Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Fun: Downton Arby's

          My wife and a few other friends have become enamored with the TV series Downton Abbey. I found this on a blog I regularly read. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Worship Services, Service is Worship, and Worship is Service

          Disclaimer: writing on this subject was request by a fellow worship leader who wishes to remain anonymous.
          One of the most popular clichés of corporate musical worship that’s overheard in pretty much all camps is “it’s not about you.” This principle is mostly used to check our motives, making sure that God gets all the honoring thoughts, sung words and glory that a time of corporate musical worship offers to Him, despite the potentially-distracting excellence of any aspect or giftedness of any participant. This principle is also used to prevent us from becoming consumers, lest we, while in the house of worship, confuse our needs with our wants, and become picky, thinking only of ourselves and not the community with which we’re corporately worshipping.
          But this principle can and should go further.
          Worship, in its etymology, has two primary themes: “bowing down” and “service.” Therefore, all of its manifestations, including when worship is musical and corporate, should reflect humility and selflessness. Worshippers happily sacrifice worldly conveniences, rearrange schedules and allocate their energy to contribute in whatever way is needed towards a time of communal worship or any endeavor of God’s church, whether it’s musical rehearsal, tech setup/teardown, ushering, bulletin-printing, Bible research, cooking, etc.
          Yet congregants church-shop for just the right place. Sometimes churches lose dear members of their musical teams because a neighbor church provides more musical fun and less responsibility. Some people just plain don’t want church involvements to take up the rest of their lives.
          It’s time to remind such questionable reluctance with the ol‘ cliché. It’s not about you. Yes, the songs and sermons of a church’s worship service may not be what you hoped for. It can be hard to get up early during a weekend and/or allocate time on a weeknight. The list goes on. 
Being a Christian and serving in the church has always involved sacrifice. This is something I’m still learning, and I haven’t sacrificed near as much as many ministerial colleagues I know, much less the Church’s founding fathers. And I’m privileged to work with many volunteers at my church who understand servanthood to Christ. 
          It’s not about me. I, therefore, make sacrifices to serve my church family and to give glory to God.
          This is where the Church is meant to stand out as a loving and intimate family, not a business or government. As a time of communal worship, not a flashy gig. As a call to give to the poor, not a self-serving telethon. As a voice for the voiceless, not our own selves. Are we really following Paul’s call to think of others as better than ourselves?
          Like I said, this is just another way that worship is not about you. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Country Minister and the City Minister?

          There's a small debate going on at ChristianityToday's blogs about calls to urban ministry. This is because the magazine has started an inspiring series on urban ministry, going from one American metropolis to another. It's gotten a bit interesting because it's spilled into the question of the better child-raising (or even family living) environment. Then it's gotten, maybe, a bit more heated as if one type of ministry or family life is inherently better or more valiant, etc.
          Of course, I don't want to join in the debate in the last sentence, but my random (and not thoroughly researched) thought is this: I think the cities of our country are more so a mission field in need than the suburbs.
          Judging from the debate, I don't think that some of the bloggers fully understand both the essence and intimidating challenges of ministry and biblical living in an urban setting. My wife and I have lived a few different places, ourselves, and I've been so intimidated by the chaotic, transient and sometimes explicitly decadent life in the city, an ever-flowing and uncontrolled fountain of new ideas and worldviews (at least some of them unbiblical) for just about anything, likely along with a higher crime/poverty rate and cost of living.
          But it's a mission field. And it's where a family and a church can thrive! The message of the Gospel and the lifestyle of biblical living are transcendent. I encourage anyone who feels so called to have courage. If God would ever call me there, I pray that I have the courage, because I know I would need it.
          One of the things I particularly appreciate about Tim Keller, a model for urban ministry, is his call to the city. When his church outgrew its capacity, they didn't opt to relocate far away from its Manhattan home to a suburban field large enough to support a new megachurch. Rather, his church appointed additional leadership and reproduced within New York City. Why? Because Tim Keller has a heart of biblical love for Manhattan.
          May we also develop hearts to love cities as well as suburbs and towns.    

