Thursday, September 28, 2006

I believe in the resurrection

I preached the funeral of one of our dear saints two weeks ago -- Ralph Howard. A prince of a man who was passionate about music (both listening to it and performing it), excited about Cincinnati Reds baseball, loved travel, enjoyed his family, and was a consistent encourager. Since I came to this church, I've presided over many funerals of many lovely people. So the resurrection has been on my mind.

I Corinthians 15 is one of the definitive passages on the resurrection -- but we blur over it in haste at funerals. I've been lingering there for a few days

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...." and then Paul talks about a number of appearances that the risen Christ made. His language here makes it clear. These weren't simply visions, nor were they collective determinations to carry on the work of the master. No, these appearances were personal to the generation that would found the church.

Last night, I watched Teri Irwin talk about her husband Steve's death (Steve was the Crocodile Hunter -- beloved for his enthusiastic love of wildlife). She spoke of how it's now our turn to carry on Steve's spirit -- our turn to become Wildlife Warriors. She had me in tears, for I rather enjoyed Steve and his antics and I know that my nephew really loved the Crocodile Hunter .... Crocs Rule!

Teri's words are the words of someone who wanted to carry on a deceased person's life work. They are nothing like the words of Jesus' disciples who keep insisting that Jesus rising and appearing is key.

Consider the words of Peter in 1 Peter (and yes, I do believe that these were the genuine words of Peter -- perhaps in the future, I'll do a post on the canon to explain why) "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade - kept in heaven for you." (I Pet 1:3-4) The writer of Hebrews takes for granted the resurrection of Christ in his argument and even says that he's assuming the resurrection of the dead as foundational (6:2)

But Paul puts it most clearly later in I Corinthians 15 "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith....And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (13-14, 17-19) That sinks in powerfully for me -- faith in Christ is either a tremendous waste of time, or it is the only hope we have.

The church has repeatedly voiced concurrence with Paul. For instance:

From The Scots Confession Ch 10
We undoubtedly believe, since it was impossible that the sorrows of death should retain in bondage the Author of life, that our Lord Jesus crucified, dead, and buried, who descended into hell, did rise again for our justification, and the destruction of him who was the author of death, and brought life again to us who were subject to death and in bondage. We know that his resurrection was confirmed by the testimony of his enemies, and by the resurrection of the dead, whose sepulchers did open, and they did rise and appear to many within the city of Jerusalem. It was also confirmed by the testimony of his angels and by the senses and judgment of his apostles and of others, who had conversation, and did eat and drink with him after his resurrection.

From The Second Helvetic Confession Ch 9
We believe and teach that the same Jesus Christ our Lord, in his true flesh in which he was crucified and died, rose again from the dead, and that not another flesh was raised other than the one buried, or that a spirit was taken up instead of the flesh, but that he retained his true body. Therefore, while his disciples thought they saw the spirit of the Lord, he showed them his hands and feet which were marked by the prints of the nails and wounds, and added: ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)….

We therefore condemn all who deny a real resurrection of the flesh (II Tim 2:18), or who with John of Jerusalem, against whom Jerome wrote, do not have a correct view of the glorification of bodies…..

From the Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 8
On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession; and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

Theologian Shirley Guthrie says it well in his work Christian Doctrine:
If it could be said that the whole of the Christian faith stands or falls with any one claim, the claim that God raised the crucified Jesus from the dead is that claim. Without faith in a risen and living Christ there would be no Christianity. It was not Jesus’ethical teachings and example or his noble death that gave birth to the Christian church and made it spread; it was the news of his resurrection. We have seen that it was only because they first believed in a risen Christ that the first Christians looked back to ask the meaning of his birth, life, and death. (271)

The bodily resurrection has been the clear, consistent witness and hope of the church from the beginning. It is the hope that empowers me to be connected to the saints of the past and the saints of the future in covenant relationship with the Living God.

Christ has risen
He has risen indeed

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Gospel According to Shakespeare: As You Like It

Thus we begin another year of doing The Gospel According to Shakespeare. Long term readers know that each year, I try to track along with the Cincinnati Shakespeare festival's season and hold a discussion section for each of the Shakespeare plays they produce. Part of the reason why is that I like Shakespeare -- but we're also trying to communicate to the literary/arts world that evangelical Christians care about literature, beauty, and art.

Basically what we do is look at themes that crop up in the play and look at them as pointers to scriptural stories, images, and truths. This is not to say that Shakespeare intended all of his plays to point to scripture. He was a playwright interested in telling good stories and making a few shillings. He was also steeped in a classical and biblical tradition where many of these images came to his mind almost unconsciously (much like commercial jingles and advertising slogand come to our minds unbidden and often to annoying effect).

So, tonight at 6pm, we'll discuss the first play of the season, As You Like It. One of Shakespeare's better comedies, As You Like It is a romance -- set in the mythical Forest of Arden (for those unfamiliar with the play, see the plot summary here)

Shakespeare sets up Arden as a kind of Edenic refuge from the intrigues and betrayals of the larger world. Arden is where the exiled Duke goes to escape his scheming younger brother -- the same for young Orlando who goes there to escape his scheming older brother -- the same for young Rosalind who is exiled by her scheming uncle. You get the idea. In Act 1 Scene 1, one character describes the Duke's flight from his usurper brother: “They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England. They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.”

