Saturday, October 31, 2009

A poem for Halloween...

(If you've come here from another theoblogger site, I intend to post my first theoblogger response to Cox's book tomorrow. My apologies for the lateness...)

(tree image is from here)
I just finished my response piece for SPARK and thought I'd post it here as 1) my Dad has informed me that I am neglecting my blog and 2) it is a good piece for Halloween since it's about death and stuff. :^)

(a poem to the bathroom mirror)

How is it that you can hate with such passion
when somewhere the moon has risen tonight
over your burial place?

(I can hear the sound of your beloved weeping
carried over the cemetery wall
by the same breeze that cools the face of your enemy)

Don’t you know we’re all connected?

The roots of your hatred wind down deeper than you think,
like the roots in the cemetery,
down through the topsoil
winding around rocks, pieces of old metal, plastic, and bone.

Don’t you know that anger rots your bones
even as you live and breath?

There is a tree in the cemetery.
Two enemies were buried on either side.
Look how tall it’s grown,
heedless to the hatred that nourishes its roots.

(I am asking you, lady, to forgive.
I am asking you to remember how you have been forgiven.)

Here, here is an invitation
to toss away the label “enemy”,
to forget what has gone before
to move forward, free and light

as the leaves blown off the cemetery trees
floating free and spinning slowly
lightened of their clinging load.

You may not have another chance.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Theobloggers ride again! Watch this space for more on Harvey Cox's "The Future of Faith"

Philip Clayton and Harvey Cox both have new books out and they are taking them out on tour. One of the blog tour stops will be here, but as you can see below they will be making their rounds over the next month until they wrap things up in Montreal at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting. There they will be joined by an illustrious panel including Eric Gregory, Bruce Sanguin, Serene Jones, Frank Tupper, and Andrew Sung Park to share a 'Big Idea' for the future of the Church. These 'Big Ideas' will be video tapped and shared, so be on the look out for live footage from the last night of the tour.

Philip's new book is Transforming Christian Theology for Church & Society and Harvey's is The Future of Faith. Both are worth checking out at one of the many tour stops. If you can't wait you can listen to them interview each other. Meanwhile, stay tuned to my blog and check out my fellow theobloggers below.

Joseph Weethee , Jonathan Bartlett, The Church Geek, Jacob’s Cafe, Reverend Mommy, Steve Knight, Todd Littleton, Christina Accornero, John David Ryan, LeAnn Gunter Johns, Chase Andre, Matt Moorman, Gideon Addington, Ryan Dueck, Rachel Marszalek, Amy Moffitt, Josh Wallace, Jonathan Dodson, Stephen Barkley, Monty Galloway, Colin McEnroe, Tad DeLay, David Mullens, Kimberly Roth, Tripp Hudgins, Tripp Fuller, Greg Horton, Andrew Tatum, Drew Tatusko, Sam Andress, Susan Barnes, Jared Enyart, Jake Bouma, Eliacin Rosario-Cruz, Blake Huggins, Lance Green, Scott Lenger, Dan Rose, Thomas Turner, Les Chatwin, Joseph Carson, Brian Brandsmeier, J. D. Allen, Greg Bolt, Tim Snyder, Matthew L. Kelley, Carl McLendon, Carter McNeese, David R. Gillespie, Arthur Stewart, Tim Thompson, Joe Bumbulis, Bob Cornwall

This Tour is Sponsored by Transforming Theology DOT org!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


So here's a couple of videos from last night's SPARK reading at Beanetics in Annandale, VA. Mad props to my friend Heidi Burns for shooting these vids with my little digital camera.

This is called "Memorial Day"...

and this is called "Flow". If it doesn't sound much like po-tree to you, you're right. To be all technical and stuff, it's a piece of flash fiction, not a poem.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Christianity 21 - The Video

So I haven't done a post about Christianity 21 (yet), but wanted to take the opportunity to give Don Heatley props for his lovely video of the event. Don's da bomb.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

nuChristian - a quick, friendly intro to that scary postmodern theology

I have the privilege of being among a few folks who are blogging on Russell Rathbun's new book nuChristian: Finding Faith in a New Generation. I intentionally haven't read the other reviews (yet), but I should start by saying a) I've never read unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, to which nuChristian is something of a response and b) I'd never even heard of Russell Rathbun before I read this book. So take my perspective FWIW.

