Thursday, December 29, 2011

Favorite Books I read in 2011

As usual, my favorite books of 2011 are comprised of books not published this year. Of the forty plus books I read this year, I only read two (Keller's King's Cross and Rob Bell's Love Wins) that were published in 2011. This turned out to be the year for reading most of CS Lewis's fiction, which makes up half of my list. At the beginning of the year, I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia series for the first time and I just recently finished reading his space trilogy (#6, 7, and 8 on the list). There is a reason that he my favorite writer of all time.

Here's the list:

1. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
2. Getting Involved With God, Ellen Davis
3. Till We Have Faces, CS Lewis
4. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
5. Candide, Voltaire
6. That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis
7. Out of the Silent Planet, CS Lewis
8. Perelandra, CS Lewis
9. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, CS Lewis
10. Surprised By Hope, NT Wright

Monday, December 26, 2011

Favorite Albums of 2011

I didn't get a chance to listen to as many albums as I usually do this year, so the list is shorter and not as comprehensive. Out of the albums I did hear, these are my top 5:

1. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Favorite tracks = Holocene, Perth

2. Vice Verses, Switchfoot
Favorite Tracks = The War Inside, Souvenirs

3. Barton Hollow, Civil Wars
Favorite Tracks = 20 Years, Poison & Wine

4. Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes
Favorite Tracks = Helplessness Blues, Grown Ocean

5. King of Limbs, Radiohead
Favorite Tracks = Lotus Flower, Bloom

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Job teaches us about wrestling with God

Once again, I want to turn to Ellen Davis as she provides some great wisdom from her book Getting Involved With God. This time she is looking at the book of Job and what it teaches us about suffering and wrestling with God through it.

She explains how it is helpful for Christians to confront God with the pain we are in, even though it might initially feel wrong:
“We are not accustomed to blaming God, and so when we find ourselves doing so, we feel guilty and religiously confused. The ‘solution,’ for some, is to cover our confusion about God with a false piety. Others, bolder perhaps, will give up on God altogether. But the witness of the book of Job is that rage and even blame directed at God are valid moments in the life of faith…[and] we may stay in that ‘moment’ for a long time.”
Looking at the closing chapters, where God speaks to Job, Davis goes on to point out:
“Job is convinced that his moral innocence should have warded off disaster, because he believes that the world is a manageable place run by a demanding but nonetheless predictable God who owes the righteous a good time. But when God finally speaks and shows Job what, from a divine perspective, is so fascinating about the created order, it turns out to have nothing at all to do with human moral standards.


“What God says, in effect, is this: ‘Look away from yourself, job; look around you. For a moment see the world with my eyes, in all its intricacy and wild beauty’…God calls this man of integrity to take his place in a ravishing but dangerous world where only those who relinquish their personal expectations can live in peace. The price of peace is the surrender of our personal expectations.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Doug Wilson on the Death of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, well known for his atheism, died last night at the age of 62, after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was an established and proficient writer, probably most famous for his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He was not one who shied away from controversy and debate.

A few years back, he went on a debate tour with theologian Doug Wilson. A excellent documentary end up being made showcasing these debates called Collision (You can watch the first 13 minutes of it here).

Doug Wilson has written a great article in Christianity Today on the death of Christopher Hitchens. The whole thing is worth reading, but I wanted to quote the final few paragraphs below. It shows how Hitchens was approaching death and also says something about how Christians should hope for redemption for others, even those who devoted their lives to denying God's existence. We should always feel "There but by the grace of God go I"...
Christopher knew that faithful Christians believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment. He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe—for I told him—that in this life, the door of repentance is always open. A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume. We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).

We also know that Christopher was worried about this, and was afraid of letting down the infidel team. In a number of interviews during the course of his cancer treatments, he discussed the prospect of a "death bed" conversion, and it was clear that he was concerned about the prospect. But, he assured interviewers, if anything like that ever happened, we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo or something had gotten to his brain. If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead...

This is interesting, not so much because of what it says about what he did or did not do as death approached him, and as he at the same time approached death. It is interesting because, when he gave these interviews, he was manifestly in his right mind, and the thought had clearly occurred to him that he might not feel in just a few months the way he did at present. The subject came up repeatedly, and was plainly a concern to him. Christopher Hitchens was baptized in his infancy, and his name means "Christ-bearer." This created an enormous burden that he tried to shake off his entire life. No creature can ever succeed in doing this. But sometimes, in the kindness of God, such failures can have a gracious twist at the end. We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right. Christopher Eric Hitchens (1949-2011). R.I.P.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Albums

The Christmas season is upon us once again. And part of what makes the Christmas season so special is its music. Since there are so many different Christmas albums out there these days, I thought I'd share my three favorite to help any of you who might be looking for a little bit more variety. Here they are:

1. A Very Rosie Christmas, Rosie Thomas
Favorite Song = O Come, O Come Emmanuel

2. Very Merry Christmas, Dave Barnes
Favorite Songs = Christmas Tonight and The Christmas Song

3. Silent Night, Red Mountain Church
Favorite Song = Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Kingdom of God

One of the many theologians that students love to love here at Fuller is John Yoder. Until recently I haven't read much of him, but glad I finally did. I recently read an essay entitled The Original Revolution. It was rewritten from a sermon he preached in November of 1968. The bulk of the essay is talking about the (wrong) ways we typically deal with injustice in the world. Yoder says that we are either too passive, we use violence to stop violence, we retreat, or we remain in the world but segregated from it. The way of Jesus brings a new way of living together where we incarnate our values in the way we live our lives among the world, all because we are expectant of the coming kingdom (or rule) of God.

Towards the end of the essay, he talks about a danger in evangelicalism of confusing the benefits of the kingdom with the kingdom itself. I thought it was spot on and worth sharing:
"Protestantism, and perhaps especially evangelical Protestantism, in its concern for helping every individual to make his own authentic choice in full awareness and sincerity, is in constant danger of confusing the kingdom itself with the benefits of the kingdom. If anyone repents, if anyone turns around to follow Jesus in his new way of life, this will do something for the aimlessness of his life. It will do something for his loneliness by giving him fellowship. It will do something for his anxiety and guilt by giving him a good conscience. So the Bultmanns and the Grahams whose 'evangelism' is to proclaim the offer of restored selfhood, liberation from anxiety and guilt, are not wrong. If anyone repents, it will do something for his intellectual confusion, by giving him doctrinal meat to digest, a heritage to appreciate, and a conscience about telling it all as it is.

