Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hmm, The Happening doesn't really happen

Okay, I posted the other day about M. Night Shyamalan and how "I am Legend" reminded me of his movies. So today, with nothing to do and the family at the in-laws, I decided to go see "The Happening", Shyamalan's newest flick. Written, directed and produced by him. I was disappointed.

The plot just never got into rhythm. It was choppy and some things were totally left undealtwith or just thrown in without seeming to make sense to the overall plot. And it was if he said to his critics "Fine, you think I am addicted to the weird twist at the end? Well in this movie I will just make it obvious from the beginning." And it was.

Don't get me wrong, it had a little thriller in it. There were definitely times I was waiting for the scare, a feeling I enjoy. But nothing like "Sixth Sense" or "Signs". And he threw in more gore in this one, which is what gave it the "R" rating. As a side note, I cannot understand for the life of me how parents can take their kids to a movie like this. But today there was a 4 year old wandering the theater jumping every time something gory showed up on screen.

I have decided that for me, I know when Shyamalan lost it. It was the scene in "Signs" where he showed the alien at the end. It took the thrill away, and I haven't gotten it back fully in one of his films yet. I agree with something I read on Wikipedia--Shyamalan seemed to have done his best work when he focused on directing, and less when he's also the writer.

A conservative response to Dobson vs Obama

Thanks to Texas in Africa I read this excellent article this morning from the Washington Post on James Dobson's comments about Barak Obama.

Modern Church Translation

This is pretty funny. And then again not so much. Here's an excerpt:

James 4:17
17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.-New Living Translation

17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. Unless, of course, you instead give money to some type of organization that will do it for you. In this way you will be absolved from all responsibility to do anything and can sleep at night with a clean conscience.- Modern Church Translation

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Light up the darkness."

This week I finally watched "I am Legend" with Will Smith. Great movie. I didn't know it was based on a 1954 science fiction novel by Richard Matheson, or that other movies had already been made from that book. Which is amazing since I'm typically up on vampire-related genres. I've always been fascinated with vampires, and some of you know that my only recurring nightmare involves fighting vampires a la Blade (not Buffy). See an article about the history of the book and movies here.

***Movie Synopsis--if you haven't seen it and plan to, stop reading***

This 2007 version is set in 2012. A cure for cancer was created in 2009 by manipulating a virus and injecting into humans. Unfortunately, it apparently mutates and wipes out 98% of the world's population. In the remaining 2%, most become zombie/vampires, only coming out at night and feeding on blood. But a few, less than 1%, are immune to the effects.

Army doctor Robert Neville is the last human living in New York City. But rather than leave, he spends his days trying to find a cure, trying to adapt his own immune blood into a serum that will restore the vampires to humans. We learn through flashbacks about various events surrounding the cutting off of NYC from the rest of the world in 09, hoping to stem the virus outbreak. As a comment on the movie itself, it is a true thriller. Very little gore, lots of hair standing on end. Lots of waiting for the vampires to appear, then forgetting your waiting, then jumping when they do. That alone is worth the watch.

But the movie also reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan's films, which I really like. There is a string of Providence that winds through the movie. American Christians have almost forgotten about Providence. We have worked so hard to understand God as our friend (not a bad thing) that we forget about God as the Writer of a cosmic story. Plus we're pretty big into free will, and unless we're calvinistic in our theology, we don't like the idea of God somehow manipulating our lives in this story. Unless of course it keeps us healthy and wealthy, but that's another post.

Through the movie you see these little "signs" that you don't know are signs until the end of the movie. And isn't that just the way life is? Like Jacob, we "wake up" and say "God was here and I flat out missed it." These signs are given to light our way in a dark world and help us see that while all kinds of things happen that seem evil and chaotic and totally out of control the threads of Providence are weaving their way to the conclusion of the story that the Writer has in mind. His dreams will come true, his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When we begin to see these signs, we believe. We become participants in the story's outcome, characters used by the Writer to bring about the conclusion.

We begin to light up the darkness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What do you get...

when a humanistic Jew spends a year immersing himself in Christian pop culture? Apparently a really good book. Writer Daniel Radosh attended a Christian rock concert with his sister-in-law and her friends and decided the sub-culture needed some reviewing. Radosh makes some spot on statements in this interview with Christianity Today.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Heading Home

I am very ready to be back with my family, but what an eye-opening trip to Guatemala! On Wednesday we started off the morning by meeting a pastor in a poor part of Guatemala city, the pastor of Iglesia Bautista Jerusalen. It's a neat church and building. The city reminds me a lot of some of the places I've been in Argentina. Across the street the church helps support a small junior high school, where indigenous kids ride buses for 2 hours and then walk for 20 minutes to come in the afternoons. The building is falling apart, but they have school every day. It would be great to figure out how to help build them a new building. We had lunch at a hotel with the president of the Baptist Convention here. Then we drove to Antigua, a beautiful old town. It's become a tourist hotspot for Europeans and Americans. We checked into the hotel and changed clothes, then drove up to Ajotenanga. It was about 30 minutes up the mountain, past a dormant volcano. There is a live volcano not far from here that hopefully I can see the next time I come to the country. In Ajotenanga we met at a church--really just an open air structure with sheets of tin for the roof. It was raining softly when we arrived, and about 60 kids and adults were already waiting there for us. We had a bag full of cookies and crackers and candy, which we distributed first, then we have away a bunch of rice, beans and sugar, plus toothbrushes and toothpaste--appropriate I guess after the candy and cookies. We sang and played and everyone hugged. It was now pouring rain, but probably more than 100 kids were there. It was very inspiring. We had to run about a block in the driving rain to get back to the vans, and everyone was soaked, but laughing and having fun.