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How Teens Aged Over 30 Years

         My church denomination recently posted this on their Facebook fan page, from the blog of a well-traveled youth pastor. Some interesting facts, don't you think?
          Some are surprising; some are not, and the ramifications of these statistics could spill over into heated debates about politics, education, ecclesiology, the arts, and the general "culture wars." Just remember that youth pastors (sometimes strenuously) take all those issues into account as they try to follow their felt call.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Modern and Secular Easter Debacle

Amy Sancetta/AP
          A colleague from my alma mater posted about this lovely story. Methinks people are no longer understanding even the true meaning of the Christ-less secular Easter celebration, much less true Easter's origins.        
          Of course, this article is more focused on the rise of the helicopter parent (you don't need Easter egg hunts to notice that), but the evolution of the culture's celebration of Easter is a bit more depressing to me. Keep in mind that I have Christian friends who use the term "Resurrection Sunday" in its place, objecting to the pagan etymology of the word "Easter."
          Let's just keep biblical truth in focus, brethren and sistren.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Timely Dystopian Story: an Unorganized Review of The Hunger Games (the Movie)

picture taken from The Hunger Games official website
          Ever since high school, I developed an enjoyment for a good dystopian novel, a story of an oppressive domestic government and/or cataclysm and how the oppressed deal with the circumstances. Sometimes the details of the setting in a dystopian (the opposite of "Utopian") story are eerily prophetic. Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (not to be confused with the Michael Moore's propaganda-based and kitschy "Fahrenheit 9/11") and Orwell's 1984 were required reading, and I decided to read Huxley's Brave New World for an elective in high school literature class.
          I went on to enjoy dystopian movies as well, including Children of Men, V for Vendetta and even a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. Then last night, my wife and I went on our first dinner/movie date in months (here's to life with two toddlers and another baby on the way!) and we saw the new movie The Hunger Games. (I haven't read the books, so some may have to bear with me).
          It's setting is North America of the future, where some type of nuclear war resulted in an oppressive dictatorial and totalitarian regime overseeing twelve impoverished districts. The Hunger Games are a nationally-broadcast gladiatorial death-match between drafted (against their will) teenagers from each district. The lone survivor in the arena gets to bring home district pride and a rarely-experienced abundance of food and supplies to their home region. The government enforces and celebrates the Hunger Games to encourage district pride, build community, and to show their generosity, but some citizens aren't blinded to the Hunger Games' true function: intimidation and control. The first of a trilogy, we follow the story of Katniss, a teenage huntress from perhaps the most impoverished District 12, a district mostly composed of forests and coal mines.
          As with most dystopian stories, it's a powerful, thought-provoking, convicting and sometimes depressing experience. It (rightfully) makes most political complaints in Western society menial at best, and makes us, as a culture and as an individual, question the ethics of our lifestyles, making sure we're not on some proverbial slippery slope into oblivion. We want to stick with our convictions, not feel mastered, even in the face of torture and death. If more people thought that way, mass oppression would be a lot more difficult. As a viewer, I sometimes wanted to cheer for the poetic justice of the sadistic dictatorial government (even though that wouldn't happen until the third installment, if at all), I realized, practically, biblically, and realistically, that a brutal uprising isn't how that would happen. I think the author of the trilogy realizes that, too. (If the trilogy does have a happy ending, that's fairly rare for dystopian stories).
          Christians could use dystopian stories like The Hunger Games to hold a mirror to the ethics of various aspects of their own lifestyle and worldview. Do we struggle with any type of bigotry, whether economic, racial, regional, or otherwise? Are we being a voice for the oppressed, impoverished, widowed and orphaned? Would we stick with our doctrinal, ethical, and practical values in the face of either torturous death or money and comfort? Biblical living, in such an oppressive setting, actually makes the church thrive and God be glorified, as was the case, for example, with Mao's China and much of ravished Africa.  
          So, yes, I'd encourage churchgoers (13 and older, respecting the MPAA rating) to see The Hunger Games. No content is more graphic than it needs to be, and it serves well many of the edifying functions of a dystopian story, which is well needed as the U.S. church is trying to navigate its increasingly politically-charged home country. Some may complain about the absence of any theological content in the movie, but I'm much, much happier with the prospect of The Hunger Games being the subject of overflowing conversation among today's teenagers instead of the Twilight series.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Fun: Tim Tebow Autotune

          I know this video isn't fresh from the social media press, but I think it's good to remember, considering all that's happened in the free agency market, etc. in the past few months. If I were Tim Tebow, I'd include this among the videos in my resume.
          Enjoy! Even if for the second (more seventy-third) time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"October Baby," a New Era of Christian Film?

