”

Dreher tells us that asking the big questions is what Crunchy Cons is all about. If you don’t grasp that, this will be a very frustrating and indeed annoying book (the criticisms of smugness and cheap prose are not without merit – this is something of a breezy book -- see the much more balanced and fair critique from Michael Dougherty or Maxwell Goss)

So what is a crunchy con – someone who recognizes the sacramental nature of life – “Being good is not something you do because it works; being good is something you do because it’s the right thing to do, even if it costs you. At the risk of sounding pompously metaphysical, for people who adopt a sacramental way of being, everyday things, occurrences, and exchanges provide an opportunity to encounter ultimate reality – even, if you like, divinity.” (14)

And there’s the rub – we are not defined by our political ideology – we are ultimately defined by our relationship with Christ. If our politics are organically connected to our faith, so too must our lifestyle choices be so connected.

More fodder for thought next week.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Off the Shelf: Crunchy Cons

I know that a book, film, or cultural phenomenon is big when it starts coming to me from different directions. I knew that the DaVinci Code was big very early when I had people in my church who were early adopters started asking me about it. The Napoleon Dynamite phenomenon came on my radar when I had both 20 year olds and 70 year olds telling me about it.

The same is true with Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons. I've had folks from all across the political spectrum mention it to me, so I had to pick it up. I'm glad I did -- Dreher's call for sanity and self-moderation within the conservative movement is a much needed counterbalance to the shrill chorus of pundits that dominate the airwaves. Dreher's basic thesis is that there are a whole lot of Conservatives who live lifestyles that are more associated in the popular imagination with liberalism: eating organic food, opting for smaller urban houses, homeschooling, participating in the slow food movement, advocating for environmental concerns. And yet these people also hold true to core conservative principles: limited government, healthy suspicion of human nature, emphasizing individual liberty and responsibility.

Dreher writes this book as a corrective to what he sees as an unhealthy obsession with greed and a worship of efficiency and the blind force of the markets. This is a book that should be devoured by strategists of both the Democratic and Republican parties -- for it reveals a vast grassroots outside the beltway of Washington who care less about the chess game that is DC politics and more about the living of a truly conservative lifestyle.

To that end, I'll be bloggint through this book on and off over the next several posts. It's a fascinating read -- I believe that many of the concepts are very helpful for navigating the crisis implied by The Fourth Turning (see the previous series on that fine book). To whet your appetite -- here is Dreher's Manifesto for Crunchy Cons:

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the contemporary conservative mainstream. We like it here; the view is better, for we can see things that matter more clearly.

2. We believe that modern conservatism has become too focused on material conditions, and insufficiently concerned with the character of society. The point of life is not to become a more satisfied shopper.

3. We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity’s best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves just as much skepticism as big government.

4. We believe that culture is more important than politics, and that neither America’s wealth nor our liberties will long survive a culture that no longer lives by what Russell Kirk identified as ‘the Permanent Things’ – those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life, and which are taught by all the world’s great wisdom traditions.

5. A conservatism that does not recognize the need for restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society nor, ultimately, conservative. This is particularly true with respect to the natural world.

6. A good rule of thumb: Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract.

7. Appreciation of aesthetic quality – that is, beauty – is not a luxury, but a key to the good life.

8. The cacophony of contemporary popular culture makes it hard to discern the call of truth and wisdom. There is no area in which practicing asceticism is more important.

9. We share Kirk’s conviction that ‘the best way to rear up a new generation of friends of the Permanent Things is to beget children, and read to them o’ evenings, and teach them what is worthy of praise: the wise parent is the conservator of ancient truths…. The institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

10. Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. In this sense, to conserve is to create anew.

Looking forward to exploring this book with you.

Soli Deo Gloria

Supplemental Resources:
Rod Dreher's Cruncy Con Blog

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Classic way of being church -- missional

Series Index to The Classic way of being church:
An Apologia

Recall, my friends, that this series on the classic way of church is by no means my way of saying it is the only way of doing church. It is rather my apologia, my confession of the value I find -- and my assertion that there is still value for such a way of doing church.

Now, my emergent church and house church friends might raise an eyebrow at the use of the term missional for classic church. After all, the normal critique of the classic church is that it's irrelevant, out of touch, and stale. How can it possibly serve as a missional outreach - how can it possibly equip the saints for living as disciples when it's so horribly out of touch with the modern world.

First thing is that we dare not equate external expression with inner fire. Missional is a way of being, not a program for marketing. Being missional is about being oriented in such a way that the people of God recognize that they are sent and that God has planted them where He has sent them. Missional is about understanding whole life discipleship and the oscillation between being made strong by the spiritual disciplines and being sent to use the strength Christ gives us.

That said, a classic church, done right, can be very missional. The orderliness, the regular attention to spiritual disciplines, the attention to the saints of the past as a living fellowship with the saints of the present. All these things make us strong.

Then classic churches, when done right, afford dozens of opportunities to serve, in both large ways and small. Because of their institutional nature, they attract all kinds of information from all across the community on ways that Christians can plug in and be a blessing. They also gain a kind of instant credibility when they approach places in the community saying they'd like to serve -- no major background checks needed because of the institutional flavor of the classic way of being church.

Classic churches, done right, bring people together in all kinds of different combinations so we can learn community and build deeper relationships. No, it might not be as intense as the community in a house church -- but house churches might be surprised at the level of commitment people in classic churches have for one another.

Yet another way classic churches are missional is that they are different from our everyday reality. I'm keenly aware of the evangelistic impulse that drives churches to adopt seeker-sensitive models, and I applaud the passion for the lost that these churches demonstrate. However, it is a fallacy to absolutize that model then as the way of reaching out. There are plenty of people who are wounded and disaffected from those churches and are looking for worship and community that has a completely different texture. They may feel that the seeker churches feel commodified -- or perhaps they feel too much like a show. Or perhaps it's just that they want to feel like when they come to worship, it's something different than what they encounter in the rest of the week.

It's also very puzzling for those who aren't used to it -- and sometimes it's not a bad thing to be puzzling. It is a bad thing to be puzzling without having compassion. But being puzzling in of itself is probably a very good thing.

