Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's become one of the few traditions I hold to, a Christmas Eve post quoting Dalton Trumbo's version of the Christmas Story from Johnny Got His Gun. I want to add a quick quote here I believe I posted a short time ago from Joe Boyd's blog on his qualms with Christmas, which I share, and how he is working through his issues: I see everything wrong with Christmas. Trust me. It seems to me that the polar opposite of cynicism could be sentimentality. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian hero of mine, says that sentimentality, not atheism, is the greatest enemy of the church. He equates sentimentality with practical atheism, saying that when we no longer truly believe the gospel we substitute the reality of the Jesus event with meetings, songs and patterns that create "warm feelings" to replace honest conviction. Living in a world without sentimentality or cynicism seems unrealistic, and frankly undesirable to me. However, allowing our cynicism or sentiment to control us seems like a plan for disaster. I committed tonight to be less cynical this Christmas and challenged the sentimental people to pull back enough to have fresh eyes to see beyond nostalgia toward the remarkable claim that a baby entered human history on a secret mission to destroy evil with the power of good. That was written on November 29, and in the past four weeks or so it's been my goal to look at Christmas with fresh eyes, through the eyes of my children, without losing focus of "to us a child is born." I've succeeded at times, failed more often, and don't know if it's been worth it. Nevertheless, I tried, and will continue to try, to live between two worlds, one with eternity in my sights, the other with sin and disease and tears and pain being overcome by my hope in Christ. Now, to quite possibly my favorite (and probably the most realistic) rendering of the Christmas story, take it over Dalton: She (his mother) had a marker in the Bible and she opened it now to the place that was marked and began to read again. She read the story of the Christ-child of the baby Jesus and how he was born in a manger...All the people were going to Bethlehem because it was tax time and they had to appear at the court house and register and pay up...Joseph had to do a lot of chores before he could start out and Mary his wife was pregnant and couldn't help him so they were late...As soon as they got into town Joseph began making the rounds of cheap rooming houses. He wasn't much of a success at making money and they only had enough to pay taxes and one night's rent...Then Joseph began to talk very seriously to the hotel manager. See here he said I've come a long way and I've got my wife with me and she's going to have a baby. Look at her out there on the donkey, you see she's just a kid and she's scared...(Hotel manager talking)It'll be an awful mess if she has a baby on the premises, people who can't afford them shouldn't have babies anyway but what are you going to do about it...I don't mind telling you I hope very much she doesn't have the baby here tonight because it'll upset my guests if she screams and they're all very high class people including three Roman congressmen...Oh I almost forgot, don't light any fires out there in the barn because in my insurance it says they're forbidden...Back in the manger Joseph lighted a lantern and fixed up a nice bed on the hay and Mary lay down on the bed and had her baby...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I'm sitting in Heathrow's Terminal 5 waiting for my flight home, and trying to process the burdens of my heart as I think back to the few hours we spent on Saturday at the UNHCR World Refugee Day celebration/awareness at the Kenya International Convention Center.

I've worked with International Teams Refugee Ministry in Nairobi for the past few years, spending time in fellowship each of the past two years with their Somali fellowship. This year, having the fellowship time land on World Refugee Day, we decided to take the children to the KACC where there were inflatables, clowns, face painting, etc., time for them to play and be kids. It was a lot of fun - especially having to take care of the young boy who was so frightened by the clown that I had to take him for a walk, which was interesting because he spoke absolutely no English, I can only imagine the thoughts passing through his mind.

Anyway, what really struck me was a picture gallery UNHCR had set up in one tent about the plight of refugees (and migrant workers trying to better the lives of their families) in East Africa and northward. What struck me was the decisions the parents make for the lives of their children, only in many situations to find the parents killed or separated from the children, leaving the little ones to fend for themselves. I can think of Lisa and I making this decision, something going wrong, and having Maiya and Kendyl to fend for themselves, the Lord only knows what could happen to them, and the children put in this situation.

I know there is nothing I can do about this other than pray, but like last year with the situations of sexual abuse in the Mathare slums, I pray the Lord leads me in a direction, shows me a way to help, or gives me a boat load of money so that I can help these people, providing counseling and intervention so these stories of horror and terror do not continue.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The countdown has begun, in about 84 hours I’ll begin the journey home, I’m starting to get more homesick and ready to get back to the family, I think they are missing me a little more as well.

