Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Giving Back

I hope everyone in blogland had a good holiday. Ours was good and not too stressful, except when my mom, dad, and stepdad all showed up at church at the same time.... Another story for another day.

Kinsey had a good Christmas too, presents wise anyway. One thing that did happen is that she got several duplicates of gifts. Dora furniture and a Cinderella doll. Sheryl and I talked about it and decided that instead of taking them back to the store, we wanted to take them down to a place where some kids might not have gotten much or anything. We talked to Kinsey about and she agreed too. We figured she had enough toys (too many probably) and that taking stuff back to Target would just give us more than we really needed.

It's a small thing, but what I really hope it does is teach her a lesson about giving and specifically about giving her things away.

If you have children, what are you doing to help teach them about giving?

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Scandal of the Nativity

A baby boy born in a cave. Away from home. The timing of his birth isn’t going to work out exactly right to be nine months from the marriage. And back in his home, there were wild stories that were going around that she had said that she was pregnant with the Messiah. She’d even been sent off to her cousin’s when all the rumors started.

Sometimes, amid the Christmas lights and gifts and concerts and hams, I have a tendency to forget that Jesus’ birth was not a glorious time, and it’s all the little details of the story that make it such. For Joseph and Mary to travel away from home for the birth may have been a bit easier just to get away from the talk that must have been happening, but to travel by donkey at 9 months pregnant? That could not have been comfortable.

Then to get to Bethlehem and there to be no room anywhere. Now, if my understanding is correct, family is one of the most important parts of Jewish life and Joseph must have had family there, but no one took them in. A man with his 9 month pregnant wife. We can only speculate why, but if I were to conjecture, I would wonder if the rumors of the origin of Mary’s pregnancy had reached all the way down to Bethlehem. Of course, if family didn’t take them in, there was no room anywhere else, except in a cave where the animals stayed. We make a big deal about “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay,” but do you know what animals do in hay? I think about Mary and how she felt having to give birth to Jesus there and how Joseph must have felt about the fact that he couldn’t give his wife and son a proper place for birth.

Add to this the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew and there’s a situation there where almost the only rejoicing is done by the angels to the shepherds.

We do a great job of sanitizing the Nativity every year, but as Randy Harris has said, Jesus was born into blood, scandal, and poverty. And it’s even bookended by the fact that he died in the same way: a criminal executed in the worst way possible with nothing to his name.

The even crazier thing? Jesus chose that birth. The one person in the history of the cosmos that could choose his parents and he chose a peasant girl from a backwater of a Roman province. He didn’t choose to be Caesar Augustus’ son or even the son of the High Priest.

The Nativity is a beautiful event. It just wasn’t very pretty.

Merry Christmas, bloggers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas in the Hospital

I love Christmas. A bunch. I love the trees, the trimmings, the presents, the generosity, all of it. However, we’ve had a couple of rough ones.

Christmas 2000. Sheryl is 4 months pregnant. I’ve been at my first job after teaching for 6 months. December 18, 2000. The business is closing and they are laying all 3 of the employees off. However, the roughest one we had was two years later.

Christmas 2003 looked like it was going to be a good one. I had just accepted a job with my current company. My contract with my previous company, EDS, was going to allow me to do some part time work with them through the next few months, providing some extra money. Kinsey was two and a half and was really getting some idea of the Santa Claus Christmas thing.

December 23, 2003. I totaled out my car. Turned into a lane where I thought a car was turning and it went straight. So there went a car that’s been a good one for us and now we have to start thinking about another one.

Christmas Eve. We go to my parents’ house to do Christmas. The benefit of having both sets of parents close is that we get to see them both at all holidays. So we were going to Sheryl’s parents on Christmas Day. Kinsey got some really nice toys: some Little People stuff, some Toy Story things including a big Woody doll that talks when you pull his string. I got a guitar. Things were very nice, except for that nagging wrecked car in the back of our minds.

Until we started noticing that Kinsey wasn’t breathing very easily. It wasn’t very noticeable for a while, but my mom mentioned it. She and dad are both nurses (as well as my sister and now my brother), so they broke out the stethoscopes and listened. On their recommendation, we called the on call pediatrician and she recommended that we take Kinsey to the Vanderbilt ER. We did it and the doctors put her on oxygen. She wasn’t getting enough O2 into her lungs and it was causing her to breathe so shallowly. So they put a mask on her and said that if the O2 came up and stayed up on its own, she’d be able to go home.

Have you ever tried to keep a mask on a 2 year old? I’m sure a few of you might have Not the easiest job in the world. She didn’t like the smell. She didn’t like the feel of it. She was tired (all of this happening around midnight on Christmas Eve). Her O2 levels wouldn’t stay up so the doctors said she had to be admitted and would have to stay on the mask all night. So here we are, Christmas Eve, and Kinsey has to spend the night in the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, just before they opened the new building.

Well, Sheryl sent me home to get some clothes for them and I brought back a little Christmas tree that I got from Walgreen’s too (never thought I’d be thankful for the “Shop on Every Corner,” but there you have it). Sheryl sent me back home to get some sleep so that I’d be able to help out some more the next day.

I got there on Christmas Day and Kinsey was doing much better. Her levels weren’t back up to completely normal, but they were getting there. We ended up going home that afternoon and she got to have Christmas with Sheryl’s family on the 26th.

One thing that has always stuck with me is how sad a children’s hospital is on Christmas day. Of all the places a child should be on Christmas, the hospital is the last place you want to be. We were the recipients of some immense kindness of strangers. Kinsey got several stuffed animals and we also got a $25 gift card to GapKids from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, as did all the kids on the ward. I’m not a fan of their music necessarily, but Sheryl and I are definitely fans of theirs.

Kinsey’s great and has really gotten into Christmas this year. I would just encourage everyone to think about those who don’t get to enjoy Christmas in the same way that most of us will.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The View From Behind the Sound Board

For the last week, I’ve been working closely with Brandon Scott Thomas at church on the Christmas concert, King of Glory, King of Love. I worked behind the sound board mixing a 30 voice chorus and a five man band. If that sounds difficult, it was.

Last Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were fine because we were using tracks from a CD. No feedback from the speakers or anything. Wednesday night, the band set up and we did some soundchecking with them until about 9:30. On Thursday night, we mixed the band and chorus together and that’s when the problems started. You know, mixing is hard enough, but one of the issues we run into for this kind of thing is that Otter Creek (Church of Christ, I'll remind you; no instruments on Sunday morning) was simply not designed for this kind of activity. The band (including full drum kit) was right beside the chorus which made it difficult for the chorus to hear themselves, so we had to try and take the monitor level for the chorus up. Also in our setup the main speakers are actually behind where the chorus was, so we had the potential for some feedback issues there. This is actually about the worst place for main speakers to be, but there’s nothing we can do about that at this point.

