Sunday, August 29, 2010

Get Out Here

Trying out a new thing by adding more dynamic content to the blog, including audio and video. The blessing of having an iPhone is the ability to do this. This is what I did with my Saturday night.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback you might have not only on the content of the video, but the general idea of short videos and audio clips, the best video hosts out there (i.e. YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo, etc.). Please drop a comment below and join the conversation.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Can Shave, But I Like The Stubble.

The Talk of the 20-Somethings
I'm writing with a bit of conflict in my heart as I try to sort through all this talk of the 20-something lately. First it was the now widely circulated New York Times article which attempts to label the lack of taking on responsibility as "emerging adulthood." Jeffery Jensen Arnett, a psychologist who coined the phrase, says that this phase of life is much like the emergence of adolescence 100 years ago due to several sociological factors.
Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.
These "cultral" factors naturally lead to the question, "is emerging adulthood a bad thing?"

For Mark Driscoll the answer is unequivocally yes. In a recent Washington Post article he wrote,
The New York Times Magazine ran a story this past week called "What is it about 20-Somethings?" looking at the new life stage of emerging adulthood. The article echoed what other recent studies are showing and something we've been saying at Mars Hill Church for awhile: The world today is filled with boys who can shave.
His response was not to call these "boys" "emerging adults," but rather "childish consumers" or, for those in the church, "cowards and complainers." They are marked by boys in mens' bodies who still live with their parents, have a part-time job to support their video game addiction that keeps them from ever having a steady relationship with a real woman. They can shave, but they either don't have money for a razor or, if they are hipsters, they choose not to shave at all.

My Sitch
I've been shaving since the age of 15. That doesn't necessarily mean I needed to shave at that age - I think I only did it about once a month - but I remember thinking that shaving signaled a transition in my life from boyhood to manhood.

At that age I wanted to be a man. I wanted to be the man that no man had ever been in my life because my dad was never in the picture and no one ever really stepped up to fill that void. At that age I had worked a few part-time jobs, but my main income was allowance. At that age I was a fairly young believer in Christ with no real spiritual support in the home. At that age I not only discovered girls, but girls discovered me, making for some very poor decisions. At that age I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I loved computers and thought that might be my track. At that age I felt misunderstood and left out of the most important social circles. Though there were some definite memorable moments in high school and though I am still good friends with a few from those years even today, I would much rather forget them. However, I do remember wanting to be a real man.

Fast forward to today. I will be 28 years old next Monday. I have been a believer for 16 years. I have basically supported myself since I left home for college, working mad crazy odd jobs and raising financial support through Campus Crusade for Christ and my church. I am now surrounded by excellent community. I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a solid believer who is a part of The Line, our small church plant here in Chicago. I finished college with a degree I didn't use, worked for Campus Crusade for four years, one year in Italy, three at the University of Florida, and now I am back in school getting my Masters of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I start my third year in two days and I finish in December of 2011. I will be 29 1/2. Today I am admitting more than ever before in recent years that I have no idea what I'm going to do when seminary is over. Contrary to popular belief, seminary is not about getting answers, folks. I have more questions now than I did when I entered (not faith questions) as I wrestle with my calling before God. I will have no substantial debt when I am done thanks to countless supporters. But at this rate I will also have no real home, no real job, no real marriage and no real kids (I won't have fake ones either). Does this mean I'm not a real man?

Confused, Conflicted & Confessing
After reading both articles I am left confused. Has the category of "adolescence" been helpful at all or has it just screwed us all up, leaving us unprepared for adulthood? Is this idea of "emerging adulthood" legitimate on any level or is it just another educated human excuse for our sinful rebellion against God resulting in complacent cowards afraid to step into the roles He has created for us? I'm still wading through these, but admit I side more with Driscoll.

