Friday, May 30, 2008

From thesis title to book title

I was browsing through PhD Comics, aka "Piled Higher and Deeper," a comic strip for grad students, and came across this strip about the thesis title. Here's the sequence of components:

1. witty catch-phrase: "Makes people think you're hip and culturally relevant. Only marginally related to the actual thesis? No problem."

2. the colon: "Can't decide what to title your thesis? Use a colon!"

3. length-enhanced superlative verbiage with prolixity: "Nothing says 'academic rigor' like a long string of scientific-sounding terminology and fancy buzzwords."

4. in/of/for: "A good preposition tells your readers, 'Hey, this is not just a futile exercise.'"

5. obscure topic few people care about: "Sad, but true."

How accurate is this analysis? Well, as a case in point, my own master's thesis was titled "Singles at the Crossroads: A Practical Theology of Singleness for Generation X," which is not nearly as obscure as many thesis titles out there. It was accepted for publication by IVP, and after about fifty pages were added and at least a hundred more were cut, it was eventually published as Singles at the Crossroads: A Fresh Perspective on Christian Singleness. It's unusual for a book to be published with its original title, but I had intentionally titled my project as building on the work of Rodney Clapp's excellent Families at the Crossroads. And we just scheduled a book for 2009 with the title Marriage at the Crossroads, so the series continues!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Publishing wing-dings and the Christian literati

Last night I went to an informal wing-ding that some friends host every year during the Religious Book Trade Exhibit trade show here in the Chicago area. It's attended by various publishing professionals, with book publishers and magazine editors, authors and agents, publicists and reviewers, from near and far. It's always a good time to schmooze and mingle, to connect and catch up with friends, hear industry tidbits, plug and promote books, maybe pitch a book idea to someone.

I chatted with one of our authors, Father Albert Haase, who will be signing his new book Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions at RBTE today. He gave us an enthusiastic endorsement for Mary Poplin's forthcoming Finding Calcutta about what she learned from her time with Mother Teresa. Haase had served as a spiritual director for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity for some years, and was delighted with Poplin's book. Fr. Albert asked me what to expect at his booksigning and what to do.

"It's pretty simple," I said. "People will line up, and you greet them and sign your book and give it to them."

"How much do I engage them?" he asked. "How long do I talk to them?"

"Depends on the line. If there are just a few people, you can take longer to talk with them and tell them about your book. But if there are a lot of people waiting in line, then you should probably move them along a little faster."

"Ah, just like confession!"

Ellen and I brought our kids, as we do every year, and it was fun to see Elijah hugging and dancing with editors and publishers. I'm sure every industry has its confabs and gatherings, but there's something particularly invigorating about being in a crowded living room with a bunch of book geeks, all talking about a great new book or a newly discovered author that knocks their socks off. I love being part of this world.

This isn't about the wing-ding, but this is an excuse to link to a few publishing-related items. If you have an idea for a book, first go to
The Rejecter's blog to see why editors and agents reject proposals. And just for the heck of it, here's an amusing video that one of my editor friends forwarded me recently. It's from Dennis Cass, the author of Head Case, about marketing realities surrounding the release of the paperback edition of his book.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Deliver Us from Me-Ville on quiet time and loud time

My colleague Dave Zimmerman, who shares an office wall with me, just wrote a new book Deliver Us from Me-Ville about escaping self-absorption. (I find it amusing and ironic that the inescapable subject category on the back by the bar code happens to be "Personal Growth.") One part of the book contrasts the traditional Christian emphasis on "quiet time" (personal devotional time with God) with what Dave calls "loud time," which he highlights as "the devotional value of time spent throughout the day in the company of others."

This line jumped out at me: "By privileging solitude - 'quiet time' - over fellowship as a means of identifying God at work, we privilege our own instincts over the instincts of others."

In other words, one of the dangers of personal quiet time is that it's inherently individualistic. Left to our own devices, we risk running astray and subjectively misconstruing our relationship with God in terms that merely benefit our own preconceived ideas. We need community to temper our individualism, to provide a corrective to isolation and self-absorption. Of course, there is a place for both solitude and community. Dave highlights Bonhoeffer's famous quotes on this: "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone."

I suspect that personality differences also play a role in this. I remember when Dave started his Loud Time blog, and I thought it was a cool name and idea, as an alternative to evangelical quiet time. He said something about how Christian spirituality tends to prioritize the contemplative introvert who encounters God in solitude and silence, leaving extroverts at a loss as to how to connect with God in ways that fit them.

