Don't Imitate - Lead

Recently, some "Christian" reality shows have hit the airways on various cable TV channels. While the message is positive, and at first glance relevant and integrated to the culture around them, ("punk" Christian skaters sharing Christ by all means necessary, or an inside look at a Christian rock festival) a closer look revels nothing more than a cheep knock-off of a lousy medium, not so reality TV.

One of the skaters said it best, "We don't not use all of these platforms and avenues that make up society (to share the gospel)" Key word: use. It's not creative, it's not original, it's predictable, old and tired.

As Christians we should be leading in the creative arts. Our God is a creative God, and he calls us to create, not copy old worn out story lines. In contrast the Christian community spends much of its time trying to catch up with the culture, and ends up arriving late and looking stupid. We are that guy at the party trying way too hard to look cool.


I love audio book downloads from my library

So I recently discovered that I can download audio books from my local library's web site, and guess what, I like it a lot!

For quite a while now, whenever I go on a trip I try and bring an audio book or two. This last time, I decided to look into whether there were downloads available and if they could be transferred to my mp3 player. They were, and I did.

I like to learn, I don't like to physically read. With audio books you can do simple multitasking while enjoying the latest non-fiction or an ancient classic. Plus it's fast, they don't stop the way you or I tend to do when we are actually reading.

Look at this list I have listened to in just the past few weeks. There is no way I could read all these books, but via audio downloads...
  • War and Peace - by Tolstoy (just started)
  • Hearing God's Voice - by Blackaby
  • Beyond Band of Brothers – The War Memoirs of Major Winters. – by Winters
  • The Problem of Pain – by C.S. Lewis
  • God's Politics - Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it. - by Wallis
  • Conspiracy of Fools - The rise and fall of Enron - by Eichenwald
  • Three Cups of Tea – One mans mission to start schools in Afghanistan. – by Mortenson
  • Legacy of Ashes - The history of the CIA - by Weiner
  • Dispatches from the Edge - A Memoir - by Anderson Cooper

(Someone should really pay me for this post, a blatant advertisement.)


God's Politics by Jim Wallis

I have collated what I believe are some key thoughts from the first few chapter of Jim Wallis' book God's Politics Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn't get it.

I write this post now, because it is not before, but after an election that the real work of governing begins.

I haven't even read half the book, so I'll reserve judgment. However, thus far he is saying that the progressive distaste for religion is historically short sited, (Martin Luther King Jr., Woman's Suffrage, etc...) and from his perspective, dead wrong as he himself is an evangelical. The conservatives on the other hand, while extremely adept at speaking the language of faith, are myopic in their understanding of the Hebrew scriptures and their relationship to the Biblical mandate for social justice.

What I appreciate most about the book so far is its intelligent, nuanced and insightful critique, of both the left and the right. Many people are saying what Wallis is saying, but few as well or as thoughtfully as he does.


On Protest
We need more than critique, we must ask what’s wrong, but also what the answers are?

Instead of trying to strike an elusive balance between private piety and the social gospel, we must go to the heart of prophetic religion in which a personal god demands public justice as an act of worship.

Saying no is good, but having an alternative is better. Protest is not enough, it is necessary to show a better way. The aim of effective and transformational protest should be to illumine a society to its need to change. In other words, protest must be instructive rather than destructive. It should at its best, point the way to an alternative rather than just register the anger of its demonstrators. The power of protest is not in its anger, but in it’s invitation to something better.

On War
Those who seek alternatives to war, must not underestimate the problem of evil in the world… it must be admitted that the peace movement sometimes underestimates the power of evil… (In the run up to the war in Iraq), the public perception was that the peace movement was not determined to appose Saddam Hussain or remove him from power. So those who did clearly propose to deal with Saddam Hussain appeared to be stronger than those who didn’t. When a peace movement appears to be soft on the problems that war claims to be able to solve, alternative solutions will seem week. To avoid or prevent war, we must have answers that effectively deal with the problems and threats, but are better than war.

On Poverty
The conservatives are right when they say that cultural and moral issues of family break down, personal responsibility, sexual promiscuity, and substance abuse are prime reasons for domestic poverty.

The liberals are right when they point to the need for adequate nutrition, health care, education, housing, and good paying jobs as keys to overcoming epidemic poverty.


Calling and Convictions

I'm in this on-line church planting class called Missio which approaches things from a "missional" perspective. (yes that over-used word again, I know)

Here are my answers to a recent assignment.

1) What is your best understanding to date of what you sense God is asking you to 'be' and 'do?'