Shakespeare is clearly painting Arden as Eden here, for the phrase "the golden world" refers to the edenic state of Classical Mythology. Ovid (whom Shakespeare relies on heavily for his classical allusions) describes this golden world this way:
“Golden was that first age, which, with no one to compel, without a law, of its own will, kept faith and did the right. There was no fear of punishment, no threatening words were to be read on brazen tablets; no suppliant throng gazed fearfully upon its judge’s face; but without judges lived secure. Not yet had the pine-tree, felled on its native mountains, descended from there into the watery plain to visit other lands; men knew no shores except their own. Not yet were cities begirt with steep moats; there were no trumpets of straight, no horns of curving brass, no swords or helmets. There was no need at all of armed men, for nations, secure from war’s alarms, passed the years in gentle ease. The earth herself, without compulsion, untouched by hoe or plowshare, of herself gave all things needful. And men, content with food which came with no one’s seeking, gathered the arbute fruit, strawberries from the mountain sides, cornel cherries, berries hanging thick upon the prickly bramble, and acors fallen from the spreading tree of Jove. Then spring was everlasting, and gentle zephyrs with warm breath played with the flowers that sprang unplanted. Anon, the earth, untilled, brought forth her stores of grain, and the fields, though unfallowed, grew white with the heavy bearded wheat. Streams of milk and streams of sweet nectar flowed, and yellow honey was distilled from the verdant oak.”

Notice in particular how the Earth responded without tilling or plowing -- it's a very clear parallel to the Edenic state of Genesis 1-2.

The Duke, when we first meet him at the start of Act 2, echoes this idea in his assessment of his exile to the Forest of Arden:
“Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here we feel not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery. These are counselors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

Shakespeare uses this language to excite our senses and lull us into a dreamlike state. He taps into our deep yearning for a return to Eden -- for a return to Idyllic bliss where we escape the dangers of usurpers and betrayers. In the dukes band of men in Arden, even the cynical Jacques is welcomed and embraced.

Yet Shakespeare is not a pie-eyed Romantic -- he recognizes that part of the duke's perspective on his exile is mindset. Immediately following the above speech, the Duke's retainer, Amiens, comments “Happy is your Grace, that can translate the stubbornness of fortune into so quiet and so sweet a style.” Amiens recognizes that exile is hard -- it isn't as pleasant on the body as court life. Yet the Duke has such generosity of spirit that he can "translate" his circumstance into something sweet. In essence, Shakespeare is undercutting the dreamy eyed romantic -- not trying to disabuse him of his dreaminess, but to say that it is still something of a dream.

And this is where we lose what Shakespeare is trying to say -- we don't know if he believes in any kind of edenic bliss at all or whether he simply is enchanted with the dream. I suggest that as Christians we can read this as indicative of a deep yearning within Shakespeare (and indeed within us all) for that edenic golden realm -- a yearning for a home. As Shakespeare fleshes out this yearning, we find that it is rooted in relationships of generosity, loyalty, and committment. We see the Ruth-like devotion of Adam to Orlando and Celia to Rosalind. Though Orlando and Rosalind are the ones exiled, Adam and Celia profess their committment to stick with them out of their deep friendship. We see the generosity of spirit the Duke extends to Orlando and that Orlando extends toward Adam and toward his brother.

But the main way we see the yearning for this edenic state is through romance (this is after all Shakespearian comedy). The wooing of Orlando and Rosalind is but one of four romantic relationships involved in the play. The young lovers all are intoxicated with being in love. In act 5 scene 2, we see an extended discourse on love, where Rosalind asks young shepherd Silvius what love is -- he replies:

"It is to be all made of sighs and tears….
It is to be all made of faith and service….
It is to be all made of fantasy,
All made of passion and all made of wishes,
All adoration, duty, observance,
All humbleness, all patience and impatience,
All purity, all trial, all observance."

The breathless infatuation with the lover is an inheiritance of the courtly love tradition (think King Arthur and his knights)- and it is a convention of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. Shakespeare paints this kind of love as transformational -- it ennobles. But he also realizes it's limitations. After all, long before we hear Silvius' explanation of love, we see him in discussion with an older and wiser shepherd, Corin:

Corin: That is the way to make her scorn you still

Silvius: O Corin, that thou knew’st how I do love her!

Corin: I partly guess, for I have loved ere now.

Silvius: No, Corin, being old, thou canst not guess
Though in thy youth thou wast as true a lover
As ever sighed upon a midnight pillow.
But if thy love were ever like to mine
As sure I think did never man love so
How many actions most ridiculous
Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy?

Corin: Into a thousand that I have forgotten

Silvius: Oh, thou didst then never love so heartily.
If thou rememb’rest not the slightest folly
That ever love did make the run into,
Thou hast not loved.
Or if thou hast not sat as I do now,
Wearing thy hearer in they mistress’ praise,
Thou hast not loved.
Or if thou hast not broke from company
Abrubptly, as my passion now makes me,
Thou hast not loved.
O Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe!

Corin's wisdom and restraint is brushed aside by the self-absorbtion of the young lover who thinks no-one could possibly understand the intensity with which he loves. Here again, we see Shakespeare undercutting his ideal. Though relationships of love and commitment are an essential part of his edenic vision, they are insufficient.

Here the skeptic or scoffer would say say that it's all a farce -- and this is the kind of thing that Jacques does. Even so, Jacques, the cynic is undercut as being a self absorbed fool -- both Rosalind and Orlando out-wit him in verbal contests. No, Shakespeare doesn't have the darkness to say it's all illusion. In MacBeth, the villan will make such a claim ("Life's but a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot full of the sound and the fury, signifying nothing") -- but he is after all, a villan, not Shakespeare's mouthpiece. No, it seems that Shakespeare is hinting that there is some essential reality to the love, generosity of spirit, escape from betrayal, and earthly goodness. All these intimations of Eden but point us to a world in need of redemption and a hope for redemption. We as Christians understand that Christ came not just to give a get out of Hell free card, but to renew and restore all of creation. He uses us as His body in the working out of this plan until His return when He will bring it all to culmination.

Beyond the lighthearted banter, the bawdy jokes, the romantic games, and the charming dialogue that this play is known for, there is a deep hope for a better world. We know something of that world. Hallelujah, Amen

Soli Deo Gloria

Other Gospel According to Shakespeare Posts:
Richard III
Julius Ceasar
Titus Andronicus part 1
Titus Andronicus part 2
Will in the World
Shakespeare and Christian Themes

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Transformation or Re-engineering?