So I was interested to see Nancy Reeves's new book Spirituality for Extroverts (And Tips for Those Who Love Them). Reeves says that some of us are Tiggers, and some of us are Owls. Owls are comfortable with silent prayer retreats, while Tiggers might feel unspiritual because they don't connect with God as well that way. Some of us are contemplatives, others of us are activists. We need each other to temper our own tendencies and to keep us in balance.

I've greatly appreciated the literature of the spiritual formation movement (especially of my author David Benner, as well as other books in our Formatio line). But I confess that it does not come naturally to me. I've never had anything remotely approaching a consistent (or even occasional!) daily "quiet time." But I've been glad that even contemplatives understand that spiritual life is sometimes activist and sometimes communal, not just private and personal. There's a place for both quiet time and loud time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The candidates and our “we”

At the Duke Center for Reconciliation gathering last week, during our closing worship time, a black pastor from Texas challenged us to rethink our “we.” Who is our “we”? Who is our beloved community? And he used the three presidential candidates as illustrations of how society defines the “we.”

John McCain’s age raises questions of generational divides. Is he too old? And do we identify as young or old? Boomer or Xer? Over 65 or under 30? Is that our “we”?

Hillary Clinton’s identity has raised questions of gender. Is the media sexist? And do we identify primarily along gender lines? Is that our “we”?

Barack Obama’s biracial and crosscultural background has raised questions of racial and ethnic identity. Do we identify our community on the basis of race? Is that our “we”?

Obviously all of these factors are significant and unavoidable. But if we are Christians and people of reconciliation, our identities and communities must transcend all of these dimensions and point to a larger reality. Our churches ought to be intergenerational, gender interdependent, and multiethnic and multicultural. Such is the kingdom of God, where the beloved community brings down dividing walls between slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Free preview of Andy Crouch's Culture Making

I've just been going over the final pageproofs for the upcoming book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. This is an amazing book. It has shaped much of my thinking in the past few years as I've been working with Andy on it. It's a paradigm-shifting big-idea book that talks about how we need to move from condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming culture and instead create and cultivate culture. We don't change culture by critiquing it; the only way to change culture is to create culture.

The book is about to go to the printer and will be in print later this summer. In the meantime, you can get a free preview of the book at IVP's website. The first few chapters are available there now, and several more chapters will be released in a few weeks, for a total of the first 100 pages of the book. And we invite you to share the PDF with others.

If you're on Facebook, you can become a fan of the book at the Culture Making page. Here's a note from Andy Crouch that he posted on the page:

The release of Culture Making is just over two months away. It will be really fun to have the book out there to start lots of conversations about how we can become cultivators and creators of culture, not just critics and consumers of it.

But you don't have to wait until this summer to start reading the book and to start those conversations. InterVarsity Press has taken the unusual step of releasing, not just the introduction or the first few pages, but the first 40 pages of the book, online, in PDF form, for free. (Yes, they are awesome--and thanks to John Holland for originally suggesting this.) And in a few weeks we'll release another three chapters.

You can download the PDF from

Read. Enjoy. But there's one other thing I'd like to ask you to do. Find at least one way to share this PDF with others. Post about it on Facebook. Blog about it. Forward the link--or the whole PDF file--to your small group, your pastor, your six best friends. (Yes, you can do this completely legally--see the last page for the details on what you can and cannot do with this PDF.)

Then, if you don't mind, post on the wall at Culture Making to tell the rest of us what you thought and what your friends thought of these opening pages.

Bon appetit!


Monday, May 19, 2008 Service When You're Not Serving

[This is an article I wrote for that posted a few months ago, but I forgot to mention it or link to it here. It was written at the height of the presidential primary season, so the opening paragraphs reflect that context.]

Service When You're Not Serving

by Al Hsu

During presidential election cycles, a field of ambitious, talented candidates vies for attention. They travel endlessly, deliver countless stump speeches, give interviews, raise money, and engage in debates. For months they battle it out in primaries and caucuses until political realities set in and candidates start dropping out. Eventually party nominees are selected, and in the general election, a winner is chosen.

Of course, any number of forces and factors determine elections. But for every person named to high office, dozens of others never make it—even though they may well be every bit as qualified as the eventual officeholders. And the reality is that only a select number of people can be in the most prominent places of leadership. The majority of us find ourselves elsewhere.