We fought with all of these issues for three nights, Thursday, Friday, and on the Saturday night performance. One of the challenges of doing sound for something like this is dealing with the different requests that people are having and trying as hard as you can to accommodate them. One person wants more chorus in the monitor, another doesn’t think their instrument is loud enough in the house. Add to this the challenge of avoiding feedback and it makes for some very stressful times.

Well, Saturday night came and things just didn’t go well. For one, the chorus WAS too low in their monitors and they couldn’t hear themselves, so they sang louder to try and hear themselves and it threw off the balance. The band was much too loud and that threw things a little more off kilter trying to find the perfect balance that we hadn’t really been able to achieve in any of our previous rehearsals. The biggest problem Saturday night was a major feedback problem during one of the best songs of the show, a duet between two “ringers” BST brought in the chorus, Reco and Tracye. They are strong, strong singers, creative in adlibs, and brought a soul to the show that just blows me away every time I listen to them. As soon as Tracye started into her part of the duet, feedback. Too strong somewhere, had to take her down and build it back up… Threw the whole thing off and I felt terrible. Add to that whole mess that during the last song, we blew a breaker and lost power to everything up the balcony: sound board, lights, computer, all of it. Saturday night was my sound nightmare and in fact, I dreamed about it that night.

Two saving graces out of this. 1) We had another show Sunday. Try to do it better. 2) I had a great guy, Scott Hernbeck, the father of one of the kids in the kids’ chorus helping out. Scott is a sound expert and he volunteered to help me. During some major issues Friday night, he really helped out and just did some yoeman’s work. After Saturday’s show and talking with Brandon about some of the comments that he got, Scott and I tweaked some more and tried to get it right.

Last night’s show was fabulous. Only one feedback issue. People could hear themselves sing. The band was a good level. People who came to both shows said that Sunday was a drastic improvement and I’m so excited that we got it right. Reco and Tracye’s duet was extraordinary and they closed out the last two songs with some beautiful adlibs. We even kept power throughout the whole show.

I’m grateful to God that things improved to where they were and that people enjoyed the show as much as they did. I also apologize for the length of this post, but I needed to get some of this down. If you’ve ever thought while in a show or at church, “Boy they need to turn that up,” or “Why isn’t it quieter?” just realize that it’s usually not a matter of pushing the volume knob up.

Finally, in other news, the van is fixed again. It was the catalytic converter and Sheryl’s dad and I replaced it on Saturday morning and got out of it spending about $100. Very grateful for dodging a huge financial bullet there.

Friday, December 16, 2005

No Church on Sunday

Some of you may have seen some of the falderal going on about some churches choosing to not have services on Christmas day, which is on a Sunday this year. Some churches (generally megachurches, it seems) have chosen to not have the services on Sunday to allow people to spend time with their families as people generally do.

Now, as you read about this on the web, most people are having one of two reactions.
  1. "I cannot believe they are thinking about not having church on this day! It's Sunday. You always go to church on Sunday!'
  2. "What's the big deal? So you go to church on a Saturday night or not at all instead of Sunday. No problem."
I honestly think both of those points have merit. I understand the value of tradition. I'm at church with my family every Sunday. Of course, I get paid to be there and run the sound and technology, and it would be a lie to say that on some mornings I wouldn't rather attend Mattress Springs Church of Christ. However, I think there's a lot of merit to the ideas of traditions and maintaining them (and I guess the argument could be made from the the other side about opening presents on Christmas day).

However, here's where I think both sides miss the point. We have done a great job of assigning our spiritual lives to a specific hour on Sunday wherein we make sure we get our spiritual time cards checked. The interesting thing is that when you look at how the early church worked, there was nothing of that mindset. People got together because they wanted to be together as a spiritual family. They wanted to spend time together. There was no sense of obligation.

I think that one of the problems with having specific buildings for meetings is that it becomes very easy to compartmentalize our spiritual lives into that building and the time we spend there. Just look at the worship wars that Churches of Christ have about instrumental music and the "five acts of worship:" singing, teaching, communion, giving, and praying (all of which must occur, but cannot be done simultaneously...).

Like I said, I think going to a church building to meet with other Christians is a good thing to do, but it is NOT our only experience of church, of community. I can experience that community with my family, a small group, another church.

So if your congregation is not meeting on Christmas day, enjoy your time with what you do. If it is, enjoy that time with your spiritual family.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Narnia Review and Other Thoughts

I saw TLTWATW Sunday night. I'm going to talk about it now. If you haven't seen the movie, don't read yet.

I loved it. It wasn't up there with LOTR but it was so well done and so true, not just to the story, but also to the spirit of the book. The sense of wonderment that you saw through the children, especially Lucy, about the place was palpable.

I loved so many little moments that just stuck out to me. For instance,
  • Starting with the London Blitz. Gave a sense of danger in this world, especially contrasted with the danger in Narnia
  • The carving on the Wardrobe telling the story of the Magician's Nephew
  • Mr. Tumnus dropping the packages when he sees Lucy
  • Peter discovering that Beaver could talk
  • The drink that the Witch created for Edmund dissolving back into snow when the dwarf threw it away
  • The fact that Edmund's guilt was compounded when Mr. Tumnus and the Fox were turned into stone through his information
  • Aslan's death was done right with a proper sense of horror and dread
  • I loved the fact that Lucy tried to use her cordial on Aslan when he died. I never thought about that, but it makes perfect sense.
  • I thought the battle at the end was well done. You got a real sense of strategy and what both sides were trying to accomplish.
  • The Witch wearing Aslan's mane into battle
  • When Edmund went to cut the Witch's wand, she dodged the first time. I thought that was nice misdirection by the director.
  • I liked the end with the grownup children. I do wish they had spoken in the proper English as Lewis had them do.
  • That little scene after the credits where Lucy tries to go back through the wardrobe, and Professor Kirke (Diggory) tells her that she can't. So poignant.
So, any disappointments? Yeah, a few.
  • I thought the music was very unmemorable. Walking out of LOTR I could whistle the Rohan theme and the Hobbit song, and still can. Nothing about the music stuck with me.
  • Aslan was not as well done as I would have liked. No problems with Liam Neeson as the voice. The computer graphics were ok, but I never got the sense of wildness that is always talked about. Now, in fairness, I don't think Lewis ever really did either. It's a good concept of Aslan not being tame, but the execution is tough
So I really liked and thought that it really fulfilled all of my expectations, but didn't exceed them like LOTR did.

So is it appropriate for a four year old? Not mine. Just for the battle and Aslan's death. The battle is very intense and there is a lot of death and wounding (no blood though). Aslan's death is also not bloody, but it is dark and the creatures there are extremely scary. I just don't think Kinsey's ready for it yet.

