Archive for April, 2007

questions for Evangelicals; prayer

If you get a chance, go over to the Atheist Revolution blog, where several great questions have been posed for “current or former Evangelical Christians.” Vjack, the blog’s author (and an Atheist), has been a contributor on this blog, and he, myself, and others have worked in the past toward healthy “dia-blog” between Atheists and Christians. Even if you do not consider yourself an Evangelical (but you do/did follow Jesus), your contributions over at AR would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Finally, a few things you can pray about today:

Chrissy’s impending graduation and job search. Pray that God will provide an avenue for her to exercise her passions and maximize her usefulness in His kingdom. Her dream would be to serve in a management role for a non-profit that serves youth, or in a consulting role whereby she can positively impact several area non-profits.

Our housing situation and mission in Boston. We’re more certain than ever that Boston is where God has led us to participate in His life and mission. We have had for a while the sense, however, that God is leading us into deeper, more radical community with other like-minded Christians, and the way that this would better equip us to join what God is doing in Boston, and specifically our neighborhood of East Boston. Proximity and shared resources/space are a huge part of the vision we’ve been given. We also would like to put down roots in a more permanent way by saying “siyonara” to rent payments and perhaps entering into a housing purchase with a few other people.

The vision we have is for this community house to be a refreshing place of deep spiritual rhythms, justice, peace, encouragement, and mission. A space that could be a place where we ourselves are built up for the journey, but also where the hurting and lost can find refuge and beauty and purpose. We have been in conversation with a few close friends in the area about these dreams, and the response has been encouraging. But we would still like to see the hearts of other couples and singles united under these principles before we move forward with anything permanent. Pray first that God’s leading in this will be clear. If this is of God, pray for this unity to occur, for a common passion for the neighborhood of East Boston to be forged or strengthened, for logistical and spiritual doors to open, for the supernatural to break into the natural. This is a potentially HUGE and fairly binding transition, so we and our conversation partners want to be clear that it is of God.

Please share with us anything you hear from the Lord, or just let us know you’re praying. And as always, pray with us Luke 10:2:

These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (NLT)

jesus camp

We finally got around to watching Jesus Camp tonight. It took a while for it to be our turn on the library queue … apparently this is quite the popular DVD. If you didn’t catch the buzz when it was in the theaters, here’s the description from Magnolia Pictures:

A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement.

JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of the critically acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in “God’s army.” The film follows these children at camp as they hone their “prophetic gifts” and are schooled in how to “take back America for Christ.” The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America’s political future.

When you see this film — if you can stomach it — you’ll be reminded that there exists in this country a movement of people whose sole metaphor for their role in our society is war, and who see this battle being waged almost completely in the halls of Congress, on the Senate floor, in the Oval Office, and in every bloody battle in which the U.S. is involved. To these people, America is God’s chosen nation, and it can do no wrong (including the current bloodbath in the Middle East), but only when a president of their mindset is at the helm. Militaristic in every sense of the word, this triumphalist group is training children from a young age to take up the sword rather than the towel, attempting to change the world for Christ by force. Filled with unquenchable passion and inspiring innocence, these children do their teachers’ bidding without question. This film depicts an entire generation being used by those much older than them to do their own, narrow-minded bidding, but wrapped in God language, of course. In essence, the triumphalists’ intentions are less about forming young people into the image of their Savior, but about organizing them into a voting block for their own agenda.

On the other side of the coin, the film depicts young children passionate about the faith that they’ve been passed. They are preaching, praying intently (more than I can say for myself at times), and sharing their faith. The film depicts this faith as being less about “fully living for today,” and more about the avoidance of all of life’s contaminents, but alas — truncated gospel or not, I was often touched by the fervor of these believers at such a young age.

So, I am conflicted. If part of this post sounds angry, that’s because it is. In fact, the more I think about the first part of this post, the angrier I get… I should go to bed. What do you think?

[Note: I posted on Jesus Camp when it was first released in theaters, linking to some good reflections from Greg Kendall-Ball]

redsoxline.jpg

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Here’s the last play of the game and the ensuing eruption from the capacity crowd. I love Boston baseball. Enjoy.

Correction: The barrage of consecutive longballs came in the third inning, not the fourth. You can see the highlights reel by clicking here.

12 marks of “new monasticism”

  1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
  2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
  3. Hospitality to the stranger
  4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
  5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
  6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
  7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
  8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
  9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
  10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
  11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
  12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

(Source: “12 Marks of a New Monasticism“)

The Winklers

Yesterday, Mary Winkler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter — a lesser charge than the first-degree murder the prosecution was pursuing — for the shotgun death of her husband, a Church of Christ preacher in Selmer, TN. The story has captured the attention of many because the Winklers had, from all outside appearances, the “perfect marriage.” Deeply involved in their church and community and raising three young children, this was the last couple you’d expect would endure such a tragedy.

So why did Mary fire a single shot into the back of her husband while he was sleeping, then take the gun and her children and flee the scene? She said this week as she took the stand that she only meant to aim the gun at her husband â&emdash; something he did to her on occasion â&emdash; to “force him to talk to her” about their marital problems. Problems she said included verbal and physical abuse, the threat of greater harm to her and her children, sexual problems (she testified that Matthew made her dress “slutty,” perform acts that made her feel uncomfortable, and watch pornography), and a husband who treated Mary like owned property. (she said he greatly restricted her friendships and activties)

As I was watching Mary’s testimony earlier this week while jogging on the treadmill at lunch, I reflected on what we can learn from this case. Certainly there is no excusing what Mary did, but there were clearly some unresolved issues — both personal and marital — that were not dealt with in a healthy manner.