Markus Watson and I have been blogging back and forth about the Presbytery Transformation statement. One point that isn't clear from the statement, but came out loud and clear in the presentation was that transformation, true transformation, is a function of the Holy Spirit. Alice Peterson wrapped up her portion of the presentation by citing Ezekiel 37 -- the vision of the valley of dry bones. God asks Ezekiel "Son of man, can these bones live?" and Ezekiel replies "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know."

Now this is a drum I've been beating for quite some time -- that we can do all the process re-arranging in the world, but without the Holy Spirit actively working in our hearts and shaping our lives, then all the process is simply re-engineering -- it's moving checkers on the board. When the Holy Spirit moves, then true transformation happens. It's the difference between Revival (a mighty move of the Holy Spirit) and Revivalism (the tricks and techniques of rhetoric applied to preaching).

So let us continue to fast and pray for a mighty move of God in our land and in our church. (I know I've been off the resources for revival bandwagon for a while now, but the call is still urgent).

As an aside, I've been interested in the responses I've heard about presbytery to the idea of doing away with committees -- everything from fear and loathing to celebration and rejoicing. It'll be interesting to see what comes of this process.

Links of interest on this topic:
Markus' First Post
Markus' Second Post
My First Post
My Second Post

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday linkfest

* Been following the flap over the 9/11 conspiracy book? Michael Kruse gives an outstanding analysis of why the Presbyterian Publishing Corp would publish absurd conspiracy theories when Time and Popular Mechanics have been throwing their voices to debunking them.

* Emergent Neo-Puritans Unite -- Did you see the cover of this month's Christianity Today? Calvinism is making a comeback. Where can I order the "Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy" t-shirt.

* Dyah's new blog -- My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter -- is really terriffic. Give her site a visit.

* John Schroeder has earned my eternal friendship -- and an unofficial Eagle and Child no-prize -- for his series on comic book art. Particularly good was his post on one of my favorite Marvel Comics groups, the Squadron Supreme.

And with that, what else can I say but



Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Classic Way of Church -- what we can learn from House church

I started doing some reflections a while back on the classic way of church (I don't like the term "traditional" because it carries a lot of baggage) and why it still worked for me. The reflections grew out of conversations with house church folks who had a pretty sustained critique (some fair, some not fair) of the type of church I attended. I felt that I needed to do a kind of apologia -- and I probably have lots more to say on that issue.

However.... (he says, getting ready to drop the other shoe)

the house church have some really valid points, and some things that those of us in more classic (and institutional) churches need to hear. So here are a few things I've been thinking about in conversation with my house church friends (again, I'm speaking in generalizations -- not comprehensively for all house churches -- when I say "house church folks", i'm generalizing from my experience, not absolutizing for all house churches everywhere)

1) House churches are intentional. One of the big beefs I hear from house church folks is the shallowness of commitment of many in the institutional church. So many people in the institutional church think that suffering for Jesus means missing the first half of the NFL game so you can go to worship. House church folks count the cost -- they intentionally examine their lives and try to bring them into conformity with their faith. Everything they do is aimed at that goal.

The institutional church often times encourages spiritual laziness. Even the institutional churches that are really good at challenging people to consistently live their lives as disciples -- even those churches have programs and activities that they do by reflex, without reflecting on whether they accomplish the purpose of equipping the saints. The challenge for institutional churches is to reflect and make sure that the things they do are truly kingdom things.

2) House churches are relational. I believe classic churches are relational -- and they're intentionally multi-generational. But because these churches tend to be larger than house churches, it is easier to fall into a more surface level of relating. Folks in house churches are deeply related to one another and are in one anothers business all the time. They truly see themselves as extended families -- and they perceive that in institutional churches, there's a shallow level of committment.

The institutional church needs to do a better job of celebrating and communicating relationship -- I see that there are lots of deep relationships in institutional churches -- the challenge is how to bring new people into those relationships. In institutional churches, we often have people who have been together for decades -- they have a depth to relationships that only comes from years of walking side by side. Often it's challenging for those folks to jump to a high level of intimacy with someone new. And yet that high level of intimacy is exactly what house church folks crave.

3) House churches truly give of themselves. It takes a lot of resources to feed the institutional machine -- building maintenance, staff salaries, programmatic resources -- all of these funds that feed an institution are all freed up by the house church. And their contention is that all those funds then are free to go to mission -- to helping the poor, to feeding the hungry, to meeting needs in the neighborhood.

Now I believe that institutional churches are worth the investment -- there is value in having the public witness of a well crafted building, there is value in paying for a minister to be dedicated to prayer, preparation (through study and reflection), and people. There is value in an institution that can create bigger scale programs than just a few people can pull together. But the house church critique still stands -- institutional churches have to ask "who is all this stuff for?" and if we say "for us" then we ought to tremble. The value of all this stuff lies in the capacity for us to demonstrate to the world the love of Christ -- to proclaim to the world the truth of Christ. All too often, institutional churches rest on the laurels of the building and the programs, forgetting for what purpose those things exist.

4) House churches are not empires -- Institutional churches often become little more than extensions of the head pastor's ego. The power that a pastor can wield in terms of setting program, determining priorities, directing dollars, and channeling energies is enormous. So many people check out of institutional churches because they're tired of feeling like they're living someone else's dream, or they're tired of the charismatic leader treating people like pieces on a chess board, or they're tired of being caught in political power games, or they're tired of feeding an ego machine. This empire mentality can be seen in the obsession with numbers and budgets (again, I think needful things -- but we can set them up as idols)

House churches tend not to be empires -- sure, there's always the danger of them becoming a cult of personality -- however in this time of US history, the folks who attend house church tend to be more of the independent thinker type than the compliant type (though that trend could always change).

