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hope beyond lip service

Like many people in America today, I have been extremely frustrated with how divided we have become. We have a serious problem today over people’s unwillingness to listen to others despite our political and theological beliefs.  Too be honest, it can be very discouraging to see and hear the hate and fear that’s spreading through our nation and its communities. 

Some would say that I need to get over it because that’s the way its always been and probably will be.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.  What if hope and healing began to go much deeper than political messages aimed at winning votes?  What if churches stopped drawing their moral and political lines in the sand each Sunday and began to actually practice and live the kind of hope Christ calls us to?  What if we understood that hope doesn’t stand a chance in this country without genuine healing?

I came across these wonderful and encouraging words from Diana Butler-Bass yesterday and had to share.  I encourage you to read her post and take some time to think about your life.  Are we displaying genuine hope?  Have we fallen victim to all the fear-mongering? 

I was too young to remember President John F. Kennedy.  My mother worked on his campaign and hauled her baby (me) along with her to pass out literature.  She assures me that one of my first words was “k-e-n-d-y.”  I was barely four when he was shot.  Years later, I asked my mother what was so special about President Kennedy.  Without hesitating, she replied, “He gave us hope.  Hope that things could change.  We needed that.”  She paused and a look of sadness swept across her face. “And it was taken away.  Too soon.  They killed hope.”

Hope may be shot, taken in an instant of murderous violence.  But, this summer, we have witnessed another way of killing hope–vicious rumor, cynical politics, manipulation, lies, gossip, and fear mongering.  Hope doesn’t die in an instant.  Instead, it is has been walking a way of sorrows and put on a cross, whipped, laughed at, life slowly beaten away, breath halting, and joints stretched in pain.  It is a gruesome image, but it needs to be.  Without hope, a people and their civilization cannot survive.  The Bible teaches that.  History teaches that.  To purposefully kill hope is a sin, especially when its only replacement is fear.  No society can flourish with fear as its base.

Over the summer, mainline Protestant clergy have reported to me an increase in fear in their congregations–overt xenophobia and nativism, racist epithets, terrified elderly people thinking their government was about to murder them, threats not to preach on anything related to health and healing (what then, I ask, can clergy possibly preach about if not health?), congregants stocking up on weapons, and people coming armed to church.  One such clergyperson (an army vet), joked that he was looking for a clergy supply store that sells Kevlar vestments to wear while celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  

Churches are in the hope business.  Yet, even they are struggling to hold on to hope.  “I feel so alone,” one of my minister-friends confided.  “Just a few months ago, it seemed like we could change the world.  Now, everyone is running for cover.  People are scared.”  Over and over again, I’ve heard the same refrain:  What can we do to stop the fear?

Well, one way to overcome fear is to preach healing.  Because Christians are also in the healing business.  Actually, the three great monotheistic faiths all teach that God’s desire to heal a broken universe is the central point of faith, that shalom–peace, healing, surrender, and salvation–are the very reason for human existence.  In great religious traditions and in lively spirituality, hope and healing are interconnected.  You can’t have one without the other.

For some reason, the White House seems to think that HOPE is a noun.  Once you put it on a poster, or have millions of people vote for it, then it simply is.  But hope is not a noun.  Hope is a verb.  It is active, ever-living, restless.  It needs to be nurtured, taught, envisioned, shared.  Hope for healing; hope for community; hope for global brother- and sisterhood; hope for transformation; hope for a world where neighbors do unto others; hope for a future of grace, mercy, and love. 

Hope is that business of faith communities.  But it is also the business of political leaders.  And that’s what President Obama needs to get back to tonight.  Sure, he needs to talk about health care and public options, costs, job creation, and policy points.  More than anything, we need the President to lead back to hope.  You can’t have health without hope.  The fear mongers have had their season.  But the hope-killing time is over.  We who know the active power of hope need to stand up.  It is a time for growing hope again.

Love and Peace.

Are we reading the Bible, or just being “biblical”?

Not too long ago I read a great blog post from a leading thinker and theologian, Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed.  In this particular post, Scot address the long battled issue of Christianity and drinking alcahol.  His argument was different than most when it comes to this issue.  The jist of it was that there are far too many churches and Christians who promote a “biblical” way of living, while not understanding or acknowledging what the Bible really says.

This morning I was sickened by both the online GQ article and slideshow I saw which reveals how Donald Rumsfield used to attach scriptures to pictures of the Iraq war in his reports to President Bush.  I’ve attached the article below, followed by a link to the actual pictures should you decide to view them.

on the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

View photos here.

I have always struggled with the idea of patriotism.  I love my country and my freedom, but always struggle with reconciling being a Christ-follower with being an american citizen.  I support our troops, but never war.  I vote, but hate politics.  You get the idea…

I’m angry at the sight of these pictures!  I’m sickened when violence of any kind is justified as being biblical!  