Pastor Rathbun's book is an addition to an ongoing conversation about how to engage the "new" generation of Christians/churchgoers/people of faith. Literature on the topic generally refers to two generations after the baby boomers: Generation X or the Busters (those born between 1961 and 1981, of which I am a part) and Generation Y or the Mosaics (those born after 1981). Rathbun refers to both of these groups broadly as "the postmoderns", and directs his attention towards both groups. He states up front that this book is written from his own, highly subjective experiences as a pastor to folks from these generations at House of Mercy in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and that his is only one voice in the larger conversation. I consider this declaration of subjectivity and uniqueness to be a fairly post-modern way to kick the book off :^), and it lends an air of authenticity right up front.

I read books with some vigor, and in the first two chapters, the margins of my copy of the book are filled with scribbles: "No!! Too simple!", "OVERSIMPLIFIED", and "What about the Catholics??" are some examples. I also found myself chafing against the broad brush definition of "postmoderns." WHO is he TALKING about?, I thought to myself. Is he REALLY trying to sum up TWO ENTIRE GENERATIONS in one big lump and talk about them as though they share the same characteristics?? Where are the Asians?? The African-Americans?? My mind went through all sorts of folks I know who don't fit the profile of the postmodern that he describes in the book, and I clicked my tongue inwardly at the overall lack of mention of Catholic and Orthodox churches.

And then I decided to stop being a jerk.

Truth be told, this is a neat little book that does exactly what it sets out to do: offers observations from one life as a way of stimulating conversation. If anyone misses the point that this book is meant to stimulate discussion, Rathbun sprinkles questions in a non-intrusively plain font at the tops and bottoms of a few select pages, but he definitely doesn't overdo it. Once I (mostly) stopped being a jerk, I found myself marking quite a few sections where I really resonated with statements he was making, and felt that he was doing a very accurate, thoughtful job of representing a certain section of folks born in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He isn't claiming that this is a thorough sociological or socio-theological study, and the book shouldn't be read that way.

I really warmed up to him at the beginning of Chapter 3 when I recognized a reframing of one of my favorite rants on how the consumer culture has embittered me towards any church that appears to be attempting to package and sell the Gospel:

"New generations are actually very concerned with authenticity. They take for granted the omnipresence of marketing... In a culture where everything, even every individual [referencing social networking sites where people market themselves], is a product to be positioned or marketed, authenticity is rare and sought after." (p.25)

ABSOLUTELY. Think you have a new and innovative idea, Pastors? Spare us the innovation and just be yourself, whatever that is.

He goes on to talk at length about hypocrisy, using the example of the life of Peter and discussing at length what hypocrisy really is and isn't. He uses the specific example of how to ask a congregation to give money to the church, and how his own church struggled with whether, and how, to present this idea to "postmoderns," with their cynicism towards marketing. He resolves it this way:

"The truth is that a lot of what we do as a church and as individuals is motivated by an unresolved mixture of both self-interest and the desire to live out our faith. Does this make us hypocrites? The hypocrisy comes when we do not tell the truth about the tensions, to ourselves first and to others." (p. 35)

and again on page 36:

"Can we avoid being hypocrites?... If we preach the Good News of Jesus Christ-- the unconditional love and sacrifice of a Creator for his creation that leads to reconciliation for the world, and that God calls us to live out that unconditional love-- then it is impossible to practice what we preach. By no means should we preach something different; instead, we should understand perfection to be beyond us. Any success at loving God and neighbor only occurs when Christ is acting in us. Postmodern generations understand the inability to completely become the person one desires to be."

After that, he had me. These are things I've thought and talked about... things that made me feel I was at odds with how I'd been raised to look at my faith, and here they are on the page. Russell may not really be describing an entire generation, but he is describing me.

