Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I learned today...that may seem stupid tomorrow

"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

Unless he doesn't have access to the pond.

For the last couple of days some great learning facilitators from World Vision have been in DFW working with our team here on learning some of the basic foundations for our work in the US. Didn't know World Vision worked in the US? Check out more information here:

We all know the little ditty from above. But one of the things we've learned, is that teaching a man to fish has no value to him if he can't access the water where the fish are.

There is a natural progression to our growth in the area of biblical justice. First comes charity or relief, where we begin to learn about needs in the world and try to give to them. Maybe we begin to understand that we're stewards of our stuff and not owners. We give away the fish.

But then we realized that the people we gave to often became dependent on us, and on our charity. So we thought, let's develop some skill sets, let's teach them to fish. And so we did.

But where do they fish? What if the owner of the pond won't let them fish? How do we give them access? We advocate on their behalf, and teach them how to advocate for themselves.

Ultimately though, it's about that community owning the pond for themselves. How do they get there?

Each of these steps is a move toward biblical justice. None of them is having "arrived", but each of them leads us closer to what Jesus would have us do.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Theology in Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Disclaimer: This is a theology review of "The Adjustment Bureau" (TAB), starring Matt Damon & Emily Blunt. So I might give away parts of the movie if you haven't seen it, although I'm going to try not to.

There hasn't been a movie to fill me with thoughts of theology the way TAB did, probably since "The Matrix." The movie plot is about determinism vs free will, maybe the longest running, mostly-un-ultimately-decided debate within the Church throughout our history. It is rife with theological comment.

Like "The Matrix", there is some good theology there. The portrayal of the juxtaposition of making choices contrary to the plan of the Chairman is excellent, and as Greg Boyd says, it might be the most intelligent Hollywood version of that debate ever (which may not be saying much, but still). Greg has an awesome review of the movie, including 5 great points on the free will/determinism debate, which you can read here.Link
But, also like "The Matrix", while some of the theology is good, ultimately it becomes the skin of the truth around a lie. The original lie, in fact.

When my friends and family asked me after what I thought of the movie, I responded something like "great movie, but maybe the most evil theology I've ever seen in a movie."

Yep, I see it as evil, and here's why: it mirrors the lie told by the serpent in the garden. If you believe the plan revealed by the One to be somehow wrong, then you should act in your own self interest, and if you do it with enough gumption and sincerity and passion, then you can rewrite the plan. In other words, you can be like God.

The movie does leave you hanging about what the main characters' future was, although the implication seemed to me to be that they lived "happily ever after". But perhaps like Adam and Eve it all went bad for them, when the Chairman gave them what they thought they wanted. But we really don't know.

So here's what I would say:

  • An all-powerful God (the Chairman) and his plan for the world (the books the agents carried) do not have to be written in stone. An omnipotent being can allow for the free choices of humans. Or angels for that matter.
  • Neither the humans nor the angels involved in this world know the outcome of the plan, and our parts we play in it are often tests, designed to grow us into the creatures we were created to be.
  • Ultimately, the greatest exercise of our free will is to choose allegiance to the One who does rule the universe, and like him, to come serving and not to be served. It does not profit a man to gain the world and yet lose his soul. This movie says that if you go after the world with sincerity and passion, you will find it. With apologies to those who see the romanticism of his pursuit of the girl of his dreams as "all that," if we pursue our dreams with no regard of the One who made us, we will only find death at the end.

Great movie, definitely worth seeing multiple times, but watch out for the subtle untruths.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Book Review: "Trolls and Truth"

I had heard the name Jimmy Dorrell for years. The founder and leader of Mission Waco and Church Under the Bridge pastor was well-known as a friend of the marginalized in Central Texas. But recently I got the chance to spend some time with him, and now we're working together on a project. When we met the first time, he gave me a copy of his book "Trolls and Truth: 14 Realities About Today's Church That We Don't Want to See." The book was written in 2006, but remains as timely now as it was then.

Jimmy tells the story of several of the people he's met in ministry over the years, people that "regular" society might see as trolls. And in telling the story of these men and women, Jimmy prophetically exposes the truths that most of us in the US Church don't like to think about: our churches are not made for down-and-outers. They don't try to attract the marginalized. And in so doing, we're missing out on the kingdom, or at least a big part of it.

The chapters deal with practical topics, like looks, giving, blessing, worship and more, and cut to the quick of our idealized churches made up of people who only want the proverbial "$2 worth of God," not the whole enchilada. But Jimmy's friends are people who desperately need God, and nothing else will do.

My favorite chapter--the one that convicts me the most too--is on friendship. Society's "trolls" ultimately don't need just our help, they need our friendship. All too often, even for someone like me who tries to identify with (whatever that means) and work among under-resourced people and communities, our "service" to those in poverty is "in and out." We serve turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving. We deliver some gifts at Christmas. We go on a 5 day mission trip to south Dallas, or to Mexico. All of these can be effective, if a part of a greater strategy. And that strategy is to be genuine, authentic friends with people, regardless of their race, their socio-economic status, their mental capacity, whatever. This whole idea that Jesus ate with sinners is amazing, and life changing. He ate with them. He didn't just serve them food (although he did that) and he didn't just preach them a sermon (although he did that too), he ate with them. He walked with them. He lived life with them.

He was one of them.

May I be one of them too.

Great book for a devotional read, shortish chapters that you could read one a day in 15 or 20 minutes. I'm giving it 4 out of 5 bellybuttons.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Follow the rules

Those closest to me have noticed a dark and disturbing trend over the past few years. I don't know how it happened, how it snuck up on me and captured my soul. But it has happened.

I have become a rule follower.

I wasn't always. Freedom rang through my life as if William Wallace himself was screaming in my head. I was a notorious rebel, determined to break the rules placed on me.

But no longer. I finally came to grips with it this morning when, for the umpteenth time, I saw another parent dropping their child off at school without following the school's well-posted rules for safety. It's as if we think that the rules don't apply to us if we're in a hurry. And as I glared steely eyes at the other dad who was, it looked to me, dressed for a tee time (while tee times are extremely important, probably not worth endangering elementary children for), it hit me.

I have become a rule follower.

So in the few minute drive back to the house, I pondered what had changed me so deeply. And as I did, I began to realize I've not changed so much as I think I have. The problem is not that I'm any less rebellious than 15 or 20 years ago. The problem is that I think fewer rules are stupid than I did 15 or 20 years ago. You see, even in my highest rebellious phase, I was rebelling against what I perceived to be the idiocy of certain regulations. Many people in authority make rules to govern the least common denominator. Anyone who tries to control a group of people (coaches, teachers, pastors, etc.) makes a rule because a handful of people in the group need those rules. It keeps the group in line. It defines truth as black and white, alleviating (albeit temporarily) the mystery. But, having usually seen myself as more enlightened than the rest of the group, I pretty much always thought those rules weren't very smart for me.

Educational math was like this for me. Teachers always wanted me to "show my work." Made me list out my postulates and theories in geometry. Show my line by line work in long division. When I could do it all in my head and save me the time and energy of writing it out, why?

Most of my strongest rebellion was (and still is) pointed at religious regulations. And more specifically, the religious regulations that allow American Christians to look good on the outside, but be dead bones on the inside, and still be seen as "good" evangelicals. But the truth is, we as individuals and we the collect system of society have been tainted by sin, and against that sin we need to struggle. We need to fight. We need to declare our freedom. Often for USAmerican evangelicals, the pattern of sin in us in not the desire to do evil. It is the belief that in doing a little good we become good people. As Screwtape attested, that may be the greatest victory of our enemy.

In these, may we all be rebels.

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