My reflections:

1) The Winklers were a Christian couple â&emdash; paid ministers, even â&emdash; with problems. Every couple, no matter how spiritual or religious, has issues they must deal with. No couple must be put in a position, either by themselves or others, to hide the fact that they have problems.

2) The Winklers clearly had little true community accountability with whom they could share their struggles. Sure, they ministered with and were a part of a small Church of Christ in rural Tennessee … but was/is this a safe place to be authentic about who they really were?

3) Deeper than that, Mary Winkler had few, if any, individual women in whom she could confide. My guess is that Matthew was the same. We need the basic cellular building blocks of the church — the groups of 2 and 3 — for mutual edification on the journey. We cannot do this alone.

4) Many marriage issues need a third party, a mediator, to help us slog through the issues typically buried or glossed over. Did the Winklers ever see a counselor about their problems or talk to an elder or trusted person about any of it?

5) Finally, and most importantly, the Winkler case underscores the fact that our Christian faith is at its most basic level about being formed into the image of Christ. We do not sit back and wait for Heaven when we are baptized; baptized people begin to live differently, looking to the source of all Life as their model. Faith systems that do not put spiritual formation at the center of the Christian faith (instead elevating the afterlife, for instance) are severely truncated. How might the Winkler case have turned out differently if both Matthew and Mary were radically pursuing Christ?

Those were a few of my reflections … additions? Rebuttals?

zines on tragedy and virtual churches

There are those in the Christian faith who will say of any tragedy that it is still “part of God’s plan.” Such a theology does not respect how far senseless violence is from God and it does not let people fully grieve, let alone acknowledge the grief of God as stupid, senseless loss. This isn’t God’s planâ&emdash;this is sin, this is evil, this is turning away from everything that God wills for human flourishing.

— Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, President of Chicago Theological Seminary, for Newsweek.com’s “On Faith” series, following Monday’s tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus.

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From Slate.com’s “Human Nature” section:

Virtual churches are sprouting in Second Life. Many are online branches of real churches, with streaming video of live sermons. Rationales: 1) Cyberspace is another frontier for evangelism. 2) Where better to reach the unsaved? 3) It’s no weirder than the current practice of broadcasting to real-life satellite churches where congregants watch services on screens. Secular critique: Second Life should be for fantasies like sex, not drudgeries like church. Religious critique: Church, like sex, is more exciting in the flesh. Social critique: Real religion consists of good works in this world, not pretending to worship in another. Half-cynical view: Conversations in Second Life churches are less fake than the “good-sermon-nice-weather exchanges” in real churches. Fully cynical view: Most churchgoing is fake, so why not let your avatar do it for you, like sending your kids to Sunday school.

Ouch!

the marathon of life

Saturday was one of the best days in recent memory. In the morning, I (Steve) ran a 5K down on the Charles River, in which I finished 2nd with a time of 16:38, a personal best. (for those of you who don’t know, I’m training to run the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington on May 27, so these races are in preparation for the “big one”) Chrissy and Damon came out and cheered me on, which was awesome. So that was a good start.

That afternoon, we went with our friends Matt & Pam to the Sports and Fitness Expo associated with the Boston Marathon. These things are amazing — a convention center full of booths giving away free samples of every kind of healthy food and drink you can imagine. All the race sponsors also have booths, so it’s fun to browse all the running shoes and clothing and just be “in the presence” of thousands of Boston Marathon athletes.

While walking down one of the aisles, I noticed a teenager wearing an Abilene High School T-shirt. Next to him, I saw a couple of familiar faces: Tracy and Tina Fleet, members at Highland and friends from Abilene! I had forgotten that Tracy qualified for Boston last year at the Austin Marathon, and here was 3/4 of the family ready to watch Dad compete. We had an a great conversation with the Fleets, hearing from them about what God is doing in their family and giving them a brief update on what God is doing in Boston. But more than anything, the meeting was an unexpected time of encouragement with some amazing people. Funny how God does that, huh?

Note: Tracy finished his first Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 56 minutes, a formitable feat considering the gale-force winds and rain throughout much of the race.
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As I mentioned, Monday marked the 111th running of the Boston Marathon, arguably the most prestigious sporting event on the planet. It’s definitely my favorite sporting event, marathoning being my prime interest and passion (besides the Lord and my wife, of course). While I didn’t compete today, I did follow closely the action thanks to mile-by-mile leader updates and commentary on boston.com and the marathon Web site.

I was happy to see Robert Cheruiyot repeat as the men’s champion. The Kenyan finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 14.13 seconds, a time that was slowed by a Nor’Easter that brought high winds and torrential rains through about half the race. Like many of the Kenyan athletes, Cheruiyot’s story of his rise from extreme poverty (homeless and making 25 cents a day) to international success is amazing. And no surprise here — he attributes his survival and success to his hope and Savior, the “Almighty Father.” Take a moment to read a story about Cheruiyot that appeared in Sunday’s Boston Globe.