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
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