Best Sellers & Scripture

26 02 2010

Those two words don’t often go hand-in-hand: best seller & Bible. Unless, of course, someone is quoting that the Bible IS the ultimate best seller. Which it is. But I’m not.

About a year ago, I heard reference to A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically. I put it on my list of “books to read” on my iGoogle homepage. A year later, it is still the only book on the that list – not because I’m not ambitious, but because I don’t iGoogle. Seriously, who needs iGoogle when Gmail does the same stuff?  Anyway, a year later, it fell into my lap (the book, of course, not iGoogle!).

Basic reflections: I could have told you exactly what would happen before I picked up this book. See, there’s only 2 ways for it to end: either he becomes a believer / follower or he doesn’t. And guess what? If it’s on the best seller list, I can guarantee I know how it ends.

He did everything right to create a best seller: He took religion (Judaism and Christianity both) just seriously enough to engage even the ardently faithful, but irreverently enough to keep it light. He did his research thoroughly, maintaining fairness to each side of the issues. He touched upon all the key debates, without any firm commitments to any of them. In fact, he laid bare his liberal, agnostic perspective, kept an open mind, and ultimately discovered “spirituality”. His words:

In a sense, they were right to worry. You can’t immerse yourself in religion for 12 months and emerge unaffected. At least I couldn’t. Put it this way: If my former self and my current self met for coffee, they’d get along okay, but they’d both probably walk out of the Starbucks shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “That guy is kinda delusional.”

But in the end, the spirituality he comes up with is nothing more than a post-modern sense of the divine. Is it true? Partially. But it misses the point completely. He admitted he learned to be thankful, that seemed to be one of his best experiences. However, even he confessed that it was thanks directed toward no one – that when he did try to direct the thanks toward some god, it felt even better / more meaningful.

I was hoping to find something useful for Christians in it, much like I Sold my Soul on eBay. But I didn’t. There’s no perceptive insight into Christianity. Yes, there’s an outsider looking in, but he just admires, shrugs his shoulders, and turns away. We can find no reflection of ourselves in him.

What we do find is a perfect reflection of American culture today. There’s a yearning for something deeper, an acceptance of “spirituality”, but a turning away from religious tradition.

The results would have been the same if he’d tried Buddhism.


Unannounced Hiatus

24 02 2010

I’ve been…. re-evaluating. I’d love to say its done and I have some grand conclusions, but I don’t.

Working a 9-5 job is great. I have good benefits (5 wks vacation!), decent pay (no comment), great hours (literally 9-5, including lunch). It’s the first time in my life I’m not worried about making ends meet and paying the bills. I even like the work and the people. In all honesty, it’s exactly what I asked God for a year ago.

But with our first warm day outside, I want the freedom to go out and read a book for an hour. Or bring Selah (my dog) to the office. I miss teaching, preparing for and standing in front of a class. I miss having the right to tutor (my visa doesn’t allow it) and watching individual students growing long-term.

Most of my re-evaluating has been related to finances and those now very limited free hours each day. This is where this blog comes in. Writing even a short article takes up to an hour. But the things I want to write are more in-depth. I need more coming in than going out – read more books, listen to more ideas, follow other blogs… I’d say I need at least an hour a day of bring these things in. Then, there’s the processing. Time for reflection and prayer. Time to integrate it all. Only then am I prepared to write.

On the one hand, I thought blogging daily would motivate me to keep up on the intake and processing. It does. Except that I just honestly don’t have time for all of that at the level I want to do it. Because, you see, there’s also learning korean, involvement in various ministries… and just balancing my sanity and need for down time (especially while living in another culture and working  full-time).

So, no grand announcements. Just letting you know I’ll be around, but I’m not sure how much. I’m also leaning towards keeping this academic for my own sake – I don’t want to get rusty. I’ll let you know if I do come to any vital decisions.

Discovering Tegu: The Next Generation in Blocks

7 02 2010

I discovered a new toy: blocks!