Those of us who claim to be Christian must understand that what we sometimes do, or not do, in the name of being biblical isn’t neccassarily what the Bible really says.  War may seem biblical to some, but the Bible claims God and His Kingdom are one of peace.  I understand the occurence of violence and wars in the Old Testament, and it’s difficult to understand why God allowed Israel to battle so often with other nations, but when the Scriptures speak much more to justice, peace, and restoration…it’s foolish to claim violence as biblical!

As a pastor I find it more important than ever to teach the importance of context in scripture.  There seems to be so many divisions within the body of Christ today and many of them happen simply because context is removed from our interpretation of the Bible.  Today as I viewed the images of weaponry, and soldiers-in-action being tied to ancient (yet still God inspired) writings and prayers, I was reminded of this importance.  Context matters!

We can talk Just War Theory all day long, but what our past administration has done is wrong.  It’s a disprespect to our soldiers, and an abuse of the scriptures from these men who won millions of votes based on their claim of being born-again. 

I hope this post is more constructive than deconstructive.  I’m fairly passinate about this subject and can only hope that my little voice makes a difference by challenging readers to be thoughtful, prayerful and open-minded towards our faith in a just and merciful God.

In an age where wars are too often brought into the conversation of the end times, or “last days”…let us consider the prophecy of Isaiah as he envisioned to coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
      will be the highest of all—
      the most important place on earth.
   It will be raised above the other hills,
      and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
  People from many nations will come and say,
   “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
      to the house of Jacob’s God.
   There he will teach us his ways,
      and we will walk in his paths.”
   For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
      his word will go out from Jerusalem.
 The Lord will mediate between nations
      and will settle international disputes.
   They will hammer their swords into plowshares
      and their spears into pruning hooks.
   Nation will no longer fight against nation,
      nor train for war anymore.Come, descendants of Jacob,
      let us walk in the light of the Lord!

 

Love and Peace.

Happy Birthday Mason!

Today is a special day in our home.  Our son, Mason turns 3 years old!  He’s pretty stoked about it…

mason

Having three boys, all under the age of 5 has been a challenge!  We describe our lives as a “beautiful chaos”…which is a short way of saying there are great days and then there are the other days.  We love being parents to boys and are so very proud of each of them! 

Mason is our middle child…the spit-fire boy who never stops going.  He’s loud…competitive…emotional…and has a smile that will melt the coldest of hearts!  I’m so glad to be home with my family today, and to celebrate God’s amazing gift of life.  Happy Birthday, Mason!  Daddy loves you…

Love and Peace.

I don’t know anything about happiness

“I don’t know anything about happiness”…

I read these words from a NY Times article this morning and I’ve found myself broken-hearted, angered, and strangely hopeful all at the same time. 

The article speaks to the horrible things that have happened to young Afghan girls over the centuries as they’ve been sold into extremely abusive marriages.  In a world where women have no voice, men have had the freedom to do whatever they want to these women…because they own them.

Today, there is hope for many of these women.  The world is beginning to listen and act on behalf of them by offering shelter and family-counseling.  While it’s completely evil what these men are able to do to women…this way of life is so deeply rooted in their people that many of them know of no other ways.  Not only are women being rescued, but some young men as well.  This gives many hope that one day an entire nation may begin to slowly change the way they see women and equal rights.

The picture above is that of Nadia.  Nadia is 17 and lives in a women’s shelter as she fled her husband who cut her nose and ear off while she was sleeping.  He did this to avenge an argument he had with her father…

Nadia says she knows nothing about happiness.  Can we blame her?

I encourage you to take five minutes out of your day and read this article.  It’s well-written and will open your eyes to how so many women in our world live.  Hopefully it will also force us to think once more about what we really believe of God’s power to heal, and how despite all the evil in this world…He is using so many to bring about his healing.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Mariam was 11 in 2003 when her parents forced her to marry a blind, 41-year-old cleric. The bride price of $1,200 helped Mariam’s father, a drug addict, pay off a debt.

Mariam was taken to live with her new husband and his mother, who, she says, treated her like a servant. They began to beat her when she failed to conceive a child. After two years of abuse, she fled and sought help at a police station in Kabul.

Until only a few years ago, the Afghan police would probably have rewarded Mariam for her courage by throwing her in jail — traditional mores forbid women to be alone on the street — or returning her to her husband.

Instead, the police delivered her to a plain, two-story building in a residential neighborhood: a women’s shelter, something that was unknown here before 2003.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, a more egalitarian notion of women’s rights has begun to take hold, founded in the country’s new Constitution and promoted by the newly created Ministry of Women’s Affairs and a small community of women’s advocates.

