Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Will Nails It

Seriously. Read the whole post.

Some of you feel that I give George Bush a tougher beating than other politicians. You're right. I do, in large part because he made himself an archetype for the American Church and his actions interpret the gospel whether some of us like that or not. His very words, statements like the following, 'When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart.' (ref.) place him as a symbol for the Church in the eyes of so many who have no concept of Jesus. He made his faith an issue. Many of us now simply call him to live to the standard he himself has set and say, 'I'm sorry'.

I am tired of the rhetoric used to rally nationalism under multiple false pretenses and at the root of all, fear. I am tired of the blind support for this man. I just wish he would admit wrong. This whole 'tough guy' mentality is just too much and is not Christ-like whatsoever. Seriosly George, own up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

On Contextualization...

In Malaysia, we spoke a great deal about contextualization... and it's many levels and applications and so on.

What do I mean with contextualization? It is a way of (to use NT Wright's language) appropriating the Gospel into different contexts. Not being so concerned with specific words, but more with concepts. Learning from and listening to a culture to see where God is already at work and then showing how Jesus, this Jewish prophet and Universal savior, fulfills their tradition... and confronts it... setting things in their proper place.

Let me give an example for some context about contextualization. In the old world, missionaries would come in to foreign lands and convert the natives and give them Western religion. They would make them leave all their heritage and culture to embrace Western culture along with Christianity (and diseases and economic practices and all the other stuff that often came with Christianity and colonialism).

This is not contextualization. This is a complete lack of it.

Contextualization might look more like the book Peace Child, where missionaries go into a culture to listen to their stories, learn their language, begin to understand the fabric that is their culture, look for metaphors, then appropriate the story of God to them in their own language... and by language, I don't just mean spoken/written language, I mean in their own cultural language.

So, for a Muslim to follow Issa al-Mesih (Jesus), it might look a lot like worshipping God in their mosque, continuing to pray to God 5 times a day... and perhaps rediscovering God and allowing God to redeem the redeemable of their culture.

We have talked a great deal this past weekend about contextualization. It is a big deal in a non-Western country with several folk tribes still in tact. What is the story of God in an Eastern context?

More on this later...

Kia Meng speaks...

My new friend has some oustanding thoughts.

Contrary to popular belief and all the cheap slogans about "Jesus is the answer", what if Christ is the troubling question, the One who provokes, the one who stirs up a controversy, who confronts our complacency and heartlessness in a tragic world?Jesus is no simple answer, a nice finishing tag-line to all man's troubles and problems... He unsettles our way of living and doing things... He did not explain and give easy answers to the problems of humanity... He got involved... He become one with the oppressed and hopeless... His was a most magnificent defeat... The death of an insignificant rebel in the backwater of the Roman Empire... His story is meant to be forgotten. The victim or loser has no voice. Rome and Jerusalem of the priests are those meant to write history... Still his story got out... under the very noses of powerful enemies...

Somewhat contextless photos...

Just in case you haven't been following our Sharps Abroad blog, here are some photo galleries to get you updated...sorta.

  • Bangkok 1

  • Bangkok 2

  • Phuket 1

  • Phuket 2

  • Phuket 3

  • Phi-Phi 1

  • Phuket 4

  • Hospital

  • Feeling Better

  • Nightlights

  • Malaysia 1

  • Malaysia 2

  • Malaysia 3

  • Malaysia 4
  • Language and Religion

    Sivin told me that the Malay language does not have verb tenses... and it is very similar to Indonesian. Thai doesn't have verb tenses either... Oh, and Sivin told me that Chinese doesn't either.

    I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most all east Asia (or all Asian?) languages do not pre-occupy themselves with tenses. A verb is happening... it has not happened, nor will it happen in the future... it just is happening.

    Of course you use qualifiers to explain when it will actually take place. Like instead of saying, "I visited Malaysia" you would say, "I visit Malaysia yesterday." Get it? No verb tenses.

    Well, all Latin-based languages (which is pretty much all of the languages in the West, no?) have very developed verb tenses. This last semester alone, I learned at least 6 tenses in Spanish. And that was one semester!

    My point: Semitic religions, which some might call religions of the West (even though they aren't really) are preoccupied with history because the God YHWH actually intervenes at specific times in history and is, in fact, taking history somewhere... but in Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religions, etc.) there is no sense of timeline because the life is cyclical, not linear.

    Cyclical, not linear. And you can see traces of this worldview here in their languages. Huh. I just thought it was an interesting observation.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2005

    Michael's High Opinion of Scripture

    I wish Michael blogged more often...

    The bible is not a living being. It cannot be trusted, it cannot make mistakes. It is neither fallible nor infallible. I believe treating the bible as if it were the fourth aspect of God, a plurality of four rather than the trinity, is a peculiar idolatry of the present day church. Father (capital F), Son (capital S), Spirit (capital S), Bible (capital B).

    Read the whole entry...

    Nightlights in Phuket Hospital

    If you haven't been following, Holly and I spent last night at Phuket Hospital trying to get her better. Didn't sleep much because of all the bright lights in the room. A few to share... perhaps would make good desktops? You decide.