Moreover, I'm conflicted about my own life. I respect Mark Driscoll a ton. God has done amazing work through his preaching both around the world and in my life. Mars Hill has been a beacon of light in a very dark part of this country. His church planting network, Acts 29, is exploding and our church is being birthed out of it. Yet every time I read his articles or hear his sermons on this topic I struggle. I always feel like I'm second rate, like I'm not a man and I'm not worthy to even be consider one until I have "a marriage and a mortgage." This also goes for any kind of leadership in the church. I could never counsel a married couple because I just wouldn't know what I'm talking about. I could never be a pastor or be an elder because I'm not married, don't have kids and thus do not fulfill the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Being conflicted leads to confession. I'd like to believe that Driscoll is overstating his case to try to bring the pendulum to the middle. He's always been controversial and I think it's calculated because, in a culture known for such realities as the Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky, Passion of the Christ, and Jersey Shore, controversy brings out our passions and convictions and for some it persuades them to believe something they didn't before. So I want to take what he writes with a grain of salt, but I have to confess that I think he's both right and wrong. My confession begins with God. In that He is revealing that I am at a stage in life where the core of who I am is being exposed like never before, where the Spirit of God is leading me to see the gospel in profound and fresh ways. He is revealing that in many ways I am not a man I want to be, yet in many ways he is shaping me into the man he wants me to be. I ask "why" a lot to God, but I also say "I trust you" more. I am learning that I am not just a believer in Christ, but also a son of God and co-heir with Christ forever. I am learning that my life is not about my manhood, but Christ's. Whatever great men there have been over time, Jesus is infinitely the greatest (and he had no marriage, mortgage, or munchkins). He who needed no beard took on a beard for us so that we who do have beards could be called true men of God.

I can shave, but I like the stubble. It's the intentional appearance of indecision.

By His Grace.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No Intimacy on the Interwebs

I feel as though there is some irony in this post. I just noticed that I have 31 followers on my blog, some of whom are people I have met along the road of life, others are folk I will probably never know this side of heaven. Either way, they are real people (unless of course I have a band of spam followers), real people with backgrounds, stories, voices, work, hobbies, weekly schedules. Again, with a few of them I am a part of all that stuff, but with most I'm not.

The same goes for many of the other social media outlets I have ventured back into over the past three months. I have nearly 1,900 friends on Facebook; I am climbing toward a whopping 200 followers on The Twitters. In rural Texas or maybe a small town in the 1700s I might be considered a big deal - an important person if you will - with those kinds of stats.

Yet tonight a close friend, a real-life friend who has been verified by my own eyes, hands and ears, told me that he was shutting his fairly successful blog down because he was tired of the Internet culture. The five month hiatus from this very culture was swirling around in the back of my head so forcefully that it cause my head to nod up and down in agreement. I admit that I grew tired once again just reading his text and I was tempted to join him in the ranks of rebellion against the ever-growing trap of the finely woven Interwebs.

The problem I notice with myself and with countless others is our salivation at connectivity combined with our lack of thoughtful engagement on this still youthful platform. For some reason we hold that the same rules apply with the screen as they do in the skin. FB uses the now ubiquitous term "friends," which give some with already stalkerish tendencies the idea that they could just befriend that pretty girl in the random photo, message her, and they will be pals for life...maybe even at some point they will go on a date! Folks who are using Twitter strive to come up with a witty, sticky comment that will be retweeted by followers or @replied. That's the only reason I use it; my influence abounds with the massive following I have. Then there are podcasts, vodcasts, and soon-to-be 3D versions of both!

A saturation has occurred in the exponential growth of Interwebs connectivity and supersaturation is fast approaching. Every bubble bursts and I think the increase in weariness is due to the acknowledgment that we do not receive what we ultimately long for when interacting with other human beings - intimacy. It could be holding a loved one, hanging out with friends at a coffee shop, or the odd form of intimacy found in a loud argument between best friends or spouses.

I wonder when we will all grow tired. I wonder at what point in our lives we realize that the attention of thousands of truly nameless faces will never amount to the acceptance we have with those whose names and faces we know so well. I wonder when I will stop caring about how many wall posts I got on a given day or how many people are actually reading this and commenting. I am tired along with my friend, but bouncing off this is not the answer for me. Balance is.