When I was a kid, blocks looked something like this:

They were simple and easy to use. And. while we enjoyed them, we all knew Legos were better. In fact, as a kid, I remember think blocks were pretty boring and stupid (and not colorful and plastic).

So, why sell these boring toys? They’d been around for ages… kids played with them before plastic with all its wonderful colors was invented. Plus, they’re hardy – they last a lot longer. Still. . . I was kid. They were dull.

Then, a few years ago, a lot of adult friends started purchasing… blocks! Ok, well, technically they’re planks:

These are Keva planks. They look pretty awesome, right? The thing that made these different was precision. These planks are milled to be highly precise – perfect 90 degree angles, exact length and width for each one. This means they balance better. You can stack them end to end pretty high. It’s impressive. A new take on an old toy.

Well, I thought that was about as innovative as plain old blocks could get. Until I discovered the newest version:

These are Tegu. Notice they’re doing something blocks shouldn’t be able to do? They’re defying gravity! That’s because they have magnets inside. Pretty awesome. They’re also sold out at the moment.

So, what’s the point of this evolution of blocks? It makes me think of the evolution of theology. First, we start out simple and plain. Then we add a little color, some nuances. Eventually, we refine it to a precise set. See, we couldn’t do that before because we just didn’t have the technology to cut it so precisely (the archeological, sociological, historical, literary advances that allow us to cut with more precision).

Now, it seems like we’re learning how to put magnets in our theology. We’re making it do things it never did before. It’s kinda scary. And it goes against everything we think we know. It starts doing things like saying races are equal… and women can preach… and maybe homosexuals can marry. We’re seeing theology developed to support things we never imagined it could.

I don’t know where this takes us. Are Tegu magnetic blocks still blocks? Are they just re-defining how blocks act? How far do we have to go to lose the name “block”? Are Legos blocks? For my part, I respect what people are doing with theology. They’re trying to keep the value and still make it work for our modern, media-distracted, plastic-toy loving society. Sure, sometimes we’ll get it wrong. But at least we’re trying.

What to do with Ephesians

5 02 2010

Tonight, I chose the book my small group will be covering: Ephesians. With a high view of the church and a structure matching that of Colossians, this text encapsulates the whole of Pauline literature and offers a plethora of academic discussions.

Yup, it’s a book we can argue about for 10 weeks easy.

But that’s not really the point of a small group, is it? While the text provides a central core, a focus point, the group’s life and purpose moves beyond that. For a group exists, not to answers theological and philosophical questions, but to enrich the spiritual lives of its members.

The Word of God is not meant to be studied only. It’s meant to change and shape us, until the written word becomes the living word, until the living Word enters and transforms our lives. Thus, in life, the written scripture is the guiding line we follow, but is not an end in itself. For the group it must be the same: the written Scripture draws us together, gives us a focus and center point, but is meant to be lived in our group life and spread from there outward to our individual daily lives.

So, while the group may be studying Ephesians, I suspect we won’t be discussing the merits of a 60’s or 90’s dating. I’ll save those discussions for Soul Theology. But the group, we’ll see if we can’t learn to live it, just a little.

Pants on the ground

4 02 2010

I’m sure everyone’s seen Pants On The Ground. Everyone’s seen it, laughed at it. It’s the viral video of last week.

So yeah. I’m a little late writing this up. But as heard about it for the umpteenth time, it takes on new meaning when you get what Larry Platt’s saying: Wear a belt!

No, actually, he was telling men to act their age. Apparently, he said he’s worked too hard and sacrificed too much for the next generation to throw it all away. It reminds me of Eugene Cho’s post the other day, about the difference between manliness and maturity:

“There are many men that simply need to grow up, mature, be responsible, and take their faith in Christ…to heart.”

It’s true all around us – but how much more do Christian men need to model that maturity? Don’t we have the responsibility to speak to the culture and demonstrate what it means to be a mature adult?

