Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Christian Politics, rd 3

If you checked out yesterday, you may have noticed that a story about Shane Claiborne and the “Jesus for President” tour was the lead story on the front page for a while.  Here’s the link.  (ht)

Here’s an excerpt with a good quote from the interview with Shane:

They endorse no candidate and make no effort to sway the voters for one party or another.

After the speech in an interview with CNN, Claiborne said, “This is not about going left or right, this is about going deeper and trying to understand together. Rather than endorse candidates, we ask them to endorse what is at the heart of Jesus and that is the poor or the peacemakers and when we see that then we’ll get behind them.”

Claiborne says the movement of younger evangelicals is growing and looking at the Bible in more holistic terms. He is quick to say the call of Christ has more to do with how people live their lives on November 3 and 5 than how they vote on November 4.

“It’s certainly easy to walk into a voting booth every four years and feel like you’re going to change the world but that’s not going to do it.”

OK, so how can we begin to engage in the subversive politics of Jesus without selling out to a broken and corrupt system?  If it has more to do with how we live our lives on Nov. 3 and 5 than how we vote Nov. 4, then what would that kind of life look like?  I really am curious to know what you think…



the enculturation process continues

An honest attempt at humor with one of my neighbors that went south earlier tonight:

“Well, we didn’t have a White Christmas, and now, so much for a White New Year’s!” she called out cheerfully to me as Damon and I walked past her.

“Seriously! Chalk it up to global warming!” I torted.

“Global Warming? What’s that?” she responded.

Joke deflated.

“Uhhh … well, it’s the concept that the temperature of the earth increases a little each year, causing warmer climates throughout the world,” I responded. You smarty-pants scientists out there, just gimme a break; that was the most technical answer I could think up on the fly.
“And that’s a good thing? A bad thing?” she asked, still dead serious.
“Well, I think most people agree it’s a bad thing,” I responded. “For instance, polar ice caps in colder climates around the world are melting, beginning to destroy entire ecosystems.”

She looked at me like I had three heads and was speaking Hebrew. “Oh, OK … so what does that have to do with us — here?” she asked.

“People have told me that the main impact on us is in our lifestyles, since it is likely that at least some of how we live — our cars, for instance, with the fumes they emit into the atmosphere — have contributed to these problems,” I explained.

She smiled. “Well then, I’m glad I don’t drive a car!”

“Sorry — I didn’t mean for that to be a science lesson,” I said as I walked away.

“I needed it!” she replied. “Happy New Year!”

Note to self: Self, don’t assume. You know what assuming does. And while you’re at it, be OK with people not knowing stuff that you know. Their problems probably hit a little closer to home than fretting over the amount of greenhouse gas they emit. Oh, and Self — you’re not as smart as you think.


the challenges of traditional church in my neighborhood

As we spend more and more time in our new Boston neighborhood — in people’s homes or chatting in the park — we become even more convicted that the modes of evangelism that “worked” in the Bible Belt are moot on our block. (I’m growing more and more convinced that modes of evangelism that “work” in the Bible Belt — mainly the “if we build it, then they’ll come” model — have worn out their welcome even in the Bible Belt, but that’s a different post…)

One of the main reasons is the sheer diversity that exists in East Boston. There are over 56 nationalities that people in our zip code are a part of, and they speak over 20 languages. That’s one zip code in Boston.

As I asked in a post a few days ago, do we believe that God cares about the people of Boston — and the world — infinitely more than we do? Mateo correctly pointed out in the comments section a few days ago that though we often give this idea lip service, we seldom live it out. We rely too heavily on our own methodology or pragmatism. But Revelation paints a beautiful picture of a banquet at the end of time at which “every tribe, tongue, and nation” are represented at the banquet table of the Lord. This means every diverse people group from every socio-economic bracket imagineable. Not just “postmoderns” or college-aged or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or African Americans — the Afghan, Argentine, Spanish, and Ukrainian children of God will be present as well.

Do our current church planting/evangelism methods account for this great diversity of God’s children, many of whom live right around us?

We’ve been asking the question, “What would it take to see a vibrant family of Jesus in close reach — culturally and geographically — of every person in East Boston?” Well, for one, we need someone who speaks Khmer, the native language of the Khmer people in Cambodia, to communicate the gospel in that dialect while modeling the Way of Jesus in a culturally relevant form (there are 36 people in my zip code who put Khmer as their “language spoken at home”). And what about the 10,319 people (in 2000, mind you) in my zip code who speak Spanish at home? (from experience, most of these people speak Spanish when they’re not at home as well) And who is considering how the hundreds of Islamic people in my zip code will not simply accept a proposition about the existence and divinity of Jesus Christ, but will follow Him?

