Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

I've been a bit busy with random stuff - work, school, prepping for a talk at Wheaton College next week, just life in general - so I haven't had much extra energy or ideas for blogging. So here are some perceptive quotes from Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan:
Should you put your house on the market today and downsize? Maybe. Should you quit your job? Maybe. Or perhaps God wants you to work harder at your job and be His witness there. Does He want you to move to another city or another country? Maybe. Perhaps He wants you to stay put and open your eyes to the needs of your neighbors.

My suggestion as you think, make decisions, and discern how God would have you live is to ask yourself, "Is this the most loving way to do life? Am I loving my neighbor and my God by living where I live, by driving what I drive, by talking how I talk?" I urge you to consider and actually live as though each person you come into contact with is Christ.

Imagine if you opened up a drawer in your kitchen and found twenty cheese graters but no other utensils. Not very helpful when you're looking for something to eat your soup with. Just as there are different utensils int he kitchen that serve diverse functions, God has created unique people to accomplish a variety of purposes throughout the world.

That is why I cannot say in this book, "Everyone is supposed to be a missionary" or "You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation." What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it's easy and expected to do what is most comfortable.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What would you want for your Secret Service code name?

I just read about the Secret Service code names for the new first and second families:
Barack Obama - Renegade
Michelle Obama - Renaissance
Malia Obama - Radiance
Sasha Obama - Rosebud
Joe Biden - Celtic
Jill Biden - Capri

Cool. Previous code names include Rawhide (Ronald Reagan), Deacon (Jimmy Carter), Eagle (Bill Clinton) and Trailblazer (George W. Bush). John Kerry was Minuteman, John McCain was Phoenix, Pope John Paul II was Halo. Best one: Karenna Gore named herself as Smurfette, to her later regret and embarrassment. (I used to read Tom Clancy's novels, and in those books President Jack Ryan was Swordsman, his wife was Surgeon, and his kids were Shadow, Shortstop, Sandbox and Sprite. Love those.)

This is reason enough for me to run for president: I want a Secret Service code name. Maybe something like Bookshelf or Thriftshop. My older son would probably want to be Lightsaber, and my younger son would be a plausible Applesauce. There are Jedi name generators, superhero name generators and a Sarah Palin baby name generator - somebody should make a Secret Service code name generator.

What would you have as your Secret Service code name?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lessons from the Westmont College fire

I was sad to hear last week of the fire at Westmont College that destroyed several buildings there. It was a real-life exercise of the hypothetical question, "If your house was on fire, what would you rescue?" One report mentioned that student Beth Lazor only had time to grab her cell phone, laptop, teddy bear and debit card.

What's been interesting is that the whole experience has made the Westmont community reevaluate their relationship to their stuff. Admissions counselor Todd Pulliam was cited as saying, "I definitely lost a lot of stuff, but in the grand scheme of things it's nothing. I told God I wanted to simplify my life—and he's done it."

Stacey Torigoe, a staff writer for the student newspaper, offered these reflections:

When I heard the order to evacuate to the gym, I was going to sax quartet rehearsal. The only things that I’d been able to save were whatever I was carrying at the time: my precious alto sax and music, my cell phone and the clothes on my back. Hence the “homeless musician,” a label courtesy of my dear sister.

But I’m not planning on panhandling on State Street; I work strictly with ensembles. Maybe someday Jeff and I will get together and play duets, but for now, I’ll worry about whether my favorite jeans have gone up in flames or been soaked into oblivion (or both), along with, of course, my hiking boots and my pictures of home. As a Hawaiian, I long for a rain-soaked embrace after this scorching inferno.

It’s a strange feeling, to be homeless. Yes, I’m sad about losing things - my computer, for example, with irreplaceable pictures of memories that I’ve made at Westmont, my Spam musubi mold and my new hiking boots. Now I’m here in a hotel room downtown with my mom.

It’s a lesson in materialism, long overdue. While going through mental lists of what I lost and trying to figure out what can be replaced, I am constantly reminded of the fact that no matter how precious, none of the stuff in M102 was ever really mine - it was God’s. Even the clothes on my back that I escaped with were never really mine - and they still aren’t. They’re a gift, and they were given - and, by grace, taken away - for a reason.

There's a wisdom and maturity in these reflections. Westmont College is one of the most expensive Christian colleges in the country, and the surrounding area is extremely affluent, where celebrities live in multi-million-dollar homes. (Because of the high cost of housing, Westmont had built on-campus faculty residences so professors could afford to live there, and a number of those residences were destroyed in the fire, meaning that some professors lost both their homes and offices.) This is a community that has had to live in uneasy tension with materialism and wealth. Some students are children of privilege; others are not as well-to-do. But now all of them are rediscovering that material things are not what's most important in life. That's something all of us should remember.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A shout-out to Compassion International

Yesterday I called Compassion International to update our credit card; we support two girls and a program for child survival. I provided my account number and name and address, and the fellow answering the phone asked, "Did you write that book?"

"Um, which one?"

"The suburbs book. I read your blog."

"Oh, that's great. Thanks!"

That was kind of wild. I was surprised and thrown off balance enough by the exchange that I didn't catch the person's name. So, if you're reading this, thanks again, and thanks to Compassion for all the good work you do around the world!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

L’Arche and new monastic communities

After sitting in the Raleigh-Durham airport for four hours due to a flight delay, I'm back home from a quick trip to Duke Divinity School for the launch of the Center for Reconciliation’s new Resources for Reconciliation book series. They brought in Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, along with theologian Stanley Hauerwas for the release of their new book Living Gently in a Violent World. (I love this book. It just received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and they also ran a profile of Hauerwas.) Vanier is in his 80s and is not likely to travel to the United States anymore, so it was a privilege to meet him and hear from him. People from L’Arche communities from all over North America came this weekend to see him.

