Friday, January 23, 2015

Playing Possum

The downside to running on a road with no sidewalks is occasionally having to deal with roadkill. If I run when it's dark it's significantly worse because you have less time to react (I've stepped on a dead squirrel once... but it was part of the street at that point... still disgusting.).

The worst kind of roadkill, and this isn't even close, is possum (or opossum, I think). As I was running the other day I came to the top of a hill and there lay a possum. I've heard of possums playing possum (dead) so, even though this one had blood on its head, I wasn't going to be fooled. Afterall this might be one of those aspiring academy award possums; maybe he takes his acting to a different level. I wasn't going to fall victim to its acting genius, so instead of just stepping around it, like I do other roadkill, I crossed all the way to the other side and did a kind of tip toe high step run so the possibly dead possum couldn't hear me and attack, and so I wouldn't touch as much of the pavement that it's disgusting body was laying on. It was a shameful sight, not befitting a man, for sure. 

But I'm alive... Undignified, but still alive. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

Towards Humility

Near the bottom of my resume I posted a list of my virtues, the first one is humility. 

Not joking. 

Well, I guess it began as a joke to see who would notice, but it's truly there. Some of you don't get the joke... I pity you. 

Anyway, I'm on a quest to learn and actually become a person of humility. I turned to many sources but, once again, found Willard to be most helpful. 

In his book Hearing God he lays out a three step plan for humility:

1. Never Pretend

Accept who you are before fellow humans, but especially before God. Don't try to paint a picture before others to get them to think a certain way about you. Willard uses the example of people saying, "Yes, I have read that book" when they really have not. They are pretending so as to appear to be a certain way. 

2. Never Presume

This is best illustrated by Jesus' teaching on not choosing the best seat at dinner (Luke 14:8). We should never, because of our state in life, presume something should be ours. But with meekness we should seek the lowly things. This has been a minefield for me. 
3. Never Push

This has been like walking on a minefield with broken glass and no shoes. The idea is that we never try and overpower the will of another person(s) to get what we want. We simply say how something is and trust God. This applies in teaching, leading, parenting, and all sorts of other areas. It doesn't mean we don't tell others what to do, if we are in that position, but we do not overpower them. At first I thought this was far reaching because we have learned to use authority to get our way. That is the essence of leadership in the West. But upon reflection I noticed that Jesus never once pushed in his leadership. Yes, he rebuked, and reproved, and even told people what to do, but he never overpowered another persons will. And I think he was a pretty effective leader. 

So never pretend, never presume, never push. Do these and you will be humble... Like me. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Useless Rights

Media of all sorts are still discussing the atrocious act of violence directed towards Charlie Hebdo and his business. Many of the arguments land around the right to express yourself freely. We see the same thing in school shootings that happen here in America. Before the bodies are even buried people are up in arms defended their rights, discussing how guns are not the problem. 

One thing you scarcely ever hear discussed is the utter lack of responsibility and character displayed in such cases. Perhaps, in this situation, people are afraid to bring it up for fear that they will somehow be blaming the victim. 

Let's be clear, neither he nor his coworkers deserved what happened to them. Let us be equally clear in also stating that they acted with utter irresponsibility toward their neighbors when they carelessly took what many hold as sacred and used it as a source of contemptuous humor. 

The same is true of those who bear arms without possessing the character that befits a responsible person. 

We are so protective of our rights and freedom. They are our treasures, and rightly so. But when we neglect character and forsake responsibility we make trash out of treasure. Then freedom without character becomes bondage, and rights without responsibility become BREAKING NEWS.

God help us.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I Am Both

In the past few months there have been several instances of real or imagined injustices. Something happened that garnered worldwide attention, and in the aftermath people took sides. This "siding" normally happened in the form of a one-liner: "I am Trayvon Martin," "Hands up don't shoot," "I can't breathe," and now "Je suis Charlie." 

It seems as if there is a race to identify with the perceived victim, lest you end up being grouped with the victimizer. It's almost as if we must make sure everyone knows that we are strongly in opposition to what has happened, and so we quickly tweet, wear t-shirts, or do something, ANYTHING, to make sure others know where we stand, and where we do not. 

But doesn't the immediate need to choose a side only reveal the depth of the initial problem? Other than creating the age old us/them scenario (which is never helpful), doesn't choosing sides limit someone from be able to see from the other sides perspective, and therefore severely prohibit an actual pursuit of justice?

One of the problems is that it becomes cool to say, "Je suis Charlie" because everyone else is doing so. But cool has never brought about real justice. What brings justice is the boldness to stand, as it were, into the clothes of the other and understand who they are. 