Believing that God will use us to reach a cornucopia of people besides the WASP types we’ve grown up knowing means recognizing that our limited methods and strategies are just that — limited. Can just one church reach all 56 people groups in East Boston? Can 10 churches? Can 100 churches? Well, if we redefine what “church” means, then maybe. If “church” means “radical followers of Jesus hearing their master’s voice and following His lead,” then watch out. This will take us among the East Bostonians from Greece, Guatemala, and Guyana, and to those speaking Polish, Portuguese and Persian. We will begin to incarnate the love of Christ among the people — all the people — that God loves so dearly, and transformation will begin to take place. God will add to his church those who are “red and yellow, black and white.”

The best news is that Steve and Chrissy aren’t responsible for making disciples of every person in these 56 people groups (and those are just the people groups as they are broken down by nationality … imagine if we broke down people groups in terms of interests, socio-economic status, neighborhoods, social group…). God added to the church those who were being saved in the Book of Acts, and we believe He will not only do this in Boston today — He will commission and send Khmer-speaking Cambodian Christians back to their own people to live out the Way of Christ. Moroccans will begin to speak of one from whom they do not need to earn their way to heaven.

Our responsibility is simply to listen to our Master and do what he says, going in love to “all the world.” For us, “all the world” can be found within two square miles.


Note: Originally, I titled this post, “why traditional church won’t work in my neighborhood,” but at 1:07 a.m. I got up and changed the title to the one you see now. God is using several forms and structures of Christian community in East Boston to reach the diverse people groups here, and for that I am grateful. Diversity — even in ecclesiology — is beautiful. What I am calling for is a deeper and more imaginative faith in what God can do through us to facilitate the planting of “vibrant families of Jesus within close reach — culturally and geographically — of every resident of Eastie.” This takes faith, and it takes all of us.

You can see all the nationalities and languages in my zip code by clicking here, clicking “search by zip code,” and entering “02128.” I’d encourage you to do the same for your zip code. You might be surprise who lives next door.

An Evening With Garrison Keillor

18.jpgIt was a feeling akin to the one that comes when you meet someone — a long, lost relative, let’s say — whom you’ve never met but always heard about. It was the flesh-and-bone version of the silky, baritone voice that previously existed only in myths we joined as they unfolded between six and eight on Saturday evenings.

This was my make-a-wish moment.

With just a few rows of chairs separating me from radio icon Garrison Keillor on Wednesday evening, it was as if my story was finally intersecting with those of radio “private eye” Guy Noir, the emotionless Lutherans of Lake Wobegon and the rest of the Prairie Home Companion variety ensemble. But as Dorothy might have said were she in my seat on Wednesday, “We’re not in radio anymore, Toto.”

Wednesday’s live show at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset was one of many stops on Keillor’s current cross-country gallivant lovingly named “The Rhubarb Tour” after the garden vegetable he has so shamelessly promoted on his show through the years. The tour also includes the traditional live recordings of A Prairie Home Companion in different U.S. cities each Saturday night, including Saturday’s season finale and Independence Day Special at the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood in Western Massachusetts.

For me, seeing the live show on Wednesday meant much more than just seeing how Fred Newman creates a world with sound effects during radio theater segments, though this was fascinating. Let me offer a couple metaphors for what this night meant. It was the first time I walked through Gate B on Yawkee Way after years of listening to Sox games on the radio. It was a week in the home of my grandparents, about whom I had been told countless stories. It was me as a twentysomething colliding with me as a five-, ten-, and 13-year-old boy.

I have never grown tired of Keillor’s affinity for the four-part harmony, skillful instrumentation and hauntingly beautiful gospel that have remained the backbone of the show for 32 years. The variety show is really an extension of its host, of course, seen in Keillor’s gliding across the stage during a tune he fancies or his lulling but passionate tales about life in small town Minnesota.

This fact is crystal clear, though: Keillor clearly enjoys each performance as much as the capacity crowds at each venue he plays. It is as if he himself travels to the “better-than-reality” worlds he helps create each Saturday night, and at times one sees his eyes close and head start to sway to a particularly gripping song, and one wonders if he will snap out of it in time to finish the show.

For so many Saturdays over the last 23 years and for two hours on Wednesday in Cohasset, I was transported into this world of Keillor’s — a good world — where hope replaces faithlessness, where laughter replaces tears, and, of course, “where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

It’s A Prairie Home Companion — the last substantive American radio program and a snapshot (and sound bite) of heaven, on Earth.

political (un)involvement

Politic3.jpgI had a talk the other day with our friends Aaron and Amy about politics and faith. “Steve probably took the radical leftist viewpoint,” you’re thinking. (I know, I know — I have in the past been guilty of being over-passionate about my viewpoint in political discussions).

But on Sunday, I took a different route. You see, we were discussing Christianity and political involvement, specifically as it pertains to advocating for the oppressed and downtrodden in our world. Even a few months ago, I might have followed Jim Wallis and the Sojo crew to the steps of the Capitol Building to lobby for a “moral budget.” Wallis was at the center of our discussion, as I told our friends that I’m not sure the answer to a “radical right” Christianity is a “radical left” Christianity. In other words, I said, I’m not sure Jim Wallis is good for the current political dialogue.