Of course I realize that the classic way of doing church also gives people liscence to hide behind the professionals; it also becomes a fortress for those who just want music they way they like it (and the devil can have anyone else that doesn't like it that way); it also becomes an in-club that makes outsiders prove that they really want to belong. I know these are the dangers and I know these are the critiques. However, these are perennial temptations, regardless of style.

There is hope yet that classic churches continue to reach people in a spirit of love and they continue to faithfully build up the saints and proclaim the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, August 21, 2006

Resources for Revival -- lead from your knees

"I charge you to lead from your knees" That's what Joan Grey, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) told us as she came before the plenary of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship. It could have been a time of great tension -- for this gathering was born out of dissatisfaction with denominational status quo. More than 1000 Presbyterians gathered last week to seek a way of faithfully moving forward in spite of the dysfunction of the institution.

And yet Joan Grey came. And she told us that we were to lead from our knees -- to be so humble and fervent in our prayers that we recognized that we could do nothing without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, graciously given by the living Lord Jesus Christ. She reminded us that Jesus is the vine -- we are but the branches -- without him we can do nothing. So if we would lead, we must lead from our knees. And then she charged us to dream big -- for our God is able to do more than we can possibly imagine.

Then, we gathered around her in prayer -- she sat in a chair and dozens of elders and pastors laid hands on her shoulders. More of us knelt in the aisle. And we began to pray -- first a prayer of repentence. We didn't begin with a happy confident prayer that God would bless us. As was right, we began with a prayer of corporate repentence for our blindness to truth and goodness -- for our smallness of mind -- for our own personal sin. We lingered there in repentence for a season before we started to pray for God's protection and direction for our Moderator.

Looking back -- I believe that was a defining moment. In my study of Revivals, all revivals begin in repentence and prayer. I've been encouraging our congregation to engage in fasting and prayer for this season of our life in the church. And then here is our Moderator challenging us to that very discipline -- an unwavering dependence upon the empowerment and leading of Christ.

Might this have been the catalytic moment where the call to prayer and repentence and fasting went viral -- might this have been the tipping point where a sufficient number of people feel led by the Holy Spirit to make prayer a discipline for revival? We will only know from when we are years down the road and look in the rear view mirror. I hope that this event will have been more than a pep rally and that across the land we'll take seriously what it means to lead from our knees.

Soli Deo Gloria


Resources for Revival Index:
* Family
* From the Book of Order
* Prayer and Forgiveness
* Andrew Murray on corporate prayer
* Bill Bright on fasting and prayer
* Longing for revival: resources for revival

Other Revival oriented posts
* A Call for fasting and prayer
* Thomas Watson on prayer
* National Day of Prayer retrospective
* Longing for revival: a reminder from history
* Longing for Revival in the presbyterian church
* The foolishness of preaching
* Fasting and Prayer
* A running theme: revival
* Advice from Africa: Start with Prayer

Saturday, August 19, 2006

From the Presbyterian Global Fellowship -- conviction about justice

She was a young Christian woman whose only desire was to go to Bible college and learn to be a teacher -- she was tricked by a family member into being sold to a human trafficker who sold her to a brother. And there she languished, tenaciously clinging to faith, scribbling the words of Psalm 27 on the walls: "The Lord i smy light and my salvation -- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of myh life -- of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall." She tried to get the other women to pray with her, but they told her that God didn't hear in this forsaken brothel visited by western johns looking for adventure.....

He was the head of his household in a rural land -- 9 relatives depended on him to make the living. A stranger had come talking of a new job in a nearby village where he could make more money. He packed up his family and moved -- only to find that the stranger had a band of thugs who seized the whole family and enslaved them. He watched his children and relatives be forced into hard labor with little provision. He wept as the thugs gang raped the women in his family. And late one night, he couragouesly led the whole family into escape. The stranger's thugs seized two of his other relatives from a nearby village and held them hostage, torturing them until the refugees would return.....

He had only a dollar in his pocket, but the five drunken policemen seized him, demanding all his money. He was in a rural backwater of a third world country, so he couldn't refuse, for might made right. As he was released, one officer shot him, just for fun. The hospital had to amputate the arm. The officers had to charge him with something, so they threw him in jail for armed robbery, a crime punishable by death in his homeland......

Sharon Cohn of International Justice Mission shared these stories with us. She shared with us the statistics that there are 27 million people in slavery in the world today -- more than ever in the history of the world (more even than during the height of institutional slavery in the 18th century). These slaves generate more than 13 billion dollars a year for organized crime and shady interests.

I had been aware of these statistics. World Magazine has run story after story on human trafficking and the need for the church to respond. But the problem seems so huge. We read the commands to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. We read the prophetic challenge to rescue the captive from the oppressor -- and we look about our comfortable environment and spiritualize it. It's an easy out to say that the prophet was talking about Jesus coming to spiritually liberate us from the bondage to sin. That is true; yet His liberating us is also the vehicle He uses to send us. And this morning we were challenged to speak on behalf of the weak who are illegally being sold into slavery, prostitution, and oppression.

How can we bond our voices together to tell the world that Jesus Christ so cares for the captive? How can we be instruments that God uses to make good on those words from Psalm 27? I'm not sure, but I'm going to be spending time over the next few weeks learning from International Justice Mission and Voice of the Martyrs to see how I can personally help in some small way -- and I'll be thinking and talking with Tammy about how we can help as a family.

Sharon shared with us the rest of the story for the three mentioned above. International Justice Mission investigated the case of the man who was robbed by the police and they won his freedom. He went on to study law and learned to write with his left arm. He says that he's going to work in law, seeking to advance to the high courts "and then evil will have a new enemy"

The hostages were found by International Justice Mission and they were freed -- the stranger who enslaved that family has been apprehended and jailed.

The young woman in the brothel was found by an International Justice Mission investigator and rescued -- the brothel owner was jailed. When Sharon last visited with the young woman, she asked if they could pray over Psalm 27 together -- the young woman replied that Psalm 27 was her theme for imprisonment, but not for her freedom. Now her theme was Psalm 34: "I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame...."

Amen and Amen

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, August 18, 2006

From Presbyterian Global Fellowship -- snippits and tidbits

I've been connecting with all kinds of people here -- thus, here are some snippets and tidbits from conversations and a summary of major points from the panel discussion with representitives from churches in Israel, Pakistan, and Brazil (or rather immigrant Brazlian communities in the US)

* I met moderator Joan Grey -- she's humbled by this experience of being moderator -- she covets our ongoing prayers -- not just for her strength and energy and wisdom, but also for Revival.