I see a great platform for the gospel. The Interwebs is a place to begin at least telling the story of our great God and his redeeming project through Christ to restore our intimacy with Him forever. He is the Christ not of a Facebook profile or a Twitter account, not just some person I will friend or follow and never meet, but the Christ of flesh and blood, whose feet walked the very earth he created, whose voice was heard by thousands, whose wounds Thomas touched, and whose ascension the disciples. Through Christ I am not merely these words on a screen or a home video created on my Flip camera; I am an adopted slave, made a son of God, and a co-heir with Christ. I am able to approach the throne of God boldly and confidently and ask for anything. I have God's Spirit within me leading me, guiding me, praying for me. Why should I ever care who I am and how close I am with others in a virtual world when I walk with God everyday in the real one?

This is the closeness we all seek in this world of mostly empty connectivity. I just pray that as we all grow tired of it that we won't simply run to the next latest whisper, whistle or flashing light that promises a life it can never provide, but will instead turn to Christ because he is the only one who can give us freedom from the tangling web and intimacy with God.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Gospel Where There Is No Light

It's 4:15 am. I am awake and it is not to start off the day. I just got home from one of the weirdest 60 minutes in recent memory. I'd say the last really odd moment happened a little over 8 months, but these situations which occur tell me my life is just a bit less normal than the rest of humanity. Either that or I just blog about them in an attempt to make them more interesting.

At about 2:45 I woke up suddenly. I sit up in my bed and see my phone lit up. I then notice that the three fans in my room are all turning off, and what once was a bearable warmth immediately shifted to the stale heat no one ever wants to have in their bedroom. There was a power outage throughout the entire building. I struggle for what seemed like an eternity to find the cord for the blinds to my window. I thought, "although we are in the inside corner of our U-shaped building where absolutely no air circulation occurs, the air outside is still much cooler than in here." I eventually found the cord, raised the blinds, and opened my window. While doing this I peered over to my left and noticed that the power was out across the street. With my head pressed against the screen and the hope of breeze in my heart, I tried to fall asleep. About five minutes later a bright light starts to shine above me and what sounded like twelve bulldozers began to reverberate throughout the streets. I laid there a bit longer, one eye closed hoping to fall asleep, the other kept open by the fingers of duty and responsibility.

I tried calling the office for our apartment. An automated voice told me all circuits were busy. I thought it was either the beginning of a cliche horror movie or the Rapture. I decided to throw on a shirt and head to the office, which is several streets down. I reasoned that dozens of people had probably already done this and that dozens would be in the streets to find out what was going on. I was wrong; my belief in humanity had been shattered yet again and the law of the diffusion of responsibility was confirmed. The street was black, save that bright light I had seen earlier, which came not from bulldozers, but from the building right next to us - a senior center. Old people live there and apparently they have old equipment as well. I came to find out later that it was their water pump on the fritz. It sounded like it was gonna explode at any moment. There was even a pipe with a top on it like a steam engine that kept blowing open repeatedly. I imagined an enormous burst, a flaming ball, and the end of my life, alone in the street clutching my new iPhone 4. I then used that amazing tiny device to call ComEd and inform them of the outage. There was no flame. I did not die.

The walk to the office was one of trepidation. At this point I was thinking looters were gonna start storming the streets and start robbing everything. I was surprised yet again that absolutely no one was outside trying to figure out what was going on. I made it safely to the office only to find two people in the lobby - an older, white-haired, beer-bellied Romanian man, and a younger, large black man who was behind the desk. I ask them what happened. They had no idea, but said that ComEd had only found out about it 10 minutes earlier. We talked for about five minutes, listening to some of the JAMs Mustafa was playing on his phone while chillin' behind the desk. The only light we had came from our phones and the emergency lights until a girl comes through a door holding a candle. She comes to the desk and just starts chatting with all of us.

Mind you it is now 3:15 in the morning and the funny thing is we really didn't talk about the power outage from the moment she got there. Instead we talked began talking about yoga because I had made a joke about her coming from her workout. The Romanian man walked away probably out of disinterest. I thought Mustafa would do some of the same, but as we began sharing he started asking about the philosophy and the metaphysics of yoga because he was studying it and the girl was an instructor. I sat there and listened to them both chat with each other for 10-15 minutes. I found the conversation fascinating and the setting all the more. I decided to let them keep talking by asking how they both got into yoga, meditation, chakras and the like. The girl was the only one to share her background, which was a mix of Western medicine learned from her dad and yoga learned for her own health.