In other news, I think the transmission in the van has gone out. I was on a trip with the Zoe Group on Saturday to Cookeville. I heard a clunk and the van dropped out of gear. I let it sit for a couple of minutes, then it started right up and ran fine the rest of the time. I thought it might be the oil, since I hadn't changed that in 8,000 miles (yes, I know it's stupid. I just get absent minded about stuff like that). Ran fine all the way home. Ran fine to work, on the way home yesterday, it started losing power and just running poorly. I got it to a garage and now I'm waiting to hear about it. I'm worried that it's going to be expensive if it's the transmission, because we REALLY don't have the money right now. And of course, it would happen the week of the Christmas concert at church.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Otter Creek Church of Christ Has a New Home

Yesterday, the elders announced that Otter Creek has purchased an existing church building that will become our new church home on February 26th, 2006. This building previously belonged to Brentwood Baptist Church and is currently owned by the Living Word Community Church. I am extremely happy about this from several perspectives.

  1. Financial - My understanding is that for us to build a new building on the corner of Franklin Road and Concord Lane in Brentwood, TN would cost us several million dollars. To build phase one (with a 800 seat auditorium and not much classroom space) would have been about $-- million. For around two thirds of that number, we're purchasing an existing building in a nice location with a 1400 seat auditorium, tons of classroom space, a gym, and many other accoutrements. We'll sell the land we bought, we'll eventually sell our current space, and we will go into this building almost debt free. Financially, this makes the most sense.

  2. Church Clutter - In the area of Franklin and Concord, there are four existing churches and one existing pseduo-church. Our two immediate neighbor churches are, for lack of a better term, megachurches. Huge edifices, huge populations. My feeling has always been that that area doesn't need another big church (which Otter Creek seems to aspire to become), not because megachurches are inherently evil or wrong. I worry about the message that that can send to people who don't go to church. So it makes me very happy that we're buying a current building and not adding to the church clutter at that corner.

  3. Future Church Plant? - While there have been informal talks within some groups at Otter Creek about planting a church, nothing firm has come to fruition. I have this hope that buying this building will allow some of those talks to gain some traction and allow the people who have those dreams to put them into action.
I know that Otter Creek in her current configuration cannot stay at our present location. But I will say that I will miss where we are now. For one thing, the new building will add about 5-7 minutes to our commute. "Big deal," you might say, but 5-7 minutes can be crucial if I'm trying to set things up for the service. For another, that building is where I grew up. I'm the fourth generation of my family at that building. My great-grandfather was the first preacher at our current building in 1950. I got baptized there, I got married there, Kinsey was dedicated there... I'll miss the history that I feel every time I walk in that building.

But I am excited. I am looking forward to a new place with the same people. I think that this is a good move for the church and a much more palatable one than building a brand new place that always felt like it would be a monument to us, whether that was the intention or not. I don't think God cares where we are and where our building is. What I do think He wants is for us to be about bringing His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. Will this building allow us to do that better? No. It's only a place. The Kingdom is truly in our hearts and in our actions.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Narnia Made Me Who I Am

I realize that there will be thousands posts about Narnia today with the release of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (TLTWATW), but I really got thinking about this on the way to work this morning.

I don't remember when I first read the Chronicles, but it's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From the Collier paperbacks (in the correct published order) to a concept album called The Roar of Love by a Christian group called The Second Chapter of Acts (very 70s but very fun), there's always been some involvement I've had with the series. But the interesting thing is that Narnia was a gateway for me in C.S. Lewis' other writings, as well as many other writings both theological and fantastic.

Narnia obviously enouraged me to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkein, but since I was such a voracious reader in elementary school, my librarian pushed me to other series that continued that love of fantasy.
  • Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles about a pigkeeper who becomes a hero and more.
  • Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence about the 7th son of a 7th son who discovers that he's the last of timeless group called the Old Ones, meshing Celtic legend with Arthurian overtones.
  • Terry Brooks' Shannara series, a what if series set after a nuclear war, with the fantasy creatures being an outcome of that
  • Harry Turtledove's Videssos Cycle, a series about a Roman Republic-era legion magically transported to another dimension that strangely looks a lot like the Byzantine Empire
  • Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon cycle, a superb retelling of the Arthur story.
  • Stephen Lawhead's masterpiece, The Song of Albion Trilogy, a story about an Oxford student thrust into a prototypical ancient Celtic Otherworld that will absolutely blow your mind when you get to the end of it.
Now, some of you will read this and think, "Nerd." And some of you might be thinking, "I would have totally beat you up in high school." But reading fantasy kept open my mind and my heart to the belief that there is more out there than what I can see. That there is a further world beyond us that is as real as what we can see, taste, touch, and hear. Did it feed into some escapist fantasies as I dealt with my parents' divorce? Yes it did, but I needed them at the time. Does it still? Sometimes, but every now and then I need to escape this world for a couple of hours.

Narnia gave me a love of literature and writing and reading that I can never imagine being without. And it taught me that sometimes you can tell the truth better through myth and fantasy than you can with expository nonfiction. Something I've tried to do in writing that will probably never be seen and found very difficult.

Is Narnia a children's story? Yes, but in my pursuit to have the faith of a child, it is a touchstone of who I am today, as a man, a father, and most importantly, a follower of Jesus.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion"

Note: That is not my quote. It is the title of the article excerpted below by Polly Toynbee in the British paper, the Guardian.

Children won't get the Christian subtext, but unbelievers should keep a sickbag handy during Disney's new epic, writes Polly Toynbee

Narnia is a strange blend of magic, myth and Christianity, some of it brilliantly fantastical and richly imaginative, some (the clunking allegory) toe-curlingly, cringingly awful.

Disney is deliberately promoting this film to the religious - it has appointed Outreach, an evangelical publisher, to promote the Christian message behind the movie in British churches. The Christian radio station Premier is urging churches to hold services on the theme of The Gospel According to Narnia. Even the Methodists have written a special Narnia-themed service. And a Kent parish is giving away £10,000 worth of film tickets to single-parent families. (Are the children of single mothers in special need of the word?)

Disney may come to regret this alliance with Christians, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the enthusiasm of the churches, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ bombed in Britain and warehouses are stuffed with unsold DVDs of that stomach-churner. There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas.

Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age-old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy, so only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography will see Jesus in the lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young - apart from those in faith schools - that number must be considerably higher. Ask art galleries: they now have to write the story of every religious painting on the label as people no longer know what "agony in the garden", "deposition", "transfiguration" or "ascension" mean. This may be regrettable cultural ignorance, but it means Aslan will stay just a lion to most movie-goers.

