Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Confirmational Reactionist

This past weekend Laura and I went to visit our friends Mitchell and Carrie Henderson (along with their son Jackson and dog Jasper) in Wilmington. It was a beautiful weekend and the weather was perfect for our trip to the beach.

On Sunday we went to their church, Port City Community Church. It is one of these mega-churches that seems to be doing some really cool things. The message was given by their lead pastor, a sharp looking guy who is an excellent communicator. During his message, I realized I was sitting next to a Confirmational Reactionist. To my left was a woman, and I noticed that anytime the pastor said something funny, she would immediately start to chuckle and then look at me to see if I was laughing as well. She was looking at me to confirm that I was sharing her reaction - a Confirmational Reactionist.

Perhaps at some point in your life you have found yourself sitting next to a Confirmational Reactionist. If you cannot remember a time, then you are probably one yourself.

Well, I am the type of person who likes to mess with other people's minds, so here is what I did. When the woman would laugh and then look to me, I did not start laughing and look back at her nodding my head in agreement. Instead, I would pretend in my mind that the pastor said something really offensive and I sported a look as if I were sincerely disgusted. I have no idea what went through her mind upon looking at my sour face, but it does not matter because the whole ordeal was humorous to me.

It is the little things in life that amuse me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Last weekend Laura and I got to go to New York to stay with some of our friends who live in Brooklyn [Thanks for hosting us Lisa & Dustin, we had a blast!]. We were only there for three days, but we did a lot in those days.

The whole time I was in the city, I was overwhelmed by the number of people and the energy that the city creates. It blows my mind to think about 8 million people living in such a concentrated area. Each person has hopes, dreams, struggles, fears, relationships, etc. So many want to make it big, so many are just concentrating on surviving. This world we live in is so amazingly complex. And the complexity of our world is what makes it simultaneously beautiful and difficult/overwhelming. Perhaps no other place in this world highlights this point as well as New York.

Here is a list of the things we did on the trip:
  • Ate at two great pizza joints (Grimaldi's & John's)
  • Liberty Island
  • Ellis Island
  • Times Square
  • Saw Les Miserables on Broadway
  • Saw an Irish rock band at a local pub (our friend was the drummer)
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church
  • Central Park
  • Went to Magnolia Bakery to mack on some cupcakes
Good Times!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Solomon 2.0

I love it when you have a moment when the light bulb goes on and you see something you never saw before. I had one of this moments yesterday when I was listening to a sermon on my ipod. It had to do with the title given to Jesus as the "Son of David." I had always understood that this title meant that Jesus was from the same blood line as David, which is true as shown in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. I also understood that this title identified Jesus as one who had a heart after God, as David did. Perhaps the distinguishing quality about David's life, even through all of the ups and downs, was his passion for God.

While these understandings certainly fit, I learned another way to look at this title. On a literal level, David had several sons. The one that we know the most about and the one who succeeded David as king was Solomon. Solomon had it all: wealth, wisdom, and power. David was a very successful warrior; so successful that most of the Israelite enemies had been decimated and Solomon was set up to reign in relative peace. Solomon was in a prime position to make God's dream for the world a reality. He had the resources to see that everyone's needs were met and that shalom could come on the earth. The whole world watched Solomon to see what he would do with the abundant resources that were given to him.

And you know what, he failed. He let the wealth and power go to his head. He allowed foreign wives to distort and compromise his understanding of the Torah. He used the abundant resources to glorify himself.

So, I think that part of what it means that Jesus is the Son of David is that he is the second Solomon. Not in the sense that he had all of this wealth and power. Actually, Jesus was born into quite opposite circumstances (see Luke 2). Jesus was the second Solomon in the sense that he had abundant resources. After all, everything that is God's also belongs to Jesus (because Jesus is God!). Jesus was the second Solomon because he was in a prime position to make God's dream for the world a reality. He had the resources to see that everyone's needs were met and that shalom would come to the earth.