So 'evangelicalism' with its concern for hallowed truth and reasoned communication is not wrong; it is right. If a man repents it will do something for his moral weakness by giving him the focus for wholesome self-discipline, it will deep him from immorality and get him to work on time. So the Peales and the Robertses who promise that God cares about helping me squeeze through the tight spots of life are not wring; they have their place. BUT ALL OF THIS IS NOT THE GOSPEL. This is just the bonus, the wrapping paper thrown in when you but the meat, the ‘everything’ which will be added, without our taking thought for it, if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness!”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What does it mean to fear God?

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been reading a book by Ellen Davis called Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament. I'm really enjoying the book, as each chapter continues to provide great insight into certain stories and books from the Old Testament.

The latest chapter I read was on the book of Proverbs. She makes several good points about what wisdom is really all about (namely that wisdom is never abstracted from goodness and how we live our lives), but what stuck me the most is her thoughts on the fear of God. Proverbs says that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. Davis points out that Proverbs consistently "upholds fear as a healthy and necessary disposition toward God. That in itself is to modern readers one of the most offensive things in the Old Testament." So why are we usually so offended by this? What does it mean to fear God?

She says that fear is something we feel in our gut when we come upon the power of God. She continues,
From a biblical perpective, there is nothing neurotic about fearing God. The neurotic thing is not to be afraid, or to be afraid of the wrong thing. That is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong thing. When God is fully revealed to us and we 'get it,' then we will experience the conversion of our fear.
I really like the way she explains this. I am often afraid of the wrong things, mainly being afraid of what people think of me. I desire a healthy fear of God that makes silly fears like that disappear.

I love the way she ends the chapter:
The time comes in every life--and more than once--when we are personally confronted with the power that spread out the heavens like a sequined veil, that formed us out of dust and blew breath into our lungs, that led Israel through the Red Sea on dry land and left Pharaoh's whole army floating behind. If we can experience that power close up and not be gripped in out guts by the disparity between God and ourselves, then we are in a profound state of spiritual slumber, if not acute mental illness. 'Fear of the LORD' is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time lapse video of Pasadena City Hall around sunset

I created this video on a fun new iPhone app. Super cool.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thousands of Starlings Dancing in the Air

Last week, because of a blog post by Abraham Piper, I became aware that there was a bird called a starling. I think they are now one of my favorite birds because when a bunch of them get together, they do things like this:

Piper quotes Time Magazine as saying:

No one knows why they do it. Yet each fall, thousands of starlings dance in the twilight above Gretna, Scotland. The birds gather in magical shape-shifting flocks called murmurations, having migrated in the millions from Russia and Scandinavia to escape winter’s bite. Scientists aren’t sure how they do it, either. Even complex algorithmic models haven’t yet explained the starlings’ acrobatics, which rely on the tiny bird’s quicksilver reaction time of under 100 milliseconds to avoid aerial collisions—and predators—in the giant flock.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How the Song of Songs Helps Us Better Understand Love for God

One of the books I'm reading for my Christian Ethics class this quarter is Ellen Davis's book Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament. She is basically looking at various books and passages in the Old Testament and revealing how important they are for us today. So far it has been an excellent book.

In one of the chapters, she explains how beneficial the Song of Songs is for the church today. She points out how we have often misunderstood this book and many of us consider it to be a little too racy to be in the Bible. However, the Song is incredibly beneficial to us because it speaks of divine love and sexual love as a healthy expression and desire in the midst of covenantal faithfulness.

One thing she points out how toward the end of the chapter is how the Song affirms that "longing for intimacy with God is a necessary desire for a healthy soul." She goes on to mention how there are two kinds of love of God. The first is grateful response to experiencing God's mercy, generosity, and blessing. This is frankly how I generally understand love for God and probably the way most of us do. However, look at how she explains this second love:
But there is another love that is even more precious. It arises in us not from anything God has done for us, but spontaneously, becuase our souls were made to delight simply in God's being, and God's being with us. One great modern mystic, Rav (Rabbi) Abraham Isaac Kook, taught that all the rich imagery of the Song of Songs exists precisely for the sake of making vividly real this rare love that does not derive form material benefits. The Song shows us love in its purest form.
i was struck by this because it's hard for me to think of times I don't express love for God apart from seeing his love or grace given to me. I'm reminded that God is worthy of my love purely because he is God, before I benefit from anything he gives me (including forgiveness, sonship, etc.). His majesty and glory and holiness and beauty are aspects that I need help seeing. I'm thankful that the Spirit is alive and is faithful to increase this type of love for him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How I Wish the Homosexuality Debate Would Go

Trevin Wax created a great dialogue about how he wishes the homosexuality debate (in the media) would go. Thinking back to several interviews I've seen with prominent pastors who handle this issue poorly, I would love to see someone handle it in this way. Here's how he starts off:
Host: You are a Christian pastor, and you say you believe the Bible, which means you are supposed to love all people.

Pastor: That’s right.

Host: But it appears to me that you and your church take a rather unloving position when it comes to gay people. Are homosexuals welcome to come to your church?

Pastor: Of course. We believe that the gospel is a message relevant for every person on the planet, and we want everyone to hear the gospel and find salvation in Jesus Christ. So at our church, our arms are outstretched to people from every background, every race, every ethnicity and culture. We’re a place for all kinds of sinners and people with all kinds of problems.

Host: But you said there, “We’re a place for sinners.” So you do believe that homosexuality is sinful, right?

Pastor: Yes, I do.

Host: So how do you reconcile the command to love all people with a position on homosexuality that some would say is radically intolerant?