What do you do if you aspire to a position of service and get passed over? I found myself asking this question recently when I was one of six nominees for three positions of responsibility. Going by straight probabilities, I had a fifty-fifty chance of selection. Those aren't bad odds, right? But I didn't make the cut. So naturally I questioned my capabilities. Was I not skilled enough? Likeable enough? Was I unfit for service?

I was reminded of a passage from the book of Acts. After Judas Iscariot killed himself, the early church sought to replace him among the twelve apostles. Two candidates emerged—Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Both men had been committed disciples of Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, from his baptism to his ascension. That's three years of loyal following. It is likely that both were among the seventy sent out by Jesus in Luke 10. They would have been well-known by the other early church leaders—"networked," by our contemporary parlance. They were both fast-track leadership material.

Two candidates for one spot. By straight probabilities, they each had a fifty-fifty chance. We know slightly more about Joseph Barsabbas. Acts 1:23 mentions that he was also known as "Justus," suggesting that he was a man of integrity and honesty. Maybe that would have given him a slight edge. Then came the moment of decision . . .

[For the rest of the article, go here.]

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reconciliation as both gift and work

This week I was at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. This was my first visit to Duke, and it's a beautiful campus, with woods and gardens throughout the university. I was there for a gathering hosted by the Duke Center for Reconciliation. InterVarsity Press is partnering with the Center for a series of small books called Resources for Reconciliation. The first two books in the series release this fall; Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Center codirectors Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole, and Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by theologian Stanley Hauerwas and L’Arche founder Jean Vanier.

The vision of the Center is to be a resource for the church in bringing healing and reconciliation to areas of brokenness, whether that’s division across ethnic/racial lines or global conflicts or whatnot. So they convened this gathering to connect leaders from churches, parachurch organizations and the academy, folks who are doing work in racial reconciliation, social justice, urban ministry, community development, disability ministry and the like. Some of the attendees had been part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and it was amazing to hear their stories and get a glimpse of the history they lived through and made happen.

Greg Jones, dean of the divinity school and author of Embodying Forgiveness, made some observations about a sculpture that the divinity school had commissioned that depicts the Luke 15 portrait of the father and his two sons. There is good news of the gospel here – the father’s arm is around the younger brother, in an embrace of welcome and forgiveness. But the posture of the older brother’s resistance indicates that there is yet work to be done, that much brokenness still exists. The task is for us to find ways to heal the brokenness, build bridges and restore shalom.

So reconciliation is both gift and work. It is a gift to be graciously received from God, that we are reconciled to him through the work of Christ. But reconciliation is also a call to be fulfilled, to be reconciled to others and to invite others into the experience of reconciliation, on personal, corporate and global levels.

There was a sense that a new kairos moment of opportunity is happening now. The world is terribly broken and divided, but there are signs of hope and encouragement, especially among a younger generation that is increasingly active in work for justice and peacemaking. I think today's college students and twentysomethings put my own cynical Gen X generation to shame. We Xers may have been somewhat immobilized by the magnitude of the world's problems, but today's upcoming generations, despite their own brokenness (or perhaps because of it) are more motivated and mobilized to be agents of change.

Monday, May 12, 2008

John Piper meets Tony Jones: Two views

What happens when new Calvinists and emergents talk? Collin Hansen and Tony Jones have been having good conversations online at Christianity Today about each other’s respective books and movements. I think it's interesting that John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church and Doug Pagitt's Solomon's Porch are just five miles away from each other in Minneapolis. Not long ago I discovered that Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt had actually met with John Piper, and I was fascinated to read their two different accounts of the same meeting.

This is from The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor):

Justin Taylor: John, you met recently with Tony Jones, who’s the national coordinator for Emergent, and Doug Pagitt, who is also involved in the leadership of Emergent. Is there anything you can tell us about that meeting or anything that would be helpful to share about your time together with them? And how did it come about?

John Piper: Tony and Doug took the initiative to e-mail me and asked if we’d be interested in meeting with them—I think because they read the blurb on this conference and were ticked off by it!

It was a very profitable time for me. I like these guys, by the way. I like them because I think they’re both hotheads, and I think I am too. That was a personal impression. However, my root sense is that ultimately, for Tony and Doug, committed relationships trump truth. They probably would not like the word “trump” but would rather say that committed relationships are an authentic expression of the gospel, and that to ask, “What is the gospel underneath, supporting the relationships?” is a category mistake. And so I just kind of kept going back on my heels, saying I just don’t understand the way these guys think. There are profound epistemological differences—ways of processing reality—that make the conversation almost impossible, as if we were just kind of going by each other. What is the function of knowledge in transformation? What are the goals of transformation? We seem to differ so much in our worldviews and our ways of knowing that I’m not sure how profitable the conversation was or if we could ever get anywhere.

