Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Movies of 2013

1. Captain Phillips

2. Before Midnight

3. Gravity

4. World War Z

6. Mud

7. Fruitvale Station

8. Star Trek: Into Darkness

9. The Huger Games: Catching Fire

10. Rush

These are movies I haven't seen yet and would have anticipated making this list:
12 Years a Slave,
Inside Llewyn Davis,
The Spectacular Now,
American Hustle,
To the Wonder,
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug,

And here are Paste Magazine's Top 50 of the year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Favorite Books I Read In 2013

It was a rough year for my reading life as I was only able to read (& finish) 11 books. But out of those 11, I certainly came across some good stuff. Here are my top four books I read this year:

1. Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (2009)
This is a book that has reshaped the way I think about everything I do. It can be a little dense at times, but it’s well worth it. Smith’s basic argument is that we all partake in liturgies whether we know it or not. These liturgies (Ex. going to the mall) shape our identities (Ex. making us consumers) by forming our desires. Basically, what we do defines who we are and what we love. We are all desiring some form of the kingdom and we need to learn how God invites us to follow Him toward the true kingdom.

“to be human is to desire ‘the kingdom,’ some version of the kingdom, which is the aim of our quest. Every one of us is on a kind of Arthurian quest for ‘the Holy Grail,’ that hoped-for, longed-for, dreamed-of picture of the good life—the realm of human flourishing—that we pursue without ceasing.”

2. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller (2011)
This book has been incredibly helpful in preparing Lauren and I for spending our lives together. The Kellers look at what marriage is for, what it means to be married, and how a marriage can last. And I think they do a great job at setting expectations for what a biblical marriage is, in contrast to the American view of marriage.

“…here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, ‘I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne.’”

3. In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen (1992)
Because of the subtitle, I put off this book for a little while. I’m not really into leadership books per se. After reading it, I see that it is about leadership in a way, but is about so much more. Nouwen looks at the three temptations of Jesus and talks about the temptations that many of us face. 

“These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self—the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things—and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.”

4. The Brothers Karamozov by Fyoder Dostoevsky (1880)
I really like Dostoevsky. This is my third novel of his and I love the way he develops characters and tells a story. I was a little intimidated by the size of this one, but loved going through it. It’s a story of three very different brothers and their father as they experience love, battle hate, and wrestle with many existential questions.

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”

And here is the remainder of my top 10 list:

5. Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community by Wendell Berry (1994)
6. Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender & Tremper Longman (1999)
7. Socrates Meets Jesus by Peter Kreeft (2002)
8. Gray Matters by Brett McCracken (2013)
9. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
10. Surrender to Love by David Benner (2003)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Favorite Albums of the 2013

1. The Lone Bellow by The Lone Bellow
Favorite Tracks: Tree To Grow, Teach Me To Know, Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold

2. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
Favorite Tracks: Hannah Hunt, Obvious Bicycle, Everlasting Arms

3. The 20/20 Experience (Part 1) by Justin Timberlake
Favorite Tracks: That Girl, Tunnel Vision, Mirrors

4. Hummingbird by Local Natives
Favorite Tracks: Columbia, Mt. Washington, Breakers

5. I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You by Derek Webb
Favorite Tracks: I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, Heavy, Everything Will Change

6. Paradise Valley by John Mayer
Favorite Tracks: Dear Marie, Wildfire, Paper Doll

7. Southeastern by Jason Isbell
Favorite Tracks: Cover Me Up, Elephant, Stockholm

8. The Hurry and the Harm by City and Colour
Favorite Tracks: The Hurry And The Harm, Paradise, Thirst

9. You Belong Here by Leagues
Favorite Tracks: Spotlight, Walking Backwards, You Belong Here

10. Joy of Nothing by Foy Vance
Favorite Tracks: Closed Hands Full Of Friends, Joy Of Nothing

Albums I thought would make this list, but didn't:
Muchacho by Phosphorescent
Let's Be Still by The Head and the Heart
Reflektor by Arcade Fire
Magpie and the Dandelion by The Avett Brothers

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mike Tyson gets it

I love seeing displays of honesty in the midst of understanding one's own brokenness. We are all broken and screwed up. It takes a special kind of humility to admit that to yourself, much less to the whole world. Here's Mike Tyson admitting how he is a recovering alcoholic, how he has negatively viewed others and viewed himself, and how the power of love and forgiveness has transformed his life.

Also, here's another great interview and some thoughts from Mockingbird that give some background info to a recently reconciled relationship.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Is the news bad for us?

I just ran across an article on The Guardian that was explaining how news is bad for us. The title of the article is "News is bad for you--and giving up reading it will make you happier." The title definitely piqued my interest because I think it is very true.

You see, I don't read or watch much of the news. In any conversation, I will probably be the one who knows the least about what is going on around our country and around the world. There is a part of me that has wondered if I am a bad citizen or neighbor because I don't follow the news. I still don't know for sure. However, I do think that much of the news is really not all that beneficial to any of us.