I picked up a little head cold on my trip back to Nairobi with Mwende the past few days. I don’t feel too bad today, but want to rest to make sure it doesn’t get worse, we have a lot to do yet in the last four days.

Speaking of Mwende, I had a great time with her and her mother and Esther in Nairobi. She was very excited, we went to the Animal Orphanage, did the Safari Walk, took her to the cinema to see “Night at the Museum,” the new one, then the National Museum and for a little boat ride in Uhuru Park.

Speaking of the cinema, it was in Westlands at a mall called Westgate which from what I’ve seen rivaled any mall I’ve been in in the world. Now, I haven’t been to the prime shopping places in Paris or Dubai or London, but this placed rivaled the Beverly Center, Water Tower in Chicago, etc. I always wondered where the rich and famous in Nairobi went to get their gear, now I know.

As for Mwende, as I said, I know she and her mother really enjoyed the time. However, one reason that I took her on this journey was to see if she was ready to come and visit us in the US and would be comfortable enough around me and in the culture that we have. As for now, I think the answer is no. It saddens me, but her English and maturity are just not there yet. I have talked to a Tumaini employee, Esther, who also accompanied us on the trip, and she said there are things we can do to get her English up to speed, but it may take a while. I think I am going to pay for her to get some English lessons and send her some books, which I am told will help. The accent seems to be the worse, but with practice she can get there. I think we are a year or two or maybe a little more away from that happening.

I also got some bad news as I took her back to her home. On the return, I was told that her mother and her younger brother are HIV positive. Mwende is not, thankfully, and both are responding well to treatment, but they are positive nonetheless.

Finally, I forgot to mention in a previous post that while last year I saw Kilimanjaro for the first time from the air, last week I got just an unbelievable view from the ground. We were traveling back from Babati to Arusha and I had fallen asleep. All of the sudden I awoke and looked out the window, and there it was. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything as impressive in my life. I can’t explain it, but the picture will be seared into my mind for the rest of my life.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Well, I found out this morning that I am still not over my deep-seated fear of preaching. Though I probably could have prepared more for that time, I absolutely bombed it. I just don’t like to preach. Teaching for me, though many think it the same, is so different. In teaching I can get the input of those who are in attendance, we can learn from each other. We can take into account the wisdom of the group. Thankfully, John rescued me in the first service and then after I begged him again did the same in the second. Praise God!

I am so excited about tomorrow, getting to take Mwende and her mother into Nairobi to do as she wishes. We are thinking she will want to visit the animal (giraffe) orphanage, maybe the museum, eat at a nice restaurant, take her to a movie if she wants (they have the new “Night at the Museum” movie playing, as well as “Up” which I know nothing about. She’s 13 years, so “Up” may be too elementary for her, I hope she likes it. We will also hang around in a nice park in downtown, they have some nice fountains and swings, we can take a picnic basket, etc. I hope she enjoys.

It’s only been one week since we have been here, and in one week we will be gone, but if feels like we’ve been here for a few weeks, which is good, as the time has been well. We now begin to wrap up the trip, and like I said I am thankful to get home.

It was crazy, Friday morning I awoke at the house of a friend and he was on the computer. He was checking how the Lakers did the night before, but the game was still on, in overtime. That time was a little weird.

I didn’t have time to write this last night, but on our return to Arusha, TZ from Babati we arrived quite late at night. We checked into a smaller hotel but one that seemed secure, went to dinner, and were just ready to retire for the night when we heard a loud and frantic pounding on the door. I opened to see the man who was accommodating us and staying with us rushing to pull up his pants and tuck in his shirt, exclaiming that we needed to leave, immediately. Our first thoughts were, “We need to leave now, like gather our money and passport and run out the back door, or pack up your things and meet us in the lobby.” Our feeling was that he was thinking the former, so we threw our things together, grabbed our luggage, and were quite literally thrown into a van and taken to a different hotel (though we did have to pay for our short time at the other hotel). When we got into our rooms and finally found out what happened, it seemed that the man who dropped us at the first hotel was cornered as he was leaving in his SUV and some thugs tried to rob him. He got away, but he thought they were coming for us next. There was no threat, but to be sure we were safe we were taken to a different hotel. In the end, probably more care than we needed, but we were happy to see that they were looking out for our protection, as has always been the case in my trips here.