Therefore I can’t make definitive statements about what they believe about almost anything, except for a few strong statements about certain social agendas in which they would clearly come out of their chair on the hatred of human trafficking or something like that. But as far as their beliefs on certain doctrinal issues, I can’t tell, because as I pushed on them, I could tell that their attitude was: “That’s not what we do. That’s not what we do here. We don’t try to get agreement on the nature of the atonement. That is alienating to friendships to try to do that, so we don’t do that.” And because of that, I say, “Well, I don’t even know where to start with you then.” This shows how different we are, because Galatians 1:8 says, “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” And that’s not friendship. Paul insists on establishing the gospel, whether there is a good relationship or not. I came away from our meeting frustrated and wishing it were different but not knowing how to make it different. (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, pp. 154-55)

And the following is Tony Jones’s take on the same meeting as chronicled in The New Christians:

Tony Jones: When the pastor accepted my invitation to lunch, I was happy, if a bit anxious. This man is the pastor of a large Baptist church, the president of a ministry, and the author of several best-selling books. He sits atop a pyramid of conservative Reformed Christians that has been particularly critical of emergents. I sent him an e-mail after seeing the promotional material for his pastors’ conference, the language of which made it clear that the emergent church movement was one of his targets for criticism. My e-mail was an olive branch: an invitation to lunch and an assurance that we both share a commitment to proclaiming Christ.

The pastor is a gentle-looking man, but his theology is anything but gentle. He believes that God’s anger burns with holy fire against human sin. Words like wrath, hate, and blood peppered his sentences as we dined at the Olive Garden (his choice). Slight of stature, he has a piercing gaze. He brought three of his compatriots, and I brought Doug Pagitt, the pastor of Solomon’s Porch and my best friend. He carried a Bible and a notebook; Doug and I each brought books that we’d written to give as gifts.

The pastor began by admitting that he’d never heard of me before, and that he really didn’t have anything against emergent Christians per se. His beef is with Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke, both emergent authors who have questioned the version of the doctrine of the atonement that he holds dear. Early in the lunch, Doug said that he’s long respected the ministry of the pastor’s church and since we’re in the same town, perhaps we could minister in partnership with one another. “Regardless of our theological differences,” Doug said, “maybe we can find ways to work together.” But as the lunch progressed, it became clear that the pastor felt that the beginning of any partnership was necessarily agreement on a particular doctrine, the atonement, a doctrine that he equates with an understanding of the gospel. To put it conversely, if you don’t understand the atonement as he does, you do not understand the gospel. To put it even more bluntly, he said that if you reject his understanding of the gospel, you are rejecting the gospel in toto, and so, by logical extension, you are not a Christian. (To be fair, he didn’t pass the same sentence on people who have never had the gospel explained to them in this way before, only on those who hear it and outright reject it.)

I mentioned the billions and billions of people who have lived and died as faithful, albeit not Reformed, Christ followers over the past two millennia, to no avail. Doug mentioned that there are lots of things that our two churches might work together on, like fighting sex trafficking, that have nothing to do with how one sees the atonement, but the pastor didn’t budge. I mentioned that it might be arrogant and a bit deceptive to preach that one of them is the sole and exclusive means of understanding the single greatest event in the history of the cosmos: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. “What do you tell your congregation about how Christians understood the atonement for the thousand years prior to Anselm?”

The pastor paused, looked at me, and said, “You should never preach.” He went on to state that in this confusing, relativized, and postmodern world, people need “fixed points of doctrine” around which they can orient their lives. In other words, a correct understanding of a particular doctrine is the beginning of all Christian ministry. If you don’t have that, he was saying, you don’t have anything.

Then I tried another tack in explaining emergent Christians. “For you,” I said, “it’s the fixed point of doctrine that is the litmus test of all ministry. But for us, it’s the Apostle Paul’s call to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world. Everything we do in the emergent church is surrounded by an envelope of friendship, friendship that is based on lives of reconciliation. And it’s within that envelope that we have all sort of discussions and debates about the atonement and sex trafficking and baptism and AIDS in Africa.