I feel called to create communities that worship Christ, love each other, and make the world a better place through tangible acts of service. I still wonder about the extent to which I should do this vocationally. I'm glad my current calling allows me to "work" part time in a way that is highly integrated. I know this is where I'm supposed to be right now, but will I always be a "pastor"? I don't know.

2) What are your top 3-5 conviction statements (Zer0 page 9 worksheet)?
  • The world as we know it is not acceptable!
    • We need to calibrate our actions for change. We need to operate in a sustainable emergency mode.
  • Knowing Christ is paramount.
  • Sustainability is paramount
  • No one lives in a bubble, our actions are interrelated.
  • The autonomy and conscience of individuals must be respected.
    • In other words, disagree with out being disagreeable. We need to have convictions, but we need to learn to see things from other peoples perspective as well. In theology and politics, people somehow impute "sin" on people that don't see things their way. Pastors in particular have the potential to do great harm in this respect. I want to create a community where people are free to question the status-quo, including my personal convictions, but in a loving and respectful way. No doubt this is a reaction to dogmatic leaders, a problem I see in the missional community as much as anywhere.
  • An improved Christian understanding of calling, particularly as it concerns vocation, has the potential to radically change the world for the better.
    • From a macro perspective, I see governments and non-profits (including the organized "church") as givens when it comes to eradicating suffering. (that's not entirely true, but bear with me.) Google's motto: "Don't be evil", the philanthropy of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, these are examples of a force that if radically multiplied, could substantially improve the quality of life for millions. Therefore, empowering Christians to take ownership of their vocation, and see it as more than just a way to pay the bills, is something I am very passionate about.
  • Sin warps the ability of individuals to completely know "the truth". Therefore we ought to operate with a great deal of humility.
  • Critical thinking is paramount.
3) How does your understanding of your calling connect or disconnect from your primary convictions (from question 2 above)?

For the most part it connects. I'm very comfortable with where I'm at right now as it relates to my sense of calling. However sometimes I wonder if I couldn't do more good if I was involved in a for-profit (i.e. sustainable) enterprise that also uniquely contributed to making the world a better place, and then sought to join with others in a faith community, possibly taking on some leadership roles, but without the pros and cons of a salary.


Lack of funding denies the accused proper defense

Exodus 23:6 - Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

Check out this article in the New York Times: Citing work load, public defenders are refusing new cases

My title reflects what i think is a more appropriate title for this story.

Here is what is happening. Work loads for public defenders are going up, and budgets are going down, and experienced public defenders are quiting due to low pay.

This results in a realty in which one person, the public defender, is being asked to "defend" a ridiculous number of people, putting them in an impossible position.

This is just yet another example of how this nation abuses the poor for the sake of the wealthy. (Though the poor who are actually guilty also contribute to the problem.) And granted it is more of a local issue, as various jurisdictions have various levels of resources. However the reality is that people who we say are innocent until proven guilty, do not have adequate defense, and this in a nation with the largest GDP in the history of the world.

Isaiah 5:23 - Woe to those who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.

Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor. Public defenders are notoriously overworked, and their turnover is high and their pay low. But now, in the most open revolt by public defenders in memory, many of the government-appointed lawyers say that state budget cuts and rising caseloads have pushed them to the breaking point.

The most immediate impact of the rushed justice, Mr. Lefstein and Mr. Carroll said, is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted — which means the real offenders would be left untouched. Appeals claiming inadequate defense are very difficult to win, experts say.

Here in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, the defenders’ office has had its budget cut by 12.6 percent in the last two years, said the elected chief defender, Bennett H. Brummer, and the workload has climbed by 29 percent over the last four years.

State Senator Victor D. Crist, chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, is a vocal critic of the Miami-Dade lawsuit, saying Mr. Brummer is “blowing things out of proportion.”

Mr. Crist said the judicial system had faced smaller cuts than other parts of government. Although no defendant should be denied due process, he said, the courts, state’s attorneys and public defenders must all tighten their belts.

Michigan requires counties to protect the indigent without providing state funds, resulting in large disparities. In some counties, those charged with misdemeanors are not even offered a lawyer; in others, the judge hires one for a flat fee, creating a conflict of interest and incentives to skimp on defense.

A few weeks earlier, he had to tell a 53-year-old man who was charged with grand theft, for stealing a few locks from a Home Depot, that the state was offering five years because earlier convictions made him a “habitual offender.” In a discussion in a holding pen, his client asked, “Won’t they take one year?” Mr. Jones went back to the prosecutors, who calculated that the minimum sentence, under a scoring system here, would be 2.6 years. But Mr. Jones had no time to check their math.

The man was already resigned to taking that sentence when the prosecutors discovered their calculations were mistaken: the correct minimum was 366 days.