L’Arche is a network of communities that brings together people with and without disabilities to live together in mutuality and friendship. It’s a place of profound countercultural witness. Society often does not know what to do with people with disabilities. But L’Arche is a place that declares to the disabled, “I’m glad that you exist.” During a talk Sunday night, Vanier said something along the lines of, “If we want to have a society that is more human, we must create spaces for those who are different. And we will discover that we are all people beloved by God.”

While in Durham, I stayed with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (coauthor with Shane Claiborne of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers) at their neo-monastic intentional community of Rutba House. It was good to spend some time with them and get a glimpse of how they do life together, making meals, sharing things in common, confessing to one another and forgiving one another, connecting with the community. They are thoroughly embedded in their local neighborhood and practice a degree of hospitality that is rare in our contemporary culture.

I love how L’Arche and the new monasticism both point to the kingdom of God in their own distinctive ways. Hauerwas says that L’Arche is a sign of hope and exemplifies a kind of gentleness and patience that reminds the church of what it is supposed to be in the world. John Swinton’s introduction to the book says, “L’Arche shows, as the church is called to show, that Christianity is true by demonstrating what community would look like if the gospel were true.” The church in America has much to learn from how L’Arche and the new monasticism practice community, peacemaking, friendship and gentleness.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wow. History. And the soundtracks for election night nailed it.

I was thoroughly impressed with both McCain's concession speech and Obama's victory speech last night. Both hit just the right notes, and I am encouraged that we really can be a United States of America and move forward as one nation. Yes, we can.

I loved the fact that my local CBS affiliate had no voice-over commentary after Obama's speech and just let the cameras roll as Obama, Biden and their families celebrated with the Grant Park crowds. I thought the music sounded like a movie soundtrack, and I learned this morning that it indeed was. And both candidates used music that interpreted the meaning of this election. This is from the MTV Movies blog:
Movie lovers might have noticed that each man chose music from a [Denzel] Washington movie to play while walking offstage after their respective speeches. And, not for nothing, but we think they both made the perfect choice.

Consider: McCain left the Arizona stage to part of Hans Zimmer’s score from “Crimson Tide.” (This part, actually.) The 1995 Tony Scott film focused on a career Navy man (Gene Hackman), labeled a maverick by some, who is stripped of his authority and ultimately beaten by a young black guy, somewhat new to the scene (Washington).

Then there was Obama, who left the stage to the strings of Trevor Rabin’s score from “Remember the Titans.” The 2000 Disney/Bruckheimer joint? It followed an African-American coach who brought together whites and blacks to win a championship.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008, finally!

Well, this is it. After this wild and wacky, interminable election season of Tina Fey and Joe the Plumber, it all comes down to today. It's been a fascinating, discouraging, maddening and exhilarating ride. If my friends' Facebook statuses are any indication, my friends' presidential preferences seem to reflect national polling percentages. I have friends that are far more conservative than me and far more liberal than me, so it's been interesting to watch the dueling Facebook statuses and the links they've posted to a whole range of articles and YouTube videos. (My favorite this year: this one. Very clever, and quite amusing even if you disagree with the position.)

As recently as mid-September, I was genuinely undecided and ambivalent about whether even to vote. What surprised me was that as I engaged in discussion and conversation with various friends, I found myself being pushed out of my indecision and toward a commitment. I could not sit on the fence indefinitely. That's the democratic process at work, apparently. 

(BTW, this year I've been particularly annoyed at the negative campaigning. And I have to say that some of my more partisan friends, in sending me various negative links, actually pushed me toward the other candidate because it seemed that they had nothing positive to say about their own candidate.)

One key concern I have this election day is whether the President-Elect will be able to bring the country together and work with people who voted the other way. I'm encouraged that Obama has the support of folks like Colin Powell, and that McCain has the support of folks like Joe Lieberman. Whoever wins, the reality is that the new president will have to govern from the center. So I am hopeful that the new administration will include independents and people from both parties in key positions.

During the primaries, at one point I thought it would have been great to have an Obama/Huckabee or Huckabee/Obama ticket and have the best of both of them. What if we had just quit the campaign after the primaries and declared a copresidency between both parties' nominees? Think of the hundreds of millions of campaign dollars that would have been saved and could have been used more constructively elsewhere. I think it would be interesting to have a coalition government where conservatives and liberals share power and need to work together to govern. Families and churches need to learn to live with people who disagree with each other; why not the presidency itself? 

But alas, that's not how our system is set up. So last week, on the last day of early voting for Illinois, I stood in line and voted early. I'm one of the formerly disillusioned that sat out of the 2004 election because I could not bring myself to vote for either candidate that year. So it says something about this national moment that I was drawn back in to not merely vote out of duty or obligation, but genuine interest and civic concern.

So go ahead and vote. (Unless you determine that you cannot in good conscience vote this year. I think it's okay to not vote as an act of protest.) Whatever happens, pray for whoever wins, and for the common good of the country.

And if your candidate doesn't win tonight, don't get all bent out of shape. After all, in a few months the 2012 campaign will start up and we'll go through this all over again.