Thinking Out Loud

May 26, 2018

Offensive Jesus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.


Aaron — who looks a lot younger in the picture than he really is — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared earlier this week at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission.

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May 3, 2018

Danielle Strickland Communicates with Passion

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Just a little over a week ago, I was not familiar with non-fiction author Danielle Strickland. I noticed that someone in a Facebook group was trying to raise awareness of the author, so I decided to do some basic research. I learned that this Canadian author has written for Monarch, NavPress and IVP (a rather impressive list) and in addition to 2014’s A Beautiful Mess had two books issued in 2017, The Zombie Gospel: The Walking Dead and What it Means to Be Human, and The Ultimate Exodus: Finding Freedom from What Enslaves You.

I wrote up something — some of which is intact in what you’re reading here — for a trade blog I edit and honestly thought Danielle’s name wouldn’t land on my computer screen in the near future, until I sat down on Saturday night for my usual routine of watching the service at Willow Creek. There I discovered that she would be bringing the weekend message for the final week of their Celebration Of Hope series.  

Well, let’s put it this way: She nailed it!

And then something else happened. After watching the sermon at the 5:30 Saturday service, I also watched the same sermon from the 11:00 Sunday service. Only a day later. One powerful, passionate storyteller/preacher.

On Twitter she calls herself an author, speaker and social justice advocate. According to the biography on her website,

Danielle Strickland is currently based in Toronto, Canada. Danielle loves Jesus and she loves people. Her aggressive compassion has loved people firsthand in countries all over the world where she has embraced, learned, cared, evangelized, taught, and exhorted individuals and crowds to surrender to the boundless love of Jesus.

Danielle is the author of 5 books… She is host of DJStrickland Podcast, ambassador for Compassion International and stop the traffik. Co-founder of Infinitum, Amplify Peace and The Brave Campaign. Danielle is a mom of 3, wife to @stephencourt and has been affectionately called the “ambassador of fun”.

Her denominational background is Salvation Army and her husband, Stephen Court, is also a writer who has done three books about the organization’s history.

In July of last year she released The Ultimate Exodus. A page at NavPress explains the title:

God didn’t just say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” He also said to the Israelites—and He says to us—“Let go of what enslaves you, and follow me to freedom.”

The Ultimate Exodus opens our eyes to the things that enslave us, and it sets us on the path of our own exodus. Danielle Strickland revisits the story of the Exodus to see what we can learn from a people who were slaves and who learned from God what it means to be free. We discover as we go that deliverance goes much deeper than our circumstances. God uproots us from the things we have become slaves to, and He takes us on a long walk to the freedom He created us to enjoy. (ISBN 978-1-63146-647-2)

A page at IVP describers her unauthorized look at a hit television show, released in October:

What can zombies teach us about the gospel?

The hit show The Walking Dead is set in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by mindless zombies. The characters have one goal: survive at all costs. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much the show can teach us about God or ourselves. Or is there?

Author and speaker Danielle Strickland didn’t expect to be drawn to a show about zombies, but she was surprised by the spiritual themes the show considers. In The Zombie Gospel she explores the ways that The Walking Dead can help us think about survival, community, consumerism, social justice, and the resurrection life of Jesus. After all, in the gospel God raises up a new humanity—a humanity resuscitated and reanimated by the new life of the Holy Spirit. (978-0-8308-4389-3)

I am so blessed to have been able to hear her Danielle speak, so I wanted to take some of what I wrote last week and share it here. Until Saturday, the weekend message at Willow will be the default service at willowcreek.tv.

November 2, 2017

Same Kind of Different as Me: An Illustration of the Hands and Feet of Christ

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

Based on the book of the same name which is based on a true story, Same Kind of Different as Me is the unlikely story of the intersection of two worlds between an international dealer in expensive fine art and a homeless man who spent much of his life working overtime as a slave. Ron Hall is living the good life that involves interacting with high society when his wife Deborah drags him to reluctantly serve at the Union Gospel Mission. The 2007 book from Thomas Nelson later gave way to a small group curriculum as it raises many issues.