* I met a PCUSA Mission worker who is very concerned that efforts like this will drain funds from and hurt existing PCUSA missions within the denomination -- she reminded us that her work is not just hers individually, but also negotiated through a vast network of support that most congregants dont see. I took her card and went straight to the folks from Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship who are working with the Outreach Foundation and the Worldwide Ministries Division of the Church to develop new and effective ways to keep the good missions that exist funded and supported.

* I spoke with a Brazilian pastor who challenged me to consider working with immigrant communities.

* I met up with an old friend who has been disappointed -- he was looking for more direction "This is basically just a worldwide mission conference," he told me, "I wanted more direction on where we're going and how we can get there." He told me that he was likely going to recommend that his church go with the New Wineskins movement becuase they have a structure in place.

* I've reconnected with folks I met at General Assembly this year, and with old friends from across the denomination. In many ways this is a sweet family re-union.

* I've bought books (surprise surprise) on the missional church and missional engagement -- look for reviews forthcoming in the Eagle and child

And things that I picked up in this afternoon's plenary session -- realize that this is filtered through me trying to apply the comments to myself. The participants didn't shake their fingers and say "listen up, western church" -- they spoke humbly, but passionately. They shared their hearts frankly, but they also reflected joy that they were participating in God's great mission. They were deeply thankful to be among us. That said, here are the challenges to my thinking that I heard:

* The western church can stand to learn what it means to suffer -- to be brokenhearted alongside our mission partners. An American missionary came to stand among the ashes of a burned Pakistani church and to weep with the leaders -- and that meant more than the resources that worker brought along.

* The american church can learn a lot from the Middle eastern church on how to interact with and reach out to Muslims. Right now the US has 8 million muslims living here -- their birth rate is 6 times that of the general US Population -- meaning that by 2015 (9 years!) there will be 16 million Muslims here. We can listen and learn

* The western church can learn patience from the world church -- we can let go of our timetables and our procedures and deliverables for a little bit and realize that communications are slow and erratic, timelines get derailed by life, and change must happen quickly. We can learn to be flexible by not getting bogged down in process so much.

* The western church can learn how to approach the global church on a peer to peer level rather than as recipients of some vague exchange of beneficence. We can both listen and receive from the world church. Our ways are not always superior to their ways, and we don't always have the answers.

More to come later --

Soli Deo Gloria

Presbyterian Global Fellowship -- conviction for mission

This morning's plenary session featured Scott Dudley, pastor of First Presbyterian Bellevue, WA. Scott began with a story of a high school student doing a paper on an unusual profession. She decided to do her paper on a pastor, for she had never been to a church and didn't know anyone who ever went to church (behold the future). She trailed Scott on Sunday and after the services are all over, she asked him questions -- the first being "I don't get it -- why do you all get together and sing?"

His point being this -- what we do is increasingly strange and unfamiliar to a watching world. Not just strange and unfamiliar -- even a little bizzare. In such a world we have to ask "how do we get people curious about Jesus" -- we can no longer build it and they will come. Advertising won't be our main means of attraction. Even in the bible belt, less than 45% of the population attends church. As my house church and emerging church friends have told me for a long time -- we are in a post-christian culture.

Scott gave us the challenge that we as Christians are called to go into the world where we are: “Jesus didn’t call the world to go to church, he called the church to go to the world.” or how about this quote: “evangelism is doing those things that provoke the question the answer to which can only be Jesus.” The question is how do we put some flesh on this concept. He gave a few ideas from what they were doing at Bellevue church in Washington:

1) Change the address of the church. It isn't your physical plant -- it is wherever the congregation members are at any given moment. As I write this, my church is distributed in offices, homes, shops, hospitals, and neighborhoods -- all of them serving as "God's antibodies fighting the disease of darkness, sin, and evil" through countless small acts of kindness and grace and beauty and goodness and truth.

He told a powerful story of a Manager at Microsoft who decided he'd try to embody Christ's love simply by wandering about his work team and telling them what good work they were doing. The next week one of his employees came in and gave him a very expensive video game -- when he asked why the gift, the employee told him. "I bought this from the money I got from selling my gun. I was planning to commit suicide -- every night I'd listen to kurt cobain music and practice putting the gun to my head. And I figured you'd get the news when payroll told you I was gone. And then last week you did something very weird -- you came up and told me how good of a job I was doing and you told me how you slept easier because I'd handled this difficult project. You saved my life -- and I've heard you talk about how you wanted this video game, so I sold my gun and bought the video game and here it is." All this from that manager taking seriously his calling to be one who was sent.

2) intentionally serving the city we're called to -- let the church look for needs to meet locally. and then simply go about meeting those needs.

3) Change what you measure. WE're really good at measuring budgets and worship attendance -- but how do we measure spiritual impact? Through Adult baptisms? Through numbers of ministries inititiated by the congregation? Through the number of stories of God at work submitted?

4) Give people a taste of being missional in a non-threatening way -- single afternoon service opportunities -- low committment -- low guilt. These are great ways to get people started in being missional and then they catch the fire.

5) Add missional components to existing church programs. One of the big mistakes many pastors make is by denigrating all the existing ministries by saying they're inward focused and we need to be outward focused. That's neither pastoral nor organic to what God has been doing in the congregation -- simply invite the ministries of the congregation to add a missional component. Bible studies can commit to pray for individuals in their neighborhoods. Small groups can adopt a local group or ministry to reach out to bless. Choirs can look for a way to do an outside activity (perhaps sing at a nursing home once a month or so).

Scott told the story of a ladies bible study that started praying for and looking for ways to bless at risk teenagers, particularly teenage mothers. AS they began to develop relationships and reach out to these young people, the bible study quadrupled in size becase the people who came saw that the bible study really was about something -- and they changed lives.

6) Encourage and empower people to find their ministry and live into it -- whatever their skills and interests are, there a ministry can be born (he told of an Auto Angels ministry -- people who are good working on cars, and they set up on Saturdays and help needy families with auto repair). Pastors need to learn to encourage, equip and get people to tell their stories -- for telling the stories creates a kind of energy -- a holy jealousy if you will -- they've got that fire and I want it.