And you know what, he wildly succeeded. He resisted the temptation to make his blessings all about him (see Matthew 4). He lived such a life that still inspires millions of people 2000 years later. He gave everyone a glimpse of what the world can look like when God reigns (the Kingdom of God). He even entered into sin and death and destroyed it to remove all fear of living the way he did.

The truth of the matter is that we all have been given abundant resources. So whose path are we going to follow? Solomon or Solomon 2?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Bible in 1 Year

I have this strange fetish that I have to read every book I start from cover to cover. I also do this with newspapers and magazines. I am not sure why, but I am very uncomfortable with not finishing a book once I have started it and I do not like to read random chapters out of a book or start in the middle or do anything except read it cover to cover. I know that this goes back to when I was a kid. I can remember that the library at my elementary school had an entire section of biographies of historical figures. These books were written for children, but they were quite large (~150-200 pages). For some reason, I decided to read an entire row of that section, and that is exactly what I did. I started with the first book, read it cover to cover, and then went down the row until I had completed all of them. I recall the sense of satisfaction from knowing that I had read the entire book and then the entire row. I now find myself struggling to enjoy the book and what I am learning as much as I simply enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I read the whole thing.

Well, I say all of that to explain my actions in reading the Bible in 1 year*. For one of my New Year's Resolutions, I decided that I needed to read the entire Bible. So, I set a course of reading 4 chapters a day, which means that I would probably have finished in late October. However, I have become increasingly frustrated with falling behind in my reading and almost feeling a burden to accomplish this task. So, rather than simply giving up, I decided to get more aggressive. As you may have noticed, I finished all of the books that I was currently reading this past weekend. I did that so I could focus all of my reading time and energy on the Bible. Now I am not going to read according to any specific schedule, I am just going to read as much as I can to get through it as quickly as possible. I hope to have the whole thing done in a few months.

This probably sounds crazy to an outside observer, perhaps even to the point that this will do more damage than good. I recognize that it is a little disturbing to take the mindset that I am going to read only my Bible so I can "get through it as quickly as possible." However, reading like this is deeply ingrained into who I am as a person. I do not think I could live with the idea of just giving up something I started to do. My plan is to read the Bible all the way through so I can begin my next project of taking cohesive passages and studying them in depth. I may be a little nuts in the head, but what harm can it do to read the whole Bible?

*I consider the Bible to be more than a book - I believe the Bible is the Word of God. For this reason, my rule of needing to read a book cover to cover does not necessarily apply to the Bible. I have no problem reading random passages in the Bible and skipping around from book to book or chapter to chapter. However, this will be the 8th time that I have read the Bible cover to cover. The amazing thing to me is that the more I read the Bible, the more I realize how much I have to learn and how much I do not understand. I do not think the Bible is a book that can be mastered (at least not in this lifetime).

The Way to Love

"The Way To Love" by Anthony De Mello is a series of short meditations from this spiritual giant. De Mello writes so clearly and so simply, and yet his words hit you like a ton of bricks. This book is an ideal one to keep around (it is very small in size) because it is something you can pick up randomly and challenge yourself. Each chapter is only a few short pages long and will only take you about 5 minutes to read. However, the words stick in your head and challenge your thinking in radical and surprising ways. I plan to make this one of the books that I re-read several times throughout the course of my life. Below, I will share the 2 main thoughts that I got out of the book this time, and my reactions to those thoughts.

1. All negative emotions come from your attachments. For De Mello, the way to happiness (that is, being content) is recognizing and removing your attachments to this world. He argues that since we were born, we have been programmed to be attached to the things of this world. Since I read this above statement, I have challenged myself to reflect every time I have recognized having a negative emotion. And I have come to conclude that I think De Mello may be right. How many times have we been frustrated, angered, upset over not having something or when others treat us in a way that we do not think we deserve? When we become attached to the idea that we are defined by our jobs, possessions, acquaintances, etc., all sorts of negative emotions will arise when our image is challenged.