I should probably tell you who "everyone" is--Chiqui is the in-country director, and a neat lady. Her husband is a doctor in Guatemala City. Amed is also on staff with Buckner. Tina is Chiqui's daughter and was a translator, Aida is another Buckner staffer. Then in addition to me, Josh and Albert Reyes there were 3 women from Texas. Karen Perry is a member at Park Cities in Dallas, and this was her 28th trip to Guatemala in the last 4 years. She's a great lady. In fact, you should go to Albert's blog at and read about Karen as the model for 21st century mission specialists. This time she brought two of her friends, Joyce and Patty. The three of them were fun to watch, especially Karen. As Patty said at dinner tonight, the kids in the orphanages and churches here treat her like a rock star. And 2 of Joyce's daughters are here, Monroe and Quincy.

On Thursday we visited Manchen, the girls orphanage run by the government but where Buckner does some humanitarian aid. We met several members of Christ Church in Tyler, who were building a new pergola in the yard of the orphanage. There are about 100 girls here, many with special needs. A bunch of them asked me to play futbol americano with them--I need to bring them a ball when I come back. Virtually all of these girls were there either because they were orphans or because their family abused them. Tragic stories.

In the afternoon we did a little shopping, then drove back to Guatemala City. We had an impromptu staff training session with the in-country staff and interns, with Albert and I sharing various aspects of leadership, teamwork, and the vision of Buckner. That was both fun and challenging, as the group was split into thirds--1/3 speaking only Spanish, 1/3 only English, and 1/3 bilingual. But we laughed and talked and strategized about what might could be in Guatemala.

All in all it was a great trip. I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Today in Guatemala

What a day! First of all, it's my birthday--42 years old. Yikes!

But what an incredible and challenging and heart-wrenching day. And none of that due to being 42.

We left the hotel about 9 this morning and visited the Buckner offices here in Cuidad Guatemala. From there we toured the warehouse, where shoes, clothes, food, furniture, and a bunch of other things were held for later distribution. But then we went to the baby house. I met several babies and toddlers today whose stories break your heart. Alejandra was born with spina bifida and has already been through 3 surgeries at her young age. The doctors say she probably will never walk, but the staff believes that she will one day with the help of God. But even that wasn't the real heart-wrenching part. This little girl was left by her parents in the hospital once they found out about her health issues. To even give them the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps they knew they couldn't care for such a special needs child is still to say that her parents left her, and I have a hard time imagining that. I pray for them wherever they are tonight, that God's love may touch them.

I could tell you more--in fact I started typing about Cristal and Celeste and Daniel and Juan Pablo then deleted it--but in a way it's saddening to burden the 3.5 of you who read my blog with this burden. And yet...

And yet there is the face of Jesus in the least of these. There is nothing like the hug of a child, the unabandoned, almost reckless love of a little one who has decided that even though my parents aren't here, these people have become my mother and father and family, and I'm going to love them for all I'm worth.

For all they're worth. That's a pregnant phrase. What are these kids worth, these children who have been cast aside by those who should love them most?

A fortune. And more.

Later we visted both the boys' and girls' transitional homes, where young men and women too old for the orphanage but too young to be on their own live. Then on to the single moms home, where several teenage mothers--kids with kids--live and study and grown in an environment set up to help them succeed.

Buckner and those who support the ministry with their time, talent and treasure are partnering to do a good thing here in Guatemala.

It was a great birthday.

Trip to Guatemala

It's just after midnight here in Guatemala City, where I arrived about 2 hours ago. I'm here with my friend and former/current boss, Albert Reyes, and his son Josh, to tour various Buckner facilities in country and see firsthand the kinds of ministries that our church partners in the US are supporting.

So far I haven't seen much but the hotel, and it's beautiful. It's the Hotel Vista Real, and the former general manager here is now on Buckner staff. I look forward to seeing everything in the light of tomorrow's day.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

I had skimmed this book several years ago, but moving into a new role prompts new learning desires. I like Patrick Lencioni's writing style. He spent 95% of the book telling a fable, a story about a new CEO coming into a company. The old CEO was still on the team, and the new one was not from the tech industry. But in a series of off-sites and through their work she led them to see working as a team was the most valuable asset they could have. The book could have slid into pollyanish feel good stuff, but Lenioni navigated around that pretty well.