7) Invite other people into the adventure rather than guilt them into duty. Don't guilt people into serving mission stuff -- invite them into the adventure of what it is God is doing. Don't guilt them into serving someplace they don't want to be, but invite them to be out of their comfort zone and be changed!

More to come

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, August 17, 2006

From the Presbyterian Global Fellowship -- Calling down fire

The opening plenary/worship has concluded, and I've been spending lots of time connecting with friends across the country. There's a magnificent spirit about this place, for most of the folks are on the same page. We know what we mean when we talk about Jesus as our saviour.

The sticking memory from opening worship was Vic Pentz' vision casting for the PGF -- he reminded us that the denominational structure is stuck in the 1950's and we're in the 21st century. It was a "Who moved my cheese" kind of message. But the critical point was his assertion that we need to view ourselves like Elijah on Mt. Carmel -- not in the sense that we're burning up the prophets of Ba'al -- but rather in the sense that we're surrounded by people watching and waiting for us to show that God is in our midst....

And the way to do it, Vic said, is for us to crawl on the altar and become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We let the fire fall and consume us. We need to sacrifice our lethargy, our empire building, and our little games. We need to be people lit on fire with the excitement and the passion for the mission of the living God rather than people gnashing our teeth over why our church is dying.

Then we heard two testimonies from Chinese students who became Christians through North Avenue church's Literacy and evangelism outreach -- and those two students were on fire for reaching out beyond themselves.

Finally Steve Hayner led us through a 2000 year tour of history, showing us how the western church became concerned with preserving an institution that waited for people to show -- and we lost out that our God has called us to be on mission. He reminded us that global churches see the church as focusing on God's mission out there in the world rather than care and maintenance of the clubhouse. Growing churches see their pastors as equippers and trainers rather than as chaplains (and pastors realize it's not about their little empire building, but about helping the people discern their calling and get equipped for that calling).

The spirit of the conversation is hopeful and positive. I believe something new might be birthed here -- a new way of being presbyterian and connectional that may well reform the denomination from within.

I have heard it said that families of cancer patients need to establish a "cancer free" zone -- a time when the family can be a family without talking about the disease. The danger is that the family will let the disease define them -- and they need to be reminded that they are so much more than that which is challenging them. That has been the case in our denomination. This PGF will allow evangelicals to no longer be defined by againstness -- we won't be defined by the disease in our denomination -- we will be defined by our relationship with the Living God who calls us and sends us.

Hallelujah! More to come tomorrow afternoon.

Soli Deo Gloria

From the Presbyterian Global Fellowship -- why I came

I'm putting classic church on hold for a few days to talk about why I chose to come be a part of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship gathering in Atlanta.

It's no secret that the Presbyterian Church USA is in deep crisis -- radically different worldviews contribute to rampant confusion and battling for language about God. Meanwhile, we get sucked into a dysfuncational spirit of combativeness over issues that don't reflect where we want our priorities to be.

Most evangelicals don't want to argue about sex. We want to tell people about Jesus who has sent the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love, joy, and peace. We want to lend our hands to meeting practical needs of hurting people. We want to share with one another how to communicate our love of Christ to our neighbors, our children, and the watching world. And that's why I'm here.

I've been intrigued by the assumptions that I've heard from people leading up to this gathering:

"Oh that's a large church thing....." Somehow, people get the idea that this Gathering is sponsored by tall steeple churches to meet their needs. I'm from a little 150 member church -- and there are dozens of similar churches who are here seeking a constructive way forward. No way this is simply a large church thing.

"They're a schismatic movement...." The invitation has been explicit that we're not leaving the PCUSA, but we're trying to faithfully move forward. I'm thinking of this as something like a Missionary Order -- or a covenant group -- we want a greater degree of accountability and connection with one another.

"They'll drain resources from the denomination...." That's just the problem -- congregational resources don't belong to the denomination. They belong to congregations. It's not theirs. The denomination exists to serve the local mission of the local congregations -- it exists to bring congregations together to forward like minded mission. Congregations are neither branch offices nor franchise holders -- they are the lifeblood of the denomination. The denomination should celebrate that like minded presbyterians are banding together to do something positive.

"They're planning a takeover of the denomination....." Of course as individuals we'll advocate for stances that we think will be faithful, but the global fellowship folks are not gathering to advocate for stances. We have certain core assumptions, but our conversation seems to be centering on mission and being missional.

As this this conference develops, I'll try to keep you informed.

Soli Deo Gloria


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Classic way of being church -- preaching

Series Index to The Classic way of being church:
An Apologia

A quick reminder, this series is about why at this time and place I find a fit in the more traditional way of doing church. This is not a statement of whether classical church is superior to house church or multi-site church or any other mode of doing church. Think of it simply as my testimony.

I enjoy the classical church's mode of proclamation: preaching. Of course this puts me in an awkward place, for I am a preacher. The cynic may see this as rank self promotion of my profession, while others may say "but of course -- you should love what you do." Permit me to explain.

I find my heart and mind stimulated by an extended reflection upon and interaction with the Biblical text. There's an art form to being able to speak well for 30 minutes or so -- it is the art that some would call rhetoric (though that term does have negative connotation). The capacity to organize thoughts, to have a reasonable flow of logic, to balance illustration and explanation and application, and to muster up the physical energy to connect with the people assembled before you expecting Lord only knows what -- that is a art form just as much as music, drama, and dance.

Like any art, such preaching can be done well and done poorly. When done well, it isn't simply a monodirectional eruption of data aimed at the heads of those sitting there. When done well, it is borne out of hours of conversation -- the preaching speaking with, listening to, and reflecting upon the hopes and dreams and fears and triumphs of those all about him. When done well, it is birthed from a lifetime of extending that conversation to the saints of the past -- listening to their voices found in the books and creeds and sermons of old. When done skillfully, it is embellished and filtered through conversation with the culture at large -- using the arts, news stories, and movements of the day not as ends in of themselves but as signposts to point us back to the eternal never-changing Triune God. When done faithfully, it is rooted and grounded in disciplined conversation with the Living and Loving God through the prayer and spiritual exercises of the preacher humbly seeking the Holy Spirit's empowerment.