Simply put -- a lot of institutional pastors (and I speak of myself as chief of all sinners) need to lay down the idea that the show is about them -- it's not a show, and it's about Jesus and his glory.

5) House churches are not slick -- there's a local megachurch here with the slogan emblazoned boldly on their sign "A real church for real people" -- Now I defend this church to my colleagues, but let's be honest about the irony in that slogan. It's a slickly designed marketing logo and piece of copy which is aimed at selling the idea of the church to the largest number of people possible. The house church folks look at that slogan and laugh at the unintended irony -- they would say "a plastic church for plastic people" (russ caveat -- please don't get me wrong -- I don't think there's anything wrong with marketing as a concept -- we're marketing our Music Mission Kiev concert pretty aggressively. However, the medium is the message -- I don't think it's possible to market the concept of "authenticity").

House churches are messy; they're not really concerned with externals or being "user friendly" -- usually, they don't care if they offend folks on the outside. Their aims are not explosive growth. They're willing to show their rough edges. To a degree, this is their means of demonstrating grace -- to show that you don't have to be a particular target demographic in order to be welcome. Institutional churches can learn.

5) House churches are non-programmatic. House church folks don't really want to "run the bases" of the Purpose driven life. They don't want to treat discipleship as a checklist -- if you go through this series of classes, then you'll be a disciple. Because they look at discipleship holistically, they tend to avoid programmatic ways of discipleship as shallow and non-helpful.

And honestly they're right -- most of the programs I've been through are nowhere near as life changing as they're hyped. If we in the institutional church could back off from breathless hype (trying to sell) a program, and simply offer programs as an alternative that might help, it would go a long way toward encouraging discipleship.

So, those are a few thoughts for the day -- let me know what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria

Previous posts --
The Classic Way of being church: intergenerational
The Classic Way of being church: preaching
The Classic Way of being church: An Apologia

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Religion

Here's the chapter of Dreher's Crunchy Cons that is sure to offend -- but also to cause some to cheer. All along, we've seen Dreher showing how there is a segment of conservatives who are actually concerned about the environment, education, simplicity, urban renewal, etc. Now he has a chapter that hits upon the distinguishing factor between the "crunchy" wing of the conservative movement and the unfettered libertarian wing -- faith. Dreher writes that religion "…gives crunchy cons the impetus to orient their lives and their efforts toward an ultimate end: serving God, not the self. By way of contrast, a libertarian conservative sees the point of life as exercising freedom of choice to serve his self-chosen ends, and will support a political arrangement that best serves those principles." (179)

Faith, in sum, provides a comprehensive worldview. Abraham Kupier expounds this in his still classic work Lectures on Calvinism -- that Calvinistic Christianity provides a comprehensive worldview (and he traces that worldview through the spheres of science, art, politics, religion, and the future). Dreher explains this worldview in terms of seeing creation sacramentally: "To see the world sacramentally is to see material things – objects and human actions – as vessels containing or transmitting ideals. To live in a sacramental world is to live in a world pregnant with meaning, a world in which nothing can be taken for granted, and in which no one or no thing is without intrinsic worth. If we live sacramentally, then everything we do and everything we are reflects the things we value.” (181)

But Dreher doesn't stop there -- he launches into his testimony -- how he personally grew up exposed to things of faith, but he put such thoughts on the back burner until one day as a student at LSU, he went to free speech alley, a place where any one could get up and speak on any topic:
“It usually attracted a fair share of fundamentalist evangelists, and like many other students, I enjoyed jeering at them. That afternoon, one of the most obnoxious campus preachers was finishing up his harangue when up onto the concrete bench leaped Billy, a thin blond kid from my philosophy class. In his left hand he held a copy of the portable Nietzsche. On the edge of its pages he had written in ballpoint pen ‘THE BIBLE’
‘God does not exist.’ He thundered ‘But if he does –‘ Billy looked up at the sky, shot out his right arm, and made an obscene gesture.”

People laughed nervously. Not me. I left the crowd, unnerved by what I had seen. Either Billy’s gesture was merely shocking, or he had just put his immortal soul in danger of hell. When confronted by something like that, the refusal to take sides on the question seemed like a luxury I couldn’t afford.(183).

From reflecation after that incident, Dreher decided to convert to Catholicism.

However, Dreher doesn't stop there -- he posits that crunch con-dom has its roots in a particular expression of relgion. He cites sociologist James Davidson Hunter, who saw two different impulses between the orthodox/traditionalists and the progressives in religion. The traditionalists, according to Hunter, believe that there is transcendent eternal truth -- and that God has revealed truth to us and our task is to bring our lives more and more under the sway of that truth. The progressives, meanwhile, believe that truth is best understood in the context of personal experience and cultural expression -- we don't know of any other way to speak, and thus all our talk of truth is conditioned, nay, determined by context.

Dreher's belief is that the traditionalist model is the only sure standing for building a worldview. “In short, if one’s religion is to mean anything, if it is to last, it has to stand outside of time and place. Its truths have to be transcendent. And though we moderns have to find a way to make the tradition livable in our own situations, we must never forget that we don’t judge the religion; the religion judges us. To be blunt, a god that is no bigger than our own desires is not God at all, but a divinized rationalization for self-worship.” (186)

Now let me say this -- I have a lot of respect for many of my progressive brothers and sisters. I find them many of them to be kind and loving. I find them to be thoughtful and sweet and a lot of fun. But I'm with Dreher on this one. There is transcendent truth, and God has revealed it to us. Yes we may disagree about it, yes, we may overreach in our claims to know it, no we don't live up to it at all, yet even so, there is transcendent truth. And God calls us to learn what it means to bring our lives in conformity with that truth -- to learn the joy and the grace and freedom that comes from living truthfully.