“You see how easily accidents can happen?” Mr. Jones said. “He easily could have gotten three years instead of one.”

Amos 2:6-7 - They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.


Decesions Decesions

Who to vote for tomorrow is the decision in front of many of us. And for the Christ follower, I don't think it's an easy one. Two candidates and two parties each seek my vote, each representing Christ in some ways, and assailing him and his creation in others. So, who to vote for?

To help me make my decision, I'm looking at what some Christian organizations have to say, specifically the Sojourners - Voting Guide (Left), Focus on the Family - Citizen Link - (Right) and Christianity Today - How to Pick a President Article (centrist) as well as the candidates themselves.

Having looked over the material of these organizations, as well as the candidates, I think what I'm going to do is simply list the candidates and make a list of the top pros and cons for each one, from my perspective.

John McCain pro
  • Pro-Life on the rights of the unborn child.
  • Conservative judiciary philosophy. I believe in writing laws written by the people's representatives, and/or amending the constitution, not legislating from the bench. (Though both the "Right" and the "Left" are guilty of this from time to time.)
  • Will divide power between Democrats in Congress and a Republican in the White House, which among other things should limit spending.
  • Centrist (Examples: emigration, torture)
  • Will limit spending. (Hopefully. W certainly hasn't, but that is primarily because with a Republican congress for much of the time, there were no checks and balances.)

Barack Obama pro
  • Pro-Life on capital punishment, war and genocide.
  • Comprehensive health care plan addresses Biblical issues of justice and may put the nation on a better economic footing. People absolutely should not die simply because they can not afford their medicine or a procedure. Additionally this will set the nation on a better footing economically, because it will allow American multinational cooperations as well as small businesses to compete on an even playing field with their international competitors.
  • Has an appropriate view of Americas place in the world, and understands that God loves the whole world.
  • Will limit defense spending.
    • This may put us on a better footing economically, depending on if the savings get spent or not.
    • The chief threats to our "way of life" as well as our ability to help the less fortunate is economic, as we have seen in the last few months. Yes we need to defend ourseleves and fight terrorism. However we do not need the ginormous profit driven military industrial complex that the Bush administration has enriched at the expense of economic security and the poor and needy.
  • Understands the Biblical mandate to care for creation.

John McCain con
  • Many economic policies cater to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. This is a "values" issue.
  • Choice of campaign style does more to tear down, and caters to an "us vs them" mentality, which is inappropriate.
  • Choice of Sarah Palin was a poor choice because there are others who are much more qualified. Even from a conservative perspective, there are much smarter people out there, who are just as conservative. This choice placed his campaign to become president ahead of the good of the country, and that is a moral problem.
Barack Obama con
  • Association with some aspects of the far Left.
    • Homosexual agenda
    • Secular Anti-Faith agenda
    • Overly socialistic agenda, that while well intentioned will not work economically. (We must pay for whatever "good" things we want to do, and stop putting it on the backs of future generations.)
  • In conjunction with a Democratic congress will provide no checks to spending in general or a far left agenda.
For both candidates I could list things already addressed as pro's for one candidate, as con's for the other since they don't address them, but that would just be redundant.

So who to pick? - Fortunately I still have over 24 hours to decide.

: )

Let me just say this in closing. The country will be just fine on November 5th, and Lord willing will be a better place to live four years latter, no matter who gets elected.

I hear a number of people say they don't like either candidate. I like them both. Barack's choice to work with people in the inner city, and John's 5 years in a prison camp, gives me confidence that both of these men "get it", an while you are I may not agree with every policy position they hold, I think they are both fundamentally seeking the good of the nation.


Red Sex, Blue Sex

Different parts of the country have different attitudes about sex... and many other things for that matter. (no kidding) How those attitudes translate into actions is the rather interesting story. One highlighted by the The New Yorker in their recent story Red Sex, Blue Sex. Below are excerpts, but here is my take.

As is the case with so many other things, Evangelicals generally need to shut up until they can put up. But that's in general.

What about the reality of growing up in a hyper sexual world? If like me, you find the mantra of "though shall not" incredibly ineffective, what should replace it? How do we as Christians learn to speak comfortably and effectively about one of God's greatest gifts? I don't have any answers off the top of my head as I write this. But I think it's a matter worth discussing if we are going to save marriage, not from homosexuals, but from ourseleves. (guess which states have the highest divorce rates?)

One thing in the story stood out above all else for me: Religious belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of religiosity—such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals, and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren’t deeply observant.

Who knew - prayer works. ; ) (That one is for you parents.)

During the campaign, the media has largely respected calls to treat Bristol Palin’s pregnancy as a private matter. But the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.

Religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and that this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical.

Religious belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of religiosity—such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals, and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren’t deeply observant.

Like other American teens, young evangelicals live in a world of Internet porn, celebrity sex scandals, and raunchy reality TV, and they have the same hormonal urges that their peers have. Yet they come from families and communities in which sexual life is supposed to be forestalled until the first night of a transcendent honeymoon. Regnerus writes, “In such an atmosphere, attitudes about sex may formally remain unchanged (and restrictive) while sexual activity becomes increasingly common. This clash of cultures and norms is felt most poignantly in the so-called Bible Belt.” Symbolic commitment to the institution of marriage remains strong there, and politically motivating—hence the drive to outlaw gay marriage—but the actual practice of it is scattershot.

In 2004, the states with the highest divorce rates were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virginia (all red states in the 2004 election); those with the lowest were Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The highest teen-pregnancy rates were in Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas (all red); the lowest were in North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine (blue except for North Dakota).

Evangelicals could start, perhaps, by trying to untangle the contradictory portrayals of sex that they offer to teen-agers. In the Shelby Knox documentary, a youth pastor, addressing an assembly of teens, defines intercourse as “what two dogs do out on the street corner—they just bump and grind awhile, boom boom boom.” Yet a typical evangelical text aimed at young people, “Every Young Woman’s Battle,” by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn, portrays sex between two virgins as an ethereal communion of innocent souls: “physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pleasure beyond description.” Neither is the most realistic or helpful view for a young person to take into marriage, as a few advocates of abstinence acknowledge.

As the Reverend Rick Marks, a Southern Baptist minister, recently pointed out in a Florida newspaper, “Evangelicals are fighting gay marriage, saying it will break down traditional marriage, when divorce has already broken it down.” Conservatives may need to start talking as much about saving marriages as they do about, say, saving oneself for marriage.


New Oasis Web Site

I've been working on building an Oasis web site the last couple of days. I'm sure we'll make a lot of changes in the future. This us basically just to give us some kind of internet presence.

Originally I was thinking of doing something fancy with flash and stuff, but after looking at a number of sites, I'm thinking a simple google style, is better. Also, what exactly should be on a church home page? What I mean is, how much should be under links, and how much should be right up front? Thoughts?

If you have any suggestions for changes, let me know, though I can't promise I'll use them. : )


Oasis Logo

Here is the finished product for the Oasis logo.

Matt Luecht responded to my add on CreativeMYK, and volunteered to do this for free. We really appreciate what he did.

Want to see the evolution of our creative brain trust? Click here.


Missional Defination in Art and Scripture

Philippians 2:6-7
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

Matthew 28:18
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go...

John 20:21
As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.

Mark 2:16
But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?

1 Corinthians 9:22
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

A word of explanation
Rich over at Blindbegger, as well as many others I am finding, feel that the word missional is loosing it's meaning. Consequently he has called for a synchroblog event, happening today, to discuss the defination of the word missional.

Since I'm sure other people will do a better job than I at putting pen to paper, what you see above is my contribution to a working defination. Those pictures were not chosen randomly, rather, I believe they each carry great meaning. The word missional means the life of we who are the church centered on three things: Jesus, The Mission of God, and a sense of community; meaning an awareness of the interrelatedness of humanity, and the need to be in relationship.

The first picture obviously depicts Jesus, the center of all things, but just as important is the fact that in this picture Christ is incarnate in and for a particular ethnic community. There is nothing wrong with a blond hair/blue eyed Jesus'... in Scandinavia, or any community that is truly that homogeneous. (though I would question how truly homogeneous communities that think they are, are.) Jesus was God made flesh, for a particular community, the Jews in his historical case. We too must seek to reflect Christ in our particular communities, authentically engaging people where they are at.

People should not have to cross cultural boundaries to come to Christ. Unfortunately on it's worst days, the size and weight of the evangelical community has created its own sub-culture, one allian to those not initiated. It is a subculture wholly un-Christ like in that it serves as a barrier to those on the outside. We don't GO as Christ taught us, we say COME; and when your just like me you can belong... if you take this class and pass the test. (Of course there are good days too. Take a look at who is actually rebuilding New Orleans.)

The second picture is meant to convey a sense of "going", or being on the move. It's an added bonus, that in the picture the world seems to be passing the church by. How true. To avoid this we have to evaluate how we spend out time. How many relationships do we have with people outside the church? And how much of our time goes to those people? Jesus left the comfort of church err... heaven, and went to where people were at, usually the "sick" not those who are "well"... (in church?) (This is an area I certainly struggle in.)