I was blessed to sit under the preaching of two of the great preachers of our time: Bill Bouknight and Howard Edington. I observed that they were able to forge in their sermons a blend of story, historical understanding, knowledge of the human heart, and faithfulness to the intent of scripture. That's a pretty darn big undertaking for a week-in-week out responsibility. Their sermons were stimulating -- stimulating conversation and reflection and action within the congregation. It was the privilege of seeing a unique kind of folk-art on display and letting that folk art not be distanced as in a museum, but a part of the cadences of our lives.

Are there abuses and misapplications? Sure. There are plenty of burned out preachers who go through the motions. Plenty of demagogues erecting a cult of personality. Plenty of churchgoers who just dont appreciate the unique folk art of preaching (after all -- where else in our week can we regularly hear a well crafted piece of oratory anywhere?). There's plenty of misuse of preaching. That's part of what it means to live in a fallen world.

A quick caveat -- I'm not here speaking about the theological reasons for preaching. The Holy Spirit will move to work on people's hearts wherever the word is proclaimed, whether in a classic church, house church, small group study, etc. The theology of preaching is a very different matter. I'm again speaking from my heart about how God has touched me. He has used great preaching to stimulate my mind, give me an appreciation of a world much larger than my parochial interests, challenge my assumptions about myself, recognize the grandeur of Jesus Christ and also the humanity of Jesus Christ.

I long for my sermons to be faithful and inspiring and used by the Holy Spirit. I long for my sermons to present the truth about Jesus Christ and His compelling call upon our lives. I long for my sermons not to fall flat on the floor and lay there as people shuffle out to drink coffee at fellowship hour. One of the highest compliments I've ever been paid was by one of our congregation members who told me "Russell, I don't always agree with what you say, but you always make me think." I may not be the oratory artist of Bouknight or Edington, but I cannot deny that their heart for preaching has shaped my love for the art form. And I pray that I'm similarly used.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Classic way of being church -- intergenerational

Series Index to The Classic way of being church:
An Apologia

I love how classic churches are intergenerational. I was raised in a traditional United Methodist Church in Columbia, SC. Through the Methodist Church, I met a whole range of folks who lived out their faith for me to see. Not just the 20 and 30 somethings who volunteered with the youth groups, either. I remember old TJ Harrelson who from the time I was a tiny child was an iconic incarnation of hospitality at the Trenholm Road United Methodist's front door. He watched me grow up, greeted me warmly when i returned from college, he knew me by name (and this was a very, very large church). Did I know the intricacies of his soul? no, didn't need to. But he was an elderly gentleman who was wearing his faith on his sleeve for all us young folks to see.

I remember the slew of adults who went on mission trips with our youth group -- we participated in the United Methodist Salkehatchie camps in South Carolina. Through that program we built an extended network of Methodists all across the state who shared in that intense experience of loving on the rural and urban poor in our home state -- again, more old guys like Art Dexter, middle aged guys like Dave Dillon (who would later hire me for a summer job in his contracting business), young dads like Danny Chamblee (a professional photographer from Myrtle Beach who I still keep in touch whith).

Realize, I didn't have deep intimate relationships with a bunch of older adults in the church. But when I started trying to sort out what my vocation in life would be, I knew I had access to Paul Carlson, a professional counselor who was associated with the church and a friend to many of our youth. I felt comfortable enough speaking to Bill Bouknight, our minister. Why? Because these folks were a constant in my life and I had watched them wear their faith well and I knew they'd be there when I needed them.

I take that back -- there was one elderly person who I knew through my church who I always claimed as a close intimate friend. Avrail Stienert. Mrs. Stienert worked in the nursery at Trenholm Road -- she took care of me when I was in diapers. She also gravitated to our family as my main babysitter when mom and dad would go out on dates. But she became part of our family -- joining us for holidays -- sharing in joys and triumphs. When she was bedridden in a nursing home, I still went to visit here when I was home from college (though, truth be told, it took some reminding by mom -- I was an irresponsible college kid -- but after mom reminded me I went, and I was glad I did). We had very good times. Her faith was deep and strong. I could write a volume about her -- my first girlfriend you might say. Yeah -- I did have deep intimate relationships with elderly people I knew through my classic church.

And the classic church we attended when we lived in Winston-Salem, NC -- where we learned the value of potluck suppers, breaking bread, and swinging softball bats in Y leauge games. It was a smaller church where everybody knew each other by name. Dr Dick Patterson would lead Saturday Wildflower Walks, Stewart Ellis would take us down to his farm to do blueberry picking, Margaret and Ken Eliott hosted churchwide picnics at their house just outside of town. More teaching us how to be community in the midst of a classic, traditional church.

Having older people as a part of the family of faith has taught me what it means to age gracefully, to commit to marraige for a lifetime, and to experience friendship that lasts for 50 years. Older folks are teaching me what it means to die with dignity in the midst of suffering. They are teaching me what it means to live with pain and declining faculties. More than that, they teach me about living the christian life with quiet joy. As a pastor, I also get to see the secret and humble generosity that never gets talked about, but goes on behind the scenes. I love that in my church I can have experiences like Clara Edwards' birthday.

The elderly have taught me to value the past, they tell stories of American history, the mighty works of God in their lives, and the tragedies and triumphs of life. Their lives are living letters, witnessess to the work of God over decades of life. They exemplify what Eugene Peterson called A long obedience in the same direction.

Yes, yes I know -- they can also be cranky, complaining, and cantankerous. That's a part of what it means to be human. It's a part of our sanctification to learn not to run away from cranky, complaining, and cantankerous folk -- a lesson I'm still learning. I've learned that a good bit of that cantankerousness is a mourning of a world that has been lost and no-one seems to care. Behind a lot of complaining is a deep love of some beautiful things that are lost in today's world. You don't hear that unless you spend a lot of time to these folks listening to them talk. And I've heard their voices and the cadences of their lives in the traditional church.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Classic way of being church -- an Apologia

In the midst of the cacophonic borg-esque library of information and opinion about how to do church, some tensions arise. Among the many tensions that exist in American Christianity (including worship style, theological committment, ecclesiology), one that strikes me as pressing is the house church/institutional church tension. This tension hit the institutional church folks with avian flu force, as seen in the dramatic reaction to Barna's book Revolution. Since then, billions of bytes have been sacrificed to information and misinformation about the institutional church/house church divide.