Eventually Mustafa had to go help the Romanian man who turned out to be a maintenance guy. The girl, Lauren, turned to me and then asked me if I believed in any of the stuff they were talking about. That's when I said, "I really don't want to show my hand too much, but I'm studying to be a pastor." Looking back that makes no sense. You really don't study to be a pastor; you develop tools that allow you to move from being a bumbling, inept pastor to one who is the same, but just equipped for growth. In any case, however, saying that always perks the ears of listeners. This was when Lauren told me that she was a Christian and how it probably makes no sense that she is both a Christian and a yoga instructor. Hearing her words I think the religion of Christianity may be more prevalent in her life than a saving relationship with Christ is. I shared my thoughts on Christianity and yoga while Mustafa came back into the picture and the lights soon thereafter. It was then I knew I had to speak up some more.

To make what is an already long story a bit longer, I began to share the differences between what Christianity is and what they were talking about. Mustafa was firm in believing in what is called panentheism, that God is in all things, that his spirit is in people as well as geraniums, gophers, and Great White Sharks. This panenthestic belief leads him and all in that line of thought toward the oneness concept of the divine, that we are all one with the divine. This is becoming trendy in the West. The people who hold to it say those in the East have held to it for thousands of years longer than any other idea of religion like Judaism or Christianity, thus they conclude, it must be the right way. It's tolerant. It's all-inclusive. We are all divine. It's the oldest. Therefore, it's right. Apparently this idea of oldest doesn't work for other ancient practices such as monarchies, emperors, or polygamy. We are past those archaic concepts.

I talked about how we are created by God. Mustafa wanted to say we are created out of God. He then moved to prooftext me, by quoting Jesus who said the kingdom of God is in you (Luke 17:21). I can't argue against what Jesus said, right? Well instead of getting into the minute details of that passage, including the fact that Jesus was talking to Pharisees and that a proper translation would be more like "in your midst" or "grasp," I decided just to say that it's not good to throw isolated texts out to support a position. I took a story arc approach and in doing so got to go through the Gospel with both Mustafa and Lauren in about two minutes before getting cut off. The great thing about starting with Genesis and ending in Revelation is you get to tell the story of God's redeeming work from beginning to end, telling how it all climaxes in Jesus Christ. We covered creation, sin, God's wrath, penal substitution, Jesus' resurrection and grace. I didn't get to a point of calling for repentance and faith. We were all cut off by some random guy banging on the door trying to get in the building.

Though Mustafa wasn't really buying it, Lauren did. She was intrigued by it all and told me how she and her roommate had just been talking earlier in the night about finding a church in Chicago. She mentioned how her roommate brought it up with her for the first time and that she wanted to go with Lauren whenever Lauren went. Lauren herself has only been here for three weeks and seems to be in a lot of transition in life. She mentioned how this "random" meeting must have happened for a reason. We exchanged contact information and went our separate ways. It was 4:00 in the morning.

As I walked home, the streets and all the buildings lit back up, I wondered aloud to God why this kind of stuff happens to me all the time. At staff prayer for The Linewe prayed for opportunities to share the Gospel, that God would open doors just like Paul talks about in Colossians 4:2-6. I look at that passage now and think of how amazing the call is to walk in wisdom toward outsiders and have gracious speech. I'm not sure how I did in either of those, but I did make the best use of that time where once there was no light, but now there is.

It's 5:23 am. Time to sleep.

By His Grace.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Influence in Culture and Power of the Holy Spirit

I only have a quick post that serves more as a question because I find myself inadequate to provide any kind of response.