          The popular book Blue Like Jazz is being made into a movie, and the seeming-controversial October Baby is making its way into more theaters, starting tomorrow. Both of these movies, to say the least, don't fit the same mold as the recent popular "Christian movies" (e.g. Fireproof, Facing the Giants). Hence, there's been some talk. Is this a new trend in "Christian movies" as we know it?
          Christianity Today recently interviewed the makers of October Baby, and they have some interesting things to say (about their movie, not the question of this blog, that is).

          "One of the best compliments we've heard about October Baby is how organic the faith material is in the story. I think the reason is because the story stays on point. We don't try to take on ten issues with cliché one liners. The story is an examination of one issue, and that is the value of every life."

          You can read the rest here. Apparently, it has Tony Dungy's endorsement, and that's good. Thoughts?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Redefining Tolerance; Gritting Our Teeth Through Intolerance

          The cliche of "tolerance" has made a few more rounds in Christian circles again, perhaps due to the mockery of Tim Tebow, the political campaigns, events with the LGBT community and Disney, etc. D.A. Carson even wrote a recent book on the subject, which I might take a look at.
          Myself, I still remember reading a short by Greg Koukl, which was actually abridged in the Faith and Culture Devotional (I'd recommend that book to anyone), because it has a concise proverb for Christians striving for tolerance from Boston College prof Peter Kreeft:

          Be egalitarian regarding persons.
          Be elitist regarding ideas.

          The latter challenges us, as Christians, to look to the biblical soundness of ideas and think things through. Aside from the occasional struggle with anti-intellectualism, I think Christians do this fairly well. It's the former that needs work.
          The former reminds us of the biblical call to love our enemies, no matter how disagreeable, even if we're not being as "tolerated" as they are. Let's strive to follow the call to biblical love and Kreeft's advice on tolerance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Special Personal Announcement!

          Taking a bit of a break from my typical post, I have a special announcement from my personal life.
          As of this October, I'm going to be a father of three!
          We are very thankful to God. It was only after we put our hopes and dreams on the proverbial altar that He blessed us. That's a biblical life lesson that we should never forget.
          I could (and will later) go on and on about thankfulness, and how being a parent is more than worth all the sacrifice, but my wife posts more about everything here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Peyton Manning is a Bronco, So What's the Future of Tebowmania?

          Over the past few years, NFL fans like myself have seen a few interesting couplings of franchise-face QB's and teams. Brett Favre was a Viking. Donovan McNabb was a Redskin. And now Peyton Manning is a Bronco.
          It wouldn't have been my choice. I love visiting Denver, but Manning could have gone to the Titans and ignited their weak fan-base like wildfire, given his Volunteer roots (there are more Colts fans than Titans fans in Tennessee). Or he could have joined Harbaugh's championship-bound 49ers with a solid defense, running game and receiver corps, not to mention great seafood. Yet he chose the Broncos, joining John Elway and maybe Tim Tebow. I say "maybe" because Denver's been in the recent habit of releasing backup QB's (even good ones) when they think they've found a good one (poor Kyle Orton has been bounced around a lot recently).
          I've already posted about Tebow and a "theology of football," so this turn of events begs the question: what is the future of Tebowmania? Denver has somewhat been his niche. Can another city be? How does this affect his career and his seeming ministry? Thoughts?
          Peyton Manning is a self-dubbed Christian. Not as outspoken as Tebow, and different in other ways, too. If he has any of Dungy's spirit and team-building capability in him, Denver (and Tebow especially, if he can stay) is in good shape in more ways than one. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Celebrating the Real St. Patrick