I know a bunch of house church folks -- I really like them, and I talk with them about life and ministry. I read a lot of emerging church literature (don't confuse emerging church with house church -- they have a parallel existence, but they're not the same. Emerging church is the larger set of folks, both institutional and house church, who are trying to discern if the Holy Spirit is giving birth to a new way of being the church. House church folks fall into the camps of looking for new ways of being church and yearning for Acts-like ways of being the church). I like the questions and the challenges that these folks posit -- they offer tough critiques of the institutional church, and the institutional church needs to listen and to learn.

However, I must be honest -- I also hear a tone of dismissal of the institutional church. Most often I hear that tone when a person moves from waxing rhapsodic about their present house church community to explaining how God brought them to that community. Often what happens is the people stop talking about particular communities of faith, and speak generally of the institutional church as a monolith that is lacking or broken or indeed destructive.

I will not answer these critiques -- for many of them are valid; nor would I relish the implication of invalidating the painful experiences of folks in the past. However, I must let it be known why I love the classic way of being church -- why I believe it is still a faithful way of living out my Christian faith -- why I'm investing my life in a traditional community of faith. That's what I plan to explore, however stumblingly and haltingly, in the next several posts -- and I invite you to comment away freely. Please realize that I intend no implicit critique of house churches -- I believe that house church done right should ultimately foster most of these things. But I do believe that some of the things I focus on will more likely to be found in this day and age in institutional churches.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Resources for Revival: Family

I've been thinking about strengthening of families a lot lately b/c of some initiatives we've been working on at church. And then, last week I came across these great quotes from Spurgeon given in a May 27, 1875 sermon on Mark 1:29ff (the sermon is about how Peter's household becomes a home that impacts the entire region -- read the whole sermon here)

“We see before us small beginnings and grand endings. One man is called by the voice of Jesus, and then another; the house wherein they dwell is consecrated by the Lord's presence, and by-and-by the whole city is stirred from end to end with the name and fame of the Great Teacher. We are often wishing that God would do some great thing in the world, and we look abroad for instruments which we think would be peculiarly fit, and think of places where the work might suitably begin: it might be quite as well if we asked the Lord to make use of us, and if we were believingly to hope that even our feeble instrumentality might produce great results by his power, and that our abode might become the central point from which streams of blessing should flow forth to refresh the neighborhood.”

... “This first link of grace drew on another of much greater importance, namely, that the head of the family became a convert. Andrew sought out his brother and spoke to him of having found the Messias: then he brought him to Jesus, and our Lord at once accepted the new recruit, and gave him a new name. Peter believed and became a follower of Christ, and so the head of the house was on the right side. Heads of families, what responsibilities rest upon us! We cannot shake them off, let us do what we may! God has given us little kingdoms in which our authority and influence will tell for the better or the worse to all eternity. There is not a child or a servant in our house but what will be impressed for good or evil by what we do. True, we may have no wish to influence them, and we may endeavor to ignore our responsibility, but it cannot be done; parental influence is a throne which no man can abdicate. The members of our family come under our shadow, and we either drip poison upon them like a deadly upas, or else beneath our shade they breathe an atmosphere perfumed with our piety. The little boats are fastened to our larger vessel and are drawn along in our wake. O fathers and mothers, the ruin of your children or their salvation will, under God, very much depend upon you. The gracious Spirit may use you for their conversion, or Satan may employ you as the instruments of their destruction. Which is it like to be? I charge you, consider. It is a notable event in family history when the grace of God takes up its headquarters in the heart of the husband and the father: that household's story will henceforth be written by another pen. Let those of us who are the Lord's gratefully acknowledge his mercy to us personally, and then let us return to bless our household. If the clouds be full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth; let us pray to be as clouds of grace to our families. Whether we have only an Isaac and an Ishmael like Abraham, or twelve children like Jacob, let us pray for each and all that they may live before the Lord, and that we and all that belong to us may be bound up in the bundle of life.”

This is incredibly convicting and humbling -- for it suggests that spiritual renewal begins first and foremost in the family. The religious professionals don't orchestrate it. The powerful pastors don't decree a revival and everyone shows up -- it begins in the home -- the leaders of a home calling out to Jesus, inviting Jesus to come into the home, presenting the infirmities before the king, receiving healing, and engaging in acts of service. And from the home, the whole city gets curious and wants to know more.

It's a similar theme that Mike Foster hits on in his post "I don't like youth ministry" -- the youth ghetto in the church positively encourages families to neglect spiritual responsibilities.

So a key to the revival and renewal of the PCUSA and indeed our land is again learning how to make our homes little churches -- leading our children in prayer, extending hospitality to strangers, making our lives of faith lived out while we resist the fragmentation and hyperindividualism of the age. If this truth doesn't lead us to repentence and prayer (for I know I'm lacking), I don't know what will

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, August 11, 2006

Book Tag -- Books that have been influential

I've been tagged by Michael Foster with this meme about influential books in my life -- here goes:

1. One book that changed your life: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (OK that's two, but I couldn't resist)

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: SAS Survival Handbook: How to survive in the wild, in any climate, or at sea)

4. One book that made you laugh: The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (the first three, forget the last two)

5. One book that made you cry: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

6. One book you wish had been written: Why Russell Smith is a really great guy -- an anthology.

7. One book you wish had never been written: Dianetics

8. One book you’re currently reading: Augustine's City of God

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars

10. Tag 5 others: Michael Kruse, Beau Weston, Markus Watson, Dyah Kartikawening, Presbyterian Bloggers (that last one should make this meme viral!)

6 degrees of separation of Links to others in Michael's chain who have been tagged:
* Drew Goodmanson (Tagged Michael)
* Steve McCoy (Tagged Drew)
* Garrett (somebody) (Tagged Steve)
* John Barach (tagged Garrett)
* Steven Wedgeworth (Tagged John)
* Barbara Harvey (Tagged Steven)

Here are my tagged siblings who have posted as of this date:
* Mike Edwards
* Bob Franquiz
* Steve Carr


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

An Open Post to David Byrne


You're a fine musician and during the 80's I really enjoyed your work with the Talking Heads (though my musical tastes have veered in a different direction of late). I discovered your weblog through the highly publicized post you did on the film Jesus Camp.