Here are the 5 dysfunctions, from the most basic up:

Absence of trust: this leads to a sense of invulnerability and the building of silos within an organization. Trust is key to any team, and it can only be earned and given over time.

Fear of conflict: this leads to an artificial harmony as team members avoid the difficult discussions.

Lack of commitment: this leads to ambiguity in decision-making and no follow through.

Avoidance of accountability: this leads to low standards of excellence.

Inattentiveness to results: this leads to a focus on status and ego of the individuals instead of the team, because there is no focus on the team's results. Often this can be disguised by individuals hitting their own goals irrespective of the team's success.

Overall a good book. It's a quick read, too, probably just an hour or two.

Jesus--the ultimate human?

There are broadly speaking 2 ways we tend to look at Jesus of Nazareth. There are those that tend to see him as Savior, and pretty exclusively speaking to the theological and moral issues of our day. In my estimation this is the dominant view in American Evangelicalism, and maybe in Christendom as a whole.

A second, lesser-held view is the idea that Jesus, as the God-man, is the ultimate human. He would have/could have been the the best at whatever he did. As my friend Rick Archer says, if Jesus had been an architect he would have been the greatest architect that ever lived. I like this theory, although I can see some obvious shortcomings. Jesus almost assuredly could not have been the best professional basketball player and the best horse jockey. At least not in the same incarnation.

But for me it brought up this question recently: what kind of politician would Jesus have been? More specifically, what would Jesus' foreign policy be like? There's been a lot of talk about foreign policy in our current presidential election, and given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rightly so. Our standing in the world seems to have diminished recently.

Maybe a more pertinent question, since Jesus isn't president of the US, is what would he have our foreign policy be? How would the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth be applied to real world situations like foreign policy?

This is a difficult topic. It is what differentiates following the lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth vs. letting Jesus save us and guide us in matters of personal morality, but not so much seeing his teaching and lifestyle impact societal, systemic thinking and acting.

At least anecdotally, you find more pacifists among New Testament scholars than other theological groups, purportedly because studying and focusing on Jesus' life leads to a "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies" pacificistic view. But I'm not sure. Jesus wasn't a pure pacifist--just ask the money-changers in the temple. And there's no way Jesus was some milquetoast, as pacifists are often viewed. But what would he have done if he was president of the US on 9/11? Of course you could make the case that if we were the kind of society that would elect Jesus to office maybe 9/11 wouldn't have happened in the first place. But that begs the question. How would Jesus lead in a post-9/11 world?

How do the teachings and doings of Jesus of Nazareth impact systemic issues like foreign policy?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Triangular relationships

I finished Ed Friedman's "A Failure of Nerve" this week. This book turns upside down the late 20th century thoughts on leadership. I will try to write some blogs in the coming days about leadership.

In a later chapter he talks about triangulated relationships, and how they affect a leader. Relationship triangles form basically between three people (e.g. husband, wife, child; or husband, wife, mistress; or boss, employee, spouse) or they can be between two people and a problem, like husband, wife, cancer. There are an almost infinite number of potentially triangulated relationships.

These triangles impact us even when we're not aware of them. Maybe more when we're not aware of them. A great example would be the situation I'm in right now where I'm commuting to Dallas a few times each week. My wife and I have several triangles in our relationship. Here's a few I can think of:

  • Me, her, the new job
  • Me, her, our unsold house
  • Me, her, where do we live?

In each case above, the relationship between A & B (me and her) is seriously affected by C, even when we are not realizing it. She doesn't have to know what's going on in my job, the stress of learning new things, being in a new environment, etc. for all of those things to seriously affect her just because they seriously affect me.

This is pretty basic, but I was thinking about how important it is to triangulate all our relationships with God. This is how God has an impact on us, how he builds our faith. We invite him into the triangle, and he affects us whether we know it or not. So if I have me, my new job and God in a triangle, that new job stuff will automatically begin to have less of an effect on my relationship with San. And if she invites God into the triangle with her and selling our house, it has an impact on her well-being, her state of mind, even if she doesn't know what or how God is going to do something.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

God called, he wants his church back...

Another prophetic piece from my friend Keith Giles...

Intentional Diversity or Quotas?

A few weeks back I had a brief but good conversation on the Strong Coffee blog with longtime Texas Baptist leader Ken Coffee about the approach churches or Christian orgs should/could take in hiring diverse leaders. The basic discussion centered around the phrase "hiring the best person for the job" regarding of ethnic or cultural background. I tried to articulate that sometimes this phrase doesn't work, in particular on the basis of generational training up of minority leaders. I basically said that it was unjust of us to not allow minority leaders (and by minority I am thinking of ethnic, socio-economic, and more, not just country of origin) to have access to proper training and then overlook them for ministry leadership roles because they weren't the best for the job.

Here's an article from CT about a church in Little Rock of all places, not far from where the "Little Rock Nine" were denied access to school in 1957. This church takes intentional diversity as a biblical mandate. What do you think?