Pastor: (smiling) If you think my position on homosexuality is radical, just wait until you hear what else I believe! I believe that a teenage guy and girl who have sex in the backseat of a pick-up are sinning. The unmarried heterosexual couple living down the street from me is sinning. In fact, any sexual activity that takes place outside of the marriage covenant between a husband and wife is sinful. What’s more, Jesus takes this sexual ethic a step further and goes to the heart of the matter. That means that any time I even lust after someone else, I am sinning. Jesus’ radical view of sexuality shows all of us up as sexual sinners, and that’s why He came to die. Jesus died to save lustful, homo- and heterosexual sinners and transform our hearts and minds and behavior. Because He died for me, I owe Him my all. And as a follower of Jesus, I’m bound to what He says about sex and morality.


Host: Are you saying that you can’t be gay and Christian?

Pastor: No. I’m saying that you can’t be a genuine Christian without repentance. Everyone – including me – is guilty of sin, but Christianity hinges on repentance. We agree with God about our sin, and we turn from it and turn toward Jesus. When it comes to Christianity, this debate is not about homosexuality versus other sins. It’s about whether or not repentance is integral to the Christian life.
Read the whole thing


Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Swithfoot Album: Vice Verses

Last Tuesday night, I saw Switchfoot perform at the Wiltern here in LA. It was the first time seeing them in concert, despite having been a fan of them for the last 13 years or so. It was an excellent show with tons of energy and creativity (including a spot on cover of Sabotage by the Beastie Boys!)

I'm amazed at how they seem to get better and better with each album, and heir latest album, Vice Verses, continues that trend. I highly recommend getting it ($8.99 on Amazon). Here are just a few of the songs that I'm really digging:

The War Inside:
Yeah, it's where the fight begins
Yeah, underneath the skin
Between these hopes and where we've been
Every fight comes from the fight within

I come alive when I hear you singing
But lately I haven't been hearing a thing
I get the feeling that I'm in between
A machine and a man who only looks like me

I try and hide it and not let it show
But deep down inside me I just don't know
Am I a man if I feel like a hoax?
The stranger in the mirror's been wearing my clothes...

No, I'm not alright
I know that I'm not right
Feel like I travel but I never arrive
I wanna thrive not just survive

Where I Belong:
On the final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell You that I tried
To live it like a song

And when I reach the other side
I want to look You in the eye
And know that I've arrived
In a world where I belong

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I am 2: Empowering Collective Transformation

My good friend Dan Bowling has recently started a non-profit called I am 2. It is aimed to meet the needs of children all over the world, but in a fresh and revolutionary way in order maximize impact. As Dan says, " employes the collective power of social networks to give individuals a simple, interactive, and viral way to support non-profits providing food, water and protection for children here and around the world."

Check out this great video to understand a little more what that means and consider supporting the movement.

iam2 from iam2 on Vimeo.

Also, check out the website.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lecrae's story of God's intervention

If you don't know him, Lecrae is a fantastic rapper. I've been listening to him for the last couple of years and really have enjoyed his stuff. I had never heard his testimony before, so I was excited to see that I Am Second captured it.

Check it out here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Being more amazed at Christ than of his love for us

I really liked this recent post from John Piper:

Believers in Jesus are precious to God (we're his bride!). And he loves us so much that he will not allow our preciousness to become our god.

God does indeed make much of us (adoption!), but he does so in a way that draws us out of ourselves to enjoy his greatness.

Test yourself. If Jesus came to spend the day with you, sat down beside you on the couch, and said, “I really love you,” what would you focus on the rest of the day that you spend together?

It seems to me that too many songs and sermons leave us with the wrong answer. They leave the impression that the heights of our joy would be in the recurrent feeling of being loved. “He loves me!” “He loves me!” This is joy indeed. But not the heights and not the focus.

What are we saying with the words “I am loved”? What do we mean? What is this “being loved”?

Would not the greatest, most Christ-exalting joy be found in watching Jesus all day and bursting with, “You’re amazing!” “You are amazing!”

  • He answers the hardest question, and his wisdom is amazing.
  • He touches a filthy, oozing sore, and his compassion is amazing.
  • He raises a dead lady at the medical examiner’s office, and his power is amazing.
  • He predicts the afternoon’s events, and his foreknowledge is amazing.
  • He sleeps during an earthquake, and his fearlessness is amazing.
  • He says, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” and his words are amazing.

We walk around with him utterly amazed at what we are seeing.

Is not his love for us his eagerness to do for us all he must do (including die) so that we can marvel at him and not be incinerated by him? Redemption, propitiation, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation — all these have to happen. They are the act of love. But the goal of love that makes those acts loving is that we be with him and see his jaw-dropping glory and be astounded. In those moments we forget ourselves and see and feel him.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paste Magazine: Signs of Life Everywhere

I was a big fan of Paste Magazine from the first issue I read several years back. Their tagline, "Signs of Life in Music, FIlm, and Culture" has always struck a chord with me. I was very sad to learn that they had to stop printing the magazine last year due to financial issues. However, through their website and somewhat newly installed mPlayer, their reviews and articles are still very much alive and well.

From the latest issue of mPlayer, the editor Josh Jackson wrote an article that conveys so much of what I love about the magazine. Here's a few paragraphs about his personal journey with faith and how he has grown to see signs of life everywhere:
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of faith and arts. In fact, I tend to get most excited about each when it wanders into the realm of the other. When I went from an agnostic who sneered at religion to a fairly close-minded born-again Christian in high school, a few things didn’t sit well with me, despite my sudden assumption that easier answers were just a few chapters away in a Bible I was reading for the first time.

After a naïve but often-blissful spiritual high, doubt started trickling in. For a brief moment, I wondered if the music and arts which had served as my spiritual food long before I looked to religion might indeed be the corrupting source of nagging questions that begged for something more mysterious than the systematic theology I was being handed. One of my new teachers suggested we toss out albums that weren’t “glorifying God.” He offered up an Outfield album. I countered with a dubbed cassette containing XTC’s Skylarking on one side (with the lyric, “Dear God, I can’t believe in you”) and, tragically, the Pixies’ Doolittle on the other.