The final picture is meant to convey a sense of community and relationship. To love our neighbor as ourselves demands an awareness of our communities both local and global, and an understanding of how what I do impacts others. The teachings of Jesus demand lived beliefs that impact the communities we are a part of.

In contrast, much of the church lives with a dualism that acts as if A) doesn't impact B). Ironically the church often talks about breaking down this dualism, and in some ways does. But several Biblical concepts,
justice and equality in particular, have been given very little attention. Instead, we who are the church have reflected a greater commitment to a kind of capitalism which is unencumbered with the ethics of Christ or a concern for those most in need. Sure we give of our time and money. But then our spending and investing habits, and the actions of our elected representatives (on both sides of the aisle) undo all the good we were tying to do, illustrating the dualism we are talking about.

Having said all of this, I am concerned that we who are authentically using the word missional (i.e. not just tagging it on to a very attractional thing.) none the less struggle to live it out. I certainly do, especially in the area of economic justice. There is a real danger that all we are talking about is degrees of separation on the wrong side of the equation. Do we really want to trumpet Jesus as our guide and example if we struggle as much as we do to live up to his over-the-top example?

Take these pictures for what their worth, and by all means, feel free to critique. For a fuller defination see the links below.


Oasis (3) - Missional?

So this Sunday will be our first preview service for Oasis, our new church plant. Things are kind of crazy right now, but I need a break, so I thought I would share some of the mental gymnastics I am going through with being missional in a semi-rural/semi-suburban context, in Nebraska.

It’s my impression that a certain number of people in this area want the attractional thing. Want church to be a place to go to meet Jesus. Now if missional is absolutely the only way to do things, well then you don’t compromise. The problem I have is that I don’t think everyone woke up January 1st, 2000 and suddenly became postmodern. On the contrary, I get the impression that many un-churched people still think that when life is falling apart, the institutional church is where you go to get God.

I don’t agree with that at all. But because I agree with a missional perspective, I’m willing to work with people and their misconceived ideas about church, in the same way I am willing to be in relationship regardless of any number of other things we might disagree about. Some aspects of attractional can be missional for those in a modern 20th century context. We are going to gather to worship together. What am I going to say when someone's life is falling apart, and they "come to church." "Sorry I can't help you, let me set up a non-appointment with you at the bar so we can do this more incarnationally." Having said tha, what leans me to the missional side is when I see churches going uber attractional, assisting in the sin of a self centered world view, simply giving people what they want, be that the "uncompromised gospel" or anything else.

What were doing in Waverly is a missional thing, wrapped in an attractional shell. Yah were advertising, inviting people to church and what not. But that is where attractional stops. If I had my way, our buzz line would be “It’s not about you.” (Or me.) On Sunday we are simply going to gather together to worship our Lord and Savior, and btw your invited. If some people are attracted to that, fine. But when it comes to lived values. It will be about missional. Keeping it simple, the values of Jesus, going to where people are at, serving our community, in community, doing life together.

Needless to say, this will make none of the true believers on either side happy, but I believe that it corresponds to a key tenant of missional, which is to be true to your zip code, not your friends zip code.

Talking about this on paper, kind of easy compared to the challenge of living it out. That is the part that really scares me, and where I feel the least prepared.


Oasis (2)

Here is part of an article I published in our monthly newsletter, explaining why we are planting a new church.

The reason for the larger question of why start a new church at all comes from scripture. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to be reaching out to new people in different places, inviting them to draw close to Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 10:27-28) We believe that a healthy church is a growing church (the opposite is not necessarily true) And as we have seen, the
Northern Lighthouse (NL) is growing. This raises questions about how one is to grow, relationally, systemically, and physically. (i.e. a building) One way to grow is to be ever spending money on ever larger buildings. Our approach at the NL and now Oasis, is to plant new churches. Why? So that more people worship Christ, and reflect the Kingdom of God, serving others, rather than living under the consequences of poor choices.

Right now, less than 400 of the 2800 people currently living in Waverly, worship in Waverly. There are two good churches there, but with 2400 people in need of a closer relationship with Christ, there is a great need in Waverly. Additionally, some of the things we do here at the NL are unique. The kind of atmosphere we all work to create, a community which is a place of acceptance and direction, a place of hope and love, and all through the power of the Holy Spirit, these are the type of things we believe God has called us to be a part of in Waverly. Additionally, because God is already at work in Waverly, we don’t seek to bring something external to this community, something that is of ourselves, but rather, we seek to join God where he is already at work. As we have been helped, so we help others, creating a community of the Spirit.


Missional - Overused and Missunderstood?