Why not try on an "I am George Zimmerman" t-shirt and see how it fits. How about tweeting, "I am capable of the anger of those who murdered the Charlie Hebdo workers." Doing this will immediately make you a target for all kinds of vituperation and bile. In other words, it will place you in their position, and a position to begin understanding. 

But I don't expect to see those shirts or tweets anytime soon. Instead we will continue picking sides rapidly, and subverting justice as we do so.

It is interesting to see media types backtrack on their identification with Charlie Hebdo once they realized that his "art" was offensively directed towards non-muslims, too. Suddenly "I am Charlie Hebdo" became "I am not Charlie Hebdo but I defend the right to free speech." In other words, once they realized that the victim was not the presumed saint he was immediately painted to be they divorced themselves from him and married a principle. Now the t-shirt probably reads, "I identify with nobody (even myself) unless they are flawless." 

But the truth is there is a bit of both victim and victimizer in each of us. We are, at the same time, the kind of people who disrespect what others hold dear, and react in violence, of a sort, when it happens to us. We are people who are victims of, and perpetuate, stereotypical behavior. We are Martin & Zimmerman, Brown & Ferguson officer, Hebdo & vengeful terrorist.

By disconnecting with one or both sides, what we are really doing is suggesting that we are not capable of what they are capable. "We are nothing like them! They are evil, we are not." But the truth is that their is a certain banality to evil. One can become what they never dreamed of overnight, if they are not equipped to handle their experiences. 

We should all practice saying, "there, but for the grace of God, go I." And until we learn to say that we will continue the cycle of violence, condemnation, and separation, and we will never realize the justice that is desperately needed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Snow Days and Yoko Kanno

At the end of my freshman year at OSU my apartment lease expired with two weeks of class to go. A good friend of mine named Stanton (his knuckles were always ashy) allowed me to crash with him until school was out.

It was during these two weeks that I learned of a composer named Yoko Kanno. Stanton was really big on anime films and video games, and Yoko composes for some of the most famous in this category.

I have always liked instrumentals and different types of Jazz, but her music can only be described as mesmerizing. It contains a depth that, unfortunately, most modern music cannot, or simply chooses not to, approach. Whenever I go into chill mode (like January snow days) I usually turn to a Yoko playlist to help keep me there.

Here is one of my favorites from her. The video is not very good, but watch her skill when the camera zooms in:

Here is my all time favorite from a song that features her:

Big thanks to you, Stanton, wherever you are.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Church Growth

The ABC's of church growth are:


I didn't learn this in seminary, but I have come to know it to be the strategy that many churches use. If you don't believe me listen to a pastor speak about the growth they have experienced. You will certainly hear the recitation of the ABC's.

Attendance, building, and cash, are important, but I think history has proven that having these as primary does not lead to any meaningful growth. Look at the history of the church in the West the last 100 years. We have focused on getting more people, building bigger and better buildings, and expanding our monetary intake for the sake of "doing more for the kingdom.

We have not only done this, but have mastered it. But still, in spite of this success, professing Christians, by and large, are no different than their non-believing counterparts in terms of overall character and disposition. Communities surrounding churches feel little to no impact by the presence of the church. Church growth, if anything, has resembled a bubble. When it's there you see it, when it pops their is virtually no impact. This is what would happen if many churches left their communities. No impact, no change, no notice.

Perhaps what we've been trying to grow ought not be the main focus of our growth for our churches. It certainly wasn't that of Jesus. From time to time Jesus would actually say things to bring his thousands down to few (John 6:66-68). He was known to have no building, and cash flow never determined the extent, or reach, of his ministry for that year.

Instead Jesus aimed at growing people. In much of his preaching and teaching he aimed at announcing the availability of the kingdom of the Heavens. This was an exciting announcement that people could enter a new life, right now.

While he announced the kingdom to all who would hear, he never focused his attention of how many stayed; he didn't have his clicker, as it were, to determine his success. He never even went out of his way to convince someone, who was leaving, to stay. No, his plan was to help those who freely chose to stay become people who lived fully within the kingdom.

He had a crazy idea that those who were transformed would go out into their daily existence, and their shining lives would attract other people. That's it!

His strategy, which can be found at the end of Matthew 28, should be our strategy, too. We should aim at growing people primarily. If we do that we can count on Jesus helping us to that end. The numbers, places for those who come, and resources, will simply be something provided for by the God who delights in meeting and transforming lives.

So, in the words of Dallas Willard, "Instead of counting Christians, we need to weigh them." In other words, not more people, but bigger/fuller/larger people. This is the way to grow a church.