Consider what the Guardian article suggests. It gives 10 reasons why the news can be bad for us:
1. News misleads
2. News is irrelevant
3. News has no explanatory power
4. News is toxic to your body
5. News increases cognitive errors
6. News inhibits thinking
7. News works like a drug
8. News wastes time
9. News makes us passive
10. News kills creativity
All this reminds me of some thoughts Neil Postman has in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He points out that news, education, politics, etc have all basically become forms of entertainment. He believes news is a collection of decontextualized facts that we cannot do much about:
"How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?...most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.”

...What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime or unemployment? ...What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of Baha'is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them.

...We have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing."
What do you think?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Nouwen's refreshing thoughts on Christian leadership

I recently finished a book called In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. It was quite a refreshing read as it addressed issues that Christians face as they desire to be leaders in their ministries and in the world. Nouwen bases his book around the three temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness.

He explains how Jesus's first temptation was to be relevant, as Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread. If you don't know, Nouwen left the life of teaching at places like Notre Dame and Harvard to go live with the mentally handicapped people of the L'Arche community near Toronto. He talks about how, when he comes to that community, he is struck by the fact that people did not care at all about all of the useful things he had done up until then, but only how he was perceived in the moment. He explains how this left him naked and vulnerable in many ways:
“These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self—the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things—and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.”
He goes on to explain that the Christian leader has to be one that gives up the desire to be relevant and merely offers the world his or her vulnerable self. He says the discipline that will counteract this desire for relevance is contemplative prayer. Instead of listening to the world and getting pulled into seemingly urgent needs, we need to be people who constantly dwell in God's presence. It is only here that we can find the source of our words and guidance for the hurting world.

The second temptation Jesus faced was to be spectacular, as he was tempted to throw himself down off the temple. Instead of the individual heroism that is so highly touted in our culture, the Bible offers a different perspective where the value is placed on speaking God's Word in community. He also says that ministry is not only a communal experience but a mutual one. This means that we are not called to create a safe distance between us and those we intend to lead, but are called to make our full selves known, including our doubts, fears, sadness, and failures.

The discipline he suggests that keeps us from desiring individual impressiveness is confession and forgiveness. He says, “Confession and forgiveness are the concrete forms in which we sinful people love one another.” This needs to be a two way street. Christian leaders need to be able to share their wounded selves with those they want to lead. Otherwise, there is a bifurcation that occurs. He explains,
“They separate themselves from their own concrete community, try to deal with their needs by ignoring them or satisfying them in distant or anonymous places, and then experience an increasing split between their own most private inner world and the good news they announce…When ministers and priests live their ministry mostly in their heads and relate to the Gospel as a set of valuable ideas to be announced, the body quickly takes revenge by screaming loudly for affection and intimacy.”
The third and final temptation that Jesus faced was the temptation to power, as He was tempted to rule all the kingdoms of the world. Nouwen explains that there is a great temptation to have power among Christian leaders, even though Jesus came and emptied Himself of all rights to power. He goes on to say that it is easier to control people than to love people. It's easier to be God than to love Him. The way of the Christian leader does not look like the world. Nouwen says,
“The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”
The discipline suggested to guard against the temptation to have power is theological reflection. Without this, he explains that we will be nothing more than pseudo-psychologists in trying to help people deal with the stresses of their life. In contrast,
“The task of future Christian leaders is not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to a new land of freedom. Christian leaders have the arduous task of responding to personal struggles, family conflicts, national calamities, and international tensions with an articulate faith in God’s real presence.”
Through prayer, through confession and forgiveness, and through theological reflection, Christians can counteract the temptations to be relevant and popular, to be spectacular and removed from those whom we lead, and to exert power and control over others. At this point we can finally help people to hear God's gentle and loving voice in a noisy world.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The 50th Anniversary of King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

When you think of the most influential Christian leader of the 20th century, who do you think of? I'm not sure how I would have answered that question a couple months ago, but I probably would not have thought of Martin Luther King Jr.. Sure, I know he was a great leader, but until recently, I didn't quite grasp the impact he had and how that impact was so shaped by a theological vision.

Yes, MLK Jr. was a civil rights leader, but he was also a brilliant man who had a firm grasp of theology, philosophy, politics, and ethics. Beyond that he was a pastor who cared deeply about how the gospel applied to the injustices of his day.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." He wrote the letter to eight white pastors of his day as he sat in a jail cell in the most racially segregated city in America at that time. He was getting feedback from church leaders (who were white) to stop causing so much controversy over segregation, and to wait it out. Some day, they said, it will get better.

Part of Reverend King's letter specifically addressed this call to wait. Check out these powerful words:
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
I hope you feel even a fraction of the weight that this paragraph carries. He and the rest of the black community had been fighting against this sense of "nobodiness" for so long and they were understandably tired of it.