Dreher interviews a Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jew -- all committed to the conservative expressions of their faith -- all committed to whole life discipleship. Their faith, not their political affiliation, is their guiding principle. The main reason they vote Republican (and they all do) is not that they buy lock stock and barrell into the Republican agenda (for they dont -- indeed they're very critical of much of it) -- they vote Republican because the Democratic party has shown itself to be broadly dismissive and even disdainful of people who have a conviction about transcendent truth expressed in a faith tradition.

And that should be a statement that sets the strategists in both parties on edge....


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Exciting New Resource

The Presbyterian Global Fellowship has made their next move toward being a missional equipping organization -- they have just rolled out The Outbox, a team weblog of pastors and missional minded folks who are sharing the best missional resources that they come across. It's a weblog that will bring articles, books, websites, and organizations to you to help you fulfill God's calling on your life. And it's authored by a spunky, clever, and very nifty team of bloggers (and if you haven't guessed by now, yours truly is one of that team!)

I hope you'll check out the resource and that your kingdom ministry will benefit from it. (regular readers don't fear -- the Outbox isn't going to be like the Eagle and Child -- we'll keep doing cultural exegesis, ministry reflection, and commentary here -- the Outbox is a list of pointers to other resources that may be of interest and use). Finally, I hope that you'll act upon the resources and that your kindgom ministry will be transformed. If you have ideas or suggestions for the outbox, email me a link to the suggested webpage, and I'll be glad to check it out.

Soli Deo Gloria

Presbytery Transformation: Permission Giving

In Wednesday's post I spoke about the Presbytery's transformation team's initial paper. Markus Watson and I have agreed to blog our way through it (see his post here)

The three main points are to become Mission Shaped, Permission Giving, and Outcome oriented. And by way of interacting with Markus' comments, I'm going to focus on Permission Giving. Unfortunately, the document is not yet on the presbytery website, so I'll reproduce the Permission giving info here:

Can we be honest? Most presbyteries are low on permission-giving and high on process, regulation and control. A non-technical definition of permission-giving might be: if someone has a good idea that will move God's mission forward, they ought to be able just to do it without securing a bunch of permissions from multi-layered, overly-processed governing bodies. Many fine leaders avoid presbytery committees because it takes too much work to accomplish so little that matters. A permission giving presbytery will receive, more than decide upon, and participate in, more than implement.

Paradoxically, the two keys to creating a permission-giving culture are 1) building trust among ourselves so that we will say "no" to bad and non-missional ideas, and 2) building trust so that we will hold people and groups accountable for their behavior and their outcomes. That kind of mutual trust in a Presbytery will mean considerable change for most, and lots of risk. Yet the missional call to follow Jesus Christ is always a risk.

What made me think of this topic was Markus's writing:
See, I know why I'm a Christian--because Jesus loves me. I know why I'm a pastor--because I want others to know this love of Jesus. But I don't really know why I'm a Presbyterian. I come from a family of Presbyterians and have always attended Presbyterian churches, but that's only because my dad is also a Presbyterian pastor. So I'm basically a Presbyterian by default. When I met with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry here in Cincinnati as part of the call-process to Union Presbyterian Church, I was asked what excites me about the PCUSA. And I couldn't answer that question. What excites me is ministry! What excites me is my relationship with Jesus Christ! What excites me is seeing others discover Christ's love for them! But there's really nothing about the PCUSA that excites me.

I've shared some frustrations -- often times, while serving on presbytery committees, I felt as though I were fodder being used in executing someone else's dream. I had signed on to the committee and suddenly discovered that there was a whole slew of work that I wasn't terribly interested in, but still assigned to that committee anyway because "somebody had to do it". And since the somebodies who cared about that work were forced to rotate off after 6 years of service, it was expected that someone else would just rise up to fill the positions.

Can we be honest -- this is one of the reasons of disengagement. It is much easier for me to go off and ad hoc partner with a few churches on things that we really care about than it is for me to try to make a sales pitch to a presbytery committee, wait for their meeting to come around, and then see what they decide. That, I think, is what the transformation team's proposal is about.

In the bullet points that flesh out the idea of permission giving, the ones that really caught my eye had to do with the disestablishing all presbytery committees (except those required by the Book of Order) and encouraging the formation of ad hoc ministry teams that had to have a clear vision, recruit their own members, and could apply for presbytery funding. This idea will cause a hue and cry -- the warriors will brandish their swords and blow the dust of their muskets to save their precious committees.

I understand -- for people have invested their lives, their passions, and their interests in these committees. They've worked very hard to build structures that could be a witness to their faithfulness. It will be gut wrenching to watch what they worked for for decades cease to exist. However, I suggest that if they took the time to invest in people who also cared for their pet ministry -- and they could gather a few of those around, then they would be in better shape than before.

Imagine if people who cared about New Church Development could just run off and fly doing new church development without being bogged down listening to reports on congregational renewal grants. And the people who cared about congregational renewal could work together without hearing boring reports about the presbytery website and advertising efforts. etc etc etc. The Small church committee would continue to thrive because there are people who really care about small churches. The Mission Committee would sub-divide into about five working groups, each promoting specific mission projects all through the presbytery.

We'll be faster and more nimble in creation of new ministries -- but Council will also have to be more ready to tell a ministry that it's time to fold up shop (and I hope they will do so pastorally and have a really great party for that ministry).

I do have one concern -- nowhere do I see any definitions of boundaries except that we're united in Christ. I know that this is a big tent denomination -- but sometimes that works against us. For instance, consider the abortion issue. I'm pretty darn pro life and frankly it offends me that our denomination for so long has taken the most radical stand (until this past General Assembly) on the abortion issue -- basically advocating abortion on demand, no parental notification or anything (again, this was modified by some very wise actions at this past GA). However there are Presbyterians who see this issue very differently -- and they belive that my stances are oppressive and patriarchal. I recognize that they have every right to hold those beliefs, but when it comes to denominational policy, we can't both get our way. These differences are rooted not just in gut reactions, but also in theology, hermeneutics and understanding of the nature of biblical authority. My point being -- how does a permission giving presbytery operate in such an environment? What will Council do when the abortion on demand group submits a proposal for a particular ministry of political activism and then the restrict abortion access group submits a counter-proposal? Do we fund both? Do we decide that neither in this case? Do we make a policy that we don't fund political activism? And then there are a host of other similar issues (consider the current Israel/Palestine flap -- bioethics -- sexual wholeness -- evangelism -- interfaith relations -- the list goes on and on). Simply put, our understanding of the Missio Dei is deeply rooted in our theology and our approach to biblical authority.