I think I’m going to give Mutuku my favorite Red Sox t-shirt. I love that guy, he works harder than anyone I know, and I don’t have anything else to give him this year. I can always buy a new one.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Being in Kenya for the sixth time, this is the first time I’ve felt very little need to write down some of my experiences, yet I will do so for my own memories down the road:

We’ve traveled too much while in country. We got in at around 10pm on the 6th, to the hotel at around midnight, up at 5 for a 12 hour trip on the worst roads I’ve ever been on. In Babati then for two full days, left the third day at 2pm for a trip back to Arusha, got in late, went to hotel, ready to sleep…banging on the door…WE NEED TO LEAVE! We packed our stuff, ran out of the hotel to another hotel, they thought we were in trouble so they transferred us to another hotel. Once we got there we were way to awake and freaked to sleep, so we were up most of the night, another 8 hour early the next morning. We are not in Masii, and thankful we’ll be here for a few days.

This is no insult to Lisa and the girls, but I am not as homesick this time as I have been other years. It’s made the trip much easier.

As those who know me know well, when I am here I enjoy seeing where the Lord is working in this country. Once again I’ve seen great movements of God from fellow saints working here. One example: There is a severe drought in the country, no rains, people are dying. One of our friends and his wife, Curtis and Esther Reed, have taken it upon themselves to bring food to some of the villages. He said they went last week to a village, though the people in the village did not know they were coming. When they arrived, they found that the people had gathered in the church to worship the Giver, though they did not know the gifts were on their way. As the gifts arrived, words could not express the praise and glory to God. POWERFUL!

We spend today in fellowship with the new church in Masii, discussing the Kingdom of God. We felt at first like we were not communicating with them properly, but by the end of the day we were mutually edified and learned from each other. Another great day to come tomorrow.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Much of my recent reflection and discussion has centered around the social and political ramifications of Jesus' inauguration and teachings on the Kingdom of God. In my heart and mind, I've struggled to reconcile those who view the idea that Jesus was instituting a new social and political reality with the conviction that if that was true, it would look nothing like what we would consider a social or political institution today. What, then would it look like? And what did Jesus really when He said the Kingdom of Heaven was now at hand? What are the concrete implications of that statement?

A few thoughts before I move on:

1) I feel more strongly and more dogmatic than most non-essential tenets of faith on this one point: Jesus was not concerned with His Kingdom spreading by using the political institutions of the day to its advantage. He did not envision nor desire Christians to use the rule of law to enforce their morals on the rest of the world.

2) Within Jesus' 12 disciples (and surely those on the fringe), we know that at least two were zealots, possibly more. Yoder, citing another reference, writes:

The political import of the formation of a group of disciples is heightened if we take seriously Oscar Cullmann’s suggestion that perhaps as many as half of the twelve were recruited from among the ranks of the Zealots.

Therefore, we know there was political pressure on Jesus to overthrow the Roman government and reclaim His rightful place on the Davidic throne.

3) With that, we know that there were major Messianic expectations of Jesus, if He were really the One. He would overthrow the Romans, set up His government, the Jews would once again be in charge, things would return to how they were supposed to be.

Having said all of this, my main confusion remains the struggle of putting into words the modern-day implications of Jesus' Kingdom teaching, and the fact that I believe His instituted God's Kingdom reign through His life, death, and resurrection on earth. I also have to agree with the following scholars who gave me the following ideas:

John Howard Yoder: If Jesus was not a politial figure and threat to the existing powers, why the inherent need to kill him?

NT Wright: His teaching from the Lord's Prayer that God's Kingdom would come "on earth, as it is in heaven." He writes, 'God's kingdom' in the preaching of Jesus refers not to posmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God's sovereign rule coming "on earth as it is in heaven."