All the same, children may puzzle over the lion and ask embarrassing questions.
Embarrassing to whom?

This Christ-lion willingly lays down his life, submitting himself to be bound, thrashed and humiliated by the white witch, allowing his golden mane to be cut and himself to be slaughtered on the sacrificial stone table: it cracks in sympathetic agony and his body goes missing. The two girls lay down their heads and weep, Magdalene and Mary-like. Be warned, the film lingers long and lovingly over all this.

Here's the kicker of the article.

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

It sounds like this author's problems are more with the Christianity that has been practiced toward her than anything else.

Tolkien hated Narnia: the two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power - lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit.

I haven't seen scholarship that indicates this. Does anyone else know of anything that would lend to this interpretation?

Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read".

Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis's view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis's earth.

OK. I agree with a lot of her writing here, except that I don't believe Lewis would agree with Peel (sic). I also agree with the depicition of Jesus as a Lamb, but it doesn't negate his position as the lion as well. And hey, it's an allegory. It's going to be limited in the very nature of its scope. Oh yeah, it's also a children's book. It's going to be simplistic.

However, I have found Philip Pullman's mentions of Narnia to be mean spirited and putting forth hatred of the work that he accuses the work itself of having.

Lewis said he hoped the book would soften-up religious reflexes and "make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life". Holiness drenches the Chronicles. When, in the book, the children first hear someone say, mysteriously, "Aslan is on the move", he writes: "Now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had enormous meaning ..." So Lewis weaves his dreams to invade children's minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy - but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism.

"Emotional sadism"? I guess maybe growing up Christian, I'm blind to that.

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.

I truly think that this writer has exposed some real problems in Christianity, if what she interprets Christianity to be were what Christianity really was. She also seems to think that humans without any religious guidance would find the goodness in themselves and pursue that. I think human history has proven that just as wrong as history has proven that those who use religion and Jesus for power are just as wrong.

I don't mind this author having the opinions she has. And I'll grant that my criticisms of her writing are as based in my own context and belief as her criticisms of TLTWATW are. What strikes me is that her bias is so strong that she can't see the goodness in the story of sacrifice and victory over evil and wants to persuade others against it.

Read the whole article and not just the excerpts I've picked out. Am I reading too much into this? Am I being overly critical because Narnia was as integral to my childhood as Star Wars was?

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Emerging Church

About two years ago, I read a book called When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett. Now, those of you that know me know that I've always been a bit of a malcontent about many things, but church and how church is done in particular. Reading this book coalesced a lot of ideas that I had been having and really put into words these little issues I'd been feeling were going on.

From that I ended up reading The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball, which was kind of a gateway drug into A New Kind of Christian and the rest of the writings by Brian McLaren, who opened up a whole new group of people to read, especially N.T. Wright.

These people and many others have been a part of a movement called the Emerging Church, which is a loose affiliation of people who are trying to grapple with changes in society surrounding the shift from modern thought to postmodern thought and what role Christianity will play in that (there could be a whole blog on how to define modern and postmodern and if someone wants deeper explanation of what is meant by that, ask in the comments and I'm sure someone will give a good response). It takes a lot of forms and there are so many blogs and thoughts out there that to even try to categorize them would be foolhardy and time-consuming. Just put Emerging Church into Google and see what you get (Hint: 586,000 hits).

Now then, Brian McLaren has kind of become a spokesperson/guru/target of the whole Emerging Church deal, but as much as he tries to step away from that, it's just kind of happened. However, he doesn't like the term "The Emerging Church." He doesn't like "The" because it implies that it's "The" church, and he thinks we've heard enough of that. He doesn't like "Emerging" because it's a term that's completely dependent on whatever it's emerging out of. And he doesn't like "Church" because it's not really a church, it's more of a conversation going on between people in churches. So except for the name of it, he's got no issue.

McLaren has also become a major target in what people think is a pretty heretical movement in Christianity, particularly from the Calvinists/Reform theology side of things. Some extremely harsh things have been said about him for raising questions that many don't think should be raised at all. People have attacked him on issues like changing the Gospel, homosexuality, social justice, reducing the importance of the sacrifice of Christ, etc. etc. etc. etc. Just go to Amazon and look at the lowest ratings on his books to see the kind of criticism that people are offering.

However, there is a spirit of dialogue that is starting to come forward and all that stuff above is kind of a prelude to what the real point of this blog is.

Adam Ellis stayed with me and Sheryl (and Kinsey, who I think has a little crush) this week while taking a graduate course at Lipscomb and gave me a CD of a talk by Michael Wittmer on The Emerging Church, offering praise and criticisms with Brian McLaren in the audience. I did some digging and discovered that it was part of a series of lectures at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary that Brian McLaren spoke at and had some dialogue with critics.

If you have interest in McLaren and/or the Emerging Church, I highly recommend that you listen to this series. Ever since my stereo got stolen out of my car, I've been listening to my iPod a lot and have really enjoyed the chance to listen to this series and hear some different perspectives and ideas. The absolute best thing about it is the spirit of brotherhood and love for Christ that comes from all three men involved in it. They disagree without being rancorous, they answer issues brought up, and most of all, they love Jesus all the way through it.

As a final note, in his lecture, Michael Wittmer offers the Top Ten signs that you might be emergent, and I offer them hear for a Friday laugh.

10. If you have never read Left Behind, never said The Prayer of Jabez, and never led the 40 Days of Purpose
9. If you think you saw a megachurch on VH1's I Love the 80s
8. If you wouldn't be surprised to find Gandhi in heaven, but would be floored to find Jerry Fallwell
7. If in a debate with Jack Van Impe you'd likely argue that the bear is America and the AntiChrist is Pat Robertson
6. If your preacher just cussed and it seemed appropriate
5. If you honored your pastor with a box of fine cigars and beers on the house
4. If your cool hair resembles a midwestern Ryan Seacrest and if you have no hair and still look cool, you just might be a leader of Emergent
3. If you use the word "groove" as a verb and don't sound like a dork
2. If you purchase church supplies from a Buddhist bookstore
1. If your favorite Carson is Johnny

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe, and the Four Year Old

Kinsey loves movies. She would watch the same movie over and over again if she could. Right now, it’s The Polar Express. In the past, it’s been Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Sleeping Beauty, Lion King, and Toy Story 2. You’ll probably notice a lot of Pixar movies in there. I personally love the Pixar movies because they are good and appropriate for kids, but even more importantly they tell great stories. I remember watching the first Toy Story in the theater and having to remind myself that I was watching a cartoon because the story was so engrossing.

