Thursday, March 27, 2008

Great quote

This was quoted in Sojo, the Sojourner's magazine online version. It's awesome. Thanks Mike Huckabee.

As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say, "That's a terrible statement," I grew up in a very segregated South, and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I'm going to be probably the only conservative in America who's going to say something like this, but I'm just telling you: We've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told, "You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus." And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had ... more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me. - Mike Huckabee, offering his perspective on the preaching of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (Source: MSNBC)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bishop N. T. Wright and the goal of Jesus

Here's a great article N.T. Wright wrote posted on the God's Politics blog. It's a part of a series on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war, but I really don't think it's about the war, per se. What is today's response by Jesus-followers to the empires of the world?

Monday, March 24, 2008
Easter's Challenge to Empire (by N.T. Wright)

Jesus came with a job to do, to complete the work to which Israel was called. This work, from the call of Abraham onwards, was to put the human race to rights, and so to put the whole creation to rights. As the gospel writers tell the story, this task was to be accomplished by Jesus bringing about the sovereign healing rule of the creator God. Jesus was addressing the question, "What might it look like if God was running this show?" And answering, "This is what it looks like: just watch." And then, "just listen." In what he did, and in the stories he told, Jesus was announcing and inaugurating what he referred to as "the kingdom of God," the long-awaited hope that the creator God would run the whole show, on earth as in heaven.

But the problem was, and is, that other people are still running the show. Other kingdoms, other power structures, have usurped the rule of the world's wise creator, and the forces of evil are exceedingly powerful and destructive. Jesus' task of inaugurating God's kingdom therefore necessarily led him to meet those forces in direct combat, to draw upon himself their full, dark fury so as to exhaust their power and make a way through to launch the creator's project of new creation despite them. That is one clue at least to the meaning of Jesus' crucifixion, though that event, planting the sign of God's kingdom in the middle of space, time, and matter, remains inexhaustible. But let's be clear. As the gospels tell the story, Jesus' death was the culmination of several different strands: a political process, a religious clash, a spiritual war, all rushing together into one terrible day, one terrible death. And in the light of that, according to Jesus himself and his first followers, everything in the world looks different, is different, must be approached differently. With Jesus' death, the power structures of the world were called to account; with his resurrection, a new life, a new power, was unleashed upon the world. And the question is: How ought this to work out? What should we be doing as a result?

If we are to think Christianly, then we must think according to the pattern of Jesus Christ. And that means that the first place we should look for God in the "War on Terror" would be in the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers, and then in the ruins of Baghdad and Basra, the shattered homes and lives of the tens of thousands who have through no fault of their own been in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the angry superpower, like a rogue elephant teased by a little dog, has gone on the rampage stamping on everything that moves in the hope of killing the dog by killing everything within reach. The presence of God within the world at a time of war must be calibrated according to what Paul says in Romans 8, that the Spirit groans within God's people as they groan with the pain of the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the sign and the assurance that the God who made the world still loves the world and, in that love, groans and grieves.
But God wants his rebel world to be ordered, to be under authorities and governments, because otherwise the bullies and the arrogant will always prey on the weak and the helpless; but all authorities and governments face the temptation to become bullies and arrogant themselves. The New Testament writers, like other Jews at the time, saw this writ large in the Roman empire of their day. Those with eyes to see can see it in other subsequent empires, right down to our own day.

It is the task of the followers of Jesus to remind those called to authority that the God who made the world intends to put the world to rights at last, and to call those authorities to acts of justice and mercy which will anticipate, in the present time, the future, coming, final victory of God over all evil, all violence, all arrogant abuse of power. And where the world's rulers genuinely strive for that end, the Christian church declares as the ancient Jews did with the pagan king Cyrus, that God's Spirit is at work—whether the authorities know it or not.

Insofar as the last five years have constituted a wake-up call to sleepy western Christians to think urgently about issues of global justice and governance, we can see God, I believe, in that new stirring, warning us that we have a task and that we haven't been doing it too well. In particular, we must face the deeply ambiguous question of the present power and position of America. I am not anti-American when I criticise some policies of some American leaders, any more than I am anti-British when I criticise some of the policies of my own elected leaders. To suggest otherwise is simply a cheap way of avoiding the real questions. The creator God allows societies to rise and fall, empires to grow and wane. And though things are massively more complicated than this, we could see in the rise of America as the current sole superpower some great possibilities for bringing justice and mercy, genuine freedom and prosperity, to the whole world. Empires always carry that possibility. But empires also face the temptation to use their power for their own prestige and wealth. The challenge now is to provide a critique of American empire without implying that the world should collapse into anarchy, and a fresh sense of direction for that empire without colluding with massive abuses of power.