I suggest that we'll need more than structures to help us through these waters -- we'll need habits of being. Council will have to be disciplined and fair. We may have to say "no" to a lot more than we think we do, if nothing else, for the sake of keeping the peace. Pastor Lance of FullCourtPresby had this to say on Markus' blog:
I hope that this exciting development in your presbytery actually takes root. Demand it. Fight for it. Do not settle for going back to the “way things have always been.” I served on my presbytery’s long range planning committee while it developed a similar strategy for the Presbytery of Olympia. After several years and many changes the plan was adopted. Within a few years the presbytery had thrown out most of the changes and went back to doing things the “way they had always been done.” Don’t let that happen in your presbytery!

The work will only be 25% completed when the changes are implemented—and that is the easiest part of the work. It will take a long time for the changes to become a part of the culture of the presbytery. Sailboats have a rudder that is used to change the course the boat is traveling. The rudder is ineffective while the boat is stationary. As the boat gains speed the rudder becomes very effective. DO NOT let up until the presbytery has completed the change in course and those changes have become a part of the fabric of the presbytery’s ethos.

Well said.

We shall see....
Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fighting the evil of modern day slavery

I have read several stories in World Magazine (see Andree Seu's editorial, which as of September 14 2006 is still in the free area of the website) about the problem of modern day slavery and human trafficking, but felt powerless to act. And then at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship conference in Atlanta, I heard a Sharon Cohn from International Justice Mission speak about how her ministry is addressing the problem in a practical way (see my earlier post).

I came away convicted about this issue and I did a little bit of research on who is doing what -- in hopes of finding some way to be personally involved and encourage the church to be involved. International Justice Mission does fine work and we should support them, but they don't do domestic cases -- I wanted to find out what is happening locally.

First I found the Polaris Project which is "...a leading international organization combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Based in the United States and Japan, we bring together community members, survivors, and professionals to fight trafficking and slavery in the spirit of a modern-day Underground Railroad." (quote from their homepage). While not a faith-based organization, they're doing all kinds of local equipping so that churches can get involved. They are building a network, and just happen to have a chapter in Ohio -- that chapter is sponsoring a human trafficking conferencing in October. They're partnering with local law enforcement to put on the conference, so I believe it'll be pretty practical -- below is the save the date poster for you Ohio/Kentucky/Indianans who are interested:

I also found that the church is doing work. The Salvation Army has been fighting modern day sex slavery since the late 1800's (phooey on those who say that evangelical Christians dont care about social issues) -- they've got an extensive list of resources on their website.

The Salvation Army has also helped create the Initiative against Sexual Trafficking, a broad coalition of evangelical groups working to combat sexual trafficking (see their resource on things you can do)

I also put a phone call in to Chris Iosso at the PCUSA denominational headquarters -- asking what we as a denomination were doing. He was very timely in his response -- our Washington and UN Offices have been doing some policy work with lawmakers around this issue; meanwhile Women's Advocacy and Presbyterian Women's have someeducational resources and work with some broader networks to combat trafficking. Chris has also been terriffic with follow up -- sending me a few articles as he comes across them -- so a public thanks to the PCUSA folks working on this issue.

I'm not sure what's next other than the conference on the 30th, but those who want to join me for the journey are welcome.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A new way of doing church?

For the past couple of years, our presbytery (which is made up of around 80 presbyterian congregations around Cincinnati) has been wrestling with a "transformation" process.

Understand that this desire for transformation is rooted in perceived dysfunction in how the churches relate to one another, how committees get their work done (or not done), budget, staffing at the presbytery level, conflcit over theology and process -- just a few minor issues. All of this done against the backdrop of a church that is in decline -- a loss of over 40k members last year, an undetermined amount this year, and a projected 80k loss for 2007. So many of the more tenured pastors and elders in the presbytery have been longing for transformation.

Last night, the transformation team presented their preliminary report of suggestions. Now bear in mind, this team has been at work for over a year; they've studied, worked with feedback received through a consulting process (see the feedback report -- while it applies to this presbytery, it gives a decent snapshot of what's happening in denominational churches across the country), they've hosted special training seminars (see my prior posts on the Jill Hudson training event: post one, post two, post three)

Now they've distilled their work into a vision document that they hope will generate significant discussion between now and the Nov 14 Presbytery meeting. Unfortunately, that document is not yet available online on the Presbytery website -- and I don't have the patience to re-type the whole thing. So I'll summarize. They ask us to envision a presbytery that is Mission shaped, Permission Giving, and Outcome Oriented.

Then they flesh these concepts out with bullet pointed lists of what those characteristics may actually look like. Finally, they include a page on our unity in faith, centered around the great commission and a page of bullet points on where transformation is already happening. While I sat next to Markus Watson, we made a quick agreement that we'll blog through this document together as a means of having a public discussion (Markus, tag, you're it) -- and I invite other folks who were there to be doing the same thing (or commenting on our blogs).

I'm thinking that next week I'll spend a post on each of the three main points of the vision -- looking forward to having you along. More to come!

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Crunchy Cons -- the Environment

In some circles, the term "environmentalist" conjures up the image of angry dogmatic wingnuts who pull crazy stunts like chaining themselves to trees and want to shut down all development for the preservation of a baby blast-ended skrewt. And for the past 30 years, environmentalism has been dismissed is anti-conservative. But is it so.