One movie that we were really uncertain about was The Incredibles when it came out in November of 2004. It was the first PG rated Pixar film and Sheryl and I saw it in the theater to see if Kinsey could take it. We decided that since there was quite a bit of violence and a character does die at the end, it would be too much. Of course, we got it on DVD because we figured that Kinsey would really get into it when she got older. Well, I started showing it to her when we got it, just to see how she would do with it. And she loved it. Loved every second of it. She laughed at all the funny parts, liked to pretend that she was Dash, all the great stuff. She didn’t even seem too bothered when the character dies at the end. Well, this got me all jazzed up to show her Star Wars (Star Wars IV: A New Hope for you completists out there) However, Sheryl vetoed this (she has a very powerful vote) thinking that it would be completely different seeing violence done to real people.

At any rate, all of this is brought to my mind by the upcoming release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (TLTWATW). I read the book to her this summer as well as reading a story book version of it, which she loves. However, I don’t think we’re going to take her to the movie version. I think it looks a bit too Lord of the Rings in the violence category and I think the scene with Aslan on the Stone Table looks particularly scary (and a good thing in my opinion). I want to take her to good entertainment, but I also don’t want to scar her too early. Also, there’s something different about seeing something like that in a dark theater rather than with the lights on in the family room.

So what do you guys think? Is 4 years old too young to see violence in something like TLTWATW? Or am I being oversensitive?

Monday, November 28, 2005

"...you visited me."

I don’t really plan on making these Monday posts a usual occurrence, but something happened yesterday that I want to post on.

I went with three other guys to a maximum security prison yesterday to help lead some church time. This is all a part of me trying to take Matthew 25 as seriously as I can. The first place we went is called the Annex and it’s more for guys who are getting ready to be paroled or less serious offenders. We met in basically a conference room with about 10 other guys and did communion and had a discussion about John 3.

But the thing that really hit me was that in one corner of the room was this picture painted on the cement block of Disney characters. When I first saw that it seemed so out of place to me, until I realized that it was a place for the kids when they came and visited their dads in prison and just picturing the situations when those kids would come and then have to leave and how the hearts must break during those times. I felt such pain for those guys and their families.

After the Annex, we went to the real maximum security area and had to go through all the check-in procedures. We walked up to the chapel area and there were about 40 guys in there getting ready for worship. They had a band and they played a lot of old time hymns: “Victory in Jesus,” “I’ll Fly Away,” stuff like that. It was amazing for me to think that one week previous, I’d been at the Ryman Auditorium with about 800 other Christians, worshipping in a very similar way. And I realized that God doesn’t view those two worship services as different at all. They were both His children worshipping Him. The place of them was simply different and the circumstances were. You see, the only difference I see is that the guys in the prison made bad choices and are having to live with the consequences of those decisions. The people at the Ryman could go home to their beds and wake up the next day and do the things their freedom allowed. The guys at the prison can’t, but I don’t believe that God looks at those two worship times as different at all. We create the differences. Our mistake is when we become like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 and not the tax collector.

I was honored to be in both places, one week apart. And while I may never run sound at the Ryman again, I’ll be back at the prison.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

For the last two years, I've organized the Thanksgiving service at Otter Creek. Here's what I said yesterday.

I don’t really have much to say today. I figure at this time we’ve all thought about the things we are thankful for: a chance to get together with family, good food, good times. We are simply a fortunate people who live in a country that allows us to live and worship in the way we wish. These are good things and things for which we should be thankful.

One of the other things that I’m incredibly thankful for is this church body here at Otter Creek. The last 5 years of my life have been pretty full. From the birth of my daughter to losing two jobs, to now working at Otter Creek for the last three years and being at my current job for two and then this year, going on a ministry trip to England and Sheryl being pregnant, things have been incredibly full. And through it all, Otter Creek has been a bedrock for me. It’s where my best friends are; it’s where my mentors in life and faith are. It’s where I was baptized, it’s where I got married, and it’s where my daughter was dedicated to God.

One of the things that always encourages me about Otter Creek is the ability to ask questions that don’t have easy or obvious answers, and even the ability to ask questions that have obvious answers, but the answers are not easy. I’ve been asking a lot of those questions over the last two years. Wondering about the purpose of church, the purpose of staring at the back of each other’s heads for an hour every Sunday, singing songs about how much God loves me, wondering about what it means to be a Christian, wondering about who Jesus was.

One thing that I’ve thought hard about is that for those gifted with physical and financial wealth, the responsibility to the poor is huge. We have to give of what we have been given. That’s what I hope this gift card drive can remind us. That some of the things that we take for granted (like buying diapers or laundry detergent or toilet paper or getting gas) are not things that some people can do every day. And I think it’s incumbent upon those people who have the ability to help those who need it, should help those that need it. If that’s not what Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-36 is talking about, I don’t know what it is.

Honestly, this is something difficult for me to think about. I don’t like thinking about the fact that there are families in this city living on less than $10,000 a year. I don’t like the thought that tonight some parents will not eat themselves so that their children can eat. But they are there.

Back in August, this fact was brought into sharp focus with Hurricane Katrina. The memories I have are not simply of the devastation that Katrina brought onto the Gulf Coast, but of all the faces of the people stranded downtown begging for help. The stories of the people at the New Orleans Convention Center and the Superdome brought to light the struggle that so many have everyday. It’s true that those situations were among the worst that we could imagine in a civilized society, but they also show the very thin thread that can sometimes hold things together for people. When desperate people get into desperate situations, some do desperate, foolish, stupid, dangerous things.

We’ve taken the opportunity that came out of Katrina’s devastation to help people in the Gulf Coast to clean out their houses and begin rebuilding them. Now I truly believe that we are being called to help people here in Nashville do the same thing with their lives. We are being called to help people clean out their lives and begin rebuilding them. And it’s hard work. Ask any of the people who have gone down to help with Katrina clean up. It’s nasty, it’s tiring. The work of rebuilding people’s lives is just the same way. But you see, we don’t have to come up with fancy mission statements or vision statements. Jesus did it for us in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” We’ve got our mission; it’s simply for us to decide to get off our pews and go do it.

You see, as I read the Scriptures, it becomes apparent that part of the judgment we will have will be based on how we treat those that are less fortunate. In Amos 5, verses 21-24, God says,

21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.

22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

God doesn’t care about our worship, if we are not active in bringing justice to those who are having it denied to them. And even more pointedly, Jesus says in Matthew 25.

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Being a Christian is more than simply mentally assenting to an idea about Jesus. It’s about following him and his example.

Remembering what we have to be thankful for is a wonderful part of this time of year. But if we are serious about claiming to be “little Christs” (which is what it means to say you’re a “Christian”), then we have to be concerned about the things and the people that Jesus was concerned about: the poor, the people outside of the mainstream, the disenfranchised.