I had only minimal familiarity with the book — I knew it had sold well in some areas, which can be hard for a biographical work even if it reads better than some fiction — when invited to see the movie which, as you read this, is at the end of its second week in North America.

My wife and I were quite impressed. She even paid it the ultimate compliment (for her) by saying something as we left the theater, “It wasn’t a Christian movie;” by which she meant there wasn’t an overt gospel message leading toward key characters getting saved at the end. Indeed, this is actually the ideal Christian movie, where things are shown instead of told, and where Christian values are being lived out, rather than simply taught. Truly this is the Christian film you view with that unchurched neighbor, coworker or relative.

But it takes more than just a great screenplay to make a great picture. The additional points would go for some very plausible casting — I felt like I already know Ron and Deborah — and some rather breathtaking scenery, not to mention the visual image of the place in the woods where the homeless of that community spend the night.

The movie raises the possibility of much discussion about the type of activity which truly helps the homeless and gives them dignity and how, at the end of the day, we’re not all that different.


Thanks to Tim at Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for the tix.

 

July 6, 2017

Fixing the Problem

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

“We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside… but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr., from “A Time to Break the Silence” (sermon, Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967) 

February 20, 2017

Two Worlds: The Cuba Caste System

poverty-in-veradero

Perhaps it’s not a caste system the way we normally use the phrase, but there was something eerie about the way two worlds seem to coexist in Cuba: The tourists and those who work in tourism.

In one resort at Varadero, a tunnel is used to get workers from the street into the basement level of the hotel. There were no doubt staff entrances at all of the 40-or-so resorts on the peninsula, but it was the tunnel that caught our eye.

Workers arrive by bus, not the air-conditioned ones known to the tourists, or even the double-decker versions, but older, hotter, more crowded ones.

For the non-tourists, there is also a different currency. We paid for things in CUCs, the convertible, tourist version of the Cuban Peso. Residents pay in CUPs. One Cuban Convertible Peso equals 24.728383 Cuban Pesos. Some stores accept the one, some accept the other, some accept both.

So we find ourselves in a country where there are two sets of currencies, two sets of buses, two types of taxicabs, etc…

…Another lifetime ago, I worked for a musician who played a number of Jewish venues including the banquet halls of major hotels as well as synagogues. It was customary to unload and load equipment through a service elevator or even through a kitchen. I am personally acquainted with what it means to be part of the service staff in a place where, on the other side of the wall, wealthy people are enjoying unlimited food, drink and entertainment.

There was something about this trip however where it reflected differently. I was, for seven short days, one of the rich tourists. As noted in yesterday’s article, for our tour guide to stay one week in this place, he would have to spend the equivalent of 19 months’ wages. As noted the day before, there is something unsettling at the fragility of the curtain which separated our tour guide from we tourists.

I say that not because I’m not wanting to associate with the waiters and chambermaids, but rather because I don’t want them to be invisible; don’t want them to have to be quietly ushered in through a tunnel…

…Last week in the Canadian parliament, a member stood up and mentioned in passing that before his government career he was a bus driver. And guess what reaction that got?

The members of the opposition party laughed at him.

I want to emulate the Nazarene who “humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.” I want to be able to come alongside the waiter who is carrying too many plates, or grab the other corner of the bed-sheet while the maid makes up the room.

But the world doesn’t like it when those barriers are not firmly set in place.


Thanks for your indulgence during these 3 articles. There’s one more which will come a few days later, as I want to share our impressions in a tourist environment that is devoid of Americans and consider the potential of an influx of US tourists on Cuba.

February 19, 2017

Third World Exposure

havana-back-streetsI have been privileged to work in a variety of areas of ministry: For a local church, for a Christian book distributor, for a Christian music distributor, for a Christian book publisher, for two Christian camp ministries, for a Christian television ministry, for an international Bible distributor, as a teacher in a Christian school, for a local Christian newspaper, for two nationally distributed Christian magazines, for a Christian arts organization… well, you get the idea.