Ezra’s community prayer

3 02 2010

Ezra, relocating to Jerusalem to help rebuild it, discovered something shocking. First off, Ezra himself was a bit of a nerd – “skilled in the law of Moses” (= pure academic) who sought “to do [the law]” (= faithful believer) and “to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel” (= teacher). So, he was basically a theology professor….

So this ancient theology professor had just lead a huge group of exiles back to the land of their fathers (no small feat, considering they crossed the desert with hundreds of pounds of gold & silver without getting mugged). They arrive, they join the people already in Jerusalem, and they all worshiped.

Sounds great, sounds like a success. He managed to organize and bring the people back. Then, for reasons that escape me, some men run up to tattle on the people who are already living in the Jerusalem area. Best I can figure, these men just didn’t know who else to too. They saw Ezra walking into town with quite the array, and figure he can deal with their problem. So they tell him how all these people of Israel are marrying foreigners.

Now, Ezra, the man who led a crowd through the desert guarded only by angels, did not become angry. He didn’t say, “Who cares?” and he didn’t storm off to yell at the people committing the sin. Instead, he mourns. He actually cries out and “sat appalled”. Have you ever done that? You ever sit appalled? Over your own sins? How about over someone else’s? I don’t think I have – maybe over someone’s pain, but never their sins.

Alright, all this was to get to the point: After sitting appalled all day, he prayed, “O my God! I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you. My God!! Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads. And our guilt has mounted up to the heavens!!” (9:6)

“Our iniquities” and “our guilt”. He’s not married to a foreign woman. But he accepts responsibility for the guilt of his people. He prays on their behalf from within the community. Oh, that we could learn to do the same! How would things looks if we identified with our communities in this same way? And no, I don’t just mean our churches.

An Afternoon with Jesus

2 02 2010

I walk in and focus on an image, his hand. As I looked, I realized he was soothing a fresh piece of wood. I looked up and saw his face, smiling, glad I had joined him. It was the first time I’ve found him as a carpenter, and it shocked me.

He showed me the long piece of wood, with the intricate grain. And he spoke, “Feel the wood, it is smooth and soft and warm. It feels alive beneath your hand. Remember the ancient wooden steps in the castle you visited? How worn and smooth they were, until they glowed? Remember how they felt under your feet, knowing that thousands of feet had trodden the same steps? That someone had taken great care to smooth and place them? Wood only gets better with age, if it’s taken care of.”

“What is this particular piece going to be used for?” I asked.

“This will be a beam in a house. See, our houses need long cross beams to support the roof, they are only visible from the inside.”

“But why are you smoothing it with so much care? No one will ever touch it. It’s simply support, half hidden in the mud roof.”

“I always take great care, in everything I do. It’s the attention to detail – making perfect details, that makes the whole perfect.”

“But why do you spend so much time on your carpentry? Don’t you ever feel like you’re meant for something more? Like you have a mission to fulfill? Can you be content in this?” I asked, knowing full well that we both knew what his mission was.

With a caress that betrayed his love of the wood, and an intense light in his eyes, he responded, “If I didn’t take time with this, how could you trust that I’d take time with you, with anyone? What I do here reflects my character. See, just as I smooth out the wood, I find the grain and work with it, not against it, I sand and polish, even so I work with people. I carve them, smooth them, polish them, working always with the grain to bring out the greatest beauty. If I didn’t take the time here, how could you trust me to take the time with people? And what, should I do it for a chair and not for the roof beam, simply because no one will ever touch it? What then, should I take the time with a pastor or prominent teacher, but not with the least and the lost, with the servants, the supports? How then should I draw the line? Who is to say which beam deserves or requires my utmost attention? Do I not say that each piece, however small, is worth it? No, if I didn’t take the time, and have a love for my work here, I’d never be ready for my “mission” as you call it.”

I smile, satisfied. With eyes closed, I too caress the warm wood, feeling the soothing silkiness.