Hauerwas and Williman: Their entire work in Resident Aliens has had a profound impact on my thinking, the following quote may serve to summarize: Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ...The challenge is not the intellectual one bu the political one - the creation of a new poeple who have aligned themselves with teh seismic shift that has occurred in the world since Christ.

Right back to polical...what does that mean? I feel like I know more of what it does not mean that what it does mean. I've come to a few conclusions that I want to share, and though I feel I'm on the right path becoming comfortable with these answers, I do realize that they are incomplete and more reflection and discussion needs to take place.

My first conclusion comes from Wright, who makes a side comment in Surprised by Hope on p. 129 in writing about Jesus taking His rightful place as Lord of the world, "This was particularly significant in that Paul and the others were keen to say that Jesus was the true Lord and Caesar was a sham." Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not, how monumental to the people of the day, and how important for us to remember today. Neither George Bush nor Barack Obama nor the Democrats or Republicans are Lord. Neither the economic principles espoused by Keynes or Hayek, neither the rulers from the G-20 nor the major global religious leaders are lord, Jesus is Lord, and they are not. That needs to be first and foremost in our thinking and set the foundation for our Kingdom theology.

Second, now that we understand that Jesus is Lord and no one or nothing else, what are the modern implications of His Kingdom come? What does this look like? Again, it is difficult to put in words without sounding cliche, but the answer lies in the fact that the Kingdom is not spreading through the modern political machine, but rather by those who understand that Jesus is Lord and act on the nudging of the Holy Spirit to seek to make things right in the world. Followers of Christ act on the desires of their heart and the power of the Spirit by rescuing sex slaves and reintroducing them to society where they live as redeemed new creations in Christ, where the old has been washed away and the new creation is evident. They continue by feeding the poor, nurturing the sick, visiting prisoners, caring for widows and orphans, not because it is the moral thing to do, not because that is what humaity calls us to, but because they understand that is what it means for things to be done on earth as it is in heaven, they understand Jesus' call to a Kingdom lifestyle, and, as Wright notes, "His resurrection, and the promise of God's new world that comes with it, creates a program for change and offers to empower it. Those who believe the gospel have no choice but to follow."

Finally, in our conclusions, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, we find no reason, in light of what the Lord is laying on our hearts, to move from our apocalyptic view of the Bible. When it comes to a systematic view of God's Word, we stand firm on a few principles that shape our theology, including, but not limited to, the following:

1) Dominance of a mood of strain and tension, with pessimism concerning the present
2) Expectation of the ultimate triumph of God, seen as imminent, future, and wholly supernatural
3) Deemphasis on human wisdom and strength in the declining world situation-this age is passing away. The age to come will arrive by divine intervention and according to the divine plan. Nothing can stop it.

The world as we know it is passing away, the creation is longing for redemption, we long for the Lord to return and set up His rightful throne once and for all. But in the meantime, we press on, understanding that the Kingdom is expanding through the redeemed following the Kingdom way we have outlined above.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

90% of what Jim Wallis wrote on this week's ediciton of SojoMail was partisan garbage, but he ended with a powerful story of true Kingdom work:

My favorite story from the week was that of a poor young women who had been sexually trafficked in a major East Coast city. And when civic crusaders closed the brothel where she lived, she became homeless. But she got hooked up with one of our partner groups in that city, and they brought her to the Mobilization. And here, at this gathering, she heard about a Jesus she had never heard about before—one that wanted to save people like her. So on their delegation’s way to the Capitol, this young woman gave her life to Jesus Christ at the corner of “10th and D,” as I was told. And that’s the vision I have—of believers doing the work of the kingdom of God in the world, for justice and peace, and people coming to faith because of their witness. Thanks be to God!

Monday, March 16, 2009

I thought I was done blogging for the night but came across the following article. It's horrific, but the story must be told so people realize what is happening!