Always missing from my resumé was what I termed “third world missions exposure.” Essentially, I am a missions trip that never happened. I became aware of this at one of the camps I worked for:

The mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general…but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war…Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea. I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

As I mentioned yesterday, we finally had an opportunity to go to Cuba last week. Our first time on an airplane in 28 years. We debated whether as a nation, Cuba can be considered “third world.” My wife suggested “second world.” Political science is not my long-suit, but given Cuba’s ties to the former Soviet Union, it might fit the definition. These days however, the term describes economic status, not political alignment. Cuba is not undeveloped; their education system alone ought to be the envy of many western countries.

veradero-back-streets

Regardless, it was definitely my first direct exposure to poverty on a scale I never envisioned. Further, I never imagined how much it would affect me, seeing this now, at this stage of life. Would it have shaped my life differently to have this experience much younger? Perhaps, but in ways I will never know.

Posting a number of pictures to Facebook, my wife wrote:

When we got home, we calculated that for our tour guide to stay one week in this place, he would have to spend the equivalent of 19 months’ wages. Even the tour he hosted would be a months’ work.

I think knowing that helps me to appreciate the experience and to enjoy it more, while recognizing my privileged place and being humbled by it.

We are forever changed.

havana-downtown

 

 

February 18, 2017

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:44 am

cardenas

It wasn’t exactly breaking the fourth wall as is usually defined, but it was a moment in our trip to Cuba where the wall between the lives of the villagers and the rich tourists on the air-conditioned bus was momentarily shattered.

Sitting on the bus weaving through a number of towns and villages was exactly what we wanted to see. “Today,” the tour guide intoned, “You will see the real Cuba.” It took me awhile to think about the implications of this: In other words, what you’re seeing in the tourist resorts is not the real Cuba. Actually both tour guides on both days used “the real Cuba” phrase.

Our guide the second day was more than willing to talk about every aspect of village life. What things costs. How the free university education system works. The age to vote. The parliamentary system. Asking us questions about how similar things transpire back home. Sitting at the front of the bus each time so that we had access to the tour guides was strategic on my part. It meant being able to engage in conversation and ask questions throughout the entire 9 hours (the village tour) or 11 hours (Havana).

In a very strange way, the tour guide was, in my mind at least, slowly becoming one of us. Speaking perfect English (in the first case) or both English and French (in the second case.) It was easy to forget that the well-dressed young man sitting one row in front of me holding a microphone was actually a member of the culture in one of the towns where stopped.

That is until…

I was looking around and not fully paying attention when he picked up the microphone and said, “My house is two blocks that way. You can all come for dinner; we’re having rice and eggs.”

It took a minute for that to sink in. I quietly whispered to my wife, “Did he just say…”

In that moment I was totally wrecked…

…When we got back to the hotel I told this story a few times to some other people we had met from Canada. But I couldn’t do it without breaking up.

It’s one thing to sit on a tour bus — the analogy we used a few times was of people traveling to Pennsylvania to look at the Amish — but it’s a whole other thing when you’ve spent several hours getting to know personally one of the people who is part of the tableau spreading out before you.

It wasn’t a particularly attractive neighborhood.* Not one you or I would choose. And for dinner that night, back at the resort, we would be eating far more than rice and eggs.

I’ll write more tomorrow about the impact the poverty had on me.


*We didn’t take a lot of pictures in that particular town. The one at the top is borrowed from a tourism site. It’s a contemporary image, not something out of a movie recreation. The image below is one we took in Havana. We’re 99% sure that’s someone’s home. She was talking on the phone up to a 30 seconds before we took the picture.

habana

March 19, 2016

Jesus For President (It’s better than some of the current options)

While I’ve re-run many articles over the course of the blog, book reviews have not been among them. Book mentions are usually unique to a particular time and place and only relevant while the book is new. The attention of reviewers and readers alike then moves on to whatever is next.

But I was drawn to this short review because the book is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in this an election year; not to mention the release of a 10th anniversary edition of the author’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. So grab some cooking grease to power the bus engine as we head out on the road once again…

“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called ‘readers’ which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. 