Where then is God in the war on terror? Grieving and groaning within the pain and horror of his battered but still beautiful world. Stirring in the hearts of human beings the desire for a more credible structure of global justice and mercy. Burning into the imagination of human beings a hope that peace and reconciliation might eventually win out over suspicion and hatred, that the world may be put to rights and that we may anticipate that in the present time. The Christian gospel, revealing the mysterious God we discover in Jesus and the Spirit, offers a framework for discerning where God is at work in the midst of the dangers and opportunities that confront us. All of us in our different callings are summoned to this task; some of you, perhaps, to make it your life's work. Jesus is Lord. The Spirit is powerful. God is doing a new thing. Let's get out there and join in.

Dr. N.T. Wright is a New Testament theologian and the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He is the author of many books, including Surprised by Hope, and Evil and the Justice of God. This post is adapted from his lecture "Where is God in ‘The War on Terror?'" and is used with permission by the author.

What's worth doing?

The past couple of days NPR's "Morning Edition" has featured a cruise line that leaves Tierra del Fuego and sails to Antarctica. Interesting that people pay big bucks to freeze their butts off. But this morning on the way to work they quoted Richard Byrd, not longer after he arrived at the South Pole, huddling in his tent near death, as saying "this was not worth it."

What's worth doing? What's worth giving your life for? I've been personally pondering this question lately, given all the work-related changes in my life over the past couple of years. What kind of work is worth the sacrifice?

I know I need something great to believe in. Going to Antarctica is not on my list.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I'm a "Clear"

Earlier this year, the company called Clear announced in their tagline "the wait is over". Clear is the company that handles the federal government's Registered Traveler program, which, according to the Washington Post, "offers passengers the happy prospect of getting through security lines faster, swifter, better." In fact, they are supposedly guaranteeing a max 4 minute wait. I'm ready. For a guy who travels as much as I do, it might be worth the $100 annual fee...

But that's not why I'm writing this blog. No, the Post goes on to ask if we can get a Clear card for all of life, and calls certain types of people "Clears." And I'm clearly a "Clear"--my wife read the article over the weekend and agreed the description fits me to a tee. To quote the Post:

Clears are already the fastest people at the airports even without the cards: shoes and coat off, laptop out of the case, X-ray buckets lined up on the conveyor belt, waiting for EVERYBODY ELSE to get it together.

Yep, that's me alright. Airports are one of the few things in life I'm a little anal retentive about. When I moved to San Antonio a few years ago, I lived pretty close to my boss, who was also a good friend. Since he was the president and I was VP for raising money, we thought we'd ride together to the airport the first few trips we took together out of town.

It only took me a couple of times to figure out it wasn't going to work.

You see, he's not a Clear, at least not in flying. His goal was to be the last person on the plane; anything else meant he was wasting time in the airport. If we missed one flight, well, there would be another one or the out-of-town meeting could just meet without him. No way I could live with that. So we started taking separate cars to the airport...but I digress. Here's some other quotes on the qualities of Clears:

Clears are the simple and speedy people, who tend to know the price of things before they get to the register and always have their cash or debit card ready, and step out of the way immediately to a place where they can put away their change and receipt and reassemble themselves without obstructing flow. Clears do not dig into purses in search of engorged wallets into which they go a-huntin' for six cents so as not to break a bill, or to look for that Subway sandwich stamp card...

Clears can give you a very long lecture about the economic concept known as OPPORTUNITY COST, which is just another way of saying time is money, so why clip coupons?

...Clears almost never special-order or substitute menu items, and are quietly horrified when their dining companions do. Clears love stores with names like Grab-N-Go, or Git-N-Gone, and long for the day when such establishments can honestly and consistently live up to such ideals. Corporate America invented self-checkout lines for Clears, which worked well for about five minutes, until someone who wasn't a Clear caused yet another human paper jam...

...A Clear finds himself standing in line at 7-Eleven, with a Big Gulp in one hand and a couple of dollar bills in the other, and realizes that he's going to have to wait for six Un-Clears in front of him to buy lottery tickets and the exact pack of cigarettes that the Un-Clear clerk cannot seem to locate.