The famous phrase, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" also comes from this letter. From Atlanta, he saw the injustices that were happening in Birmingham. He talks about how we are all "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality," so he cannot sit idly by and do nothing. In response to this injustice he begins to teach people the power of nonviolent action, which forces a community who has long refused to negotiate to finally confront the issues of injustice.

As I thought about this, I began to see some parallels between King's thought and what Isaiah says of the coming Messiah. Isaiah says that he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a sheep before his shearers, he was silent. As Christ came to confront THE injustice of the world (the broken relationship between humanity and the Creator) through humility and nonviolence, so King stood up against the powers of the world, and through nonviolence, shed light on one of the greatest injustices of our time.

Through this letter, I have become so thankful for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. His courage is inspiring to me and his faithfulness to stand up for justice in the midst of opposition and oppression is convicting. I'm so thankful God used him to bring a glimpse of the coming kingdom to this world through the breaking of these racial barriers. Because of this, the gospel is lived out in a fuller way. As Paul tells us in Galatians 3, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, or male nor female. We are all one in Christ.

Click here to read the letter. I highly encourage it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Law As Freedom: Fitting With The Grain Of The Universe

When you think of rules and law, you typically don't think about freedom and love with them. That's partly why many see the Bible as a repressive and somewhat arbitrary list of do's and don'ts. Many see being a Christian then, as following these rules whether one wants to or not.

But what if the commands of God were actually life giving? What if when God created the universe, he intended a certain beautiful design that, if conformed to by humanity, led to great flourishing and deep fulfillment? That is exactly what James K.A. Smith is saying in his excellent book, Desiring the Kingdom. He says:
"...the giving of commandments is an expression of love; the commandments are given as guardrails that encourage us to act in ways that are consistent with the 'grain of the universe,' so to speak. They are the means by which God invites and encourages us to find abundance and flourishing."
God's standards for us help us match up with the grain of the universe. They are for our good, not for suppressing us. But our modern understanding fights against the reality. Smith goes on to say:
"The secular liturgies of late modern culture are bent on forming in us a notion of autonomy--a sense that we are a law unto ourselves and that we are only properly 'free' when we can choose our own ends, determine our own telos. Since it's early beginnings, Charles Taylor notes, modernity has been marked by a rejection of teleology, a rejection of the notion that there is a specified, normative end (telos) to which humanity ought to be directed in order to enjoy the good life. And this rejection was driven by a new notion of 'libertarian' freedom, which identified freedom with freedom of choice."
Smith concludes with a picture of true freedom, rightly ordered desires in conformity to how God designed the universe to be. He explains:
"In contrast, right here in Christian worship we see a very different understanding of the good: humanity and all of creation flourish when they are rightly ordered to a telos that is not of their own choosing but rather is stipulated by God. Creation is created for something, for a particular end envisioned by the Creator...The reading of the law is a displacement of our own wants and desires, reminding us that we find ourselves in a world not of our own making--which is why all our attempts to remake it as we want (as if we ourselves could be little creators) are not only doomed to failure; they are also doomed to exacerbate suffering. The announcement of the law reminds us that we inhabit not 'nature,' but creation, fashioned by a Creator, and that there is a certain grain to the universe--grooves and tracks and norms that are part of the fabric of the world. And all of creation flourishes best when our communities and relationships run with the grain of those grooves. Indeed, the biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship means that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. That is why the law, though it comes as a scandalous challenge to the modern desire for autonomy, is actually an invitation to be freed from a-teleological wandering. It is an invitation to find the good life by welcoming the boundaries of law that guide us into the grooves that constitute the grain of the universe and are conducive to flourishing."
I invite you to think about the law in such a way. Yes the law points to our need for a Savior, because of our inability to fulfill the law's demands. But the law is also a good thing in and of itself, a loving blueprint for what God intends for a thriving new humanity.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Nouwen on solitude, community, and ministry

A friend of mine recently suggested that I read an article by Henri Nouwen entitled, "Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry". I'm glad she did. In the article, Nouwen is arguing that there are three major disciplines for the faithful disciple of Christ. As the title suggests, he believes that solitude, community, and ministry are those three disciplines and that they only work by starting with solitude and working up progressively. He sees Luke 6:12-19 as a prime example for this idea. In this passage Jesus spends the whole night in prayer, then calls the disciples, and then cures people of unclean spirits and disease.

Solitude is foundational to the other three disciplines because it is only here that we can dwell on how God views us. He says:
Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” “my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.
He goes on to say that if we are not hearing this voice then we cannot walk freely in this world. Without hearing this voice, success and failures will equally wreck us because our identity will be tied up in those things. We will constantly be seeking affirmation and praise from others if we are not listening to God's voice and claiming our belovedness.