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. It’s about living all this out on a daily basis. 


Keep up with Shane and partner-in-crime Tony Campolo at RedLetterChristians.org

A year after this was review was published, I later covered the Jesus for President DVD which is still widely available. You can read that review here.

 

 

February 15, 2016

The Changing Face of the Global Church

“The Meeting of the Waters” in Manaus, Brazil: Two visually distinct rivers converge to form the Amazon River

I am no doubt a better person for the various books I have reviewed here over the years., but honestly, I’ve probably forgotten some of them. There is however one title that I still find myself quoting in discussions, particularly on the subject of missions, but often about the global church in general. 

Two very different missionaries are presented, one the author calls “Mission Marm,” the other is “Apple Guy.” Two vastly different mindsets having to join together not unlike the branches of the river above referenced in the book’s title. Reading that analogy alone is worth the price of admission.

This was the second half of a two part review I did  — here’s a link to  the original first part — of a 2010 book by Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church (David C. Cook, still in print). The book is based on what the author calls “The Global Church Listening Tour;” one-hour interviews with 151 church leaders in nineteen countries.



As Canadians, we often find ourselves despairing over the USA-centric approach of many popular Christian books. So one expects a book with a ‘global’ perspective to transcend any particular nation. However, in some chapters more than others, Kling would relate his findings to the church in America. In this case that’s a good thing. If the book were just theoretical it would not accomplish much. Some of the real value here — although it’s never truly spelled out in ‘macro versus micro’ terms — is the application of what’s happening globally to the local church; the church you and I attend on weekends. But then again, this is a very, very ‘macro’ kind of book.

So what are the seven currents? There’s a great economy of language in Fritz Kling’s writing style, so I can’t do this adequately, but here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Mercy — Kling uses an anecdotal approach in this social justice section: a young woman who gives up a promising law career to work with oppressed people in India; a young man who is a native of India who operates a technology firm guided by Sermon-on-the-Mount principles.
  2. Mutuality — It’s hard to function in the global church if you think you or the country you come from has all the answers; and that bias leads to further believing that you (or we) should be the ones in charge. He also suggests that people in other parts of the world don’t understand our various debates about practices or behaviors or doctrines, since they simply take the Bible at literal face value.
  3. Migration — There are three issues here: Worldwide migration patterns in general; the migration taking place from rural areas to cities at a time when churches are fleeing the urban core for the suburbs; and the ministry opportunities that exist when you have displaced, and therefore lonely people all around.
  4. Monoculture — This chapter looks at the dominance of the English language as a symptom of the much larger, accelerating spread of Western culture, and in particular, Western youth culture.
  5. Machines — Kling begins with a look at technology as a tool in disaster relief. (He mentions a 2008 cyclone that hit Burma. As the book was being published a major earthquake struck Haiti.) He moves on to discuss the role of technology in evangelism, and backtracks to show how that motive led to some other technological applications now enjoyed worldwide.
  6. Mediation — Kling delineates several areas where there is a need for reconciliation and mediation. He notes this will be a challenge for Westerners to function in a world that has become, in particular, very anti-American. He speaks in detail of the conflicts that exist, “not between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and other [more militant] Muslims.” Kling believes Christians should be leading the way toward reconciliation on all fronts.
  7. Memory — Knowing the past can be a blessing and a curse, but in many places, Kling sees more downside than upside, with entire cultures having a depreciated view of themselves. Still, Christians need to fully enter into, understand and even embrace the history of the place where they serve, and from there aim to bring hope and wholeness.

As I originally stated, I still hope this book finds the wider audience it is deserving of. This is a book for pastors and missiologists for sure, but I think it’s also a title that business leaders, church board members and people who simply care about the future of the church should want to study.

December 30, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The creator of Veggie Tales and What's In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

The creator of Veggie Tales and What’s In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

Normally we take a week off around this time, but there were a few things in the file; and then we found a few more. And then a few more.

The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters

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