So as we go out today to enjoy our times with families and then tomorrow as some of you will be waking up at ungodly hours of the morning to save money on gifts, try to remember those we usually do our best to ignore. We claim a Savior who did that. So should we.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Picking Battles

One of the big things I think about in raising Kinsey and the next one is picking the right “battles to fight.” I really try to figure out when is the right time to really enforce my will (what I think she should do) on her (what she wants to do). You guys read about this process last week.

I get caught between this “daddy” desire to let her do exactly what she wants whenever she wants that makes her happy and the “father” ideas that she actually needs to do what I tell her to do when I tell her to do it. Now I’ll say that she has gotten much better about this than she was 1 year and 2 years ago, but every now and then I’ll tell her to do something and not only won’t she do it, she’ll give me this look of what I can only describe as defiance and if there’s anything that gets my blood boiling, it’s that.

So from you guys, what insights do you have about what battles to fight? When do you fight them? How do you fight them?

Monday, November 21, 2005

My Weekend

Could I post this tomorrow? Sure, but let me tell you about my weekend…

Saturday morning. Woke up at 6:45 (not my normal waking time on a weekend). Drove downtown to hear Tony Campolo speak on politics at the Downtown Presbyterian Church. Talked to Tony Campolo and his wife for a brief time about the interior of the church (Egyptian revivalist from the 1920s, I think, even though I said it was the late 1800s on Saturday [couldn’t remember the field trip information from my youth]) Heard Tony Campolo lecture about politics. “If someone asks me if I’m a Democrat or Republican, I say, ‘On what issue?’” Also got to hear him say, "Every day 3500 children die of preventable causes and what's even worse is that most of you don't give a shi.. And what's even worse than that is the more of you are more concerned that I just said 'Shi.' in a church than the fact that 3500 children will die today." He was quoting himeself, but I still heard him say it live. Went down to the Convention Center to get in to the exhibit hall for the National Youthworkers Convention with my buddy, Adam Ellis. Didn’t have a badge. Couldn’t get in. Went back up the Downtown Pres. Actually TALKED with Tony Campolo about Christians in Politics and how he thinks Karl Rove is actually evil and a genius.

Saturday Afternoon: Went home and picked up Kinsey so Sheryl could sleep some. Took Kinsey to Davis-Kidd so she could play and hang out (she didn’t do much of either of those things). Got her a couple of books and me one (Luke for Everyone by N.T. (Tom) Wright). Came home. Turned on the TV. WATCHED VANDERBILT BEAT UT!!!!!!!!!!! Ran out into my yard and screamed and jumped up and down. Called all my Vandy friends that I know to celebrate. Barely avoided calling all my UT supporting friends and being really obnoxious.

Saturday Night: Clean up house and rest…

Sunday Morning: Church. Did the Ministry Moment about the Loughborough trip. Met someone who had gone to the British Bible School with Mark and Paul Hill and had done campaigns in Loughborough. Small world? No, Tiny World. Went to lunch with Sheryl and Kinsey.

Sunday Afternoon and Night: Went downtown to the Ryman. Set up for the Thanksgiving Worship Service sponsored by the Operation Andrew Group and the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. Ran the sound mix at the Ryman Auditorium. For a 19 person racially integrated Praise team from Otter Creek and the Temple Church. Plus a 5 man band. Ran the sound mix at the Ryman Auditorium. Btw, this was an amazing night. I’ll never hear Days of Elijah the same way again. Came home. Was asleep by 11 (early for me).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Things Are Happening

In last week's post, I talked about the poverty seminar that Otter Creek had (was going to have, at that point). Something is happening.

If you've read this blog over the last year or so, you know that I've been doing a lot of thinking about what my obligations as a follower of Jesus are to other people. I've started to really get to a point that I feel like there are significant responsibilities to the poor (Matthew 25; Luke 4; etc.). The truth is that while I recognize that fact, I've never felt like I truly have been able to put that thought into action. Part of it is that I'm kind of protective of my "me time." When I get home from work, I don't want to head back out and do something else. I like having my weekends to spend time with my family or doing something enjoyable. The other thing is very simply that poor people make me uncomfortable. I don't know if it's a strange sort of guilt that I feel because I have "things" and they don't or what's going on with that. It just is what it is.

But it's time for me to get over it.

For a long time, I've talked and talked and talked. It's time to put some actions behind my words.

I've become very fortunate in the last six months to get to know Doug Sanders, the Director of Ministries at Otter Creek, quite a bit better. Now, I'll be honest (really honest), when Doug joined, I was a bit leery. Here was a guy coming from the business world into the church world and I was really scared that he was going to bring a business approach to the church (numbers focused). I was very wrong. Doug has caught on fire for the kind of stuff that I and others have been convicted about. But even better, he is putting actions onto words and thoughts that people have really been talking about and directions that people have been moving gradually in.

It's exciting, scary, and I have no idea how all of this is going to turn out. It's in God's hands. Otter Creek is going to start doing some things that I'm excited to see how it turns out. It's going to be hard and it's not always going to be successful and we're probably going to get taken advantage of. But it's how we can show love to people.

I talked a while ago about wanting to be as committed to helping people here in Nashville as I was to the England trip. I hope this is the beginning of that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Thoughts of a Soon-to-be Second Time Father

So the news is out. Sheryl is pregnant with our second child and we really do appreciate all the congratulations and well wishes from all over the world (Hi to Chris and Lena in Kyiv and anyone from Loughborough that might be reading).

And that’s the actual reason I started posting this Tuesday update, kind of to track my thoughts throughout the pregnancy so that Wilson II: The Quickening will be able to see them from when s/he was in utero. I was always curious as to who my parents were before I was born and what they thought about things, so this blog is to see how exactly I felt about things. Btw, yes, we are going to find out the sex in January and that’s actually the subject of today’s blog.

As most of you know, Sheryl and I have a daughter, Kinsey, who will turn 5 on June 5. The due date for this child is May 30, so just six days difference in the two birthdays, if everything goes according to schedule. Sheryl and I were always going to find out the sex (we did with Kinsey), but the closeness of the due date makes it really interesting.

I think as a guy I’m genetically predisposed to wanting a son. Someone to roughhouse with, take to football games, all that guy kind of stuff. Which is stupid, because I can and do do all that with Kinsey. She roughhouses with the best of them, with me anyway. But I still would like a boy, at least to even up the odds in the house. However, having a boy would mean buying a whole slew of new stuff (or at least borrowing it). If we have a girl, not only do we have all the girlie toys (yes, another social stereotype), we have all the clothes in the right season in the right size (winter for 6-9 months, summer for 12-18, etc), plus I’ve got experience with a girl and at least have some expectations of how one will act and react.