God, I pray for these women, yound and old, treated in such a brutal and inhumane way. I ask that in your power and glory you take each one of these women right now and give them a special outpourind of your Spirit, wrap them in your arms, give them the peace that transcends all understanding, let them know you are there, they are loved, that this earth and body are temportal and you are preparing for them an eternity with you. Bring justice to the perpetrators and bring in your hand to STOP this madness right now, we pray and trust in your goodness and power, in the Name of Jesus, AMEN!
I mentioned in the previous post that I would comment on Wright's book here, I want to provide two quotes with minimal comments. As always, looking for discussion or input in the comment section:

1) In writing of (and criticizing) the current practices in the church regarding hymns, the Christian year (more focus on Christmas or other Christian celebrations rather than Easter) and ceremonies of death, he writes:

I hope that those who take seriously the argument of this present book will examine the current practice of the church, from its official liturgies to all the unofficial bits and pieces that surround them, and try to discover fresh ways of expressing, embodying, and teaching what the New Testament actually teaches rather than the mangled, half-understood, and vaguely held theories and opinions...Frankly, what we have at the moment isn't, as the old liturgies used to say, "the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead" but the vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end. (25)

Love this quote, anyone who pushes criticial thinking over maintaing status quo is a hero in my book. Last year when I held the Tumaini dinner in Wisconsin I probably committed the mortal sin of fundraising when I asked the first speaker to get people thinking critically about what sort of missions they support, to get their brains working, not just giving because they know me, but to evaluate if this is something God laid on their hearts and whether it was a good cause. I didn't care, evaluation and examiniation of crucial, in my mind, to continued growth in our Christain walk.

2) It was pepole who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and were in for a mere spiritual survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era. (26)

Which emperor would have sleepless nights worrying that his subjects were reading the Gospel of Thomas Resurrection was always bound to get you into trouble, and it regularly did. (50)

Two more money quotes, the first intrigued me since, as you know, I am in a period right now where I am really fighting Christian involvement in politics, not that Christains shouldn't vote or can't hold office, rather that we seem to be placing too much hope in the political process to bring about God's Kingdom. Therefore I initially backed away from this quote, but what turned me back was the idea that in Caesar's time, Christians were persecuted, tortured burned at the stake, etc. That was something worth fighting for! It was about freedom of faith. Today it is at the opposite end of the spectrum for Christians in the West (and I fully admit that my thinking in this matter is from a Western perspective and totally void of any value apart from the Western world). While for first century Christians and a great number of believers around the world today it was about freedom, for us in the West today it is about favortism. We desire to hold the best seat at the table, we want our morals and ethics to dominate the political sphere. There is a great difference in political activism from the perspective of freedom versus favortism.
Since I've been participating in this Facebook Bible Study the past three weeks I can't seem to get two thoughts out of my mind:

1) The importance of Matthew 4:17, "From that time, Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

I was reflecting on this earlier today, and I find that my entire understanding of Jesus and God's redemptive work builds around this one passage. God, through Jesus, broke into our fallen world and began to take back what was His. This leads to the second thought...

2) One of the many facets of this Kingdom would be repentance, turning your life in a new direction, one in line with the message Jesus would preach for His remaining days. And He goes on to say that it's important, in fact it's so important that if your eye or your right hand or any other part of you causes you to lose focus, get rid of it, throw it away, you can't afford to mess around with this. It's that important! A new way had come, it was time to get on board, to repent, for the Kingdom was at hand!

As an aside, I got scared the other day when a student came up to me and starting talking about their church and their faith and such, not because I don't think those conversations are inappropriate in school, rather because I thought they were going to ask where I went to church. What do I respond, I don't? What kind of Christian am I if I don't go to church? I must be a sinner, what so I believe, I reflected on? What if they were to ask me what I believed, what would I say. A thought hit me, and maybe this is what makes me a little crazy, but I believe what Jesus said...when He said that it was better to gouge out the eye or cut off the hand, I believe what He said was true and that He meant it. Did He want everyone walking around without eyes or arms, no...but if it meant that they were ridding themselves of what was distracting them from the Kingdom or causing them to sin, then yes, He meant that very thing.

Finally, on this same topic, in reading Wright's "Surprised by Hope" (which I will comment on in the next post) I am also reminded of Paul's message in 1 Corinthians 15:29-32 where he addresses the resurrection of the dead. I love what he has to say here, namely that if there is no resurrection, then "why do we endanger ourselves every hour" and "If I found wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained"? Love that!