Dreher begins this chapter by telling the story of his father and his father's hunting buddies -- these men saw themselves as "conservationists" who were interested in conserving wild lands, care for wild things, and harbored a deep respect for all living things ("What!" Screeches the PETA protestor "how does hunting a weak defenseless animal teach respect for living things?" -- Too long to explain to them -- and that's not my point. However trust me on this -- there's an outdoorsman's code of ethics -- don't kill more than you need to eat; dont let the animal suffer needlessly; show respect for the wild -- perhaps in a different post we can get into it)

Dreher shows that, properly understood, conservation is an inherently conservative things. It was Richard Nixon who established the Environmental Protection Agency. We can thank Teddy Roosevelt for the national park system. Herbert Hoover, for all his economic ineptitude, was a great conservationist. At the heart of traditional conservatism lies a desire to conserve.

What makes things different, though, is how we go about conserving. Dreher introduces us to Republicans for Environmental Protection and their goal of market based answers to environmental issues. If you consider yourself a liberal and you think Republicans don't care about the environment, you need to check out this website. If you're a conservative who thinks that all environmentalists are whack-jobs, you need to check out this website. They advocate for environmental responsibility that goes hand in hand with free market economics -- Dreher writes “…there is no more powerful force for social change than the consumer dollar, and from a conservative point of view, it is far better to rely on market forces to shepherd society toward beneficial ends than to depend upon government.” (176)

Environmentalism has recently come on to the evangelical radar -- but it's been percolating for quite some time -- The Utne Reader did an article back in 2001 on the Evangelical Environmental Movement (a $2.95 cost to read the article online).

On the free reading side, John Creasy has done a nice series that he calls "Eco-theology" that follows these issues -- a quick index:
* Part 1: Introduction Where he beleives that christians don't talk about this much -- this is where he's a little off -- Look at Wendell Berry or the aforementioned Utne Reader article for evidenc.
* Post 2: Responsibility A theological framework for Christian responsibility
* Post 3: an Aside A quick story about Pat Robertson's interest in environmentalism
* Post 4: Scripture -- John's use of Psalm 104 as a foundation -- though I think we can also go to Genesis 1 and the mandate to build a God-honoring culture. We were given dominion not for our own selfish ends but for the purpose of worship and honoring God in all creation (that he declared good) -- and we'll be held accountable as stewards. Genesis 1 alone should make every evangelical more attentive to environmental issues.
* Post 5: Orthopraxis -- practical things we can do in our lives

A fine picture of some Crunchy Con approach to environmentalism is Michael Kruses' posts on the environment -- read through to see his advocacy of wind power and energy efficient homes. But then immediately after those posts is a critical review of Al Gore's an Inconvenient Truth. Another example of how conservatives bust stereotypes. Mike has some really thought provoking stuff at the conclusion of his series on Theology and Economics -- worth a look-see.

And, let it be known that I've occasionally expressed my concern for things environmental in this space before -- because I beleive that we are responsible as stewards:

Responsible Stewardship with Lightbulbs
Earth Day or Stewardship day -- you pick
Environmental Stewardship -- up close and personal

Everything in the Earth is the Lords -- and we are but caretakers.

Soli Deo Gloria

Index of interesting Links:
Crunchy Con resources
* Republicans for Environmental Protection
* Weston A Price foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and healing.
* Slow Food Movement
* 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.

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.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sept 11 -- what we ought to be living for

On this anniversary of September 11, let us remember in prayer those who have lost loved ones, both on that fateful day, and in the conflicts since. Let us remember in prayer those who serve out of a sincere desire to keep their country safe and their loved ones secure. Let us remember in prayer the leaders of our nation, that they may be thoughtful and wise in their decision making. Let us pray for the peace that comes from the Prince of Peace, the Soveriegn One, The Holy One, Jesus the Messiah.

As we cry out "Abba Father", let us be transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Let us be transformed into Salt and Light -- that we might be God's instrument of blessing in this nation and around the world. May the indwelling and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit help us to demonstrate what life is for: that we might glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

This was poignantly brought home yesterday after worship. One of the children in our congregation, Regan Harper, has been battling a brain tumor for over a year now. She and her family have been heroic in the struggle -- and it has been humbling to watch our congregation as they've offered support and care as they're able. The Make a Wish Foundation teamed up with the Noelle Braun Foundation to grant Regan a wish to go to Disney World.

Our congregation held the sendoff party for Regan and her family yesterday -- there was all kinds of food, cakes, balloons, homemmade chocolates. Representitives from Make a Wish and the Noelle Braun Foundation were there along with three young ladies dressed up as Disney Princesses. Believe me, there were very few dry eyes in the room. What a day to gather for worship, then gather for fellowship. A clear reminder of the important things in these post 9/11 days -- faith, family, and friends.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Education

Before we continue with this series -- a quick confession: I loathe the term "crunchy cons". It's mired in oceans of cheese; it sounds so trite and market driven for the high purposes that Dreher has in mind. Love the concepts of the book, but I really dislike the moniker.

That said, the next chapter Dreher wades into is on Education. He makes quite a passionate case for Homeschooling, though he admits it's not for everyone. First in his chapter, he makes a case for the purpose of education: “The ultimate point of all education is not to accumulate facts and technique, but to become virtuous – that is, to discover how the knowledge we acquire ought to be applied. This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We are called to be wise.” (126)

This has been a contention of mine for a long time -- I so tire of the utilitarian ends to which education has been applied. This isn't to say that education isn't supposed to be practical -- my point is that practicality often has a deeper requirement. Those classmates of mine who went straight into the school of Business and eschewed the liberal arts or the sciences missed out on a tremendous education of wisdom - and many of them led smaller hollower lives. Their interests and their visions and their ambitions were small and provincial.