2. It is only when we can honestly say to others "I leave you free to be yourself" that we can truly begin to love them. This statement really struck me. I can think of so many times in my life when my love for others was contingent on them conforming to my desires for their life. I can also think of many times when my love for others was contingent on how well they treated me. I think all humans have this tendency to desire to make others into their own image and to treat others in the same manner that they are treated. I suppose it takes a divine or Christlike love to love others just they way they are, regardless of how they treat you. I am so thankful that this is the way God loves!

A Grace Disguised

"A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss" by Jerry Sittser is a book that has been sitting on my nightstand since October. Every now and then, when the opportunity presented itself, I would pick up the book and read it before I went to bed. The book is basically a long reflection from Sittser about dealing with loss. Sittser seemed to have it all: he was a Christian college professor with a wife and four kids. Then, out of nowhere, his family was hit by a drunk-driver. In that accident, he lost his wife, his mother, and his daughter. The book is Sittser's well thought out response to this tragedy.

I thought this book was fantastic. It did such an excellent job of exploring what can be learned from a situation like this without failing to acknowledge the pain, suffering, anguish, etc. of death and losing a loved one. I read this book during a period of dealing with loss in my life (albeit a much milder loss of losing a church community) and I found it to be incredibly helpful.

This book is a good one to keep in the back of your mind as a resource to give someone who is going through loss.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

"Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" by Ronald Sider is one of those really difficult books to read. Not in the sense that the content matter was too difficult, but in the sense it was too painful and revealing. The book offers Sider's sweeping look at the issue of poverty in our times. The book is absolutely jam packed with disturbing statistics and stories that illuminate the issue of poverty. The lens through which Sider approaches this problem is through the lens of following Jesus. Quite simply, if you follow Jesus, then you must be concerned with the poor. And for us Christians in North America who have more resources than we probably realize, the issue of poverty is our issue.

As I read this book I became easily overwhelmed. After awhile, my mind became numb to statistic after statistic and story after story of devastating poverty for much of the world's population and obese abundance for a small portion of the world's population. It is so hard for me to imagine that so many are suffering. I live in America and every day I see images that communicate to me that so many have even more than I do and that I am insufficient unless I have more. Books like this one help to tell the truth about our world and destroy the American mindset that what we have is insufficient. Sider concludes the book with a call to conversion: both on a individual and corporate level. In regards to the call for corporate conversion, I understand that it is sinful systems and institutions that cause a lot of the problems and that these structures must be changed if true repentance is going to happen. I am just now learning some ways to engage these "powers," but for right now, it seems too big of a task to wrap my mind around.

In regards to individual conversion, Sider basically calls us to a life a simplicity. We need to live more simply so that others can simply live. I understand that changing structures is where the problem will be solved, but I think it is important for everyone who is serious about this to begin to change on an individual level. Sider gives a list of practical suggestions for living more simply that I really liked, so I thought I would share them here:

1. Question your own lifestyle, not your neighbor's
2. Reduce your food budget by gardening, substituting vegetable protein for animal protein, joining a food co-op, fasting regularly, opposing the flagrant use of grain for making beer and other alcoholic beverages, and setting a monthly budget and sticking to it.
3. Lower your energy consumption by keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower during winter months, use public transportation, bicycles, carpools, and feet for transportation, wash your dishes instead of using a dishwasher, use a fan instead of an air conditioner.
4. Resist consumerism by laughing regularly at TV commercials, make a list of dishonest ads and boycott those products, etc.
5. Buy and renovate an old house in the inner city.
6. Reduce your consumption of nonrenewable natural resources by resisting obsolescence (buy quality products when you must buy), sharing tools, appliances, lawnmowers, etc. with others, organizing a "things" closet in your church for items used occasionally.
7. See how much of what you spend is for status and eliminate it.
8. Refuse to keep up with clothing fashions.
9. Enjoy what is free.
10. Live on a welfare budget for a month.
11. Give your children more of your love and time rather than more things.