But when the “easy answers” didn’t satisfy, it was in the arts where I found the room for a God bigger than any fundamentalism or dogma. There weren’t many musicians dabbling in that strange no-man’s-land, but during my first semester of college—and one of my first writing gigs for the college paper—I came across Vigilantes of Love. For frontman Bill Mallonee, grace was like a battering ram, hammering at him from one side, but its twin on the other side was mystery. From him, I also discovered Mark Heard, a poet slumming in the Christian-music ghetto, overturning the money-changing tables from inside where he could. By the end of my freshman year, the fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy became as much my creeds and confessions as anything I heard on Sundays.

I’ve since felt closer to heaven via the music of Sigur Rós or the words of Josh Ritter; seeing Roberto Benigni give his son a childhood in a concentration camp in Life Is Beautiful; reading Dave Eggers’ mostly non-fiction account of Sudanese refugees in What is the What; or even playing through some of those epic Final Fantasy games.

I see snatches of the divine in the people all around me and, often more intensely, in the art that they’ve created. I still hold to many of the tenets of faith I was introduced to in college, but I’ve become comfortable knowing that my hold is likely to always be tenuous—that God and faith and life and all their big questions are much bigger than any answers we can grasp.


I may be strange for looking for echoes of a higher power in videogames, TV and pop songs, but I think that’s what our tagline “Signs of Life” has always meant to me, even if it’s an irreverent YouTube video that’s just going to bring a little laughter. Not every piece of art is going to be The Bicycle Thief or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” But as far as I’m concerned, so much of pop culture is holy ground.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How the recovery model of spirituality has impacted me

I just finished a class that has probably impacted me more than any other in seminary thus far. It was called Spirituality and Recovery. It was looking at the meaning of spirituality in the context of the recovery process (or twelve step traditions). The professors (Dale Ryan and Matt Russell) basically believe that there is a recovery model of spirituality and that this model should be the main way we understand and practice the Christian life in community. It is a model that facilitates honesty, humility, grace, and reconciliation with one another.

I thought I'd share a few ideas from the class that have had a profound impact on me:
  1. My spiritual poverty/brokenness is an occasion for God's blessing and love. God's grace and love is very real even when I'm hardened to sin, am not taking part in spiritual disciplines, and don't necessarily feel close to Him. I don't have to have it all together.
  2. Intimacy comes through knowing and sharing your junk. In typical small group culture, intimacy takes time (sometimes years) as you begin to share your junk with people. In recovery culture, intimacy is immediate because everyone is bonded together through the understanding of their desperation and powerlessness over sin/addiction. I wish the church looked more like the recovery culture in this sense.
  3. Believing is a result of belonging. The recovery culture emphasizes belonging long before you believe. The professors want to challenge the church to adopt this same mentality because the church can be too focused on "Who's in and who's out?" instead of including and loving people who aren't "orthodox" yet. Jesus told the disciples to "Come and see" a long time before He asked them "Who do you say that I am?"
  4. I can't ultimately help people get better/healthy. Only God can. What I can do is listen, empathize, and love them despite their issues.
  5. Focus on trusting God instead of trying to please Him. There is a (very) fine line between trusting God and performing, and trusting God is the only way to please Him. Sometimes trusting God feels like you're walking away from God or being irresponsible, because you have to let go of doing certain things or trying to fix yourself or others.
  6. Honesty with our junk NOW helps people know God. People don't really care if God can do anything, they care about if He can do this thing. As pastors (and everyone else), we need to be specific about our struggles and sin in our lives now. This helps people to see God as real, not as abstract. This helps debunk the lie that the Christian life is all about victorious living, where all the scars are immediately healed.
  7. Knowing Jesus doesn't equal no more issues. Our testimonies have often been 1) I was a screw-up, 2) I met Jesus, 3) now life is great. This is dishonest and does harm to others and to ourselves.
  8. God wants to draw near when we sin. Matt Russell says, "God doesn't hate sin. God hates the separation of relationship that sin produces. Otherwise, sin becomes just a list of things we do." I'm still struggling theologically with that first sentence, but I still think it points to the truth that when we sin, God doesn't get disgusted with us and remove Himself until we confess. He loves us and longs for us to know His nearness. The presence of Christ is in the darkest parts of our hearts.
  9. God is relational, not transactional. God is not mainly concerned with turning our badness into goodness. He is more concerned with our brokenness and separateness from Him and transforming it.
  10. Making amends is a great way to understand repentance. Making amends is the 9th step in the 12 step process. You go to someone you have wronged or hurt in the past and tell them how you've wronged or hurt them. You don't ask for forgiveness (which can sometimes be coercive). You give the person space to say whatever they want, even if they get mad at you. And this process should be less about you and more about them.
With some of these things, I am still in process over what I think about them. Some of the ideas press up against long held beliefs. That's been a big part of my journey here at Fuller, trying to get my mind and heart open to truth, no matter how different it might seem to my current understanding.

I'll end with a couple of verses that our last class ended with. It's a great reminder that no matter how bad our past might seem to us, God is restoring us, loving us, and helping us be satisfied in Him. It comes from Joel 2:25-26:
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Medium is the Message

I recently finished a communication class here at Fuller. One of the assigned readings was The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps. I thought the book was really interesting, especially the first half.

Hipps owes most of his thinking on media to Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase, "The medium is the message." This is the thought that the medium (or media) through which information comes (books, TV, Internet, phones, etc.) is often more important for your message than the content itself.

In his book, Hipps is mainly writing about how the church is shaped by media. However, his thoughts can be applied universally to most other areas of life. Here are a few thoughts:
When we talk about media and technology as tools for the church, we assume they are simply conduits or pipelines useful for dispensing the gospel...

However, McLuhan’s simple yet provocative statement ‘The medium is the message’ issues a direct challenge in this understanding of media. He writes, ‘Our conventional response of all media, namely that it is how they used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. The content of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.' In other words, media are much more than neutral purveyors of information. They have the power to shape us regardless of content and thus cannot be evaluated solely upon their use.
His point is that we often give little thought to how different media impact us. For example, he talks about how we are often oblivious to TV when we watch it. We don't understand that it is reducing our capacity for abstract thought, making us prefer intuition and experience over logic and reasoning, thus reviving elements of an individualistic culture.

To drive this point home, Hipps quotes a very hyperbolic metaphor of McLuhan:
The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.
Hipps' point is that "the medium has far more impact on the culture than its content." I think it's so very important to notice the ways in which different media shapes the way we understand the world, not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of others as we seek to communicate truth.

I owe a great deal to my friend Roy for helping think through these things for the first time a few years back. Also my friend Scott has a lot of great thoughts on how technology is shaping us at his blog (particularly this post and this one). Also, if you're interested, here are a few other resources I would recommend:

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (one of my favorites)
The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps

Friday, August 05, 2011

Blessed are the poor in spirit...

This past Monday, I started a class called Spirituality and Recovery. It is looking at the meaning of spirituality in the context of twelve step traditions. The class has challenged my thinking in a lot of ways, and I believe for the better.

One thought that has been very helpful to me comes from a book called Soul Repair, cowritten by one of my professors, Dale Ryan. He looks at Jesus's words in Matthew 5:3 which says,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
I think Dr. Ryan's reflections on this verse are both true and comforting. He says:
"That statement does not match the instincts and expectations nurtured in us by our toxic spirituality, but it appears to be true. Our spiritual poverty is, in the eyes of God, an opportunity for blessing and not an occasion for judgment, shame or rejection."
These last few days, I've been able to see with more clarity that I really don't have to have it all together for God to love me. When my time in the Word is dry or non-existent, when my prayer life is in a similar state, and when I don't experience God's nearness...that really is okay.

For much of my spiritual life, I have been in performance mode. In high school, being a good Christian meant not cussing and being really nice to people. In college, I learned to base by standing with God on how much time I spent in the Word and how much Scripture I memorized (even though I "knew" and "believed" that that wasn't true). After college, I felt burnt out and have experienced a low level of guilt about my spiritual state for the last six years, thinking I'm not where I should be.

I should clarify that I don't want to give up right beliefs and helpful practices because they have been tainted with performance-based thinking. It hasn't been all bad. I've experienced God's grace in profound ways over the years, through the very things that were tainted with a performance based mentality. It's just that I'm starting to realize the grace and love of God in my spiritual poverty. Not just when I know my sin and am broken over it, but even when I'm too hardened to care.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Using Smartphones Can Consume Us

A recent Chicago Tribune article looks at the problem of people constantly using smartphones while in a theater. It explains how most people do it without really understanding that it's a distraction for others. Commenting on people texting and tweeting during his shows, comedian Bill Burr wittingly remarked, "half the world is acting as if they're documenting events for a magazine they're not working for."

Here are a couple of interesting paragraphs that talk about the chemical reaction going on in our brains and its effects:
"There are studies about the craving we have for new information. It's pretty clear that when we get a new little piece of information, our brains release some dopamine — which is the neurotransmitter chemical that is how the brain encourages us to do things; it's also the chemical implicated in most addictions. And as you get rewarded by that kind of pleasure of getting a new piece of information, you want to repeat that. … There is something very deep and very primitive in our minds that wants us to gather every little bit of information around us."


Reached by phone, Greenfield explained the potential downside of all that dopamine. "You're on constant high alert, your adrenaline is rushing because you're clicking and you're texting and as soon as you respond a new thing flashes up. In terms of human beings up until now, this is an unusually fast-paced interactive activity. And we know that dopamine dampens an important frontal part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex," which can cause people to behave more recklessly and with less empathy toward others, she said.

"What our mobile screens seem to encourage is going into a mode that is a rather early stage for the human brain — it's one that small children are in, which has a strong sensory focus and it's very exciting and arousing. This is very different from adult human cognition normally."

But both Greenfield and Zecker point to psychological factors relating to self-worth. Or as Greenfield put it: "One can point to things like Twitter and wonder why people say, 'Look at me doing this' and so on. It reminds me of a small child: 'Look at me, mummy.' Because if you don't look at me and give me feedback, I won't exist."
Something to think about as we should all be considering how to limit the amount of distractions in our lives and also not be consumed with telling the world where we are and what we are doing.

I also thought Nicholas Carr's (author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains) final remark of the article was spot-on:""We have trained ourselves to multitask even when we're relaxing."


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Francis Chan on hell and how to have conversations about it

With all of the recent discussions about hell, Francis Chan talks about his own struggle to find truth here. Apparently, his new book, Erasing Hell, will be coming out in a couple of weeks to discuss this issue.

The video below is a sort of promo for the book and is well worth watching. I love his humility. He talks about wanting to give people truth and not wanting to lead people astray with bad theology. But he also knows that, in many ways, God is a mystery whose thoughts and ways are much higher than and beyond ours, so we can't always know or understand everything. He also talks about how we can sometimes carelessly and heartlessly discuss theological issues, and forget we are dealing with real people.

Check it out:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Critique of Bell's Love Wins

I know I'm a little late to the game in reading the book and posting my thoughts. The firestorm that this book created a couple of months ago seems to have died down a little bit.

I thought about posting my thoughts during all the hoopla back in March and April. I had read a few reviews of the book and seen a couple of interviews Rob Bell did, and felt like I should respond like every other Christian seemed to be doing. I'm glad I waited. For one, now I've actually read the book and can comment on the primary source. I also think my thoughts now are much less emotionally charged then they would have been.

I'm not going to give a thorough review. If you want that, Kevin DeYoung has a good (but lengthy) review here. Here are a few of my thoughts:
  1. Bell presents God as only loving. There was no talk of God's holiness or justice.
  2. He makes a caricature of God's anger, completely dismissing the biblical idea of God's anger towards sin.
  3. He suggests (though never explicitly) that all people will eventually spend all eternity with God in heaven. This goes against biblical teaching and the understanding of salvation throughout the entire history of the church.
  4. The one positive aspect of the book is how Bell points out that God is more loving that we tend to believe, and there is a wideness in God's mercy that we should be excited about.
Ultimately, I believe this book will do more harm than good. It moves away from a God-centered view of reality to a more man-centered perspective. It makes our sin of rejecting God on a daily basis to look like it's no big deal. And finally, it seems to move away from sound doctrine to teaching that itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3).

By the way, here's the The Love Wins trailer that started all the commotion back in February. And here's Bell's interview with Martin Bashir that is really interesting.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Letting the Clean Breeze of the Centuries Blow Through Our Minds

I recently started reading On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius. It was written about 1700 years ago (in 319). Appropriately, C.S. Lewis writes the brilliant introduction and gives fantastic advice about reading older books. Many of you have probably heard bits of this quote before, but I wanted to share it again its fuller context. I have joyfully lived by this philosophy ever since I first heard it (I've actually started having the opposite problem -- not reading many new books). I hope it will encourage you in the same way:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium...The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him...It has always been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.


...Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old...A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light...It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books..Where [modern books] are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Tree of Life

Last Friday, Brittany and I went to see The Tree of Life in Hollywood. I've been anticipating this movie for a quite a while. It is the mysterious director Terrence Malick's fifth film in almost forty years. His other movies include Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005).

Aesthetically, The Tree of Life is the most beautiful film I've ever seen. Malick uses unique camera angles and gorgeous, natural imagery to create a true work of art. And I'm not quite sure what his worldview is, but it is easy tell that he is very influenced by Christian themes.

Before you go see the movie, you should be aware of some things. It might feel slow at times. There is a break in the middle that shows what creation might have looked like. And there are dinosaurs... briefly. Brett McCracken gives some helpful pointers on how to watch it. The most helpful for me was to "let it roll over you." As you're watching don't focus on trying to "figure it out." Just receive it as is. I think you will find that you will enjoy the experience.

Also, here's the end of Paste's review that summarizes the basic idea of the movie:
...between shots of bubbling lava, there’s a family that you come to care deeply about, including the very flawed patriarch. The themes are grand and punctuated by a sermon on Job in the middle: Why do bad things happen to good people? What’s the value of selflessness? Do the sins of the father need to be revisited by the son? Malick touches on creation and evolution, the existence of heaven and the purpose of life, but does so as much through the humble world of Waco, Texas, in summertime, as through the direct questions from a boy to his Creator that transition between epochs. It’s as much a meditation as a narrative, asking a tremendous amount of patience from viewers and rewarding that patience with something entirely new.
This trailer should whet your appetite:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to respond when the rapture doesn't happen

Justin Taylor pointed out some wise and convicting words from Eric Landry. He encourages us to not mock those who thought the rapture was coming today, but to be ready to love on them. I am reminded that nothing I believe is apart from God's grace, so I have no reason to boast, or laugh at others for believing differently than me. Here's what Eric said:
We must be very careful about how we respond. Will we join our friends at the “Rapture Parties” that are planned for pubs and living rooms around the nation? Will we laugh at those who have spent the last several months of their lives dedicated to a true but untimely belief? What will we say on Saturday night or Sunday morning?

History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out. While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If this isn’t true, they might reason, then what other deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true?

It’s at this point that we need to be ready to provide a reasonable defense of our reasonable faith. Christianity is not founded upon some complex Bible code that needs years of analysis to reveal its secret. Christianity is about a man who claimed to be God, who died in full public view as a criminal, and was inexplicably raised from the dead three days later appearing to a multitude of witnesses. When his followers, who witnessed his resurrection, began speaking of it publicly, they connected the prophecies of the Old Testament to the life and death and resurrection of this man who claimed the power to forgive sins. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the message that deserves to be featured on billboards, sides of buses, and pamphlets all over the world. It is also the message that needs to be reinvested into the hearts and lives of those who found hope and meaning in Harold Camping’s latest bad idea.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Funny interview by an honest Florida football player

Abraham Piper pointed out a hilarious interview on his blog. It's between a Gator County reporter and Ja'Jaun Story, an incoming wide receiver soon to play at Florida. His honesty is pretty amazing and ends up saying some pretty funny stuff. For instance:
Q: What’s your most embarrassing moment on the field?
A: I was running, I was gonna score a touchdown and then some kid came behind me and grabbed my pants down, and my pants came down, so it was pretty embarrassing. I think I turned red a little bit. My booty was out, it was pretty embarrassing.
Q: If you were a character from a Disney movie, who would you be and why?
A: Aladdin, I think he’s pretty cool, he’s like easy going, cool guy, and he has Jasmine. I like how he wears his little vest with it open.
And here's the best part:
Q: What’s the most played song on your iPod?
A: Most played…I don’t know, I want to say Katy Perry, “Fireworks.” It’s intense.
Q: What’s your favorite pre-game ritual?
A: Well, I take a doodoo. Before every game I doodoo.
Q: That’s your FAVORITE pregame ritual?
A: Well, that’s the only thing I do. That’s one thing I have to do before every game, or I won’t feel energy, and I’ll just feel slow. When I do I just feel light on my feet and everything, and I feel faster, so that’s what I do.
Q: You know I’m going to write this in a story right?
A: Well, I mean, that’s what it is. I doodoo and then listen to Katy Perry.
I feel like this is a type of guy I'd love to hang out with. Click here to read the whole interview.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Depression in different cultures

Ed Welch has another interesting article on the CCEF blog, this time about depression. He notes that depression looks different in all parts of the world. He points out that the following are all different ways of describing depression:
A Nigerian who describes a peppery feeling in his head
A Chinese farmer who complains of shoulder and stomach aches
A Korean woman who speaks of burning in her stomach
An Iranian who identifies tightness in his chest
An American who feels interminably sad
He goes on to talk about how you interpret depression (or any pain) differently. Great perspective:
Here is one conclusion from this type of research: depression is not simply a universal pattern of neuronal firing caused by predetermined genetic combinations. At least, it consists of an experience that is shaped by a cultural narrative. Depression has a story overlaid on it. In some cultures the story suggests that the experience is normal and is part of the process of developing character and strength. In others, such as our own, it is a brain pathology that must be treated quickly or it will leave the victim incapacitated.

Your interpretation of pain affects the experience of your pain. If the pain in your chest is from a slightly pulled muscle, you are proud that you are working out. If you believe it is from a tumor or incipient heart failure, it will hurt much worse.

If you experience peculiar sadness, and you are persuaded that God is with you and, through his love, is making you increasingly fruitful, your emotional limp will be less noticeable. But if your hardships are merely neuronal, there is nothing you can do except hope for the right combination of medications.


We turn to what is universal. We turn to what goes deeper than culture—the God revealed to us by Scripture. One of the beauties of God’s revelation is that we know (1) in this world there will be trouble, and (2) we don’t have to know the cause of the trouble in order to help each other know the comfort of Christ, grow in our confidence in his promises, and fruitfully abide in him. This is for everyone, in every culture.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Radiohead therapy

Long time Radiohead fans will appreciate the humor here:


Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting Settled

I don't do many personal updates on this blog (even though many have lovingly suggested that I do), so I thought now is as good a time as any to do that since I just moved across the country. Just over two weeks ago, I made the drive across the country from Atlanta to Pasadena. Here are some highlights of what has happened since then:

The drive took about thirty hours, spread out over three days. I really loved the experience and enjoyed all the different scenery. I think Arizona might have been my favorite. This picture is either from New Mexico or Arizona, not really sure.
Here are a couple of pics of what Brittany made for me in her apartment. It sure was good to see her!
Here is what my apartment looks like (before I bought any furniture). This is looking from my door, through the kitchen, into the living room. My bedroom is above the kitchen and is accessed by the stairs on the left.
Looking the opposite direction
Here's the living room with furniture. By the way, I packed my car up with some basic things, but the majority of my stuff has still not made it. They were originally supposed to deliver it between March 14 and 18. As of today the window is March 30 thru April 3. Seriously, don't use US-1 Van Lines.
The view from my living room. Part of Fuller's campus can be seen on the left.
Oh yeah, Brittany and I met my family in Breckenridge to do a little skiing last weekend.

Classes started today and I'm excited to be taking courses on the Pentateuch, Church History, and Christology/Pneumatology/Soteriology. Thanks to all of you who have been praying for me and keeping in touch. Though I am enjoying it here, I've been realizing more and more what a great community I left behind. Those of you in that community, you are greatly missed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being afraid of being alone

Francis Schaeffer:
“People today are afraid to be alone. This fear is a dominant mark of our society. Many now ceaselessly sit in the cinema or read novels about other people’s lives or watch dramas. Why? Simply to avoid having to face their own existence. . . .

No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place of quiet — because, when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise. . . .

The Christian is supposed to be very opposite: There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow it to speak to us and confront us.”

Monday, February 28, 2011

Dancing Thom

One of my favorite bands, Radiohead, came out with their eighth studio album a two Fridays ago called The King of Limbs. There is a video out for one of the tracks, Lotus Flower. It's basically just Thom Yorke (the lead singer) dancing in way that some might call weird but I call amazing! Check it out:

In honor of his moves, a site was recently launched called Dancing Thom. People are basically mashing up the above video with other random songs. It's definitely worth checking out. Here's my favorite so far:

You can also check out Paste's favorites here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Encounter with Aslan: The Dawn Treader

My favorite Aslan encounter in the Narnia series comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace, who had been turned into a dragon, is explaining to Edmund how he got turned back into a boy:
"Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it -- if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."

"You mean it spoke?"

"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on top of this mountain there was a garden -- trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well."

"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells -- like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not."

I was just going to say I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that is what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales started coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it deals after an illness, or if I was a banana. In a minute of two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down to the well for my bathe."

"But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin tore off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe."

"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I had looked at myself in the water I knew that it had been no good."

"Then the lion said -- but I don't know if it spoke -- 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it."

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I had no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them."

"After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me -- "

"Dressed you? With his paws?"

"Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think that it must have been a dream."

"No, it wasn't a dream," said Edmund.

"Why not?"

"Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been -- well, un-dragoned, for another."

"What do you think it was then?" asked Eustace.

"I think you've seen Aslan", said Edmund.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tim Keller on MSNBC

It's refreshing to hear a Christian leader graciously and winsomely talk about the truth of Christianity in a TV interview. Keller does so here

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, February 21, 2011

Encounter with Aslan: The Silver Chair

I've been reading through The Chronicles of Narnia recently, since I received them for Christmas. It is my very first time through and I am loving them. It's opened up a new world of C.S. Lewis for me, as this is the first of his fiction that I've read. Not surprisingly, I love his way with words and his imagination.

My favorite moments of the books have been the encounters with Aslan. I finished The Silver Chair last night and wanted to share my favorite part of the book. It is a conversation between Jill, as she first meets Aslan:
“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”

They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time,and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Inside Look At Scientology

My friend Bailey recently told me about an article in The New Yorker entitled The Apostate. It is looking at Scientology, mainly through the experience of screenwriter and film director Paul Haggis. Paul, for a time, was very involved in the "church," as he made it as far up as you can go in their ranks. But in 2009, he began questioning his involvement and has since become an outspoken voice for many of its harmful practices and teachings.

I have some special interest in Scientology because I (along with Bailey and many others) spent three summers in the early 2000s in Clearwater, Florida, a couple miles from its worldwide spiritual headquarters. We would often witness the odd behavior of the members walking around the streets in their strange uniforms. With much intrigue, I began researching to know more about this movement/religion/cult or whatever you want to call it.

It was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard. Here's a quick overview of the "church" from the article:
The Church of Scientology says that its purpose is to transform individual lives and the world. “A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology,” Hubbard wrote. Scientology postulates that every person is a Thetan—an immortal spiritual being that lives through countless lifetimes. Scientologists believe that Hubbard discovered the fundamental truths of existence, and they revere him as “the source” of the religion.

Hubbard’s writings offer a “technology” of spiritual advancement and self-betterment that provides “the means to attain true spiritual freedom and immortality.” A church publication declares, “Scientology works 100 percent of the time when it is properly applied to a person who sincerely desires to improve his life.” Proof of this efficacy, the church says, can be measured by the accomplishments of its adherents. “As Scientologists in all walks of life will attest, they have enjoyed greater success in their relationships, family life, jobs and professions. They take an active, vital role in life and leading roles in their communities. And participation in Scientology brings to many a broader social consciousness, manifested through meaningful contribution to charitable and social reform activities.”
And here's a good description of their practice of Dianetics:
“Dianetics” purports to identify the source of self-destructive behavior—the “reactive mind,” a kind of data bank that is filled with traumatic memories called “engrams,” and that is the source of nightmares, insecurities, irrational fears, and psychosomatic illnesses. The object of Dianetics is to drain the engrams of their painful, damaging qualities and eliminate the reactive mind, leaving a person “Clear.”
After reading the article, it becomes obvious that Scientology is almost exclusively a religion based on pragmatism rather than truth. No one seems to make any truth claim apart from commending how the beliefs and practices make life work better. But it's ironic that, pragmatically speaking, it seems to fail. People don't seem happier. They seem controlled and much poorer than when they started.