The problems they are confronting are deeply ingrained in a culture that has been mainly governed by tribal law. But they are changing the lives of young women like Mariam, now 17. Still wary of social stigma, she did not want her full name used.

“Simply put, this is a patriarchal society,” said Manizha Naderi, director of Women for Afghan Women, one of four organizations that run shelters in Afghanistan. “Women are the property of men. This is tradition.”

Women’s shelters have been criticized as a foreign intrusion in Afghan society, where familial and community problems have traditionally been resolved through the mediation of tribal leaders and councils. But women’s advocates insist that those outcomes almost always favor the men.

Forced marriages involving girls have been part of the social compacts between tribes and families for centuries, and they continue, though the legal marrying age is now 16 for women and 18 for men. Beating, torture and trafficking of women remain common and are broadly accepted, women’s advocates say.

Until the advent of the shelters, a woman in an abusive marriage usually had nowhere to turn. If she tried to seek refuge with her own family, her brothers or father might return her to her husband, to protect the family’s honor. Women who eloped might be cast out of the family altogether.

Many women resort to suicide, some by self-immolation, to escape their misery, according to Afghan and international human rights advocates.

“There is a culture of silence,” said Mary Akrami, director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, which opened the first women’s shelter in Afghanistan six years ago. The majority of abuse victims, she said, are too ashamed to report their problems.

As recently as 2005, some Afghan social organizations did not publicly acknowledge that they were working in support of women’s rights, said Nabila Wafez, project manager in Afghanistan for the women’s rights division of Medica Mondiale, a German nongovernmental organization that supports women and children in conflict zones.

“Women’s rights was a very new word for them,” Ms. Wafez said. “But now we’re openly saying it.”

Women’s advocates insist that they are trying not to split up families, but rather to keep them together through intervention, mediation and counseling.

“Our aim is not to put women in the shelter if it’s not necessary,” said Ms. Naderi, who was born in Afghanistan but grew up in New York City and graduated from Hunter College. “Only in cases where it’s dangerous for the women to go back home, that’s when we put them in the shelter.”

If mediation fails, Ms. Naderi said, her organization’s lawyers will pursue a divorce on behalf of their clients. Cases involving criminal allegations are referred to the attorney general’s office.

Ms. Naderi’s organization has even taken the bold step of helping several clients find new husbands, carefully vetted by the shelter’s staff. The men could not afford the customary bride price, making them more accommodating of women who deviated from tradition.

When Mariam arrived at the Women for Afghan Womenshelter in 2007, the group’s lawyers took her case to family court. Her husband pleaded for her return, promising not to beat her again. Mariam consented. In a recent interview, Mariam, a waifish teenager with a meek voice, said she had feared that “no one would marry me again.”

But soon after her return, the beatings resumed, she said. She fled again.

Mariam’s case was moved to criminal court because she said her husband had threatened to kill her, said Mariam Ahadi, the legal supervisor for Women for Afghan Women and a former federal prosecutor in Afghanistan.

At the shelters, others told still more harrowing tales. For the same reason as Mariam, none wanted their full names used.

Nadia, 17, who has been living in Ms. Akrami’s long-term shelter since 2007, recounted that to avenge a dispute he had with her father, her husband cut off her nose and an ear while she was sleeping. She has undergone six operations and needs more, Ms. Akrami said.

“I don’t know anything about happiness,” Nadia said.

At 8, another girl, Gulsum, was kidnapped by her father, who was estranged from her mother. She says she was forced to marry the son of her father’s lover. Her husband and her new mother-in-law beat her and threatened to kill her, she said.

Now 13, Gulsum said that before eventually escaping, she tried to commit suicide by swallowing medicine and rodent poison.

Advocates say governmental response to the issue has significantly improved since the overthrow of the Taliban. Judges are ruling more equitably, advocates say, and the national police have created a special unit to focus on family issues. But women’s advocates say that even so, protections for women remain mostly theoretical in much of the country, particularly in rural areas, where tradition runs deepest and women have limited access to advocacy services and courts.

Mariam said she felt fortunate to have found refuge. Asked what she hoped for the future, she replied, “I want my divorce, and then I want to study.” She was pulled out of school in the fourth grade. Turning to Ms. Ahadi, she added, “I want to be a lawyer like her.”

But for all of Mariam’s suffering, her family apparently has not changed. Her younger sister was married off a year ago, at age 9, in exchange for a $400 bride price that helped cover another drug debt, Mariam said, and her youngest sister, who is 6, appears to be heading toward a similar fate.

Love and Peace.

much needed time away

Last week, my family made the long trek across the Cascade mountains and headed north towards Canada.  We landed at my wife’s uncle’s ranch near the town of Omak, WA.  Uncle Rick and Aunt Bonnie both retired from two very lucrative and stable careers, then immediately left the busyness of western Washington and found 40 acres to build a farmhouse and ranch on.  It was absolutely beautiful!