Rick over at Blind Beggar believes that the word missional is getting overused. So he is calling for a SynchroBlog about the defination of missional on June 23. You can see who else is talking about this here. I'll definitely be participating.

In the mean time, here is my defination in three words: Jesus - Community - Go.


Oasis (1)

So I've mentioned a couple of times that I'm helping to plant a church in Waverly Nebraska, a suburb of Lincoln. This new church plant will be called Oasis Community Church, or just "Oasis", which is what we hope to be.

Keep in mind, one's stay at an oasis is always temporary, it is a place to rest for those on a journey. Lord willing, so it will be with our Oasis. As we participate in the mission God has given his people, the church, to be ever going, living the good news where people are at, we will seek to be a temporary Oasis of relationships and worship, a place to reorient ourselves on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.

In the next few days I'll post a few more articles about what God has called us to be a part of in Waverly.


Free Graphic Design

So I'm working on creating a graphic, and/or having someone else do it. Seeing what's out there, getting ideas.

Not surprisingly I have come across some pretty good sites. A lot of them are making things available for free. How do they do that? Several ways. One is for the artists to raise support, so the artists are creative design "missionaries". Another is for the web site to be a common ground for artists to post their work, so anyone and everyone can give and take. And a final option I am seeing is big churches posting their own material on the web, giving it away.

Here is where I found a lot of this stuff
Free Church Graphics and Resources Toolbox

And here are some that I personally found useful.
Muddy River Media

On CreativeMYK I was able to post a want add, looking for someone to design a logo for us, and in less than a day I have gotten two responses.



Just watched Juno. It's really good if your ok with a certain amount of profanity and coarse joking. (it fits the character) It is so stinking real. I don't mean the pregnancy, I won't presume to be an expert on that, although the baby was shown as rather bloody right after being delivered. I mean the circumstances, the feelings, and all the rest. Specifically the challenge of dealing with a teenage pregnancy in a normal kind of way, one that isn't over dramatized, (you won't see this one on the Hallmark channel anytime soon) and in fact is very funny.

As for the spiritual angel. I simply like identifying with real people in real life. Jesus lived a real life with real laughter and real problems. The film Juno animates life... warts, laughter and all. Additionally, it represents a pro-life view, without being an infomercial.


Budget Hero

I just got done playing this federal budget game. It's preety cool, check it out.

You can sum up my budget priorities this way:
Priority #1 - A balanced budget and a good economy (Go Republicans)
Priotiry #2 - Taking care of those in need... wisely. (Go Democrats)

Here is my theological grid. Sustainability, and justice for all, including future generations. This is Biblical. The profits this creates can be used to help those truly in need. (including the unborn) Socialism goes wrong by making care of people the first priority of the federal government. A sinking ship can't save people, now or in the future. Nor is it the federal governments job entirely. (it has and should have a very big role to play)

In contrast, capitalism goes wrong when it makes "security", money and ease the final priority. Greed is always a challenge, however we saw it pushed to the breaking point in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (think child labor and rich barrons) These sins ushered in the "New Deal". Unfortunately we have seen it again in the past few years. (with a "born again" Christian in charge) Some have gotten wealthy while many have languished.

What is not high on my list of priorities is military spending. Why? I have a number of reasons, but mainly because no one is really threatening to take away our freedom... militarily. Judicially and economically, now that's a different story. Much of defense spending is wasted in a vast "military industrial complex", which doesn't actually keep us safe from that vast hoard of nations on the very brink of invading us. (wait a second...)

It's been said before, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." I think the age of set piece battles and one nation invading another is coming to an end. That doesn't mean there aren't very real threats. What I'm saying is that how we prepare to fight these threats, under what circumstances, and with what preferred end in mind, has or needs to radically shift.

We are largely engaging Iraq in the same way we engaged Germany and Japan. Our army beat there's and then we set up house keeping for a while.

In a world dominated by free people competing economically, economics and information will be the weapons of choice. Any nation that steps out of line (N. Korea, Iran, or to a lesser extent, Russia, China vs Tawain, or India vs Pakistan) can be punished with special forces operations, economic penalties, naval blockades, stealth bombers, cruise missiles, or some combination of these. All you have to do is economically punish the aggressor. While the rest of us get rich, living at peace and trading with one another.

Who says you have to invade and overthrow? I understand that ground troops win wars... if taking ground is your defination of win. But who decided that?



So obviously I haven't been blogging lately. I think I'm going to re-commit my life to Chr... I mean blogging, try and get on here a minimum of once a week or so.

As for what's up now.

I'm planting a new church (more about that in the future)

Presently I'm on vacation (maybe that's why I have time to be on this blog)

I just signed up for a cool on-line church planting class. You can learn more about it here.