I'd encourage you to read the entire article, because it is quite fascinating. Though I should warn you that it is rather lengthy.

Also, a few years back, I saw a special that the BBC did on Scientology called Panorama: Scientology and Me. The reporter has multiple interactions with Tommy Davis (who you would find from the article is Scientology's main PR guy), and it's crazy to watch how much effort Tommy goes into as he tries to stop the BBC from doing their story. You can watch it in four separate YouTube videos:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Whole Point of Being a Christian

After referencing this quote by Margaret Durham (1668), Ray Ortlund says this:
"...Personal communion with Christ is real. It is the whole point of being a Christian. It is what the Bible is for. It is our endless future.

...The Puritans, among others, knew a lot about it. They experienced it. They pursued it. Have we graduated to a spiritual level above them, such that we can smile condescendingly? Or is it we who have drifted from the sacred center and need to repent and come back and reengage with our Lord in profound and very, very personal ways?"
This seems to be a simple truth, one that should be very obvious to me. But as I read these words, I have become profoundly convicted.

Somewhere along the way I have preferred to read books about biblical truth than actually read the Bible in order to commune with my heavenly Father. I have become complacent and lazy. More than that, I have become rebellious, preferring entertainment and everything else to fellowship with Him. I repent. Lord help me desire You.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Jesus Wants to Meet Us in Our Shame

Over at the CCEF blog, Ed Welch writes about the differences between shame and guilt. He says that guilt is usually black and white. You either did wrong or you didn't. Shame, however, is harder to pinpoint. He says, "With shame, we feel like we did wrong, but we can’t always identify what that wrong was, or we can identify a thousand wrongs, though none of them might be the actual trigger for shame."

He goes on to talk about how shame is not something that is talked a lot about in church or our communities. Because of that, shame is often left unidentified and continues to to plague us. We must seek to identify those things in our lives that have brought shame.

I began this process in my own life a few years back. I knew I struggled with anxiety and nervousness in different social situations but never knew why. I also knew I was an approval junkie, constantly needing others to validate me. God began revealing how I had believed certain lies growing up and had massive amounts of shame associated with this anxiety. Because these lies and the shame have been brought more into the light, God has begun bringing great amounts of freedom in this area, freeing me to let God's love be enough for me.

Back to Ed Welch's post, here are a few key paragraphs that I thought were helpful::
Shame has to do with your standing before God and your standing in the community. You think you should be unaffected by the opinions and words of other people? Not so. We were created to live in community, and anything that jeopardizes our inclusion goes against who we really are.

Worthlessness is an easy place to begin defining shame. Have you ever felt worthless? I am guessing that I am not alone in this one. I feel worthless when I notice student indifference after a lecture, when I preach and know that I was less than helpful, when I become alert to my weaknesses as a counselor and wonder why I am inflicting myself on people, and, of course, I could go on.

Worthlessness evokes images of value. It means that your standing with others has gone way down. You know you are a failure, so does everyone else. Our despair over our worthlessness could reflect our pride. That is, “I feel so bad because I want to be great.” And, no doubt, there is pride mixed in with worthlessness. But Jesus doesn’t go to lepers and talk about their pride. Instead, he touches them as a way to show his fellowship and acceptance, and he restores them to his community, though acceptance into the community of mortals like us is not guaranteed.

Shame. You feel worthless, rejected, dirty and exposed. Sometimes you feel it because of what you have done, in which case your badness must exceed community standards. For example, there are some things that Christians confess in public – a little bit of lust, anxieties about money, not listening to a spouse, erratic quiet times. These are the sins that, when you confess them, everyone is nodding in agreement. But there are other acts that leave everyone else in silence because these sins are less common and less acceptable. Shame attaches itself to these sins. But not only to these sins...

Shame does indeed have many faces. It seems to be everywhere and yet still be elusive. Maybe that’s why you can’t do anything with it until you put words on it. But God puts words on it, so we should too. That itself can be hopeful. It can also leave us wanting more. If you want more right away, just watch Jesus. He goes out of his way to meet, touch, bless, and restore the shamed:
  • a Samaritan woman who is not measuring up to community standards
  • a woman who sexual past identified her as a “sinful woman”
  • lepers
  • tax collectors
  • a woman whose bleeding renders her unclean
  • a disciple who denied any association with him
The Gospel of Jesus is “I am yours and you are mine, and I’m not letting you get away.”

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

American Hyper-Instrospection

Ethan Watters, the author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, responds to a few questions from Adbusters. One question Ethan responds to is summarily stated "What is the root cause of the epidemic of mental illness we are currently experiencing? His response:
"If I had to put my money on one idea then it would be the American notion of the egocentric mind – the idea that you are the captain of your own destiny and that you should be able to chart your own path and find your own happiness and control your own destiny fundamentally without the need for others. I think that this idea in the West – and in America in particular – has led to a great deal of insecurity and a general loading of our psychopathology. I think that the human animal is much more of a group animal than the American idea of the mind suggests it to be."
Later on, he expresses the need for more community:
"I think that human beings cannot feel at ease mentally if they are disconnected from their sense of a role within a group. I think that the human mind is deeply permeable to the goals and expectations of the people around us, and if we don’t pay attention to that, if we think of ourselves as the captains of our own destiny, always able to pick ourselves up by our own individual bootstraps, then we are likely to experience that sort of postmodern insecurity that leads us to a certain form of American hyper-introspection – always looking inward."
Also, here's a brief video of Ethan explaining how we as Americans have incorrectly exported our ideas of mental illness to the rest of the world:

(via Roy)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Understanding the Protests in Egypt

If you want a better understanding of what is going in Egypt right now, you should read this post. It's brief and to the point.

Also, here is a moving video combining different protest footage:

(via 22 Words)