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We spent three days in the snowy high-plains feeding horses, riding ATV’s, sledding, playing Scrabble and just hanging out as a family.  It was much needed time away for me as my mind has been running a million miles an hour these past couple months. 

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One of the things I’ve learned these past few years about vacations, or just some time dedicated to doing different things as a family, is that they often remind me of how fun being a family is.  I always come home with a renewed and deeper appreciation for being a husband and father…my wife and three boys are more valuable to me than anything my work could ever offer me!  They are my first priority in ministry and resting with them seems a sacred thing in my life. 

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Maybe this is another reason why Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day that Sabbath was made for humanity…

Love and Peace.

Breathing Life into our Faith

2009 has thus far been an exciting and exhausting year for me!  In mid-December I became the new lead pastor of Redwood Hills Church, where I had previously worked part-time as the community and culture pastor.  This huge change came very unexpectedely and I still find myself wondering how this all came  about.  But, it’s been a great change for me personally and for our faith community! 

I’ve been a pastor for 13 years and Redwood Hills is the first church I can honestly say I love being a part of.  I’ve enjoyed working in other churches, but never quite felt like I fit in them personally.  Basically I always knew that if I hadn’t worked there, I never would have attended there.  That’s not good…

Redwood Hills has been such a genuine and healthy community for me and my family to journey with!  It’s been a breath of fresh air to our faith!

Since becoming the new pastor, I’ve spent the past few weeks teaching vision as we explore the church and culture of Corinth.  It’s been a lot of fun sharing  my vision and crafting it with some great leaders and friends!

Something I’m very excited about right now is the forming of a book study.  Next month people will be gathering together to explore and share in the experience of reading Richard Dalhstrom’s new book called “O2…Breathing Life into Faith”.  It’s one of the best books on discipleship I’ve ever read!

Dalhstrom is a pastor in Seattle and blogs at Rain City Pastor.  He has brilliant and fresh insight into what it means for us to follow Jesus in today’s culture and I’m so excited to involve others into a deeper commitment of faith. 

If you’re like so many whose faith in God has just been tested, discouraged or even destroyed…this would be a great book to pick up and hopefully find that renewed life you’ve been looking for.  If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Dalstrom’s “inhale, exhale” approach to faith.  What about the book did you learn from the most?  Has it changed your approach / practice towards discipleship?

Love and Peace.

recommended reading for 2009

It never fails.  These last days that lead into a new year seem to give us more opportunity to look back into the past than is really needed.  We remember the best and worst of 2008 with our news stories, movies, TV moments, and music.  Most of it really isn’t worth taking the time to remember…

Yesterday I mentioned to a friend that one of my goals for 2009 was to get back to reading from books.  I read a lot in 2008, but for some reason I seemed to drift over to spending more time reading from blogs and online news sources, than I did books.  While I still learned plenty, discovered some brilliant minds in the blogosphere, and spent just as much time reading as I normally do…they weren’t the same as holding the pages of a book in my hands.

Today, I thought I’d do the un-original thing and offer my recommendations for some great books for 2009.  They all  have a spiritual bent to them, some being more directed to those of us who are pastors and Christian leaders.  But each of them are worth giving some time to as I found great truths and wisdom in each of these books.

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher Wright.  This might seem like a really boring and academic title, but don’t let it keep you from at least looking through this insightful, creative and wise book.  I didn’t agree with all of Wright conclusions about the Scriptures, but he made me think more than any other writer has in a few years.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism by William Hunter.  This is a simple little book which explores the story of St. Patrick and how he went against the old ways of the Catholic church to reach the people of Ireland.  Anyone who has a heart for serving their community in ways that center on relationship and collaboration should read this inspiring story.  I think I’ve read this 3 times now, it’s that good of a book!

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  A classic writing on the spiritual disciplines!  This is a book for everyone who wants to have a deeper, more sacred faith in God.  Great to have and just read pieces of it throughout the year.

Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren.  An important book for anyone who thinks critically of the church and its role in war, justice, the economy, climate change, and social equality.  This book, like many of McLaren’s books will make some feel uncomfortable, while making others feel like “finally there is someone willing to tackle some important and controverial issues”.

Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen.  A short book, but packed with incredible wisdom!  It takes the reader along the stories of how Jesus was tempted in the desert and relates it to the temptations every pastor and leader faces today. 

So that’s it.  There were other books read, but these were by far the most influential this year.  If you’ve ever read, or are currently reading one of these, give me your feedback on them.  What did you like, or not like about it?

What book would you recommend to me to read in 2009?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Love and Peace.