Aaron agreed with me to a point, but still holds that Christians have a responsibility to participate in the political process and even to take grievances to the appropriate representatives. (Note: Aaron is at Harvard’s Kennedy School earning his degree in public policy) Like I said, a few months ago, this would have been my stance. But I am becoming more and more non-participatory in my political leanings. Idealogically, I probably identify more with traditionally Democratic viewpoints, but as I gain a clearer understanding of life in the kingdom of God, the kingdoms of this Earth seem to fade just a bit. I’m beginning to identify more and more with the views of my Church of Christ forefather David Lipscomb, who purposefully abstained from any political involvement (beyond paying taxes) and was a staunch pacifist. I don’t think Lipscomb held these views because he was sowing his wild oats or was mad at America or was differentiating himself from the Methodists. I’m convinced that Lipscomb, like many others throughout Christian history, recognized that when one chooses the way of Christ, they have a different king and belong to a different kingdom.

I’m not saying Christians should never petition their governments on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Clearly, there are times when this is unavoidable and a moral obligation. But to rely on political action for social change — as I fear Wallis and others have — seems to minimize the Christian’s identity in this “new world order” of the kingdom of God.

DMV, temping, evening walk

Our Neighborhood from the Today began kinda crappy. Chrissy and I were at the Mass. Dept. of Motor Vehicles as they were opening (8:30 a.m.) to get our new driver’s licenses. Chrissy had checked out what all we needed to bring, of course, and we were definitely on the ball. After getting a number, filling out our paperwork, and waiting for about 20 minutes, they called 218 and 219. Chrissy had brought our townhouse lease as our proof of address, which, apparently, was her only (and most crucial) mistake. They couldn’t accept the lease. They need a utility bill or updated check (as if someone couldn’t fabricate that…) or basically anything besides our housing lease to confirm our address. Geez. One more example to prove my theory that the seventh circle of Hell is, in fact, the DMV.


It got better, however. We went to order checks from Bank of America and ended up getting them from a delightful Colombian man named Andres. He helped our day get better, for sure. Plus our checks were free.


It got even better… I got a call from my contact at the staffing group I joined yesterday saying that there was a company needing a copywriter to work a.s.a.p. today only. I wasn’t doing anything, so I decided to take it (plus, the fact that the hourly pay was more than four times what I made at HR Frontline at ACU didn’t hurt…). The company was young, intimate, and so, so cool. I seriously did my dream job today. Basically, this company works for HUGE companies providing hook-ups, favors, and perks to company VIPs. You name it, they can do it. They even got an autographed Babe Ruth game ball for one of their members. I spent the day boiling down their biggest “finds” (Brad Pitt’s sunglasses, rare jewelry, discontinued Salvador Dalí perfume — things like that) into a paragraph each for an upcoming Merrill Lynch benefits brochure. It was loads of fun.


But the highlight of the day, believe it or not, was yet to come. We walked Damon around the park down the street (the one that looks out over the harbor and skyline — click on the above photo), and EVERYBODY was out in the park playing some kind of sport or another or just enjoying the evening. There were latinos playing basketball, two groups playing soccer, an Arab woman eating a boxed dinner by the water, a group of old Asian women sitting under a tree… You get the picture. We live in a cornucopia of people. We met a little boy named Enmer, attracted to us at first by Damon (of course). He walked with us twice around the park, telling us that he plays soccer, will be in kindergarten next year, and lives in our neighborhood. He kept hugging Damon and talking to him, which was hilarious. When we told him that we needed to get Damon back to the house and he couldn’t come, he asked if we would be back. “I want to see you guys back here, OK?” he said. It was adorable. We are seeing that connecting to the community in real ways might be as simple as walking the dog in the park.


living in God’s story

This week I am in a challenging and Christ-centered class called “Living in God’s Story: Spiritual Formation in Missions.” We have talked about the spiritual disciplines, about church, about the nature of the Trinity, about our “missional God,” and many, many other things. Dr. Earl Lavender, director of missions at Lipscomb, is teaching the class and has shown a level of vulnerability and passion that I have rarely seen at the graduate level. It has been refreshing.

Here are some random quotes I wrote down from the class, in no particular order. Be blessed!

Scripture = paradigmatic stories about how God interacts in the world

We live in a world of competing stories. Everyone lives in a particular story, whether by default or intent. We need to re-introduce (for many people introduce) the story of God.

Salvation is living with Jesus.

If you’re God, why pray?

We need to believe that our life is to be fully absorbed in the kingdom story. It needs to consume us.

Mother Teresa: “I never pray for clarity. I only pray for faithfulness.”

Spiritual formation is learning to hear the voice of God in normal circumstances of life.

God created the universe as a symphony of praise, and spiritual disciplines help us to tune our hearts to that symphony.

Fantasize about God. Look for representations of God in everything we see.

What would church/our life/missions look like if everything we did was run through the understanding of God as relationship?

Every vocation is an opportunity to live out the kingdom life.

What we cannot now do through trying, the spiritual disciplines allow us to do through training.

The post-Resurrection life is not about doing the spectacular, it’s about helping people figure life out.