For instance, putting Kinsey to bed last night. She decided she wanted her blinds open and obviously, that’s not going to work. So I shut them. She proceeds to open them one by one with her hands. They’re those slat blinds. I told her to stop and with that look at me like “What are you going to do about it?” she did one more. Now I know she’s tired and she needed go to sleep, so I picked her up, laid her on her bed, and shut the door.

You would have thought I had cut off her hand or something. She cried for 20 minutes, calling for Mommy the entire time. I finally went in there and told her that she could see Mommy when she stopped crying and she did, and then fell asleep in about five minutes.

The joys of parenthood.

btw, for an "ouch" laugh today, go to Preston's blog and prepare to sing along.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Sheryl's pregnant with our second child. Heard the heartbeat today. Or "heart beep" as Kinsey calls it.

Woo hoo!!!

Helping the Poor

Well, after that slight diversion into Pat Robertson country (fun place, ain’t it?), here’s the real blog for today.

My church is holding a “Poverty Seminar” on Saturday to get some information about the problem of poverty and explore ways that we as Christians can assist in that. I think it’s a valuable pursuit and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

Here’s the question and I’m really not sure how the answer to this goes:

I completely agree that Christians have an obligation to the poor and to help those less fortunate, but what form should that take? I have a real issue with the image of the rich suburban church striding in triumphantly to help the poor urban folk. How do we help people that are poor without marginalizing them simply by helping them? Can we offer assistance without that being an insult in and of itself? Does it have to be more that “paratrooper help,” i.e. dropping in and getting out? Does it require building credibility slowly and convincing people we really care about them and not just about doing a “ministry”?

I’m looking for really concrete ideas out of this.

Pat Robertson Is at It Again.

Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.

Dear Mr. Robertson,

Please shut up.



Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Family Blog

I thought I’d try something a little different on Tuesdays. I’ve got a lot of family stuff on my mind right now and feel like I’m struggling some. There are a lot of mom blogs out there so here’s the dad perspective. Rest assured that I’ll still post my drivel on Fridays.

I’m discovering that Kinsey is a very strong willed and extremely sensitive little girl (4 years old, for those who don’t know). She is stubborn as they come and will cry at the drop of a hat. For instance, if something doesn’t go her way like not getting to sit with a friend in class, she will cry and cry. She can also be very demanding and quite bossy with people, simply telling people what to do and even using a very strong tone of voice. It’s quite frustrating to me as her father because I want her to be a well adjusted and well liked girl and I’m kind of afraid her attitude will make that harder than it should really be.

Part of me wonders if this is an only child thing, where she is pretty much the center of attention. Part of me wonders if it’s a personality thing that she’s going to have the rest of her life.

Now it’s not always like that and generally she’s a very sweet and cooperative girl. I just want her to be well behaved and pretty much perfect. Hmmm. Maybe I’m the unreasonable one.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The England Journal: Final Thoughts

You know, I've had about two weeks now to really think about this trip and the good and bad of it. And honestly, there was both, but I'll focus on the good.

This was a really unique experience for me and my family. On one hand, I have had the incredible opportunity of being to England twice. To be honest, after the trip in 2000, I knew that Sheryl and I would go back. I honestly didn't know that we'd be back in 5 years with our child. I really thought it would be another 20 or 25. But we got to live our dream a second time and we loved it. However, it was very different from the trip in 2000 in that it was a mission trip and not only that, it was our first mission trip.

It was incredibly special. The people that we met in Loughborough blew me away with their kindness and warmth and hospitality. Mark Hill is one of the hardest working men I've ever met and I respect and love him dearly. His cousin Paul is so hysterical and such a great father to his children and just a man after God's heart. Mark's parents, Norman and Brenda, allow an American family to invade their house and gave us some privacy when we needed and made us laugh and feel at home after long days.

That doesn't even get to the young adults that we met and played with: Tim, Jo, Graham, all those teenage girls that acted just like I'd expect teenage girls to act, confirming that shrieking girls are not limited to the States.

And the children in the HBC. Those sweet fun faces that loved learning the "Going Bananas" song and "C-O-C-O-N-U-T" and that laughed with us and did the crafts and screamed at the Banana piranha.

I loved eating the fish and standing in the queues at the supermarket and saying "crisps" and "biscuits" and kind of acting English, even though I'll really never be.

And I'll always remember Wednesday night. Not because of the talk I gave, but within that talk, I spoke of a smidge of guilt I had for being in England. You see, I really wanted to go. And when the opportunity came up, Sheryl and I jumped at it. And we planned and we worked and we raised funds and all of that. Then Katrina hit and I watched with horror the devastation and had these doubts. How could I go to England when people so close (relatively) were suffering. I was going to England to work with the church, but I was also looking forward to being there and going to London and the Lion King and Westminster Abbey. This was as much a pleasure trip for us as it was a mission/encouragement trip. Mark then spoke up and encouraged me greatly and said that, Yes, they could have put on their own HBC and yes, we could have stayed home and helped with Katrina, but he already knew of children that were so sad we were leaving, because we'd worked so hard with them and taught them about Jesus and they were already getting inklings of that. And that night made the whole trip right there.

There were hard times. I got really annoyed with some people on Friday in London. I wonder sometimes if the team as a whole didn't get distracted by the fact that we were in England, and if we'd gone somewhere else that we didn't have a natural attraction to, if we wouldn't have been as distracted. But I know God worked through us and in us. I have formed relationships with people in our singles' group that I would never have had before. We have grown to love them and will always count them as a part of our family, and I know Kinsey will always remember them as her England friends.

I look forward to us going back and working with the church in Loughborough again, although it might not be for awhile. I'm grateful for the chance and the time that we had there. I thank all of you who have read with me over the last two weeks and hope you've at least got something out of it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The England Journal: Sermon

This is the sermon that I was planning on teaching the Sunday we were in Loughborough, but ended up using it as the basis of the discussion on Wednesday night. It's pretty long, but I would be interested in the thoughts of the blogworld on it.

We’re going to look at three different Scriptures today, from all over the Bible, but you’ll be able to see some relation between them as we go through them.

The first one is in 2 Kings 7, and to give you some context here. Samaria is in a famine and on top of that a city in Samaria is being besieged by the Arameans. Prices have risen so high that the Samaritans are paying the equivalent of five pounds of silver for a donkey’s head to eat, and let’s remember here that donkeys were unclean. So here we have a famine and they’re under siege by Arameans. And into this story, we come to verse 3 of chapter 7.

2Ki 7:3 Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die?

2Ki 7:4 If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

2Ki 7:5 At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there,

2Ki 7:6 for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!”