True confession here -- the excerpt from your article that I saw on Boing Boing ticked me off:

There were some perfect sound bites — at one point Pastor Fischer instructs the little ones that they should be willing to die for Christ, and the little ones obediently agree. She may even use the word martyr, which has a shocking echo in the Middle East. I can see future suicide bombers for Jesus — the next step will be learning to fly planes into buildings. Of course, the grownups would say, “Oh no, we’re not like them” — but they admit that the principal difference is simply that “We’re right.”

My first gut reaction was to fire off a missive asking if you understood the Christian understanding of martyr as one who dies for the faith, not as a murderer, but as one who is murdered? The principal difference isn't "We're right" -- the difference at hand is that our messiah was a martyr who didn't order executions, he forbade them (the principal difference is a matter of theological debate -- I would say that it is the difference between a religion of grace and a religion that demands honor, but that is a subject for a different discussion). Jesus accepted his death -- he didn't resist his persecutors. He instructed his disciples not to resist with the sword. A christian martyr is a witness to this tradition. This is the understanding rooted in the tradition of the early church -- all Jesus' disciples (save his betrayer) were murdered at the hands of dictatorial regimes. This heritage carries on through the Roman empire's persecutions under Nero, Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, and others. This heritage is informed by St. Augustine's City of God, in which Augustine condemns suicide for the sake of the cause.

When contemporary evangelicals talk about martyrs (which is a rare enough occurence), they think of the Ecuador martyrs, whose only crime was travelling deep into unknown territory to share the story of Jesus with isolated tribes. Their story is memorialized in the film The End of the Spear. We also think of the hundreds of Christians across the globe who are imprisioned and jailed simply because of their faith (the website Voice of the Martyrs tells the stories of many of them). These Christians are not advocating armed rebellion or toppling of governments. They're not plotting to fly planes into buildings. They're simply trying to peacefully share a message of grace and redemption that has brought fulfillment.

When some who claim to be Christians advocate for violent practices, they are quickly isolated and called cultists (David Koresh is a prominent example -- though evangelical Christians have fallen over backwards disavowing the outrageous utterances of Pat Roberston of late). Mainstream Evangelical Christianity has been quick to admit its past mistakes and quick to condemn the violence of the lunatic fringe -- has Mainstream Conservative Islam been so quick? You must understand, I've heard plenty of Rhetoric comparing "evangelical Christians" to Al Qaida -- that's like saying Joel Olsteen is no different than Osama Bin Laden -- the comparison is absurd. Nor are megachurch attenders mindless zombies who take whatever the preacher says as a dictate from on high (most of my parishoners are quick to tell me when they have a beef with something I've said -- and I suspect that the same is true in larger churches). I feared that your post was encouraging a broad equation of fundamentalist islam and evanglical Christianity. I was preparing an aggressive response to what you had written.

However, I went back and read your post a second and third time. Underneath the broad characterization of evangelicasl more nuanced. Yours was not another screed against evangelical Christians, but rather a heartaching response to what you saw in the film. I sensed that you were truly saddened by what you saw. I also checked out the IMDB user reports on the film and heard more of what was portrayed. As I looked at IndieWire's news stories on the film, I quickly discerned that you were working within the realm of what the filmmakers presented: a summer bible camp unlike anything I've experienced.

Please understand -- I've grown up going to pretty conservative christian stuff all my life (I'm 34 -- raised in the Bible Belt -- and I'm a Presbyterian Minister in the Midwest). What this film portrays is a fringe slice of the conservative, evangelical experience. I've been on dozens of summer mission camps where we rebuild houses or go to Mexico to build new homes -- and the kids sang songs and talked about loving Jesus. I've been to weekend camps in North Carolina and weeklong camps at the beach. I've participated in more Vacation Bible Schools than I've ever cared to imagine. Almost without exception, the focus has been on Bible stories about Jesus, learning to love others, learning how to pray, learning how to share our stories of faith in a meaningful way, and trusting in Jesus' ability to heal our inner wounds. Never, ever, ever have I experienced the kind of political indoctrination that you and the IMDB reviewer describe.

That doesn't mean it's not out there -- what it means is that the evangelical movement within the US is much broader and more complex than you can imagine. It may surprise you to know that not all evangelical conservative Christians are agents of the Republican party -- indeed the recent book Crunchy Cons seems to indicate that there are values that you might share with many of us evangelicals.

I must give you the benefit of the doubt that you were responding to the portrayal in the film, and not to evangelicals as a whole. I appreciate your willingness to admit that we all advocate for our positions, we all enjoy the comfort of our subculture. I'm thankful for your quickness to point out that much good has been done by religion. But please know that Evangelical Christians by and large are not indoctrinating our next wave of suicide bombers. Instead we're teaching our children to love God with their hearts and minds and to love their neighbors as themselves.

Thanks for your attention -- I'd welcome further dialoge offline if you so desire.

Soli Deo Gloria (a signoff that was used by JS Bach on many of his manuscripts)


Index of other articles about Jesus Camp:
* Indie Wire Biz article on the distribution and intent of filmmakers
* Indie Wire comparison of the film to other summer camp documentaries
* About Loki Films Webpage of the producers of Jesus Camp

Help for Music Mission Kiev

**** Update-- I got word that Music Mission Kiev's visas have been approved -- we still need help promoting the concert and the ministry though -- I leave the post up for your edification****

Hesitating to sound mercenary .... but here goes....

For the past few years, our church has been building a relationship with Music Mission Kiev, an outstanding ministry that reaches out to widows and orphans in Kiev -- but it also reaches out to musicians. Part of the outreach arm of this ministry is the Kiev Symphony Orchestra and Chorus -- they tour the US about every other year or so, and this year, our congregation is priviledged to host them for two concerts in October (see more on our concert below).

Sadly I received yesterday an email to Music Mission Kiev supporters telling us that their Visa application is being challenged. I have reproduced below the contents of that email.

We need your help in writing letters to the immigration service.

We have received a notice from the INS that they are challenging our VISA applications for our musicians. Even though this is our eighth tour to the US and we have always been accepted without challenge, they are choosing to do so at this late date.

As an organization we are not panicking over this situation, but are concerned. We have sent in all the additional information they have requested, but it would be increasingly helpful if they heard from you.