          St. Patrick's Day can count itself on the list of misunderstood holidays. Mostly described as a celebration of Irish culture, many look forward to wearing green and binge drinking. I remember listening to pubs advertising on Chicago news radio on the way to work or grad school. Pubs would invite and encourage listeners, particularly the vast majority non-Irish in Chicago, saying that any Chicagoan that drinks on St. Patrick's Day is genuine "Chi-rish." Other colleagues I have count down the days until March 17, looking forward to a good time.
          In fact, if you're Christian, especially if you're part-to-whole Irish, you ought to have a lot of pride in St. Patrick. Kidnapped by pirates and enslaved for six years, his faith in Jesus Christ blossomed (where most faith would perish). He went on to become one of the first missionaries to Ireland, building community, relationships, churches and monasteries as well (where there was probably less drinking . . .). And this was all before the Synod of Whitby in 664 and the Roman Catholics arrived. 
          We can celebrate St. Patrick as we celebrate any success in mission in heritage, as we see God at work! (Also, most the music we listen to owes a lot to the foundations laid out by Celtic music).
          Below is a video of VeggieTales' "flannel graph" children's version of the life and ministry of St. Patrick. Yes, it's a kids' show, but it's easily accessible and concise.
          Enjoy! And Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Invisible Children Co-Founder Detained, Time and Culture to Tell the Future of Kony2012's Reputation

photo credit: Brendan McDermid - Reuters
          I know that I usually reserve Fridays on my blog for light-hearted fun and chuckles, but I feel this update to an issue about which I've previously blogged takes priority.
          Apparently, the co-founder of Invisible Children (IC), Jason Russell, was detained yesterday by San Diego police for being drunk in public. I won't go further into the police report from there as it gets a little graphic. Nonetheless, it's a bit of a blemish on his personal integrity and IC's already-questionable reputation, seemingly the loudest voice against Joseph Kony and his forced child-soldier training overseas.
          Myself, I've never gotten to know IC, but I've had a few friends in ministry who have voiced their causes. IC isn't a nominally Christian organization, but Russell is a self-dubbed Christian who has publicly spoken at places like Liberty University, connecting his faith to his work. Now, he's a laughing stock of cynical online-forum posters.
          No organization that avows a seemingly righteous venture should sweep hypocritical scandal under the rug, but does even the smallest scandal bring the entire cause into question? Aren't the heinous crimes of Joseph Kony still an issue, deserving attention from those who could help? I don't think we should let a scandal of one of the people who made us aware of an issue (true on its own merits) distract us from an opportunity to combat injustice. Otherwise, it'd be like explaining to the recipients of Bono's DATA program of the early 2000's (helping the AIDS crisis in Africa) that funding and support is short because Bono sometimes got drunk on his earlier tours, and some people prefer the music of other groups. Similarly, right now I imagine Joseph Kony's LRA is still going full speed ahead while some Americans just make crude jokes about Russell on their smartphones.
          Simply put, as Christians, for example, no matter what happens, we have a call to be the voice of the voiceless and to take care of the widow and the orphan. But maybe not through IC. I'll leave that to individual discussion.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Powerhouse Christian Musical Duo from Delaware

          I thought I'd let you know of a very underrated little Christian musical duo out there: Jenny & Tyler. I can somewhat brag that I have a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend relationship with them. My wife was born and raised in the "small wonder" state of Delaware, and therefore has a lot of friends who went to the University of Delaware, which is where Jenny and Tyler met each other.
          So yeah, they don't know me.
          In any case, they are good and worshipful songwriters. They seem to prefer the casual in-home charity concert with an unplugged and acoustic feel. Tyler presents a mild hipster aesthetic with the intensity of Christian Bale, while Jenny could be the next Brook Ligertwood. This talented pair should be known in more places than the East Coast.
          The video of their early-career hit, "Faint Not," (recorded in Nashville, believe it or not) is below for your viewing pleasure. Also check out their site!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Knicks' Head Coach Resigns; Time to Be "Shepherded" to the Playoffs?

photo by the Associated Press
          It's been the catchphrase of many bloggers that Jeremy Lin, of the New York Knicks, is the "Tim Tebow" of the NBA, namely that he's a devout Christian and an underrated athlete that is playing an unexpected and surprisingly integral role in his team's success. Tebow's story and Lin's story (both still developing) really have nothing in common besides that sentence, and I wish more people would realize that before they pre-judge either.
          However, what's interesting is that the Knicks now have something in common with the recent Minnesota Vikings, since the head coach of the Knicks stepped down today. According to an anonymous source, their head coach no longer had the "respect of the team." The Minnesota Vikings (my football team, for those who don't know me or read my Twitter username), not even 18 months ago, fired their head coach Brad Childress mid-season, one of the reasons for which was his seeming aloofness, having little-to-no respect from the team.
          I feel I can speak for most Vikings fans when I say I was happy for that move. I, personally, am even happier with his replacement, Leslie Frazier. He came from Tony Dungy's coaching tree and believes in what could be called more of a "shepherding" form of leadership, which, I imagine, involves more relational connections, gracious accountability and holistic coaching, and without temper tantrums and embittering tirades. The team members spoke well of Frazier early on and gave him a Gatorade bath after their first regular season game under his coaching (a win against the Washington Redskins). And the Vikings owner isn't going to fire him, even after a 3-13 season.
          Before I really start babbling about the Vikings, I need to get to the point. The Knicks have more talent now than the Vikings did that year, and an opportunity, whether it's through the interim head coach, team captain or Jeremy Lin, to pursue this type of community-building and team-strengthening leadership to the glory of God. And who knows? I have high hopes for them. Maybe they will make it to the playoffs.
          But not past my Chicago Bulls . . .

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reminders of the Global-ness of God's Truth

This past Saturday night, I was leading worship at my church's hosted Missions Conference. I was introducing Josh Bales's A Hymn For All the World (perhaps better entitled "A Prayer for All the World") and I was talking about various reminders of the global essence and transcendence of God's Truth. My reminders were:

1) When I got my first copy of the Greek New Testament. It was reading the Bible for the first time again, knowing that these were the actual God-inspired words, written almost 2,000 years ago, for the world to know the Truth. And then, learning the translation, I learned about the cultural transcendance.

2) When I was in the Amsterdam airport, I was with a team going to Romania to play music, feed children and preach the gospel. We ran into a mission team from Asia who was going somewhere else in Europe. Once we were in Romania, we spent the first few days worshipping with the first church built after Communism's fall.

It's good to have reminders. What are yours?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fun: The (Real Deal) Voice

          Those of you who know me understand that I don't really care for shows in the music-oriented "reality" genre (e.g. American Idol, X Factor, The Voice, America's Got Talent, etc.), with the exception of The Sing-Off, where the real talent (esp. vocal and arrangement) is.
          But even The Sing-Off was honored to host the vocal genius known as Bobby McFerrin. He is an example of a vocal Renaissance man, someone who has disciplined, nurtured and trained his voice to its seeming maximum capability, to the point where he still amazes people . . . in his 60's. Professional sports players retire decades earlier. The voice can live much longer than the body.
          Enjoy Bobby McFerrin's Bach interpretation in the video, and think of the beauty of the singing voice, the fruit of discipline and how James instructs to use our powerful tongues to glorify God.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Understanding the Kony/Invisible Children Chatter

image found on
          Here's a link to help understand the whole story behind all the online talk regarding Joseph Kony and Invisible Children (IC). I've had a few friends in ministry who've supported IC and are now reconsidering. Apparently, while scrambling to maintain IC's reputation, an employee tried to justify their campaign by the awareness it raised, and they posted a response to the criticism.

          My initial thoughts: if raising awareness and unity-in-action toward the cause is the most important thing, would IC be willing to post a link to a "higher-rated" charity against Kony, as a give to those still reluctant about joining IC? Awareness can lead to helplessness if you can't do anything, except for contribute to a now-questionable charity. And why the name "Kony 2012"? He's not running for president.

          P.S. I'm very happy, though, to learn about CharityNavigator, who gave the International Justice Mission (their president spoke at Wheaton's chapel once) a 4-star rating.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some Devotionals is Better Than None

          Right now, I’m reading through a devotional book. It’s a year-long devotional book that has date-by-date pages of a Scriptural passage and an applicable theme. I am in the habit of its daily reading and prayer before I start each morning in the office or a vacation day. 
          Is this devotional book overtly scholarly and insightful? Is it teaching me, a pastor and a seminary grad, new things? Not particularly. But that’s okay. Good, in fact.
          People who study God’s Word for an academic or vocational requirement have to, subsequently, withstand the temptation to abandon their devotional time, figuring that they’ve met a quota of biblical study and thoughts about God (and then they don’t touch the Bible or pray during vacations). This is something I was warned about before I went to college. I sometimes struggled to “check my intentions” before reading the Bible, making sure I’m not reading to help increase my GPA, justify a petty argument with a fellow Christian, or improve my resume. Nowadays, I read Christian magazines for a scholarly and balanced interpretation of current events, and I read and write reviews on Christian books. This helps further educate and inform me in ministry, but it’s not meant to replace a daily time of prayer and a contemplation of God’s Word.
          Then came another hurdle: my pickiness. I wanted to find a book “just right for me” or “at my level,” or I was tempted to read through a book for the more selfish reasons I described above. This is arguable arrogance on my part, as if, in my broken humanity, I couldn’t possibly forget any of the wisdom and discipleship learned in previous devotionals and experiences. (Often it takes repetition to get biblical advice into my head).
          So, here’s my encouragement to you. Start having a daily time with God, with prayer and reading of the Bible or a Bible-based devotional book. And don’t overcommit and set yourself up to quit later. Even if it starts as a half-hearted (but committed) habit, it can get to the point where you’re so happy you brought each day before God. The Christian folk singer/author Michael Card once said (paraphrased), “A short, inarticulate and incomplete prayer is better than no prayer at all. Reading one verse out of the Bible is better than leaving the Bible unopened.”
          Don’t go it alone. And definitely don’t take too long, like I did, to learn the significance of regular prayer and devotionals.    

Monday, March 5, 2012

Former Tour Band Member Speaks of Whitney Houston's Faith

image from
          I know this is a bit late to the news world, but I found this interview with Jetro Da Silva, a Berklee professor who was Whitney Houston's keyboardist, guitarist and Bible study leader for 13 years. He speaks of her faith. 

          "Like all the Christians who seek the Lord, she was growing and learning. Whitney was always a spiritual woman. She enjoyed praying and reading the Bible. Life's struggles led her to know and understand grace and mercy on a deeper level. [Whitney] was real about her challenges, but she also knew the Lord in a personal level. She was not a hypocrite. I often witnessed Whitney praying for a lot people. When one of her friends was seek, and she asked the whole band to join her in her dressing room, and she began crying out to the Lord, asking for healing. [Whitney] was a woman of prayer. I believe that she was in peace with the Lord when she died."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New Orleans Not So Saintly, and We Learn to Yearn for Justice and Peace

          Some commentators have even dubbed this worse than the Patriots' "Spygate" of 2007. An investigation has revealed that the New Orleans Saints have been using a "bounty" program for the past three seasons. In essence, the then-defensive coordinator (and potentially other coaches as well) offered extra pay for players in the Saints' defense to get opposing teams' players carted off the field.
          Along with other embittered Vikings fans, I suspected this back during the heartbreaking '09 NFC Championship Game, when some of the Saints' borderline illegal tackles on Favre and the receiver corps looked more like a suplex from the WWE. It caused a few turnovers that helped knock the Vikings out of contention, and their banged-up wide receiver corps has been a pale reflection ever since. During the Saints' alleged tenure of this "bounty" program, they consistently made the playoffs, once to another NFC Championship and once as a Super Bowl champion.
          I know that the Vikings certainly aren't the only team at least somewhat affected by this violation of NFL rules, but I think this, theologically, goes to show that some grievances can't be undone, and some types of justice and restoration, apart from Heaven, are not possible.    

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Fun: The New and Improved “The Bachelor(ette)”

          I could vent a lot into cyberspace about my frustration with the growing “reality show” fad, so I’ll have to restrain myself. But this idea has been sitting with me for a little while. I know how we can improve ABC’s “The Bachelor(ette).”
          The problem with the show is that it’s unrealistic. More than a dozen well-to-do and good-looking millennials are gathered in a multi-million dollar mansion nestled in palm trees in a quest to find true love. The tests of true love are dates and getaways that the average-income American could never afford. Apparently, if you can survive weekends in Tahiti and the Greek Isles together, you’ve got a real connection that will last forever. Strangely enough, only a small percentage of the romantic couplings that these tests produce last very long.
          Thus, I’ve got an idea to potentially help “The Bachelor(ette)” produce better marriages. I’d suggest evening out the number of guys and girls, and have a list of dates to replace the usual opulent excursions on the show. These dates (situations would be simulated) would better portray married life and test potential lasting connections. 
-Episode 1: Couple(s) attends family dinner with both sets of potential in-laws. Potential in-laws are encouraged to be disagreeable with each other on politics, child-rearing, education, etc.
-Episode 2: Men choose the china on a wedding registry. Women plan the bachelor party.
-Episode 3: Couple(s) are sent on a grocery trip to Whole Foods with a $40 budget and two mountain goats, with only half an hour to buy groceries for the month and not make a mess.
-Episode 4: Couple(s) get to take a tour of an orphanage in Romania.
-Episode 5: Couple(s) are required to plan and go on a date with no money in a town of less than 25,000 people.
-Episode 6: Couple(s) cruise through a crime-prone neighborhood during a monsoon and blow a tire.
-Episode 7: Each contestant has an alarm in their house that’s set to sound constantly for an hour and a half, every other hour and a half. The alarm’s volume can only be somewhat lowered by walking around the living room holding an 8-pound blanket with two hands. 
-Episode 8: Each contestant is required to do something physically or mentally strenuous for his/her significant other after a long day of work, housework, etc.
-Episode 9: Couples first attend the Antiques Roadshow and then the Monster Truck Rally.
-Episode 10: Each member is privately told that his/her significant other might have a permanent memory loss or mental or physical disability.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Calvinist’s Guide Against Racism: a Review of John Piper’s “Bloodlines”