Community then is something that flows from solitude. But it is not because we are lonely. He explains:
...community is not loneliness grabbing onto loneliness: “I’m so lonely, and you’re so lonely.” It’s solitude grabbing onto solitude: “I am the beloved; you are the beloved; together we can build a home.”
He also talks about how forgiveness and celebration are two key components of community. Forgiveness is acknowledging that other people cannot love you perfectly. Forgiveness is allowing another person not to be God. If you can forgive others and stop demanding from them something that only God can give, then you can learn to celebrate that person's gifts.

Ministry comes after you know you are beloved and continue to forgive and celebrate one another. Nouwen says that part of our ministry is to help others let go of resentment, to discover that in the middle of your tears, "that's where the dance starts and joy is first felt." He continues:
Jesus says, “Cry over your pains, and you will discover that I’m right there in your tears, and you will be grateful for my presence in your weakness.” Ministry means to help people become grateful for life even with pain. That gratitude can send you into the world precisely to the places where people are in pain. The minister, the disciple of Jesus, goes where there is pain not because he is a masochist or she is a sadist, but because God is hidden in the pain.
When talking about ministry, many of us talk of the desire to see fruit. Nouwen reminds us that, "the fruits of your life are born often in your pain and in your vulnerability and in your losses. The fruits of your life come only after the plow has carved through your land."

I resonated with this article because I often shortcut this process. I desire to help people grow in the understanding of God's love for them in Christ, but I often do it out of a place where I am not resting that love myself. Because of that, I can use people and demand that they give me the love that I need. From there, I find myself unwilling to enter people's pain because it seems too heavy and messy.

I want to be the type of man who like Mary, sits at Jesus' feet often, who then can forgive others quickly, celebrate who they are, and move towards bearing one another's burdens and pointing to the One who bore ours.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I share, therefore I am: how technology is making us more lonely

"Connected, but alone?" was a TED talk given by Sherry Turkle last February. It's an excellent look at the ways in which we are isolating ourselves in and through technology. We have a desire to connect more with people, but the ways in which we are connecting are actually making us more lonely. Check it out:

And here are some of her quotes:
"We're getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere, connected to all the different places they want to be. People want to customize their lives."
"We can end up hiding from each other even as we are all connected to each other." 
"Human relationships are rich, and they're messy, and they're demanding, and we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that we do is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection." 
"We use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves, so a flight from conversation can really matter because it can compromise our capacity for self-reflection." 
"People get so used to being short-changed out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they become almost willing to dispense with people all together." 
"That feeling that no one is listening to me is very important in our relationships with technology. That's why it's so appealing to have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed: so many automatic listeners. And the feeling that no one is listening to me makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us." 
"Technology appeals to us most, where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We're lonely, but we're afraid of intimacy." 
"We are designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship." 
"I share, therefore I am." 
"You end up isolated if you don't cultivate the capacity for solitude. The ability to be separate, to gather yourself. Solitude is where you find yourself and where you can reach out to other people and form real attachments. When we don't have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we're not able to appreciate who they are, it's as though we are using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we're at risk, because actually it's the opposite that's true. If we're not able to be alone, we're going to be more lonely."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

To be deeply known and loved

I've been doing some thinking recently on the human desire to be deeply known and loved. I gave a talk last weekend at our student retreat on the subject. When I came back I saw my buddy Scott's post, where he talked about what it means to know and to be known.

Then I ran across what Jodie Foster said recently at the Golden Globes. After being given an award for lifetime cinematic achievement, being in the public life since she was 3 (46 years!), she said this:
I may never be up on the stage again, on any stage for that matter...I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It's just that from now on I may be holding a different talking stick, and maybe it won't be as sparkly, maybe it won't open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle, but it will be my writing on the wall. Jodie Foster was here. I still am and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely."
Wow, what an honest expression. To be seen, understood, and not to be lonely. Isn't that what we all want? I think it is. But what is interesting about this pervasive desire is that we often work so hard against it. We are so scared to open up and be ourselves, because it could mean being rejected. So we hide from others and even ourselves. We put on masks to so that others will like us, but the problem is, they end up not liking the real us only the fake us. And we know that. That's why we say things like, "If you REALLY knew me..."

So how do we get to the place where we don't have to hide any more? We have to realize that there is One who already fully knows us (1 Cor. 13:12). We have to realize that He was exposed and rejected on the cross so that we wouldn't have to fear or face ultimate rejection. There is no one who knows us better than God and no one who can love us better than Him. He loved us first (1 John 4:19) while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). Knowing this is what gives us the freedom to be ourselves before others. We don't have to hide anymore. We can be real because He whom we were created for knows us fully and loves us completely.

By the way, I don't know of a better expression of this longing to be deeply known and loved than Alanis Morisette's song, "That I would be good." No explanation needed. Just watch and listen: