Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mercy, Compassion and Justice

Yesterday Michelle and I spent some time with Jeff G, the new-ish youth pastor at our church. We were having dinner and got onto the topic of short-term missions and particularly the role of relief efforts in mission. Jeff shared with us that the Covenant denomination has recently set up a new department of Mercy, Compassion, and Justice. The department head, Debbie Blue, explained that suffering in the world is like a river, and compassion and mercy are our efforts to pull people and communities out of that river; justice on the other hand is heading upriver to find out who or what is pushing these people in the river in the first place. That analogy really hit home with me, and along with discussions I've been having with Eric on his blog, inspired me to loan some money to a women in Sierra Leone through KIVA. You should consider checking it out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

City of God

I have been sitting on this movie for several months now. A friend of mine gave it to me, with high praise and recommendation. I have been kind of putting off watching it for the same reason Michelle didn't watch it - it looked way too intense. And it was. Sometimes I don't want to be reminded of how easy my life has been - sometimes I feel guilty for having two parents, plenty of friends, and not knowing anyone who has been shot. I feel guilty for not having experienced the depth of fear those kids felt. Some scenes were difficult for me to watch. The best part of this movie was that it was based on a true story - and my favorite scene was the real footage of Knockout Ned during the credits. I was impressed at how well the director had duplicated the interview. Despite the fact that it was based on a true story, I was a little disappointed that this movie felt so much like other gangster movies I've tried to watch. Most of all though, I am left feeling overwhelmed at the pain and suffering and evil in the world. I can't understand how people can be so cruel to one another - and yet I can in some ways. Last week at our monthly Missions Committee meeting a woman told us about the 60 days she had just returned from in the slums of South Africa. She had gone to try to form an idea of how our congregation can best alleviate some of the pain and suffering on that continent. Her story, and City of God, have me thinking about the importance of entering into the pain of others. It's scary and hard, and it's for fear of entering into the pain of others that I didn't want to watch this movie. I don't want to know the horrible things people are capable of doing to one another. It's incredible to me that God enters into the pain of each person on this planet, day in and day out, simply by virtue of knowing them so well. He never turns away from people in their darkest moments the way I wanted to so badly during some parts of this movie. The pain and anguish he must feel... I can't imagine.

By the way, this film is in Portuguese with English subtitles. I kind of forgot about that, but it does add an interesting rhythm and sound to the movie.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Future and Self-Actualization

This morning I had a nice discussion with a gentleman from my church about life and christianity and pacifism and living in tension. We also discussed the plans Michelle and I have for the future. I shared about my degree in Finance, my enjoyment of history and philosophy, and my appetite for achievement. I also shared my desire to work at something significant to my savior, not something that would be impressive at my 10 year high school reunion. I shared a lot, but ended up by saying that I haven't got any real practical plans. I have been thinking lately about self-actualization and I am suspicious that it's a myth, or as Solomon would say, a "chasing after the wind" - a waste of time. My culture (or perhaps my pride) has been subtly, but powerfully, telling me that my life's work should involve something significant, impressive, important, and noteworthy. Anyhow, I'm pretty sure that almost every generation before mine has been happy fulfilling the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy (and much more thankful for their fulfillment) - should I really be spending so much time contemplating what it is that I want to do, what will make me feel fulfilled? Or should I just decide to take the life challenges which come to me and are in alignment with Jesus' heart and consider them the will of God? I am leaning in that direction, but that's a scary way to live my life. It's so... out of my hands. I'm afraid - I could wind up with any old measly life. Not a very high view of the sovereignty of God is it?

I'm not very good a letting go - I'm a sucker for control and safety and knowing where I'm going. Which I don't anyway...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

I was worried after reading the first two chapters of this book. It begins with an avalanche of statistics revealing how hypocritical the behavior of North American Christians is – divorce rate is the same or worse as the general population, the co-habitation rate is the same, etc. The second chapter contrasts this with the New Testament scriptures, book by book. I was worried – the tone had me thinking an angry football-coach-Jesus was about to show up with a patented feel-guilty-and-try-harder pep talk. Luckily, I was wrong. The third chapter points to our modern, reductionist, incomplete understanding of the gospel, and three other doctrines, as the root cause of western evangelicals’ disobedience.

Chapter 3 identifies 4 doctrines which have lost their whole-ness through the influence of reductionist thinking – the gospel, salvation, sin, and persons. I won’t go into great detail, but I agree in each case that recovering a full understanding of these doctrines is a step in the right direction.

In chapter 4 the author identifies six points to “recovering the New Testament understanding and practice of the church”. Of the six, three are given the most thorough treatment: the church must return to being a community, the church must be countercultural, and we must reestablish mutual accountability and responsibility in the church. I appreciated the first two – nothing new there – but the piece on accountability, and specifically church discipline, got me thinking. I hadn’t thought about church discipline in the context of a postmodern christian community – what should it look like?

Where this book disappointed me was the section on how to practically implement the steps to recovery above. After diagnosing a major problem in christendom – a huge problem – the solution according to the author is more of the same. Apparently, we need strong small groups. Needless to say, I believe the solution needs to match the depth and severity of the problem – I believe we need a much more radical shift in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the western world.

I will also say that I disagreed with the method of quoting scripture in this book. It is very common in modern Christian writing to pull verses out of the books to which they belong, inserting them as proof or evidence of general points discussed. I think that scripture was intended to be read and interpreted thematically – that is to say that the basic unit of the bible is the book rather than the chapter or verse (because the chapters and verses were added later, and are therefore not inspired). So the correct way to read and understand scripture is to read an entire book and understand its themes and the way they fit with the themes of other books. When people support they’re arguments by quoting individual verses we must make the assumption that they are taking the verse in the correct context and in alignment with the themes of the book from which the quoted verses come. As has been well documented, single verses taken out of their context can be used to support all kinds of ludicrous and heretical arguments.

All in all, this book was worth my time and energy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Community (PMC - Part 3)

As a postmodern christian I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven, residing on earth, is the "institution" that individual christians ought to belong to. Modern christianity has assumed that local churches are the appropriate institutions for the infiltration of God's loving redemption throughout the world. This is not to say that I don't believe in local communities of believers; far from it, I think we have strayed to far from this model. Modern churches often have thousands of members from miles and miles away who all come together once a week, and then return to spend the other six days of the week in isolation from one another. Evangelism is essentially the effort to coerce not-yet-christian neighbors to attend the big church gathering on Sunday morning. Contrast this with a true community in which individual members live close to one another, see each other on a day-to-day basis, and interact with not-yet-christian neighbors who are exposed to the authentic day-in-day-out life of the christian community and it's individual members. This would provide for an environment of accountability and encouragement for daily life. In many ways this more neighborhood-focused community of believers would allow not-yet-christians to be part of the community, enveloped in Christ's love, all the while respecting their right to take their time and investigate Christ and his claims at their own pace. A true daily community of believers and non-believers is an integral part of my view of post-moder christianity.

By the way, this is not to say that there shouldn't be worship gatherings or bible studies or prayer groups; just that they would be more evident and transparent to the broader community in which the christians live.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Dan in Real Life

I really enjoyed this movie. It was fun and sad and funny and real. I really liked the use of visual symbolism to convey mood and feeling. There were several scenes that were just right - which probably means they were far too obvious - but I liked them none the less. The characters were excellent, which I suppose means the acting was decent. Steve Carell's a bit hard to picture as an everyman, but everyone else was perfect. The music was good too - although I didn't know any of the bands, it fit really well. And me not knowing who the musicians were is probably a testament to their popularity amongst "everyone who knows anyone". Perhaps most importantly, it made me excited and happy to be a part of a family. My only complaint would probably be deemed a "spoiler", so you should just go see it and let me know what you think via email.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ronald Reagan in Private

The more I read of Jim Kuhn's memoirs, the more I realize why it was at the dollar store. The title sounds weird if you think about it too much, and a critical analysis it's not, but it does provide an interesting look into the day to day life of a President of the United States. Unfortunately, Mr. Kuhn manages at some points to sound as if the job of Executive Assistant to the President were rather like babysitting. There are also some annoyingly repetitive themes: Reagan was polite to everyone no matter who they were; Reagan was stubborn; Reagan didn't hold grudges; blah, blah, blah. The book in general wasn't well thought out - it awkwardly attempts to juggle both chronological and topical organization, doing neither well and often leaving me a bit confused. On the other hand, I've learned some interesting things about politics. Most of the President's interactions with others are choreographed, and every action, every movement is carefully planned to control the impressions created. But in many cases this is due to the incredible ramifications his or her actions have - a small slip up can be really bad when you're always representing the entire US! It has also been refreshing to get a window into a politician's life who (in Kuhn's eyes, at least) pursued the presidency out of a desire to serve and improve the lives of others. Sometimes I really think presidential candidates are all arrogant egotists seeking self-fulfillment. Please show me otherwise.