Nicholas is nearly two, and just beginning to talk.

All and all, life is good.


How long O' Lord?

If the Sun is capable of burning for another 6 billion years, what are the implications?


White Like Me

In the last 10 or 20 years there has been a shift in the minority community from focusing on ways in which we are all similar, to the ways that we are uniquely and beautifully distinct.

When I was first made aware of this, I had to ask the question, does this apply to me, a white male as well? Do I get to celebrate my whiteness or maleness? And does even asking this cause people to question my commitment to social justice and breaking down stereotypes?

Some people may have a problem with those questions, but they shouldn't, and good news, there is a blog that celebrates that fact called Stuff White People Like. Apparently it has skyrocketed in popularity, only being created in the last year or so.


Men and Diapers

Men and Diapers, that's the title of my new blog. It will not replace this one, but will rather be more personal, focusing on my time as a stay at home father.

My wife asked me why I have two separate blogs, even referencing something I have said numerous times, that life should be integrated. She is a very astute woman.

However I am comfortable with this arrangement because while I do believe in integration and synergy, I don't think that this arrangement significantly detracts from that. I think it will create a better experience for the reader, and I get to play with another blog and the variety of creative arrangements one can produce. Since I am maintaining the same profile, and the blogs are linked to each other, I think that it will be sufficiently integrated.


The Gospel According to Huckabee

Huckabee wins the award for showing Evangelicals what not to do in public discourse, loading up his speeches with references to Biblical stories. I can understand public policy that is Biblicaly based, but it's just bad communication to be constantly referencing Biblical stories that people are not familiar with. Want to know just how not familiar people are with Biblical language? Check out this story on npr.

If you disagree, keep in mind, Huckabee is running for President, not head of the Southern Baptist convention. If he actually wants to be president, he needs to speak clearly to all Americans.

The Gospel According to Huckabee (excerpts)

In November, as Huckabee surged in the polls, a student at Liberty University asked him what was driving his startling success. Huckabee responded, "It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people."

We played the tape for Leitha Anthony, who was waiting to go into the Washington Monument. Did she know what he was talking about?

"That's when Moses ... had to feed all the people, the multitude of people that left Egypt," Anthony hazarded. "That's what it was?"

For the next quiz question, we played a clip from Huckabee's Super Tuesday victory speech:

"Sometimes," the former Arkansas governor told his supporters, "one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor."

"Maybe something to do with the war," guessed Dan Booth, who was visiting from Alabama.

"He's talking about peace, the resolution of peace?" ventured his friend Mike Allen.

Actually, Huckabee was comparing himself to the shepherd boy David, who slayed the giant Goliath with one smooth stone right in the forehead.

Only one person knew that one — a disconcerting record as we moved into advanced "Huckabese." The next clip also came from Tuesday night's speech:

"We've also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world."

We asked Daria Teutonico and Richard Pettit about the widow's mite as they walked to lunch on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I have no clue," was Teutonico's answer. "I thought a mite was a bug."

"Is it a spider?" Pettit added. They both laughed.

The widow's mite actually refers to a poor woman Jesus observed giving a small coin to God. It was all she had.


Obama's Relationship with Christ

So we have this little Democratic caucus here in Nebraska today. I haven't been able to make up my mind whether I should participate or not, because there is a good chance I would vote for McCain rather than Obama, (and definitely if it's Clinton, though I have critiqued that approach here.) So I decided to do a little research, and came upon this little speech which apparently was pretty ground breaking at the time.

Though I certainly don't agree with all of Obama's positions, I really appreciate his approach to political life, and the common good, the need to operate in a pluralistic society, convincing rather than legislating. (That applies to both the far left and right.)

I also appreciate his confession of a need to be in a relationship with Christ and his Church.

Many of you who read my blog approach life from a Christian perspective. So what follows are excerpts from Obama's speech given to an Evangelical gathering of believers. Feel free to critique, leaving your thoughts in a comment.

Of course I suggest you read the entire text here. Naturally my excerpts are inherently prejudiced to my own view of what is important. The excerpts below constitute abut half the speech.

The points that stood out to me are several.
  • His conversion and relationship with Christ.
  • The need for secular humanist liberals to stop forcing Christians to check their religion at the door.
  • The fact that the Christian Right does not have a monopoly on what Jesus would do, say or think, nor is the judge of an individual's conscience.
  • The need for universal dialog across the American spectrum of belief. (Meaning that in the public forum, it is not so because God said so, one needs to convince with both religious and non-religious language and ideas.)

Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference. I've had the opportunity to take a look at your Covenant for a New America. It is filled with outstanding policies and prescriptions for much of what ails this country. So I'd like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far about poverty and justice in America, and for putting fire under the feet of the political leadership here in Washington.

But today I'd like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we've been seeing over the last several years.

I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won't have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

And I speak with some experience on this matter. I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I.

It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts.

You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.

Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting "preachy" may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby - but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix.

I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology - that can be dangerous. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith. As Jim has mentioned, some politicians come and clap -- off rhythm -- to the choir. We don't need that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

So let me end with just one other interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of the Republican agenda.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor went on to write:

"I sense that you have a strong sense of justice...and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason...Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded....You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others...I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

So I looked at my website and found the offending words. In fairness to them, my staff had written them using standard Democratic boilerplate language to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in fair-minded words. Those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

So I wrote back to the doctor, and I thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own - a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

And that night, before I went to bed I said a prayer of my own. It's a prayer I think I share with a lot of Americans. A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It's a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come.

Thank you.


What's Wrong Wtih McCain - Not Much

Here is a good article written by a centrist-minded Christian like myself.


It all revolves around this desperate desire to find the new Ronald Reagan. He is the conservative icon. However as conservative Bill Bennett told me Tuesday night during one of our breaks in Super Tuesday coverage, Ronald Reagan wasn't always Ronald Reagan. His positions on taxes and gays evolve

But don't tell that to conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who have vowed to destroy McCain because he doesn't carry their water on every issue. Most issues? Yes. But they require their politicians to assume a fetal position, not to have a backbone and stand up to them when needed.

McCain is a guy who is fiercely pro-life. That's a pretty important issue for the conservatives. He is strong on the military and being a former Vietnam prisoner of war sure doesn't hurt. When Republicans got weak-kneed over the surge in Iraq, McCain stood tall and proclaimed that it will work.

The guy is a fiscal conservative who abhors the spending that has taken place during the presidency of George W. Bush and the Congress under Republican rule. Yes, he voted against the first two Bush tax cuts. But as he said, when you don't have spending limits with tax cuts, you blow up the federal deficit, and we are a weaker nation today because Republicans acted like a teenager with Mom and Dad's credit card.


When Christmas Does Not Feel Like Christmas (1)

Just over a week ago I preached a message entitled, When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas, using the story of the Magi in Matthew chapter 2 as my primary text. Often pastors end this story with the Astrologers return to the East by another route, and leave Herod's slaughter of all children two years and under for some other time. I decided to include it, as a celebration followed by a tragedy is too often the story of Christmas for many, as it was for the Christ just a few years after he was born.

After reading the story from the Bible, I went on to simply narrate some of the conclusions.

First we talked about the journey, the question for us being, where are we at on our journey and are we putting the same kind of “effort” into ours, that the wise men put into their cross continental journey? If we are going to describe our faith as a journey, are we actually going on a journey?

Second we looked at the giving of gifts, not to ask for more for the church, but referencing Christ’s statement recorded in Mat 25:34-40, that when we give directly to those in need, we give directly to Christ. My sub point here being that if this is a tough time of year for us, part of our response should be to give our time, emotions and belonging to those in more need than we are. (and some of us may very well be in a great deal of need, but someone else is in more need.)

The third point was The Terrible Ending, in which we looked directly at the ways we hurt this time of year, in conjunction with Herod's response to being outwitted by the Magi.

I said this: One way or another we got this idea in our heads that Christmas should be a time of perfect harmony, families and the like getting along famously. But after too many years of quite the opposite happening, whether its just bickering and fighting, or worse, we start to realize that maybe Christmas just isn’t all its cracked up to be. And in fact can be an instigator of strife. Who’s family are we going to be with? How much money are we going to spend? If I act responsibly and stay within my budget, my child will have little or nothing compared to his friends, and what does that say about me as a man or woman, a provider for my family?

I then responded to those questions this way: Let me say right up front, that neither I, nor anyone else has an “answer” to the “why” question. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. We can try and apply some logic, but that only gets us so far. However, we have a God who is able to identify personally with our suffering. We know a God who loves us and has been in our shoes. He is a God who had no place to lay his head, who lived the life of a migrant, wondering from place to place. He began life as an alien, living in a foreign land, and there can be no doubt that Jesus’ parents were more than likely discriminated against or worse while they were in Egypt. Our God is a God who joins us in our suffering, feeling what we feel, knowing our circumstances as only he can.

I then wrapped up by putting the Christmas story in it’s larger historical and theological context, the in-breaking, the beginning of the “now” of the Kingdom of God. I’ll probably say more about this part in my next post.