2Ki 7:7 So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

2Ki 7:8 The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp and entered one of the tents. They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

2Ki 7:9 Then they said to each other, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

To give more context to this we have to understand the condition of lepers. They were the outcasts of society. Worse than dogs. Worse than Madonna. So bad that they had to live outside the city gates. They were untouchable. They had to yell “Unclean!” anytime anyone came near them. And things were so desperate for them that they were willing to go to the enemy that was putting them under siege them to beg for food.

However, the most important thing to notice is their reaction when they discover the Arameans are gone. At first they are selfish and greedy. They eat and drink and hide things. But then, it’s as if their eyes are opened and they realize the problem with what they’re doing. They’re not sharing good news with everyone who can benefit from it. So they go back to the city.

Now, the obvious lesson we can take from this is that we should not be greedy with our faith. That we should share with everyone we come in contact with. As Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” However, I’d like to look at this from a slightly different perspective. I want us to look at the focus. The lepers, the outcasts. These are the ones bringing the good news back. And with that we have to note the prominent position that the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized play in the Kingdom of God.

One of the primary components of the Kingdom is that it works completely differently from the power structures of this world. In this world, the rich, the strong, the mighty are the ones that have the power. In the Kingdom, it is the ones who are weak, the ones who are dependant, the ones who are the least of these. This is a critical component of the Kingdom because it causes us to realize that all the ways that we try to create power for ourselves, whether in business or relationship, have no bearing in the Kingdom and have no eternal significance.

Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, says that God seems to have a special preference for the poor and the downtrodden. In fact if we look at the people that God has chosen to bring His message through it seems to be a who’s who of people that you wouldn’t expect.

Here we have the lepers and I think we’ve covered them. Both Saul and David were not the ones expected to be the King of Israel. As we get into the New Testament, the list gets even more unlikely. The book of Philemon shows that slaves like Onesimus prominently figure into Paul’s picture. The book of Philemon leaves no doubt in this. Tax Collectors who were considered collaborators with the Roman empire join with Jesus in spreading the good news. Look at Zaccheus and Matthew. Women are used in the spreading of the kingdom from Mary Magdalene telling the disciples about the empty tomb and the risen Jesus, to the woman at the well running back to tell the village about this man that knew more about her than he could have possibly known, even to Jesus’ mother Mary. I mean think of it, one of the first people in the world to know and to understand what the coming Kingdom of God would mean was a teenage Jewish girl in a backwater of the Roman Empire.

And let’s ponder that fact for a second. Jesus is the only person in human history that could choose his parents. And whom did he choose? Did he choose to be the son of Augustus Caesar the Roman Emperor of the time? Did he choose to be the son of the High Priest of Israel? Or even the son of Herod? No. He chose two Jewish people, not even from Jerusalem, who were obviously poor, as we see from the sacrifice they make at the temple in Luke 2:24. Had they had the money, Mary and Joseph would have sacrificed a lamb instead of two doves.

This is even further reflected in Jesus’ first public teaching in Luke 4:14-29.

Lk 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

Lk 4:15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

Lk 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.

Lk 4:17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

Lk 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

Lk 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Lk 4:20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,

Lk 4:21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

We see here the statement that God has come to bring good news to the poor and the downtrodden and oppressed. And it’s obvious that the people of Nazareth had no issues with what Jesus says here, because verse 22 says that the people spoke “gracious words” about him. They were oppressed by the Romans and here was Jesus saying that this Scripture (quoted from Isaiah 61) was coming to pass with him. And to them this meant that the Romans were going to be overthrown and the Kingdom of David would be restored; in other words, a physical Kingdom.

But then look at verses 28 and 29:

Lk 4:28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

Lk 4:29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.

Huh? What happened in the intervening verses to make the people of his hometown so angry that they would want to kill him?

Verses 24 through 27 give us the answer.

Lk 4:24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Lk 4:25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.

Lk 4:26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.

Lk 4:27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

What does Jesus say that makes them so angry? He includes Gentiles in salvation! He includes people who were not of Abraham’s covenant in the prophecy from Isaiah! If his coming was heralding the overthrow of the Gentiles how could Gentiles participate in the Kingdom?

This is another one of the misunderstandings about the Kingdom that people had during Jesus’ life and continue to have today. In Mark 10, when James and John ask for them to be at Jesus’ side in the Kingdom, they’re not asking about spiritual positions; they’re asking about places of physical power. Even after the Resurrection, the disciples still don’t understand. Acts 1:6 shows that the disciples are still thinking that the Kingdom is going to come physically. Only after receiving the Spirit in Acts 2 do they understand the truth: the Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality that has physical manifestations.

The good news of the Kingdom of God is about surprise. It’s about unexpectedness. It’s about God being available to everyone and it’s our responsibility to be aware of that and be a part of that mission. We have to be about preaching the good news to the poor, we have to be about all of these people Jesus mentions here, because that is a part of our mission.

We have to be willing to die to ourselves and go places that we might not be comfortable and befriend people we might not normally befriend. There is such a tendency for Christians to insulate ourselves against the world to avoid being “contaminated” that we forget the primary mission Jesus gave the disciples before he ascended in Matthew 28:19. “Go and make disciples of all nations….”

Notice that he says “Go!” Not bring them somewhere. Go to them.

Because honestly, that’s what he did for us. He came down from where he was. He came down from his place in glory. The beautiful passage in Philippians 2 tells this story:

Phil 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Phil 2:6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Phil 2:7 but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

Phil 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Phil 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

Phil 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Phil 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

If this was the attitude of our Lord to us, how can it not be ours to others less fortunate than us, especially if we are supposed to be Jesus to the world? May God give us the strength and the courage and the dependence on Him to do His work in this world. May He give us the dependence on Him and the dependence on each other for this work.

For those that have ears, let them hear.

Final Thoughts

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The England Journal: Pictures

The Loughborough Church of Christ

Looking Down through the
Market to Loughborough Town

The jetlagged team

Angie in a rare happy mood

Hopscotch on Sunday Afternoon

Rehearsing for the Skits


Monday Afternoon Tea Trivia

Mt. Saint Benard's Abbey
Fave Pic)

Bradgate Park

Paul Hill, in Matrix Mode

A couple of cutups

Banana Piranha!!!!

Kinsey and her Dan (Oh,
yeah, and Kasey)

Let's all go Bananas!!!

Is that a face in your pie, sir?

She's 4. Hopefully she'll
grow out of it.

Kinsey and her new friend, Loren

Kinsey at Chatsworth

The girls in the maze

The Americans descrating
the grounds of Chatsworth

Kinsey and Daddy in Chatsworth

Off to Hogwarts

Is that the Queen?

The Family at Trafalgar

On the London Eye

Tubing after the Lion King

At the Covent Garden Market

The London Eye

Piccadilly Circus

Up the front of Westminster

Westminster at night

The back of Westminster

Blurry Ben

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