The Only Way?
Collin Hansen's post on The Gospel Coalition blog sparked some thoughts in my mind because in it he begins to wrestle with the tension faced in the countercultural reality of being a Christian and the all to serve the common good as a Christian. The article cites a sociologist by the name of Michael Lindsay. Below is the exact quote
Evangelicals cannot be part of the center of the institution if they are outside it. Outsiders never change institutions in significant ways; they only secure nominal assent from the power players within the organization. So if evangelicals want to fundamentally influence American higher education, they have to be players on the inside. They have to be scholars, administrators, presidents, and board members at the major institutions in the country. It is only when they are in those roles that they will actually be able to wield significant influence. (emphasis added)
Hansen's article explains how this fits in with counterculture and the common good. Yet Lindsay's perspective seems to flow with the popular notion these days that Christians must be heavily involved in the surrounding culture. He goes so far as to say it's the only way we can wield influence.

Yes, Lindsay is focusing specifically on American culture, but does history prove this? Have Christians been able to "wield significant influence" only by being on the inside the institutions? What does the story of Acts tell us? What about the first 300 years of Christianity? What about Christianity in China over the last 50 years? What makes America the only culture in the history of the world where the only way to wield this significant influence is by being on the inside? By no means am I advocating for the opposite and saying we should all retreat to the mountains. I am grateful for the "scholars, administrators, presidents, and board members at the major institutions in the country." But if this is not the way forward for some, will it mean the demise of Christianity in culture?

What's the Holy Spirit's Role in Culture?
As I finished the article this was one of the first questions that came to mind. I decided to run a quick search on The Gospel Coalition website to see how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the blog posts. In the most recent posts He is only mentioned twice, one as part of recommended resources for D.A. Carson's latest book, the other in the title of a book review. I kept going to previous posts and saw mention of a bible reference and another in reference to the Trinity. Yet for the many posts on culture, none of them consider the Spirit's power or work. When the Son goes to the Father, it is the Spirit, the Helper, who will be known by God's people and give them the power to do greater works than Jesus himself (John 14:12-17). So I am sincerely posing the question for the gospel-saturated, culture-conscious believer - "What's the Spirit's role?" In Culture Making Andy Crouch hints that
The same Spirit who brought the creation into existence has measurable, visible cultural effects, no matter how difficult it may be to tell exactly "where it comes from or where it is going."
How do we point out these "measurable, visible cultural effects" and credit the Spirit's power and work through believers in America instead of strictly their ability to be on the "inside?" Furthermore, does this give warrant at all to the idea that necessarily we do not need to be on the inside at all in order to wield influence, because in God's economy influence is not the result of position, but of His power? I just want to make sure that as we continue to talk about the gospel and culture and what it all means that we do not neglect the fact that God's Spirit is at work in the world now in real ways that may not be subject to our data, statistics, and countless studies. I do not think this takes away from our responsibility; on the contrary, knowing God's Spirit dwells in us, gives us power, and is it work should cause greater dependence not on our abilities or status, but on prayer and more prayer.

So I gave my thoughts anyway, but I am still left with the many questions. Am I wrong to go in this direction? Am I missing something? I want to leave it in the hands of those more capable than myself to continue the discussion and come up with some clear(er) answers.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

SHARK WEEK!!!!! - Why Are We So Fascinated? Part 1

If I were to ask 100 people what their week was gonna look like, many would respond with the words above. In fact, this is how many statuses looked on Facebook Sunday night. One thrilled Facebooker writes that "Shark week is like a national holiday. It's bigger than Christmas!" Though it's still summer vacation for most school goers, could people with jobs begin petitioning for a week-long national holiday for this?

The ratings do not lie. Megan Gibson of Time Magazine reports that Shark Week is in it's 23rd season, averaging 20 million viewers each year, peaking at 29 million in 2008. I tweeted on this yesterday and it sparked a bit of conversation with a few folk. In the tweet I provided an answer to the implied question, "What is it about Shark Week that everyone finds so fascinating?" The statuses exclaim their love of Shark Week, but few if any explain it. One guy did say he loved Shark Week because "every show starts with, 'due to graphic images, this program may not be suitable for all viewers'. In an attempt to answer a parallel question, Isia Jasiewicz of Newsweek writes
Because appreciations are the currency of small cable channels (see also: The Weather Channel's love of all things storm related). Shark Week is, on its face, a truly genuine admiration of the majesty of "nature’s perfect killing machine."..."I'm watching Shark Week!" is a little like saying "I'm on a boat!" It's not about sharks, man. Like Snakes on a Plane, Piranhas 3-D, or any other over-the-top animal-attack fest with a blunt, obvious name, Shark Week has bite...
Jasiewicz chalks it up to the channel's utter admiration of all things shark and the viewers succumbing to trendiness. Honestly, that could be all it is. Solid admiration, strategic marketing, and trendiness may cause a tipping point even for Paper Clip Week, but I'm gonna risk taking it a bit deeper and say that Shark Week taps into our acute fascination not with sharks, but with power.