“In fact,” I continued, “I’m not sure it’s even possible to be an orthodox Christian if you’re not living a life of reconciliation.” (The New Christians, pp. 76-78)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Grieving a Suicide: A summary

A few months ago I met Christine Scheller, a journalist who has written for Christianity Today and other publications. I was saddened to hear that a few weeks after we met, her son Gabe took his own life. I sent her a copy of my book Grieving a Suicide, and Christine just posted an extensive summary of the book on her blog. I'm reposting it here with her permission.


Al’s book is dedicated to his father, Terry Tsai-Yuan Hsu, an accomplished electrical engineer who took his own life after a debilitating stroke. Al brings to the topic both a survivor’s understanding and good scholarship.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • When Suicide Strikes—Shock, Turmoil, Lament, Relinquishment and Remembrance
  • The Lingering Questions—Why Did this Happen? Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Where is God When it Hurts?
  • Life After Suicide—The Spirituality of Grief, The Healing Community, The Lessons of Suicide.

In Part I, we learn that “the grief that suicide survivors experience is described by psychologists as ‘complicated grief.’ … Those of us who experience complicated bereavement are actually grappling with two realities, grief and trauma. Grief is normal; trauma is not. The combination of circumstances is like a vicious one-two punch. We are grieving the death of a loved one, and we are reeling from the trauma of suicide. The first is difficult enough; the second may seem unbearable.”

Al categorizes the resultant turmoil as follows:

  1. Shock, disbelief and numbness–“‘The immediate response to suicide is total disbelief,’ writes a suicide survivor. ‘The act is so incomprehensible that we enter into a state where we feel unreal and disconnected.’”
  2. Distraction—“Friends of survivors may need an extra measure of patience … traumatic grief has caused an inability to focus.”
  3. Sorrow and Despair—“Survivors often fall into a state of melancholy and depression … In some ways we may unconsciously identify with the hopelessness that precipitated our loved one’s death.”
  4. Rejection and Abandonment—“Suicide feels like a total dismissal, the cruelest possible way a person could tell us that they are leaving us behind … So we feel abandoned. Our sense of self-worth is crippled. All our doubts and insecurities are magnified a hundred-fold.”
  5. Failure—“Feelings of failure may surface any time a survivor had a caretaking role … Our feelings of regret and guilt may seem overwhelming, but they eventually subside as we realize the death was not our fault.”
  6. Shame—“Beyond the combination of normal grief and traumatic grief, survivors of suicide suffer an additional insult to injury—the societal stigma that surrounds suicide.”
  7. Anger, Rage and Hatred—“We may hate our loved one for doing this to our loved one. We grieve the suicide and rage against him simultaneously.”
  8. Paralysis—“a simple phone call had triggered an anxiety-filled reaction.”
  9. Sleeplessness—“We lie awake, with our thoughts flying in all directions …”
  10. Relief–“About half of suicides are at least somewhat expected due to ongoing depression or patterns of self-destructive behavior. In our sadness, we are shocked to discover that we are glad it’s all over.”
  11. Self-destructive thoughts and feelings—“One danger of being a suicide survivor is the possibility of falling into suicidal despair.”

In the chapter from Part I on remembrance, Al offers this helpful advice:

“Because of the corrosive, personality-altering nature of suicidal depression, ‘by the time suicide occurs, those who kill themselves may resemble only slightly children or spouses once greatly loved and enjoyed for their company.’ The days, weeks and years following a suicide may be a time of gradually recovering the memories of our loved one, of discovering true and lasting remembrances of their life.”

The chapter I have most marked up is the Why chapter. From our first conversation at 5:00 in the morning after Gabe died, Aaron Kheriaty gently but firmly instructed us that the suicide will never make sense. And yet we try …

Al writes, “We must make a distinction between causes and triggers. Suicide might be triggered by divorce or the loss of a job, but those may not be the actual causes … Suicidal desires run much deeper, and if one event does not trigger the suicide, another might.”

Nonetheless there are some defining characteristics:

  1. Medical and biological factors—“Studies show that about two-thirds of suicides had suffered from clinical depression or had a history of chronic mental illness.”
  2. Psychological factors—“Psychiatrist Karl Menninger suggested that suicides have three interrelated and unconscious dimensions: a wish to kill (the self), due to some degree of self-hatred; a wish to die, arising out of a sense of hopelessness; and a wish to be killed, coming from a sense of guilt. … The agony of depression is so great that the suicide musters the resolve to do away with the pain, at the expense of his or her own life.”
  3. Sociological factors—“In the last quarter-century, society has tilted toward the individual rather than the communal … the glue that holds communities and families together is disappearing … [suicide] rates among the young, more socially alienated generations has tripled … the more socially isolated we become, the higher our risk.”