    Here is the whole gallery of them.

    Here are a couple examples...

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    Relationally- versus Goal-driven Cultures

    So, an ongoing conversation this trip has been the differences in relationally-driven cultures (like here in Thailand) and goal-driven cultures (like in the States).

    The conversation perhaps began last week when we felt like we weren't doing enough to qualify us being here. It's hard to feel like you have made a difference when you haven't accomplished that many goals.

    We began to notice rather quickly that the Thai people were grateful that we were here, not just to do things, but to simply be with them. Do you see what I mean?

    Had an interesting conversation with Phil (a neighbor down the street who has been in and out of Thailand with his family for over 15 years doing compassion work and church-planting) this afternoon about how so many short-term mission trips are so goal-oriented that to just sit and be with people for days at a time can feel a bit like a waste of a trip...especially when you've only a few days to work.

    But we are seeing that what this culture appreciates more than anything seems to be spending quality time together...hanging out after services, joining each other for meals, etc. I could go on, but I am just beginning to have this conversation in my head, so best not to talk too soon.

    But it has got me thinking a great deal about how we qualify things back home: numbers, projects, services as opposed to relationships, relationships, relationships. And of course there is a caution to overly-relational dynamics, that is, that they might turn so inward as to forget the world outside. But if a community is truly relational then it will embrace various types of relationships, both inside and outside of their immediate sphere(s).

    I'm still sick...

    ...but Holly's sicker...

    Check out our sharps-abroad blog for more journals and for photo galleries.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2005

    More on Shalom

    So, whilst in Thailand I am (and Ben and Holly are as well) reading Walsh and Keesmatt's Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire and it has been a wonderful, helpful, timely read.

    I am only on chapter two but am quickly realizing that these two are onto something incredibly profound in understanding this ancient text.

    I just read a brief description of shalom and, since people have been asking what my tattoo means, I figured it'd be good to share it...

    ...One [shouldn't] miss the overtones of the Hebrew notion of shalom. Here is a word that is overflowingly rich in meaning. On one level it refers to well-being, may things go well with you. But this is a well-being that encompasses all of life. Shalom has to do with blessing, richness, abundance, and a far-reaching harmony that permeates and characterizes all of our relationships.

    Yes! And that's what I have been trying to explain the tattoo as: Not just 'peace', but 'wholeness' and 'far-reaching harmony with Creator and creation'. Yes!

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    Buddhism for Dummies

    In preparing for my talk tonight on Buddhism, I figured I'd throw a little somethin-somethin up for y'all if you're interested. Here is a little presentation I put together called Buddhism for Dummies. It is a super-brief rundown on the history/beliefs of Buddhism that is basically an overview of my World Religions class section on Buddhism. Props to J. Weseloh III for the info...

    Apple & Intel

    Just in case you didn't follow the World Wide Developer's Conference this morning, a brief synopsis on Steve Jobs' keynote:

    We have plans to transition the Apple CPUs from IBM PowerPC chips to Intel chips.


    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    Darwin Revisited

    I have been thinking a great deal this week about 2 dominant creation narratives I see and what their implications are.

    Narrative #1: The Judeo-Christian-Muslim (and probably several others) Narrative

    God created the world with hope and life and purpose. He created human beings to create and to care for the whole of the cosmos, beginning with the birds and trees and animals and what-have-you. History will eventually culminate in God's Kingdom breaking forth and eternal peace and justice will be served. History is going somewhere, we are invited to be a part of God's Kingdom now, and to help invite others into the healing of/mending of/caring for/redeeming of this world.

    Narrative #2: Darwinian Evolution Narrative

    Sludge became intelligent and grew legs. Species fought for existence. Survival of the fittest. Natural selection. Only the strong survive. Get to the top to ensure longevity. Who knows where it goes, but Darwin's thoughts have been transmitted, in this age of holism, to social structures: survival of the fittest, climing the ladder, etc.

    So, for most of this week, I have been saying that I might be able to buy into these two stories working together, but their social implications are starkly different: caring for the poor vs. caring for myself, the last will be first vs. the first will be first and will stomp out the last, etc.

    I had a breakthrough last night. Mind if I share it?

    What if these two narratives are harmonious after all? What if 'the fittest' isn't what we think it is?

    Let's go back some tens of thousands of years ago. Dinosaurs ruled the earth, right? They would have seemed the fittest. All big and on their way to the top, but then they crash for some odd reason. No one is totally sure why.

    Or let's bring it into the here-and-now. Remember Enron? Perhaps appeared to be the fittest. Or what about SUVs with all their "GET THE HELL OFF THE ROAD OR I'LL RUN YOU OVER" sort of superiority?

    Or what about Babylon? Greece? Rome? The USSR? These empires crumbled. Perhaps ours will soon as well.

    But weren't all these set up to be 'the fittest'? Perhaps as the Kingdom of God breaks into our present from God's future, the fittest will survive. Perhaps the fittest are those who live in rhythm with God? Perhaps those who seek others before themselves are the ones who actually are 'the fittest'? Perhaps those who choose not to climb that damn corporate ladder, or those who take vows of poverty, or those who serve the least of these will be called greatest in the Kingdom and will be called 'the fittest' by Darwin?

    I understand that there is probably a great deal flawwed with my logic, but there it is, rawness and all.

    Friday, June 03, 2005

    Some Post-Dinner Thoughts 2: Morality vs. Mission

    Of course, it should never be one versus the other, but it works for this idea.

    Damien was saying how he, as a youth pastor, found it very hard to find camps/retreats that were not just dealing with 'personal morality'. He wanted something for his students to experience that was more integral and holistic and concerned the Kingdom of Heaven.

    So this got us talking (and me thinking) about how so much of Christianity is about personal morality and not about the mission or dreams of God brought about in this world. Now, of course, personal morality is important in bringing about God's Kingdom, right? I mean, it cannot exist if we are all selfish bastards who climb to the top in order for few to have excess and most to have nothing, right? So, yes, personal morality is important.

    But here's the problem with the way it's presented these days: It's not about joining God in his work in the world (and personal morality being a part of that), but instead it is about doing things because that is how the socio-religious structure/institution has told you to be. You know?

    Perhaps involving students, young people, old people, people like me, people like you, in Kingdom 'experiments' then that would help them make the connection to personal morality instead of the other way around. "Become personally pure to reach out to heal the world" doesn't really seem to work because it creates a sense of distance from the 'least of these', doesn't it?

    Of course both things must be held in tension. Sometimes I find myself longing or engaged in the work of God, but my temper is ridiculous. What the hell?!?

    The gospel must be holistic: personal, but not private... global, not national... physical, mental, spiritual, what-have-you...

    I was getting a filling yesterday. I hate those things. But it was the gospel at work in my mouth. Thank God that science has progressed far enough to allow my teeth to last longer. But damn it hurt!

    Okay, enough babble. What do you think I do? Sit around and write letters all day? Geez!

    Some Post-Dinner Thoughts 1

    Had dinner with Damien and Jen O'Farrell Tuesday evening. Two people that we have had the great fortune to get to know more and more. We joke at how close we are geographically, but how hard it is to make time to get together. Such is the way.

    Holly shared about her Gandhi book (I know it must seem like that's all we ever talk about, but...). She said that he was an awful father and husband. Damien said that he guessed that showed that he was human. I thought, "You know, even Jesus himself didn't really seem to uphold the 'family first' idea all that well."

    Matthew 12.46-50:

    While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, "Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you."

    Jesus didn't respond directly, but said, "Who do you think my mother and brothers are?" He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. "Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father's will is my brother and sister and mother."

    And isn't there some other passage where Jesus is quoted as saying that he will put a wedge between mother and brother? I mean isn't this a pretty 'unhealthy' look at family (from both Jewish and American perspectives?).

    Perhaps Jesus (and most other people who sense a higher calling than just being a good member of society and family) recognized that his family was much broader than that, his loyalty beyond just blood, beyond just nation-state. Sounds a bit like Gandhi, who feeling so strongly about non-violence, wouldn't even allow a needle into his wife for an antedote to what was killing her. She died because of the extreme-ness of his cause.

    I am not saying that Jesus and Gandhi are the same. I am simply saying that perhaps some who live in this "Kingdom of God" mindset release the family and society nearest to embrace all of humanity.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    More from Tolstoy...

    Okay, I got to the third preface, this one actually by Leo Tolstoy, and I again found some resonating words.

    In affirming my belief in Christ's teaching, I could not help explaining why I do not believe, and consider mistaken, the Church's doctrine, which is usually called Christianity.

    Amont the many points in which this doctrine falls short of the doctrine of Christ I pointed out as teh principal one the absence of any commandment of non-resistance to evil by force. The perversion of Christ's teaching by the theaching of the Church is more clearly apparent in this than in any other point of difference.

    Again, wow... how timely! Good lord this describes so much of how I feel. I can affirm Jesus's teachings, but the Church's teachings? Seldom.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Pacific Crest Trail Revisited

    Some pics from the hike last weekend.

    The boys consulting our maps. Who was more on? We never knew. My 1/10th of a mile turned into 2.5 miles one evening. Suck! But we're both pretty sure that the whole thing was about 30 miles entoto.

    Who's with us next time? Say October?

    The Modern Nation-State

    Thanks to Will for pointing me to WAL-MART: The High Price of Low Cost teaser.

    After having watched The Corporation last week, I am convinced that international corporations [read: American corporations that go beyond American borders] are the modern nation-state with no accountability to any one governing body other than their investors.

    This is the fear I have towards global capitalism: When everything is privatized, the almighty buck with be the single driving factor in every decision made.

    Do other driving factors exist today? you ask. Yes. Conscience, preservation of environment and culture, community, and onward.

    We need a new operating narrative. The narrative of global consumerism will kill us all. We need a new narrative, and I need to start living it.