He goes on to chapters addressing attitudes towards evangelism, judgement of the sin of others, involvement with the larger American culture, and attitudes towards politics. In every one of those chapters, I have large sections of text underlined and starred, places where he absolutely nails my own attitudes towards these topics, attitudes that I have felt put something of a wall between myself and my parents, but also between myself and my younger, more conservative brother, not to mention many young, conservative evangelical or Roman Catholic friends ( fact, there is more of a wall between myself and younger evangelicals and Catholics on these topics than between myself and my parents. At least they were part of the hippie generation and understand, even respect, a certain amount of rebellion.).

Rathbun's concluding chapter gives a transcript of a telephone conversation between himself and his Dad discussing the book. This is what really brought home to me the purpose and value of the book in its simple, anecdotal style. I easily read the book in under 3 hours, and it had the effect of getting my mind turning on the topics without getting bogged down into too much detail... in other words, it got me in the perfect place to start a conversation, and it appears to have done the same for his Dad, as well. In fact, the transcript reminds me quite a bit of conversations that I've had with my own Dad on the same topic, often after my Dad read a blog post that I'd written. Despite my general strong desire to be considered unique, it was really rather nice to think that I had this in common with the author... that this really was a generational dynamic, at least among middle-class white Protestants. :^)

I think the true value of this book is that it provides a quick and easy introduction to some basic theological differences between more "orthodox" theology and that held by many of my generation. It does so without criticizing any particular theological stance or breaking things down too greatly, but it does provide sufficient substance to provide a good foundation for further thought and conversation. I would enthusiastically recommend this to any pastor that is seeking to understand the "innovative" theology of younger folks that she/he ministers (or wishes to minister) to, and who doesn't already have a strong background in the topic.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The cost of being silent

"Then I said, 'Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.' " Isaiah 6:5 (New American Standard)

"And I say, 'Woe to me, for I have been silent, For a man -- unclean of lips am I, And in midst of a people unclean of lips I am dwelling, Because the King, Jehovah of Hosts, have my eyes seen.' " Isaiah 6:5 (Young's Literal Translation)

So, I have again broken Rule Number One of Blogging: Blog regularly or you'll lose your readers. Yes, kids, it's been about a month since I've written a post, which means I'm probably back down to a readership consisting of my Dad and... my Dad. Oh well, that's ok. I'm fortunate to have him as a faithful reader and I know it.

I haven't been writing, but I have been reading, and thinking, an awful lot. I've recently gone from taking the train everywhere to taking the bus everywhere, in large part because it's far easier to read on the bus than the train. Don't pat me on the back for being a scholar, though... I have a whole bunch of books --mostly popular works on neuroscience (mad props due to Oliver Sacks for the popularization of this genre)-- that were due back at the GMU library on Thursday and I'm kind of trying to race through those, so that's a large part of the motivation.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading Dead Aid and went to see Age of Stupid on the same day. I've also been reading Deep Economy by Bill McKibben... well actually I've been on the last chapter for a couple of months and I just can't bear to finish it because it's just been such an unbelievably fantastic read. So let's say I've been carrying Deep Economy around for the last couple of months and percolating on it. There's something happening in my mind around the intersection of these books and the movie that I'm going to try to explain here. And I'm going to fail, largely, but I can't keep stewing on this without taking a shot at writing about it.

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, Dambisa Moyo argues quite persuasively in Dead Aid that aid to sub-saharan Africa is actually preventing African nations from developing, and suggests that the best solution at this point is to notify African leaders that the aid is going to dry up in 5 years, and then to follow through with that. She does a good job of showing in the book how aid hasn't worked, but I was an easy sell on this point. It seems pretty obvious to me as someone who has grown up with images of starving African children and now in my 30s sees the same damn images despite the gazillions of dollars and countless hours of work on the part of development agencies and aid workers that have been poured into the African subcontinent.

However, she builds her argument for how African nations would subsequently thrive on some very questionable assumptions. I'm no economist, but using the example of Chinese investment into oil in Nigeria as an example of how to build an African nation strikes me as being willfully blind to anything but GDP. I found myself growing queasy as I read the last few chapters, and it wasn't just motion sickness from the stop-and-go of the Metrobus in DC traffic. It was that this seemed to be a purely academic exercise for Moyo. I mean, I know it's not, but her argument is based on the assumption that sub-saharan Africa can develop along the same lines as Western nations, using Ye Olde Standard Capitalist Model, and everything will be cool.