The important issue at hand is proving that we are "culturally unique." Not just a group that performs great music, but that we provide a program that is culturally unique of Ukrainian culture to share with American's. This is where the challenge lies.

If you have seen a performance in the US, I ask that you would help us by writing a letter sharing what you experienced at a concert. It is important that the INS hears first hand of how American have responded to attending one of our concerts.

Please note in the letter that you attended a concert on a previous tour and any credentials about yourself that might be helpful.

Time is critical, so if you could send a letter to our immigration attorney by fax: 813-224-0121 or by email:

If you have contacts within the federal government, we would greatly appreciate their help in this process. The processing is being held-up in the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in Laguna Nigiel, CA. Visa Receipt #WAC0621750101.

We are prayerful that we will get approved this week, and trust in the Lord on yet another hurdle to overcome to bring the Glory of the Lord to the US through our concerts.

Please pray for us as we wait upon the decision from the government.

Freinds, I'm writing to ask for your help -- first in prayer. Second that you might contact anyone you might know in the federal government (I've gone through our local representitive, Jean Schmidt -- her office has been very helpful). This is a significant ministry and they are quite deserving of travel visas to the US.

Third, if you know of people in and around the Cincinnati area, please let them know about our concerts: Saturday October 28 at 7pm; Sunday October 29 at 4pm. The cost for a ticket is $15 ($10 for seniors) -- it's a thrilling evening of Christ centered entertainment (both classical music and Ukrainian folk music), and you get to learn a little more about the great work of the mission. This would even be a great weekend away for some of you within a day's driving distance from Cincinnati (with the added bonus that you could worship with us at Covenant-First Pres on Sunday). The church office is 513-621-4144 if you're interested.

Thanks for any help you can offer on any or all of these points.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Fourth Turning Review is up

I just put up my book review of The Fourth Turning on the Writer's Read weblog.

It's a really fine weblog with about 20 writers regularly reviewing whatever's on their bedside table. Be sure to skim some of the other reviews there.

Also, for your convenience, here's an index to the Fourth Turning posts and supplemental articles:

Index to the Fourth Turning Series
First post
Concepts of Time
Crises of American History
American Awakenings
Generational Archetypes
Preparation for the Crisis Ahead

Supplemental Articles
Kruse Kronicle: Index on Generations
American Thinker article: "Parkinson's War" (thanks Chris Larimer)
Ypulse -- Ypulse provides daily news & commentary about Generation Y for media and marketing professionals.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Honoring the Imago Dei

What becomes of all the old family photos that get lost or that disappear into attics, dusty book bins, and other tide pools of our lives? Where do they go -- are they remembered at all?

Last Month's Utne Reader featured an article about archiving "found photos" -- older family photographs where the original owners have been lost. These photos are found in flea markets, antique shops, estate sales. They whisper mystery to us -- who were these people? What were the cadences of their lives? What has become of their lineage?

One such archive is Look At Me, a project of artist and designer Frederic Bonn. Bonn and a friend were walking in Paris in 1998 when they found a bundle of old photos lying in the street. Something crackled in his mind -- perhaps fascination with the delicate touch of these amateur photographers, perhaps an attraction to the untrained artistry. Whatever his motivation, he began collecting found photos and displaying them on his website (all the photos I display here come from his collection)

The article in the Utne Reader suggests that part of the appeal of found photos lies in their artistic merit: "One reason for critics' and curators' appreciation with anonymous forms of photography is the challenge it poses to the idea that only pictures by celebrated photographers deserve study. The unschooled photographer can produce images every bit as engaging, both aesthetically and in content, as anything taken by widely exhibited professional. More broadly, these unofficial images answer a persistent need to believe that photographs can still capture some essential, unvarnished truth about the subject. Even before the digital era, professional photographers were often shown to have manipulated images that might appear to represent actuality; amateur photographers can still be given the benefit of the doubt. Their directness, ineptitude, and lack of artiface become signs of reliability."

OK, perhaps that quote is overblown. Now with everybody sharing their photos on Flickr, the line between amateur and professional has blurred. Trendwatching's designation of this new movment is called Generation C (this article is a must read). Now we're all creative content producers -- everyone is an artist, everyone has a voice. The untrained simplicity that the Utne Reader article lauds is quickly disappearing. Hence the fascination with photos from the pre-digital era -- they do bespeak a plainness and straightforwardness that sounds a note within us. But why?

I suggest these old photos tickle our interest because we recognize something of the imago dei - the image of God. Genesis tells us that every human being bears the image of God. That is what makes us unique and awesome and glorious -- why the dirtiest street beggar carries the weight of glory about him -- why the most handicapped of children deserves honor and a cherished place -- why our elderly are not disposable, but valuable members of our culture. There is something special, mysterious, glorious, and holy about the image of God that we all bear (which makes our sinfulness all the more tragic -- but that is a discussion for another time).

The article's author writes "Taken by family and friends to celebrate their subjects, these pictures were a way of declaring: You are important, you matter to me, this moment was significant and we should remember it. And yet the pictures' warm intentions eventually become undone by events. They become relics that - once lost, now reappearing in a stranger's collection -- testify to life's fragility." Fair enough, and true enough. But that's not the end of the story -- why would a stranger be interested in these photos if that were the end. They also testify to the truth of Psalm 139: "For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Barnyard, youth culture, and librarian indexes

As I said yesterday, I don't have a lot of time to write this week because of Vacation Bible School all this week. So, here's a few more links of interest from the past few day's reading and cultural exegesis.

* Christianity today has an interview with Steve Oedekerk. Who might that be? He's the brainchild behind such films as Ace Ventura, Bruce Allmighty, and the recently released Barnyard. He's a Christian (in Bruce Allmighty, he worked faith subtly into the film) and he enjoys silliness. I still have no plans to see Barnyard -- the main character is a cow named Otis -- when he stands on his back legs, you see his udders. I guess no-one tipped Oedekerk off that only female bovines have udders.

* Sandra Boodman at the washington post has this great article on how overscheduling and overpushing teens have been driving them to misery. It's very thought provoking.

* The Librarian's Internet Index is a great content finder -- each week, they publish a list of new and interesting sites to which you can subscribe -- no junky sales pitch sites in here at all. Worth browsing around for information. I subscribe to their RSS feed of new sites, and each week they toss me at least one or two interesting newbies.