          Perhaps one of the most pivotal and philosophy-changing classes I ever took was an elective in seminary, entitled Social and Cultural Exegesis. Like most-to-all enrolled students, many presuppositions in my mind about ministry philosophy and even general worldview were shaken as we were challenged with daunting (and sometimes depressing) realities regarding the cultures beyond the pews to whom we’re called to communicate Truth, love and charity. We covered many subjects, including poverty and mass media, but the two main subjects/issues (that our professor felt the American church of the future needed to better understand) were postmodernism and racism.
          Thus, when John Piper, whose usual works are heavily theological/academic and light on contextualization, writes Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian, tackling an under-emphasized issue in the American church with the personal and confessional racism of his past, I was intrigued. This was also one of his first books published since his voluntary leave of absence from ministry. I was anxious, in fact, to see Piper using his personal experience alongside his theological intellect to bring truly biblical and applicable thought beyond his supporters on a truly global issue. I didn’t quite find that in Bloodlines and, to be honest, I was a bit disappointed.
          The introduction is quite captivating. Piper quotes a very functional, but likely little-known, definition of racism, and makes accurate (dare I say, phenomenological) distinctions when it comes to culture’s role in said definition. He also quotes and well-applies the undervalued, wise and seemingly prophetic words of Dr. King. Some of these words, as a pastor myself, I sadly wish I would have known from Dr. King earlier.
          My captivation continued into Section One and Two of Part One, as Piper details his racist upbringing from a church in the South, and even a socio-cultural history of “black-white relationships” (Chapter 4) since the work of Dr. King, quoting famous speakers thereof such as Juan Williams and Bill Cosby. In doing this, Piper does well to show the complexity of the issues, rightfully portraying that sin’s effects, apart from the work of Christ and Heaven, are just plain irreparable. What’s interesting in Part One is that Piper seems to alternate chapters between biblical theology and modern racism, almost making some readers think that he co-authored the book with an anthropologist/historian. I found myself waiting for him to connect the two subjects and “bring it home.”
          That started to happen in Chapter 7, the first chapter of Part Three, where Piper notes that Jesus inadvertently incited a riot among an ethnocentric synagogue attendance when he spoke of an Old Testament story where God cared for some Gentiles (Luke 4:16-30). This chapter marked the beginning of the explanation of Jesus’s mission (one of many) as the end of ethnocentricism. Very appropriate and applicable.
          But it’s in Chapter 9, and virtually through the rest of Sections Two and Three of Part Two, that Piper takes things in a very denominational direction. He honestly and elaborately profiles himself as a “lover of the Reformed faith (129).” He names the authors of his favorite works. But Piper then spends a few pages explaining how he doesn’t think of Neo-Reformed theology (there are differences) as generally better at countering racism in the hearts of Christians than non-Neo-Reformed theology, just that it has helped him. This disclaimer, however, doesn’t stop him from what could be seen by non-Neo-Reformed Christians as cheap shots, the types of cliches with which I’ve seen Piper’s fans argue in online forums (e.g. “man-centered,” “free-will-thumping,” “rationalistic piety” (132)). Piper then spends the rest of those two sections (many pages) debunking racism -curiously- not with much more stories against racism in the Bible (like Luke 4:16-30), but with the five traditional points of Calvinism (TULIP). His seeming main point is that the work of Christ on the cross, the crux of all Christian theology, while, in Piper's view, not applied to all souls (Limited Atonement) was/is global.
          In the latter part of Section Three, Piper speaks well against partiality, using the story of the rich and poor congregation members (James 4) and giving a nod to the Church’s continual inward battle against economic bigotry. He goes on to encourage readers to strive toward a diversity that glorifies Christ’s grace with its beauty in Chapter 14. And the applicability picks up well from here. In Chapters 15 and 16, Piper speaks on behalf of interracial marriages (sadly still an issue in the American church today) and does a good job explaining and setting boundaries between common generalist thought and sinful stereotype, the latter of which leads to racial or other prejudice. Piper concludes with a call to humility (himself included) and perseverance in obtaining a biblical and healthy worldview. The book’s appendices feature further details of some of the book’s points, and even some potential direct tips on how a local church can better minister in a multi-ethnic community (including musically).
          When I first picked up Bloodlines, the book on racism and the church which I had read for my aforementioned class, Emerson/Smith’s Divided by Faith, was already sitting on my office shelf. Divided by Faith is much more anecdotal, but, like Bloodlines, brings a lot of socio-cultural and historical awareness to the table. I was really hoping Bloodlines would bring a lot more biblical input to the table, but I feel it only brought some. 
          I understand that the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation of orthodox Christian theology, but the rest of the Bible’s flowing narrative has so much more to offer against racism besides Jesus’s incited riot at the synagogue, and I felt the rest of these stories largely went untouched. What about Jesus’s encounter with a faithful Canaanite woman (Mt. 15:21-28)? What about Luke’s hope for the unreached Gentiles? What about Ro. 9-11 (or does that just refer to predestination)? What about Jonah’s wrongful and embittered condemnation of the Ninevites? What about the allegations of racism and ethnic cleansing against God in the Old Testament (which apologist Paul Copan does well to refute in this book)? The list goes on. Still, John Piper acknowledged the depth of the race problem and answered it with a small amount of biblical input and more Calvinist theology. 
          John Piper gets more listening ears than Emerson, Smith, and Copan at the moment. Because of this and a few other positive preconceived notions about Bloodlines, it was really my hope that this book would be a breakthrough in the communication of holistic biblical truth on an important issue, and that it’d be enjoyably read and heeded by an audience that consisted of more than just Neo-Reformed Christians. There are some good lessons and information in Bloodlines, but, because of the surprisingly low references to relevant Scripture and Piper’s inability (or refusal?) to reach across denominational lines under the umbrella of orthodoxy, I can only subtitle this book as follows: A Calvinist’s Guide Against Racism.