Presence of Power
Perception tells us that sharks rule the ocean. Though you are more likely to be bit by another person than a shark, when we see the news or videos of real shark attacks we admittedly think twice or three times before going even waste-deep out into the ocean. News, photos and videos serve as a reminder that we are not on our home turf if you will.

We get enraptured by any creature or creation that dominates and reigns over its domain. It happens anywhere from the animal kingdom to the kingdom of the court where James is King (or is he now Prince James?). We salivate at power and control with all programming we tune in to watch, not just Shark Week. Even with so-called "love" shows like the Bachelorette we act like Pavlov's dogs when the hour strikes 8:00. People will forget about Roberto and remember the drama of Ali's selection (power to choose) process.

The pop culture references are replete, but they also exist within the Church. Power for pastors is defined by enormous churches, for theologians its numerous publications. I will never forget my first day of class in seminary when a certain well-known professor of entered the room leaving in his wake a hush over each row he passed. His power commanded that kind of awe and respect. In our awe and respect the keys on each computer and the pens in each hand rapidly took note of every jot and tiddle that flowed out of his mouth. Our actions reflected the understanding we all had, that we were in the presence of power. Likewise, though we may hesitate to step in the ocean, we are quick to DVR the Discovery Channel during this whole week just to in the presence of sharks.

Power to Destroy
Interestingly, the power this professor has contains another element yet to be mentioned explicitly - the power to crush and destroy friend or foe. I will leave this up to your imagination because extending my explanation may lead me into some hot water. However, I think it is worth noting that true power instills fear in the hearts of those who are in its presence. This is what makes Shark Week so addictive. First of all, it's Shark Week. The Discovery Channel does not have any other week like it for any other animal. They don't do Mouse Week or Moose Week. Secondly, it's Shark Week. A day or two is not enough to whet our appetite, so a full week of programming is vitally necessary, though I know that still leaves many of the millions of viewers wanting more. There's something exhilarating about knowing that if I were swimming in the real presence of a Great White shark a limb or my whole body could be consumed in one scrumptulescent bite.

Power of Protection
The most fatal shark attack happened during World War II. The USS Indianapolis sank in the Philippine Sea near Guam. Nearly 900 sailors were stranded for four days. When help arrived only 317 were alive. 579 were reported dead, some chewed to pieces. Sadly they did not survive their shark week.

20 million people would not volunteer themselves to be stranded in the middle of the ocean; we have a hard enough time getting that many people to donate blood a pint of blood. Though many may consider giving blood a duty, I do not expect anyone in their right mind to willingly be stranded in the ocean, save Bear Grylls or Survivor Man (whose right-mindedness is questionable). I know I'm making light of a weighty matter, but this many people have the quasi-sadistic pleasure of watching every bit of Shark Week each year. We are all grateful for the combination of proximity to a shark's natural environment and the safety of our natural environment, which is on a couch in front the TV screen. I think what we experience is the synthesis between the presence of power and the power of protection. Although it may not be the same as being in a protective suit guarded by a cage under water as you hold chum out for all the starving finned ones, the editing and story of each "deadliest attack" show makes up for it.

Power Spectators or Power Seekers?
So by using Shark Week I've contended that we have an acute fascination with power by looking at it from several angles. What do you think? Even if you think I'm way off, at least you're thinking and I'd love to hear back from you. Moving forward, I think Shark Week raises an interesting question, particularly following the concept of the power of protection: Are we merely power spectators or are we also power seekers? That will have to wait until Friday.

By His Grace.