Al mentions other factors like suicide as philosophical protest, the higher tendency toward depression/suicide in those with artistic temperaments, suicide because of grief (eg. 9/11 survivors) and suicide as atonement.

He says we may be asking the why question when what we really want to know is How could they do this to me? For him, it is helpful to realize that his father “did what he did to end his pain, not to cause pain for me.”

In Part III of Grieving a Suicide, Al talks about life after suicide. In the chapter on the healing community, he gives good advice on the language we use to describe suicide. Instead of saying someone “committed suicide” as if the victim were a criminal, we can say they died by suicide or they took their own life.

The final chapter offers five lessons we can learn from suicide:

  1. Suicide reminds us that we live in a fallen world.
  2. Suicide teaches us that life is uncertain.
  3. Suicide reminds us of our mortality.
  4. Suicide shows us the interconnectedness of humanity. Al was surprised to discover how well regarded his father was by his peers and what a profound impact his good gifts had on them. He and his family were comforted by the outpouring of support they received. We’ve had these experiences as well.
  5. Suicide demonstrates the necessity of hope. Amen and amen.

Our family has been mercifully spared much insensitivity and ignorance in the wake of this tragedy. I can’t imagine going through this without the wise counsel of those who’ve walked the road before. Grieving a Suicide is a book I don’t ever want to recommend again because doing so would mean someone else enduring this type of senseless tragedy. And yet, a suicide occurs every 17 minutes in the United States.

If you are a pastor or lay minister, prepare yourself with knowledge before you try to minister to the grieving and confused. This book will help you do that; it includes a helpful appendix of suicide prevention/survival resources. If you are a survivor, it will be a balm to your soul. - Christine Scheller

Monday, May 05, 2008

Consumerism is dehumanizing, and not just about stuff

I'm in the midst of guest teaching a six-week Sunday school class on my book at a local church, and just this morning I came across this blog post by someone who is also in a class about the book at her church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Here are some of her thoughts about their discussion on consumerism:
Yesterday we discussed the first of two chapters on consumerism. While we all must in some form or fashion consume stuff, the author, Albert Hsu, is speaking about the “-ism” that is an ideology, a way of defining self and understanding the world around us. This understanding of the world makes everything a commodity and we, the consumer, the master who determines the worth of one commodity over against the other. On page 78, Hsu writes, “Consumer commodification enthrones us - the consumer - and makes everything a function of our own choosing.” Everything becomes about “me”, what “I” want, and how something can serve or satisfy “me”. It kind of strikes me as self-worship - I am the most important person, and must be satisfied at all times.

One of the points made in class this morning was the fact that this particular way of looking at life is dehumanizing. People are no longer seen as men and women made in the image of God, but as slaves to the desires of the self, important or valued only the extent that they satisfy these desires. In particular, anyone who stands in the way of my desires ceases to be human in my eyes, and are instead an obstacle that must be removed by whatever means so that my desire can be gratified.

The point from Sunday’s class that I seem to be parking on right now is the idea that consumption is not just about material stuff. When we think of consumerism, we instantly think of malls, brand names, the next new techy gadget that must be bought. But there are many things we can “consume” - knowledge, music, TV, movies, news, the Internet, blogs (*gulp*), books. We “consume” quantities of all of these things - to what extent does that consumption define who we are? And how does our consumption of such things affect our relationships with one another, and the Lord?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

How many countries can you name in five minutes?

How many countries can you name in five minutes? I've tried this a few times, and this is as high as I can get:


The time pressure makes you blank out and miss really obvious countries. I might be thinking my way around a continent, trying to remember how to spell Liechtenstein, and then realize afterward that I forgot something like France or Japan. Go figure. And it's a little annoying because you don't know if it's looking for "England" or "Great Britain" or "United Kingdom" and you have to retype things a few times to figure out which one is acceptable. Strategy tip - knock off the short-named countries first, like Iraq or Cuba, since they're faster to type, and that will give you more time when you're trying to spell Kazakhstan.

It's a humbling exercise, to be reminded of how little we as American Christians actually know about the world. At any rate, if you've not yet taken this quiz, give it a try, and then let this be a prayer trigger to help you pray for the global church and the world at large.