Wow. I love self-checkout lines. Ticks me off that Wal-Mart never has them open anymore, and that they don't hold people with 22 items accountable for being in the 20 item or less line. And I've had so many conversations with my wife about opportunity costs...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself

I started reading Alan Alda's book last week, not so much because I'm a big Alda fan (I am a Hawkeye Pierce fan, and loved his Arnie Vinnick character in the last season of West Wing--for more than just the name), but because I love the title. And the book takes a nice twisting of the memoirs thing by weaving in old speeches Alda has given at various points along the way. Here's a couple of quotes I like:

"Terrifying myself, it turns out, is one of the ways I have of feeling alive. It gives a sense of accomplishment to my life."

I find myself here too. It's why I like roller coasters and scary movies. It's why I want to jump out of an airplane someday. There is really a sense of accomplishment in facing down fear.

On meeting holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal:

"No matter what the world had done to [the Jews], through their tears, they could find something to laugh at. There was almost no pain that couldn't be eased by humor. The ability to translate misery into something else gave them power over it."

There's a lot of truth in that last sentence! Translating misery into something else--that's the real definition of joy, I think.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Against the machine

I hate being sick. For more than a week now I've been fighting off a stupid sinus infection. I seem to get them relatively frequently compared to friends. Some think it's because I wasn't breast-fed as a baby, but I don't know anything about that...

I usually think that Christianity Today does a pretty balanced job of presenting, well, Christianity today. A recent post on their blog "Out of Ur" is another good example. I wish I had written it myself, but it definitely reflects some of my thinking. We've talked before here about the machine that is the local evangelical church in the US. And my own way of describing it often sounds to those who know me well that I don't like the church. But the writer of this blog describes my dilemma. I love the church, but the church is not the institution, not the machine.

What I don’t love is the 501c3 tax-exempt institution we incorrectly refer to as “the church.” For decades we’ve heard the old adage, “the church isn’t a building, it’s the people.” We’ve come to recognize that the brick and mortar structure isn’t the church, but somehow we haven’t had the same epiphany about the intangible structures of the institution. In many peoples’ imaginations the church remains a bundle of programs, committees, policies, teams, ministries, initiatives, budgets, and events. Most people speak of “the church” the same way they refer to “the government”—it’s a hierarchy of leaders managing an organization that they engage but remain apart from.

That's it, that's what I've been trying to say. But the question then becomes, how do I serve the church, love her the way Jesus intends, without becoming a part of the institution?

In the second part of the post it gets even better. Here's another quote:

Without doubt there are numerous factors behind our exaltation of the church institution above the community of saints that created it, but one critical component may be cultural. In our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God’s Spirit and power. (The reason for this is a subject I explore in more depth in my book due out next year.) The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit resides within organizations and systems rather than people

Now that's a great metaphor for this generation, the "plug n play" approach to ministry. He later goes on to talk about Dallas Willard's description of what often happens when a great leader starts a spirit-filled ministry that God blesses, then at some point retires, dies, or otherwise moves on. The followers assume that God wants the ministry to continue, and they work to copy the power of the former leader through the institution. But the spirit-fuel that fed that ministry was in the heart of the leader, and as Dallas says, those people would be much better off trying to reproduce that personal fire within them instead of within the institution. But that is not easy to do. The fire--although coming from the same Spirit--burns differently within each of us.

The articles are worth reading.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Uh, what???

I have had several KJV only friends in life, but this guy takes the cake. What kind of pee-er are you?

The onset of middle age...

Today, Brett Favre retired.

And I'm officially old.

Like Packer fans, I have been dreading this day, knowing it could come at any moment, but for totally different reasons. You see, Brett is, as far as I can tell, the last guy I played against that was still in the NFL. Yep, my last college football game ever, the 1988 Independence Bowl, was played against Southern Miss, and a sophomore QB named Brett Favre. Brett actually didn't hurt us too much, So Miss wide receiver Henry Jones, who I think went on to play with the Eagles, returned two punts for TDs, and we lost the game 38-18. [Shameless self-promotion: yours truly had 3 catches for 55 yards...] My UTEP roommate, Chris Jacke, went on to play with the Packers and got a Super Bowl ring with them.

But now, with Brett retiring, there's no one. Every person I played against has hung up their cleats and moved on. My O-line coach, Andy Reid, is still the Eagles coach, and there are several others coaching out there, but no one is still playing. I am old. I am in mid-life crisis.

I have no idea what I'm going to do about it. Maybe I should get in shape and play football...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The hermeneutics quiz

I dare you to take this quiz. There is no question in my mind that somewhere in here lies much of the differences between followers of Jesus in today's world. The article identies conservatives, moderates and progressives, based on your score of 20 questions. I would love to hear your score and why you think the way you do. You can also go on CT's Out of Ur blog and discuss it here...