Which, frankly, is bullshit.

Age of Stupid refined my thinking on this a bit. The movie stars Pete Postlethwaite as one of the few humans alive in 2050 after the almost total destruction of the world by environmental collapse, looking back at footage from 2005-2008 (the movie uses actual news and documentary footage) to show how we could have prevented what was coming. Obviously, the movie is speculative... we don't know what the world will look like in 2050... but it bases its projections on current, widely accepted models of what will happen environmentally if there isn't a sharp change in how the U.S. and Europe gobble up energy and pollute like fiends. I know there are a lot of people who dispute the notion of global warming, but it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we can't keep living like we're living. Oil is not a renewable resource and we are plowing through what is left at ever-increasing speeds. China and India have 2,478,040,448 people by July 2008 estimates... 37% of the global population of 6,706,993,152 if my math's correct... and they're doing everything they can to catch up with us, including consuming oil, which means plowing through the oil that remains at unimaginably exponential numbers.

So, yeah, it doesn't take a genius to see that our current energy "solution" ain't gonna work forever.

Suggesting that sub-saharan Africa simply hop on the bandwagon by pimping the oil that they have to other nations makes *no* sense to me. If it worked perfectly, it would be a short term solution at best, and Age of Stupid highlights what foreign "investment" in Nigerian oil looks like on the ground right now... impoverished locals who completely fail to benefit from the profits going to foreign companies and corrupt government officials; polluted air and water resulting in even more sickness; the government wiping out villages that protest drilling near their property. Basically, the same cycle as aid, except for the part about governments killing people in order to get free access to their land. Oh yeah, and the polluted water and air.

I'm processing all of this in the context of the challenges that Deep Economy has presented to me. Deep also assumes that capitalism --particularly the capitalism that bases production and shipment of goods on runaway consumption of non-renewable sources of energy-- can't go on as it has indefinitely, but its focus is on the U.S. and on the value of investing in your local community. Again, not a tough sell for me, but it's definitely pushed me to commit more firmly to what I already held as an ideal, to really be where I am. For me, this means I shop at the grocery store that I can walk to and buy my clothes and shoes mostly from a shop run by a woman who lives in the neighborhood, and buy my produce from the Farmer's Market near the metro whenever I can, and take the bus and train everywhere and stuff like that. But those are really kind of surface-y things and the book is pushing me to think deeper about other ways in which I live and relate to my community.

Which brings me to the verse from Isaiah at the top of this post. Everytime I think about how selfishly Americans are taught to use and throw away stuff without thinking about where it came from and where it's going and whether it's fair that the U.S. has 6% of the world population but 34% of the world's wealth, this verse comes to mind. Isaiah is identifying the sin of his people as being in some sense his own sin, and in that way, it made sense that this verse would come to mind... but the specific context of the verse is of Isaiah experiencing his own (and by extension, humanity's) deep impurity in the presence of the living God, not a reflection on how his people were sinning by using up too many of the world's resources or living unjustly. However, when I Googled the passage, I came upon the Young's Literal Translation (which I've set alongside the New American Standard translation I grew up reading), and something went *click*. Isaiah is not only repenting of his impurity, but of his silence.

He's repenting of his silence. In the presence of the Almighty God, Isaiah is moved to repentance not only for his impurity, but for his passivity. He has not done his part in proclaiming the truth revealed to him. As a prophet, he still has not prophesied enough. He has remained silent, when his whole life should have been one giant shout in praise of the Almighty.

I, too, am repenting of my silence... and I live among a silent people. A people who know that they are living in a situation of vast injustice, who know they are living like kings while much of the world lives as paupers, but who can't think of a way to fix it, so they say nothing. It's easy to say nothing when you're not the one suffering, and also when you fail to educate yourself on the consequences of your behavior, both now and in the future. In other words, it's easy to remain silent when you have stuffed your ears and blinded your eyes, because then you have nothing to say.

LORD, open our eyes, our ears, our mouths. Please show Your people how to live in a way that embodies Your justice, and care for the world that you entrusted to us as Your stewards.

And give me the courage to not be silent anymore.