I've always maintained that the goal of a liberal arts education was to learn how to teach yourself anything. It was to learn to think and to process and to argue. When I majored in English Lit, people asked if I wanted to be a teacher -- no. But I did land jobs working in Public Radio, Information Delivery Systems, Corporate Training and Technical Documentation (for a large Bank), and now the Gospel Ministry (the last great refuge for information generalists -- you have to know a smattering from a bunch of different fields to do this job). All that to say, the blessings of a liberal arts education (which include critical thinking, moral grounding, and broad study) really worked for me.

Back to Dreher's view of education, which is rooted in a classical liberal arts model of learning wisdom rather than simply facts. He takes us on a brief polemic of the history of public education in America -- his assertion being that it was designed initially as an experiment in state wresting control of the next generation from families. I won't wade into this minefield, for I know too many really good public educators, I have too many educators in my family (pretty much everyone on my mom's side of the family worked in public education) and we send Sarah Grace to a public school -- but a few pungent quotes to stir your thinking:

“…the structured artificiality of formal schooling can be an impediment to learning. Being confined to the same age group, having to sit quietly at a desk and focus on the same subject for fifty minutes, then moving to the next one, and so forth, is often a poor way to learn.” (140) Agreed -- this is why we chose a Montessori model school for Sarah Grace -- though not a perfect model by any stretch, Sarah Grace is encouraged to excel where her gifts are. There are indeed public schools that avoid this criticism.

And how about this response to the critique that homeschoolers don't get the benefit of socialization: “To which the screamingly obvious response is, look at the values predominating in youth culture today; is that really working for us?”(141). He's right on on this one. I've refered us many times to ypulse weblog (a must read for anyone who is a parent or who works with youth) -- they've featured many stories about the rampant sexualization of youth culture -- one of the main trends of socialization that we want to avoid.

The main point of Dreher's chapter is that parents need to think of their family as a mission (and I would suggest that churches think of families the same way) -- that children are a blessing from the Lord -- they are the arrows that we shoot into the future. And this we need to be intentional about imparting education to them. This is why I believe strongly in Family Ministry for the church -- I am who I am today because of my parents but also because of dozens of adult volunteers who helped out with church, mission trips, basketball teams, soccer leagues, and other places. And many of those adults were 20 and 30 somethings who didn't have children -- but they felt a responsibility to the youth of the church and wanted to make a difference in their lives. The church can certainly step up to the plate on this one and help parents in the challenging role of socializing and educating whole and wise children.

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
* Weston A Price foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and healing.
* Slow Food Movement
* 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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Home

My neighbors, the Klinefelters, are a part of Vinyard Central church. Vineyard Central is described as a “network of house churches”, and I’ve come to love and respect a lot of what the house church is all about because of them. However, a part of Vinyard Central’s ethos is rooted in the idea of intentional community. The church owns a house over in Norwood where about a dozen or so folks live together in covenanted community – singles, couples with kids, and married folks all share meals, take part in the cleaning, and enjoy times of devotion together. Additionally, in the blocks all around that house, members of Vineyard Central have been buying homes and renting – all in an attempt at creating an intentional community of like minded believers who are reaching out to the neighborhood together.

In Crunchy ConsRod Dreher touches on this idea of intentional community in his chapter on “Home”. The chapter as a whole, as often in the book, feels kind of preachy – Dreher is advocating lifestyle change and prodding his readers to think about personal lifestyle decisions. His target in this chapter is upon living choice. He starts in simply on homes and architecture – taking us on a tour through the Arts and Crafts movement that arose as a reaction against Victorian lavishness and opulence. The principles of Arts and Crafts were mainly on simplicity, functionality, and elegance.

The American expression of the Arts and Crafts movement took these principles and married them with the efficiency of mass production – thus producing well crafted, sturdy, and aesthetically pleasing furniture and homes – all designed to be affordable to the ordinary person. Sears and Roebuck even got in on the game – they had a Bungalow home that one could order from their catalog – designed in the Arts and Crafts style. (Interestingly, a family in our congregation, the Heidenreichs, owns a Sears and Roebuck bungalow – it’s a lovely home that fits the description of the movement completely.)

Honestly, I have some real difficulties with this chapter – not with the concepts. However quite honestly, housing prices make it very difficult for families to choose both aesthetics, value, safety, and good school district. The most important concept of this chapter lies in intentionality – being intentional about home layout, design, d├ęcor and community. Looking forward to your thoughts on home.

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
* Weston A Price foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and healing.
* Slow Food Movement
* 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, September 05, 2006

Bits and pieces

Illness, travelling to the in-laws for Labor day, and some pressing church duties have curtailed my writing and reflecting for the early part of this week -- still working through Crunchy Cons -- will hopefully have more tomorrow.

In the meantime -- here are a few nifty bits and pieces for you:

* Dennis Hancock just recently completed a great summary/review of Francis Collins' The Language of God -- Collins has been nearly omnipresent in the media this year leading up to the release of this book -- he's the scientist who led the team to map the human genome, and he's an evangelical Christian. Dennis' review is a very handy summary of the book (part 1, part 2, part 3)

* Dyah has revamped her blog and is writing under the title My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter -- it's well worth a visit (even though she only posts once a week!)

* Ubuntu is a free downloadable version of the Linux operating system -- but this version of ubuntu is geared specifically for Christians -- including free filtering software, free wordprocessing, and lots of other freebies -- take a look at your convenience.

* On the bookshelf -- thanks to John Jensen, I'm reading Russell Kirk's historical survey of conservative thought -- One section into it and I can already say that it's the best written material I've seen this year. It's also a perfect fit for Crunchy Cons, forming some of the intellectual background. Louise Woodruff gave me works of John MacKay (pronounced MacKai) -- a former Princeton Seminary president and advocate for missions -- his stuff reads like the playbook for the Presbyterian Global Fellowship. More to come on him later.

Soli Deo Gloria